My Virtual Interview with Joan Shott

By Nina Laden, August 2012

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Nina Laden profiles Joan Shott.

Joan Shott

I had all good intentions of trying my hand as the “intrepid reporter” to do my duty to interview the lovely Ballard writer, Joan Shott. I downloaded her book, “The Hummingbird War” on my Kindle and read it. Joan and I emailed back and forth and discussed when to meet, which we determined to be after Mick Jagger’s birthday, which also happens to be her birthday- and my husbands’ as well. Post birthday time arrived and we set a date. I was looking forward to seeing her lovely garden. After reading her book, I was certain she was into planting for hummingbirds and knew her horticulture and ornithology cold. I was certain that she would be a warm and inviting person since she volunteers her time teaching memoir writing classes at the Matt Talbot center for homeless, addicted and mentally ill people. I was imagining a gorgeous summer morning with two writers discussing books and life while hummingbirds buzzed by our heads like fighter jets over NAS Whidbey.

My imagination will have to suffice. Fate stepped in and gave me the flu. Not only the flu, but the flu with total laryngitis. I couldn’t talk if I tried. So I called on my virtual fairy Godmother and sent Joan an email with my questions. It’s not as creative as I wanted it to be, but it’s what we have to do in the face of adversity. I’m sure Joan’s main character, Diane, would understand.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in S.E. Connecticut. I am truly a New Englander at heart.

Go to school?

Went to UCONN then moved to Chicago after graduating to go to the U of Chicago, although I got my teaching certificate at DePaul (lived in the DePaul neighborhood) and worked at DePaul for a time as a librarian.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer. I used to write newspapers for the neighborhood kids and plays to entertain us during summer vacations. And I studied writing in college and grad. school but never had the time or inclination when my kids were growing up.

Let’s talk about “The Hummingbird War.”
You say it is fiction, are you at all like Diane?

Only in the father-daughter aspect and my real roommate in college was Nancy. I have included her in the book I am finishing now and she’ll be in the one after that. She’s sort of like Alfred Hitchcock, popping up in all my work.

Where were you during Vietnam?

I was living at home and watching the war on the news every night. My cousin, a marine, (the book is dedicated to him) was killed there in 1966. His death affected me deeply and my family (my father’s sister was his mother) has been quite moved by my dedication of the book to him.

Are you from, or is your spouse from a military family?

Just my father’s participation in WWII. Other than that, no.
(My husband went to West Point as did his father and grandfather- all Army, that family…)

You obviously love birds, when did you start connecting to them?
My father liked to watch them and photograph them.

Did you live on Whidbey?

No, but I love it and it was appropriate to set the story there because of the Naval Air Station.

Tell me about your process of writing “The Hummingbird War.”

It took me about a year from start to finish and I worked on it with my critique group and used it in an ESL class of advanced non-native speakers that I taught (they were all women). They were all in love with Matthew and/or Bobby.

Did you pursue conventional publishers before self-pubbing?

Not really. I spoke to agents at the PNWA conference last summer, but I was turned off by them. My topic(s) is not the usual stuff of commercial fiction and I am a control freak about my work.

What are your writing habits?

I start before 7am almost every day. Since I  left my full time job last August, I have been able to write as long and as often as I like. Every week I have at least ten pages polished and ready to bring to my critique group. My goal is to finish my next book by the end of this year and have the third one started.

What are you working on now?

I haven’t decided between my two titles, but it is about brothers who struggle to survive the shame and confusion and family breakdown after their father is arrested for molesting their two older sisters. At age 8 in 1960, they see their father arrested and the story follows them for the next 16 years. One goes off to Vietnam and one becomes a professional baseball player. The story is about keeping a family together despite great odds and the bond between the brothers (they are fraternal twins) despite the great divide that befalls them (a woman). The idea has been in my head since I was in college and I found out this had happened to my best friend in grammar school. Since third grade I had wondered why his family left town suddenly and it left me with a hole in my life and then in college, in an unusual circumstance, I found out what had happened to his family…and it is the germ that started this book.

I am also working on a non-fiction book of stories written by my students at The Matt Talbot Center. I teach a memoir-writing class there and I have been gathering stories for a collection I will eventually publish and sell to benefit the center. Matt Talbot is a drug and alcohol rehab facility on 3rd Avenue. I have been working there about five years. I don’t have a target date for this book. It is very difficult to get anything done on a timeline with my participants. Many of them are in bad shape…but getting better every day.

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