Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’m a college professor when not writing, in American Literature and Culture. I’ve published a couple of college textbooks, and a novel, Clotho’s Loom (2012). This latest, a children’s picture book, can be found under Dr. Shawn StJean, author of Cranky Bear Wakes Up (Illustrated by Todd StJean)
Amazon purchase page: https://www.amazon.com/Cranky-Bear-Wakes-Up-Sketchbook/dp/1981271864/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512780258&sr=1-1
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cranky-bear-wakes-up-dr-shawn-stjean/1127591429?ean=9781981271863
Author’s blog (usually a book giveaway is underway): https://clothosloom.wordpress.com/
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
Cranky Bear Wakes Up is about a furry fellow who lives by himself, he has no natural predators in the forest, and so he’s naturally the center of his own universe. He’s driven by his desires. So he doesn’t care about anyone else’s troubles. Until the day, of course, when he needs help, and the tables are turned on him. Only then does he learn. It’s a book about empathy–which I thought would make great thematic material for children. Martin Luther King said famously that Americans are terrible at empathy-it’s a kind of cultural “hole” in our perceptions, that we have everything to teach the rest of the world, and nothing to learn from it. So the book has an elemnet of allegory. To put it simply, we all need friends–and not just on days of crisis, but every day.
It’s a “story-sketchbook,” which means kids are encouraged to color and draw in it themselves (as the back cover clearly shows, I hope.) There’s no more important attribute for a child to cultivate than an active imagination, I believe. I’d say it’s for kids who want a good, old-fashioned bedtime story. Ages 3-10, or so. It’s probably 30-40 minutes reading-aloud length, because there is an actual plot structure, and so it might be stretched over two evenings for them. It also gets fairly exciting in the second half, and there’s an element of danger, so parents might want to give it a silent read-through, first. But there’s certainly nothing as intense as the little ones will see and hear on TV or in a PG-13 movie.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I need to be near wood-pulp and wood, apparently. I write in libraries and bookstores during the cold weather, and outdoors during the warm months. Though once I get going, it hardly matters. But I think atmosphere and ambiance ought to matter to a writer. Because one day the book will be gathering dust on a shelf, or nanobyte-dust in a computer drive. But I’ve found it’s the writing, the act, that is one of the greatest parts of the experience: you’re living your best life. Using that great computer between your ears, getting into and out of trouble, learning and honing a craft that is down in our culture, but not out. Putting in the hours, the reps, like an athlete, or a musician. So it’s not so much the where, or the when (mornings for me,) as the WHY. Why can you be found writing? Because, as Pirsig put it, “The motorcycle you’re working on is yourself.”
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I prefer the nineteenth century, from Emerson to Crane. That is, Romantics to late Realism–what the British call the Victorian era. There’s no compromise in many of those works, no promise that “it gets better if you stick with it.” Poe believed that literature was primarily meant to be pleasing, beautiful. You have to enjoy every page, whether there’s action or merely description, or dialogue. Reading should be constantly rewarding/edfiying. And although 19th century writerscan be as different as any human beings can be, from one another, they do seem to share that qualitative standard in their prose. Remember, book covers did not sell books then.
What are you working on now?
I’ve written myself well above my head with my next, The Girl Who Stares Back. The scope is historically ambitious. The point-of-view is a nightmare to keep sorted, because it involves multiple personalities sharing a body and a point in time and space. And it’s meant, unlike my first novel, to be commercially viable. So, although it’s only about 300-350 pages, it requires crazy attention to detail. I’m not the type of writer who can just say “good enough” and ship it out the door. Though I’m not a perfectionist, either. I just want it to approach the stuff that has inspired me so much, at least in ambition, if not execution.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I think book reviews sell books the best–which requires a lot of legwork and banging on doors, so to speak. There’s no shortcut that I know of.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Turn off your internet connection while you write.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
“Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”
What are you reading now?
Up-and-coming Indie Sci-Fi YA called Age of Eli. It’s Artificial Intelligence stuff, action adventure. I like to cross promote and share feedback with other Independents. There’s plenty of unknown talent out there, and we need to stick together!
What’s next for you as a writer?
Back to novels–hopefully, for now. For a novel I’m writing now, I’ve done hours and hours of research on Joan of Arc, because she figures as a major character. I’m going to do something controversial with her, make a change to the historical record which I hope will be obvious. But for that reason, I don’t want to get a bunch of basic facts wrong out of carelessness. If I offend people, it should be purposeful, not accidental. And to make a specific point.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.
Walden, by Henry Thoreau.
Paradise Lost, by John Milton.
There’s a lot of bang for the buck, there.