Shana Burg’s first novel A Thousand Never Evers, burst onto the literary scene only a year ago, but it has already collected a basketful of wonderful reviews and prestigious awards. Set in Kuckachoo, Mississippi in 1963, the novel follows a young girl whose innocent act results in the disappearance of her brother. Recently I visited with the talented Ms. Burg about books, writing and inspiration.
Describe your path to writing.
I got hooked on writing in fourth grade, when my teacher assigned us to write a book of poetry. I haven’t stopped since. I’d always write stories, poems, and plays. As a teenager, I worked for an organization that let kids write news stories that were published nationwide. In college, I wrote for the newspaper.
But when I graduated college, I thought writing for a living was a dream, not something you could actually do. So I got lots of other jobs, but I always continued writing on the side. Many years later, I was teaching sixth grade. I took my students to hear an author speak, and something in me sparked. I went home and that afternoon, I began writing my first book, A Thousand Never Evers. I never looked back, even though it took eight years from that day until it was published.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m drawn to the sixth grade condition. I remember this year in my own development so vividly. It’s a year when all of a sudden the old rules of childhood no longer apply. You look around and see for the first time that people don’t always share their toys, that adults can be fallible. Overnight you’re catapulted into bizarre territory where nothing is normal anymore—most especially not yourself. So I get inspiration for my writing from interacting with middle school students. They always make me laugh and teach me tons.
Describe a normal “writing” workday.
I wish I had one! There’s no normal writing day for me. It’s always a question of juggling a million mom things with the writing. So I take my son to school, clean up a bit, write, do the laundry, write again, plan for a bookstore or library event, write some more. I also do school visits, so on those days I don’t write at all. When I do sit down to write, I set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes and disable the Internet on my computer, so that I’m not distracted by email. (It’s just a matter of pressing one little button.) Those 45 minutes are sacred and nothing can interrupt me. If I get in three writing blocks like this in a day, I’m happy.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
My favorite writers are people who entertain me while teaching about another time and place. Some inspirations are Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Also Pearl S. Buck author of The Good Earth. For younger readers, I love Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis.
What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?
Have adventures; travel if you can, push your comfort zone. Take notes when you meet quirky people. Jot down when your kids say something funny. Journal about the unusual things that happened in your own childhood. If you do this, then you’ll have a treasure trove to pick through when you do get a couple minutes to write. And your writing will spring to life in a way that is uniquely your own.
To learn more about Shana, her books and her life, check out her website at www.shanaburg.com.
This interview was originally published in the August 2009 version of the Houston Banner.