The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version: Tom Sheehan

(Interview consists of 15 pre-set questions. Authors have published at least one novel or short story/poetry collection.)

1) Why did you begin writing, and how long have you been doing so?

It began so long ago, yet it’s not hard to remember. On our summer porch at night, the fireflies hustling about in the near fields, my grandfather Johnny Igoe read W. B.Yeats to me, rocking in his chair, smoking his pipe, making music and rhythm in his life, and in mine. I was, at the first of Yeats, about six years old. "Listen," he'd say, pointing his finger up. "Hear the music. Know the sound. Feel the grab." Johnny Igoe, spellbinder remembered. On that porch on Main Street, a mere mile out of Saugus Center, he (and Yeats) holding forth, his voice would roll into the field where fireflies lived. His words would mix with the fireflies waiting on my bottle capture or a sense of deeper darkness where they could further show off their electric prowess. The times were magnetic, electric. I knew what attention was. Oh, I loved those compelling nights filled with Horseman, ride by; Prayer for My Daughter or old marble heads, captivating me with a sound so Irish I was proud. I will arise now and go to Innisfree/ oh, and the deep heart's core. The lineage found me: I didn't find it, and the echoes of those nights ring yet.

2) What does your writing routine consist of?

Though I am a late-bloomer (hanging around here for nearly 80 years), I am an early riser, perhaps six days a week at this machine by 4 AM, facing a decision—is it a poetry day, or a short story, or a novel at hand, or an administrative/revision day. It does declare itself by the end of the first cup of coffee, usually.

3) Have specific events ever flung you into an extended and productive period of creativity?

Years ago it was WW II newsreels, and my brother was out there. That impact has never left me. The dedication to my memoirs, A Collection of Friends, says, “For those who have passed through Saugus, those comrades who bravely walked away from home and fell elsewhere, and the frailest imaginable soldier of all, frightened and glassy-eyed and knowing he is hapless, one foot onto the soil at D-Day or a statistical sandy beach of the South Pacific and going down, but not to be forgotten, not here.” Not ever here. And one of my early poems, “I Who Lost a Brother,” says, “And nearly lost another/remember the headlines, newsreels, songs of bond-selling, gas-griping, and movies too true to hate. The whole Earth bent inwards, imploding bombs, bullets, blood, shrieking some terrible bird cry in my ears only sleep could lose. Near sleep I could only remember the nifty bellbottom blues he wore in the picture my mother cleaned and cleaned and cleaned on the altar of her bureau as if he were the Christ or the Buddha, but he was out there in the sun and the sand and the rain of shells and sounds I came to know years later moving up from Pusan. I never really knew about him until he came home and I saw his sea bag decorated with his wife’s picture, … and a map and the names Saipan, Iwo Jima, Kwajalein, … the war.”

4) What are common sources of inspiration?

Single lines from old poems of mine that haunt me or come back looking for further resolution, an image of an old friend or comrade or teammate, inequities we face in life, reality standing on its hind legs.

5) What does a book need to do to get you to read it from beginning to end?

When a teammate and lawyer and hungry reader passes a book to me and says, “Read it,” I’m in it for the long ride. Once on PBS I heard a creative writing teacher say to his class at NYU, “All I’ve ever tried to teach you about creative writing is in the first page and a half of Angela’s Ashes." I had long ago said that about Reynolds Price’s A Long and Happy Life.

6) Who are some of the authors you most admire?

A recent critique all started with an innocent, off-handed remark from a friend who asked me to tell him, in a month’s time, what books I had read. It felt like a tricky literary set-up, but I was game, though I knew it would eat seriously into my own composition schedule. As I go back over it now, I recall the hours I was absolutely knocked off my feet, brought to my knees in a month where superb writing left me dizzy with glee. I lead off with Wendell Berry’s Memories of Old Jack, Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter and a collection of five short stories, Fidelity. In a quick follow-up, knowing I’d be back to Berry in a shot, I was buried in J. M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K, Foe, Disgrace, and Slow Man. I finished my month with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I don’t know how many times I was mesmerized, but I will go back over a most significant path of personal pleasure, starting back with Wendell Berry where one man touches perfection. And I will read James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, and read again Night Soldiers by Alan Furst.

7) How familiar are you with the literary canon?

The previous response serves in part here, and at an early age I read Thomas Wolfe from end to end, days on end, now and then under threat under flashlight under bed covers.

8) What's your take on politics and literary endeavor?

Like a Zippo lighter, on and off and blowing in the wind.

9) What are your feelings about formal vs. free verse?

I love anything that takes me by the hand and runs around with me in tow.

10) Do you feel "flash" fiction (300 words or less) is a viable form, or nothing more than a writing exercise?

Anytime you can get two words together you’ve never seen together before, take it.

11) When not writing, what do you do for amusement?

I was at World Series Game 2 at Fenway Park most recently with my grandson Travis whom I have been pitching to for two years. He’s five years old now. I never miss a Saugus High hockey game (I was on the first team we ever had back in 1946, two sons have been captain there, and we all played football and baseball for Saugus High.) We’ve had three state championships in hockey in the last seven years and were into 11 minutes of overtime at the Fleet Center when we lost a bid for a third straight state title. I have near hyperventilated at some games. I didn’t miss a home game for the first nine years of the Patriots, but now hone in via TV.

12) What's one of the most annoying things you can think of?

Neighbors that don’t recycle goods. I recycle every piece of paper that comes into the house, every can, bottle, container of any sort. I will pitch to Travis, for his athletic future, and try to save the good green fields for him and his playmates at the same time.

13) Briefly describe what you consider to be one of your standout childhood pranks.

We used to go potato knocking: Hang a potato on a wire coat hanger and hook it on someone’s storm door, and imbed the front end of a long string in the potato. We would hide across the street and pull on the string so the “near invisible” potato knocked on the door. Often we were chased down the street by an irate neighbor after a half dozen “raps” on the door.

14) What are your upcoming projects/works in progress?

One novel is at a publisher now, after they asked for it on top of reading the first 50 pages. I’ve got three or four others all done and looking for publication. My next collection of short stories, after Epic Cures, is Brief Cases, Short Spans. It should come out in 2008, and From the Quickening is also completed. A few years ago, here in Saugus, we borrowed $60,000 from the bank to print a book that was not yet written, A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900-2000. We sold 400 copies the day of release, and paid the loan off in 5 months. We sold all 2500 copies at $42 each, with all proceeds going to the John Burns Millennium Book Associates scholarships for Saugus High graduates. John Burns, 92, is one of our co-editors, after 63 years in the Saugus High English department. We have sold 1000 copies of a sequel, Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900-2005. We are not sure yet if there is to be a third book. We co-editors meet again soon for a lunch/gab session, the ROMEOs, Retired Old Men Eating Out (92, 79, 78, 77). I can hardly wait. My pals will each have one martini, I’ll have three beers, the waitress will shine on us, and we’ll talk about book 3.

15) Care to conclude with a sweeping philosophical statement?

I’m just an old farmer who loves to tell tales, spin a yarn or two, live in a line of poetry every once in a while, finding the music now and then, like the semaphore in sunlight flew (sf sl fl), which became a poem. I’ll watch my wife Beth’s and my children progress as men and women, and our grandchildren carry promise with them wherever they go.


The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version
© 2006 by Robert Scott Leyse

Tom Sheehan Responses
© 2007 by
Tom Sheehan



About the Author

Tom Sheehan's Epic Cures, (short stories), from Press 53 won a 2006 IPPY Award from Independent Publishers. A Collection of Friends, (memoirs), 2004 from Pocol Press, was nominated for PEN America Albrend Memoir Award). His fourth poetry book, This Rare Earth & Other Flights, issued by Lit Pot Press, 2003. Print mysteries are Vigilantes East and Death for the Phantom Receiver. An Accountable Death is serialized on Three novels seek publication. His short story collection, Brief Cases, Short Spans, will be issued in 2008, and The Quickening Source has been completed. He has nominations for eight Pushcart Prizes and two Million Writers Awards, a Silver Rose Award from ART for short story excellence, and many Internet appearances. He is a veteran of the Korean War (31st Infantry Regiment), a Boston College grad after Army service, and has been retired for 16 years.


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