Thursday, October 17, 2019

Where Writers Write: Sheila O’Connor

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Sheila O’Connor. 

Sheila is the author of six award-winning novels for adults and young people, including, most recently, Evidence of V: A Novel of Fragments, Facts, and Fictions, published in Fall 2019 by Rose Metal Prss. Her other books include Where No Gods Came, winner of the Minnesota Book Award and the Michigan Prize for Literary Fiction, and Sparrow Road, winner of the International Reading Award. She is a professor in the Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review. Visit her website here. 

Where Sheila O’Connor Writes

My longing for my own writer’s studio began decades ago during a residency at Norcroft in the small, silent space they’d given me to work.  It was a simple shed with a desk and a chair, and a large window offering a stunning view of Lake Superior.  It’s true I was awed by the majesty of Lake Superior, but what I loved most was the way I left one world—the residency lodge where all the writers resided—for my very private, silent book world safe from distractions.  Even now, decades later, I have a deep visceral memory of leaving behind one world for the book that was waiting in that shed. 

It wasn’t until I received the Bush Artist Fellowship in 2009, that I was able to make my longing for a private, creative space a reality for myself and other writers who needed a space to work.  The plan I had was simple: a shed in my backyard with a window that looked out on the woods that could be shared. 

It was in that small white building in my backyard that my vision for Evidence of V began to find its shape.  Inside my shed, I imagined the talented young V singing on the streets of 1930s Minneapolis; I saw the crowded nightclub where she worked, Mr. C’s room at the Belvedere Hotel.   While snow fell on the woods outside my window, it fell inside my story.  First on Minneapolis, and later on the Minnesota Home School for Girls at Sauk Centre where V was held, and finally it fell over her parole days in Duluth. I have no doubt the overwhelming press of winter in that book came from the constant frozen world outside the shed.

As grateful as I am to have the shed, I’m still indebted to the artist spaces that made a home for me while I was dreaming V to life.  A short stay at WriteOn! Door County.  A month at the Anderson Center at Tower View that allowed me time to transcribe all the fragments of V I’d originally dictated.  The Studium at the College of St. Benedict where I ate dinner with the nuns and spent long silent days trying to write the final missing pieces for the book. 

In my quest for creative privacy and silence, I’ve moved between writing spaces made possible by the generosity of others, including the small white shed that waits in my backyard. There, my dog sleeps while I dream, and the bulletin board my daughter made holds whatever words I need to guide my work, and my son’s gift—the stone that says There has to be a story-- reminds me to keep writing, to trust new words will arrive. 

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