I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
April 1, 2021: Shelagh Connor Shapiro
Congratulations to Shelagh Connor Shapiro who managed to get three new pieces of writing published during the pandemic. For a bit of nonfiction, click over to read “Band Camp,” a short account of something that recently happened at her house. Note the way she sets the scene, uses detail, and then adds backstory to create a textured, full story in less than 1000 words.
To listen to Shelagh read to you, click over to a short memoir piece entitled “Sacred,” published in the 2020 winter edition of the New Ohio Review. Shelagh creates this piece by weaving together her childhood in Ohio, her early married life in Vermont, and the Hopewell Tradition—the common aspects of the many cultures of Native Americans who shared the same trade routes in the northeastern and midwestern Eastern Woodlands from 100 BCE to 500 CE.
For a short piece of fiction, Shelagh has a story up at Halfway Down the Stairs, entitled “Alike” about two sisters cleaning out their mother’s house after her death. Again, such good decisions about when to be in scene, when to summarize, and when to add in backstory.
Shape of the Sky, Shelagh’s first novel published in 2014, is set in the fictional town of Resolute, Vermont. It opens with a town meeting, and it tells the story of the people of Resolute during the spring and summer of 2010 as they contemplate and then host a rock concert. The first page of the Introduction features a drawing of what I discovered was a circle of fifths—a way of organizing the 12 chromatic pitches as a sequence of perfect fifths. Apparently, musicians often use the circle of fifths to describe the musical relationships between pitches. Which is a wonderful metaphor for this story of the relationships among the people of Resolute during the summer of the rock concert.
Everyone had a story. And every story overlapped with countless others.
Bill and Georgia listen to music in the milk house as they milk the cows. Their music system uses CDs, but Bill imagines a spindle dropping one album at a time. Carter, still in high school, writes songs. “Usually it was the lyrics that came first, and the notes that popped neatly into place.” Rita is always causing trouble. The cute new state trooper, Chris Kozlowski, had just moved to town from Philadelphia, “a perplexing trajectory” according to Georgia. Later, we learn that Chris’s sister vanished when she was fifteen.
His memories of her face were limited to the smiling pose she’d held in the picture that had hung in the front hall of their house. He felt like he remembered her, but could never call back more than that white sparkly blouse, the small, gold hoop earrings, the smooth, long sweep of hair across her forehead, and the way her eyes crinkled in the photo because she was laughing at something their mother had said.
What he had in great supply were feelings of memory.
Shape of the Sky is told in twelve chapters by twelve different characters with Bill and Georgia starting us off and closing us down.
Shelagh is also the host of the radio show/podcast Write the Book: Conversations on Craft—weekly interviews with authors, poets, agents, and editors on 99.3 fm, WBTV-LP in Burlington, and available wherever you listen to podcasts. It’s an amazing project she started back in 2008, just a few months before I began this monthly series, and this April marks thirteen years of interviews. Here are the three links to the guests she’s had on the show: A-F, G-L, M-Z. I particularly enjoyed her December 16, 2013 conversation with Ann Patchett.
As part of each show, Shelagh gives a writing prompt. Here’s the most recent one.
This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider how your work might benefit from an infusion of the ineffable. Your work might be strictly realistic, and yet even in life we encounter that which is hard to explain or express–that which inspires awe or fear. This might mean picking up on an unseen presence in a room, or perhaps conveying how it feels to lean over and drop a pebble into a canyon. Working to express something inexpressible simply has to be good for your writing.
In 2014, Shelagh and her husband biked from Key West, Florida, to their home in Vermont, which she says was “an amazing adventure (and a bit out of character).” She has recently started another adventure as the producer of the “Vermont Viewpoint” radio show, hosted by Ric Cengeri, on WDEV (wdevradio.com). Shelagh graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Stay well and…
Come back on APRIL 1st to read how SHELAGH CONNOR SHAPIRO spends her days.