Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview with Shawn Smucker

Regular readers of this blog will remember Shawn Smucker, author of My Amish Roots, from his guest posts in February and in August, not to mention his numerous appearances in my Stuff I've Been Reading round-ups. Shawn is a remarkably talented and thoughtful writer and he is a smart and funny friend. And while I find his taste in cereal questionable, I can overlook that because he wrote one of my all-time most favorite essays on the internet.

When Shawn said that he was releasing a book about his Amish heritage, I was excited to read it, even though I have an uneasy relationship with both non-fiction and history. Of course, Shawn did not disappoint. He is a beautiful story-teller and this book was no exception. Shawn weaves his own story into that of his ancestors and in so doing, shows the ways in which we are the same and which we are different. I loved reading the excerpts from various diaries and experiencing the sadness and joy that his extended family went through for more than 200 years.

I asked Shawn a few questions about writing and his family and cereal and I'd love to share them with you here. Enjoy

Alise: What was your research method for this book? How much was found in journals and how much was found through oral tradition?

Shawn: I spent a lot of time with my grandmother’s brothers and sisters. That’s where most of the stories came from. But I also got some great information from my great-great-grandfather’s journal from 1893 – 1896 (this is included in the back of the book).

Alise: You’re a regular blogger. How does writing a book like this compare to blogging? What are the similarities and what are the differences?

Shawn: I don’t feel like there’s very much of a comparison. Both have their challenges. It’s tough coming up with something to blog about every day, but it’s also a challenge to maintain the momentum required to complete a 75,000 word manuscript. I think that what I liked about writing the family history was that I got to experiment with some different forms of writing, different voices, things like that.

Alise: What did you discover about yourself as you wrote this book?

Shawn: There is a deeper connection between me and the physical landscape of my hometown than I ever imagined. Maybe it’s because we’ve lived here for over 200 years. Maybe it’s because having such a large extended family gave me a huge sense of belonging as a kid. I’m not sure, but the rolling fields, the farmland, the streams and forests, have started to feel like just another relative.

Alise: How do you think your storytelling compares to that of your ancestors?

Shawn: Ha! For some reason, that question made me laugh. They were very stoic, very basic. My great-great-grandfather’s journal is a series of one-sentence days. I wish I could talk storytelling with them.

Alise: What do you hope to pass on from your children, not just about your roots, but about your own story?

Shawn: My great (x10) grandfather left his home to come to a new world. My great-great-grandparents both lost spouses before meeting each other. If anything, I’d love my children to inherit this resilience and sense of adventure.

Alise: Do you feel like your ancestors would agree that Lucky Charms are a superior cereal, or would they be more reasonable and recognize the inherent greatness of Golden Grahams?

Shawn: To be honest, I don’t think my Amish ancestors would be down with anything having to do with charms or gold. Guess we’re still deadlocked on that one.

Thanks so much for stopping by Shawn!

Please be sure to stop by Shawn's site to order your autographed copy of My Amish Roots in time for Christmas. You can also hook up with Shawn on Twitter and on Facebook. If you want to win a copy of Shawn's book, he's giving away two copies every Friday in December! Just head over to his blog and sign up to be on his email list.


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