Welcome back for our final Q&A in our special series to meet Old Iron Press authors near and far. Our summer roadtrip to meet our authors concludes, as Playing Authors does, with none other than Barbara Shoup!
Barbara Shoup is the author of eight novels for adults and young adults, most recently An American Tune and Looking for Jack Kerouac, and two books about writing, A Commotion in Your Heart: Notes about Writing and Life and Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process. Her creative nonfiction has been recently published in Atticus, Ocotillo Review, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is the Writer-in-Residence at the Indiana Writers Center, a faculty member at Art Workshop International, and hosts the substack, Book Pilgrim.
At OIP, we love the fact that everyone has their own set of “classics” (i.e., books, songs, recipes, comics, food, objects, movies, shows, etc. that shaped you). What were some of your favorite childhood classics?
Books: I checked out the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books and the Little House books over and over. I owned Little Women (I still have it) and read Beth’s death scene so many times the book opened on its own to that page. And Nancy Drew! A few years back I fell in love with a yellow Jeep, which a friend observed was like Nancy’s yellow roadster. When I was in high school, Black Like Me totally blew my mind.
Comics: I read my copies of Archie, Little Lotta, Richie Rich, Nancy until they were ragged.
Shows: all those dopey happy-family shows—"Father Knows Best,” “Donna Reid,” “Ozzie and Harriett,” “Leave It to Beaver”—which I thought was the way normal families really were. Of course, “Lucy!” And later, “Dobie Gillis,” which made me fall in love with the idea of becoming a Beatnik.
Food: a big fat tomato, warm from the sun, salted, eaten while sitting on a swing on a neighbor’s swing set, juice dribbling down my arm.
What inspired your piece for Playing Authors?
I signed up for a well-known, big-deal (expensive) writers conference with the idea that, by god, I was going to promote myself and my work for a change. But over the course of the few days I was there, watching all those either desperate or overconfident writers putting themselves in the way of anyone they thought could help them, often in a cringeworthy manner, made me retreat into my do-not-brag shell. I just couldn’t do it. The workshop I took was good and I met several wonderful writers I know I’ll stay in contact with, so I’m not sorry I went. But I’m resigned to the idea that as far as self-promoting goes, I’m a complete and total dud.
Favorite word / font / letter?
“Subtle.” Because the spelling is … subtle. “Penultimate” because it is so ridiculous. Times New Roman because it looks like it knows what it’s talking about. I rather like the letter “B.” It’s fun to write.
Where would your adventure be set: underwater or in space?
OMG. Neither. I love being near the ocean but am scared to death of being under it. And space? No. Just no. The very idea of the universe terrifies me. I’ll just go to Rome, thanks. Or anywhere in Italy.
Snacks while you work? If yes, what’s your go-to?
Goldfish crackers, unfortunately limited to one snack-size bag per session.
What are some of your favorite tools-of-the-trade?
At the moment my favorite tool of the trade is the Llamy fountain pen I bought last summer in Assisi, where I teach each year with Art Workshop International. I’d been deathly sick with bronchitis almost the whole time I was there and staggered up to the commune near the end of the workshop session, looking for gifts to take home, but I was sidetracked by the lovely maroon pen. I used to use fountain pens exclusively. I had a bunch of them. But—who knows why—they got weird and the ink didn’t flow the way it should, so I abandoned them. Suddenly, missing the person I was when I used them, I picked up the Llamy to try it out. The feel of the nib on the smooth page made me absurdly happy and I thought, I need this. I keep it on my desk; I love using it. (I bought a second one online to keep in my bag but it doesn’t feel the same because I’m pretty sure the first one has some magic in it.) I keep thinking I might start writing by hand again, or at least write something by hand. But I haven’t, yet.
You are hosting a party. Who’s coming? Where and when? What’s being served? (Fictional characters and locales are welcome.)
I hate parties; my social skills are deplorable. As for hosting one for which I would be required to cook, I’d be so anxious I couldn’t possibly enjoy it. So could we just have coffee in a pleasant café? If so, there’s a place I love in Assisi—way up, near the top of the city. Quite a climb! But the view—! I’d share a cappuccino with my crime writer pal SJ Rozan (which I actually get to do each summer because we teach there together), along with Jane Austen (for good gossip), Rachel Joyce (for observing the best, most telling details around us), Bonnie Gavin (for telling the truth while making us laugh hysterically), and, let’s see, Emily Bronte (always in need of being cheered up and we could do this, for sure). Oh, wait. Toni Morrison, too, (because…she is Toni Morrison.) Maybe we’d all have an affogato, too: hot espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato. Why not? No calories in imaginary food and if, by chance, the imaginary caffeine made us stay up all night, no problem. We’d just keep talking.
What mashups do you wish existed?
I think most writers are either experimenters or visionaries. Experimenters love to play. A request to generate mashups would be met with delight; they’d probably have ten instantaneously. The visionary gets an idea and is like a dog with a bone, unable to think of anything other than getting that one idea down the way it looks, feels, and sounds in her head. Playful, no. All of which is to say (with apologies) that, being a visionary myself, my mind goes completely blank at the thought of mashups.
What are some things you enjoy doing off-screen? (*your very own digital disruption):
Digital Disruptions: Reading, reading, reading—and more reading. Sitting by water, reading. Sitting in a café, reading. Walking my dog, Lewis (while listening to a book.) Driving my red Beetle convertible in the summer, with the top down (while listening to a book.) Hanging out with writer friends, talking about books. Also, knitting while binging on really good TV series (which, to me, are like reading novels). And travel. I really, really love to travel, especially to places I’ve read about in books.
Any recommendations for the OIP community? What have you been enjoying lately?
My favorite 2023 books, so far: Sam (Allegra Goodman), Miss Benson’s Beetle (Rachel Joyce), They’re Going to Love You (Meg Howry), Lessons in Chemistry (Bonnie Gavin), Killing Commendatore (Haruki Murakami), Euphoria (Ellin Culhed), Miss Austen (Gil Hornby). Right now I’m reading Rebecca Makkai’s I Have Some Questions for You—which I’m betting I’ll add to the list shortly.
Thank you so much, Barbara! It is an honor to publish your work. You have always been, and will always be, life goals.