The First Book Club Visit for Shadow Campus
I should have done a video of this book club visit because it was so enjoyable. Held in East Greenwich, Rhode Island it is a book club sponsored by the YMCA. It was my first visit to a book club as an author and the first time they’d had an author come to visit. It was special.
I found myself talking about Shamus, the lead character, and the others as if they exist. For me they do and what I truly enjoy is all the e-mails I’ve received from readers telling me how much they like, are intrigued by, want to know more about, or hope will be in the sequel. There appear to be many women out there who would LOVE to meet Shamus and certainly want him in the books to come. I’m pretty fond of him too — though he is rough around the edges.
And what of the sequel? I was asked. Will there be a sequel? At the moment I’m working on two sequels. Soon I’ll be focusing completely on one. And, yes, Shamus will be in both of them.
What about Dr. Michaels? That was the question from a young woman, Neta. She’s with the YMCA and visited the book club yesterday, especially to talk about the characters and how much she’d enjoyed Shadow Campus. She really knew the characters, which made it all the more enjoyable. “Will Dr. Michaels become closer to Meg?” “Will he even be in the sequel?” she wondered. The handsome, competent, 50ish doctor is indeed hard to dismiss. If we don’t see him extensively in the next book, it’s likely he won’t be gone for long. I guess the best answer is, “We’ll see.”
If you could choose an actress to play Meg, who would that be? I’m one of those people who aren’t good at thinking of the names of actors off the top of her head, even when I remember great acting. One member of the group suggested I describe a part played by an actress who could do Meg’s character and they’d figure out who she is. But as that was being suggested, I thought of Sandra Bullock. She has an edge as an actress and could do the scenes between brother and sister with warmth, annoyance and anger as required. She can portray strong, but also sensitive. It seemed most of us liked the choice, thought I’m sure there are others. I mentioned Bullock would need to be sandy blonde. Neta said she tends to think of Meg as a red head. I asked if she thinks of Shamus as a red head too, and she said no. They both, however, have wavy hair that is sometimes bothersome to Shamus.
How long did it take to write Shadow Campus? Now that’s a tough question because between being a professor, writing articles and books about communication and politics at work, like The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics, raising three children and so on, the manuscript for SC rarely came out of my desk over the past several years except during the summers. I’ve also dealt with some medical issues for which the YMCA has been a great help. A marvelous artist friend of mine, Grace DeVito, when asked that question answers with “About 25 years.” What she means by that is that it took her 25 plus years to develop the skill that went into the painting being inquired about. I’d like to say the same, but my career has taken a variety of twists and turns and so I’ve been learning to write in many different ways – from weighty social science, Harvard Business Review type articles, to complex and simple, short blogs.
The “bones” of the entire story was written in a very intense week. Some time ago during a one-week semester break, I just couldn’t seem to not get up around 5 a.m. and begin to write this story. It flowed. I’d get up, write, get the kids off to school, and write, write, write. That was the beginning of Shadow Campus. To be honest, I think the story benefitted from being in the drawer so much over the past several years because during those busier times I could not have given the characters the attention they deserved. So let’s say 5 years (5 summers for sure) in the making, but maybe as Grace says, it was far more in the learning.
How did you feel when you finished and knew it would be published? I had to think for a bit on this one when Judy, who’d arranged my visit, asked after the meeting was over. Even with my nonfiction books, when you’re pushing for a deadline and the copyeditor is getting back to you and you back to him/her, you’re painting sample covers as I did, your husband is experimenting with graphics for the cover, there are loose ends to tie up, you’re so busy there isn’t time to think about being finished or what that means. But for a first novel, especially, publication is meaningful. I remember one night before going to sleep I was alone thinking, “It’s really going to be published now.” Shamus, Meg, Rashid, and the others who had lived in my brain and heart would now belong to everyone who reads Shadow Campus. I wondered for a brief moment if they and I were ready. But fortunately that passed quickly. It’s a little like having children, you’re never truly ready.
I remembered my father asking when I was in my late twenties, “Why don’t you write a novel?” I was touched by his faith in me, but replied, “I’m not ready yet, Dad.” He said, “Yes you are.” So the book is dedicated to him – for always nudging me further — and to my mother who was always there for support, for laughter, for helping me understand people. I remember one day when I was quite young seeing someone in the grocery store acting oddly. I said something to my mother. She replied, “Kathleen, you never know what other people are going through.” I’ve never forgotten that. When I develop characters, they aren’t people who we know on the surface only. We sense, in most cases, that much has gone one in their lives because it must have. My mom gave me that awareness then and by the way she lived. She was a good, caring, insightful person and funny too. None of us is a single note. We’re each a symphony.
I loved the relationship development between Shamus and his sister and the way they talked with each other. How did you do that? I have a brother, Kevin, who is three years older than I. While Meg and Shamus’ interactions of defensiveness, warmth, anger, verbal sparring are not identical to the way Kevin and I talk, some of the tone is similar at times. I also have three children and a nephew and niece whose interactions likely contributed and friends whose siblings I also know. You can’t help but pick up pieces here and there.
The scene where Shamus brings yellow flowers to Meg is a case in point. I was thinking of a particular brother and sister and extending that. It’s tender and a bit self-judgmental with a twinge of residual jealousy. He loves his sister but he’s still somewhat angry at her and at himself. We begin to see that not so deep down he has warm feelings for her and feels guilt. He isn’t just her estranged brother who doesn’t care and never did. He does care. But he is not comfortable with realizing that let alone saying such things unless, of course, as in this case, she is in a coma. That may say something about many sibling relationships.
Also, Shamus and Meg are in what is described in my nonfiction books and in some of the blogs below as an UREP (pronounced URP) – an unwanted repetitive episode. Most of us have those with someone close to us. They are negative patterns that we often can’t seem to break because we don’t stop to notice how repetitive and damaging they are. Nor do we use “choice points” in the conversations – opportunities we have – to turn things around by not doing what we always do but instead tweaking and being less predictable. We learn early on in the book the burden Shamus carries, but throughout their changing relationship it is very difficult for Shamus, in particular, to break out of the UREP. Until people recognize UREPs in their relationships, they can’t really change them. They are habits of communication that resist being undone.
How character names are chosen. This came up when I was signing a book for Emma. What a lovely name that is. Whether that has anything to do with Jane Austin, I’m not sure. But Emma and I talked about her name and her appreciation for it now that wasn’t there as a child. Even that little story is something that can one day show up in fiction. I like to choose the names of people I know, mostly for fun, but they also need to fit the character – at least in my mind. Who knows, Emma may be a character in the future. The real Emma told me she is looking forward to it.
Thanks you to the Kent YMCA for the invitation to visit. It was a pleasure to meet all of you and I hope to do so again. K