I reviewed How Far Is the Ocean from Here (here) last week, and author Amy Shearn graciously agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.
What was your motivation behind the story?
When I started writing the book I really only had an image in mind -- this pregnant woman driving through the desert. (It now seems like an obvious metaphor, though it didn't to me at the time!) And I knew that somehow the baby wasn't hers, whatever that meant. So the first draft was all about me figuring out this puzzle I'd set up for myself.
But I'd also been thinking a lot about why people make bad, self-destructive decisions. It's a great mystery, when you think about it -- why do we do things we know are wrong? So in Susannah I was trying to explore this idea. And at the same time, I'd been writing all these short stories about people trying and failing to care for each other, and this is obviously one of the book's preocupations, too. How can people really care for each other? Do they, ever?
What do you want readers to take from the book? What's the "lesson learned," so to speak, in your mind?
Hm. What a good question. I don't know! I guess I don't think of writing in that way -- I didn't really have a lesson or moral or anything in mind. I like the idea that people might have sympathy for all these damaged weirdos in the book. Most of all I just hope people find something in the book they enjoy. A wise professor once told me to write the book I wanted to read, and that's really all I was trying to do.
What are you currently reading?
I've been making my way through the Collected Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor. She's someone I'd always been told to read and hadn't really, and I'm really in awe of her stories and characters and sly way with language. I'm also reading Charles Baxter's wonderful and sensitive novel Shadow Play,which is one of his only books I hadn't read yet (he was a professor of mine in grad school), and Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances, an immensely smart, funny, enjoyable read.
What books inspired you?
This is going to sound funny, but Moby Dick was a big inspiration. I had a copy on my writing desk and would open it up when I felt myself losing my nerve. Some of the passages in the book are even patterned after the language in Moby Dick. I just love how fearless and big-hearted and messy that novel is. The same goes for Virginia Woolf's very funny novel Orlando. I've always been a big Woolf fan and a lot of the dipping in and out of persepctives in my book owes a debt to her brilliant Mrs. Dalloway. But I'm also inspired by contemporary novels that play with language in interesting ways -- I'm a big fan of writers like Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Samantha Hunt, and Kathryn Davis.
What's ahead for you?
I'm working on another novel. I'm a bit supersitious about discussing current projects -- I'm afraid I'll lose interest if I talk about them -- but I will say that I think it's very different from HFITOFH. It's a whole other puzzle I've set up for myself.
Thanks so much, Amy!
You can visit her on her Web site here.