aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

You can do a lot with an hour

Today is Carol Shield's birthday. She died about four years ago. Ten years ago I had the extreme pleasure if interviewing her. We talked about words, theatre, our names, all kinds of things. She had a very interesting way of structuring her books, which I didn't include in my write-up. I wish I could go back and talk to her about it more. I don't think I even have the tape any more. I was volunteering for one of those literary magazines that has no budget except what one person's mom donates, plus about paying seven subscribers.

When she was in her late thirties, with five children to raise, and all the housework to do, Carol had only one free hour every day, between 11 a.m. and noon. So every day, she would plan out in her mind what she wanted to write, and as soon as it was 11 a.m., she would write as fast as she could, usually about two pages. She finished her first novel, Small Ceremonies, in nine months. It came out in 1976, when Carol Shields was 41 years old.

Her first big success was the Stone Diaries (1993) the fictional biography of an apparently unremarkable woman named Daisy Goodwill Flett, who lives for more than 90 years, goes from rural Manitoba to Sarasota, Florida, marries several men, raises children, writes a gardening column, and whose final thought at the end of her life is, "I am not at peace."

She wrote the novel as a kind of scrapbook, with excerpts of fictional letters, diaries, and newspaper articles. She even included photographs that she had found in antique shops to give the sense that Daisy might have been a real person. The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1995 and became an international best-seller.

At the end of my interview, I asked, "Is it different to go to readings and have more people be there?"

Carol laughed and said, "Yes. That's nice. But you never know. It's not always a big crowd."

Read more here. And another interview - read more here.

After the interview came out, she sent me a postcard. I still have it.

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