I came across Shawn Smucker and his beautiful writing through a mutual friend and gifted author, Andi Cumbo-Floyd.
I was fortunate enough to be able to review How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp written by him and his wife, Maile. I loved reading about their cross-country adventure.
So, it is with great honor and pleasure that I present to you today, author Shawn Smucker.
1) What was it like for you as a child?
I had an idyllic childhood. I lived on a farm from the age of 5 until I was around 10, which means I grew up wandering through vast fields, splashing in the nearby creek, creeping through dusty barns, and playing in the cemetery across the street. I have kind parents and three incredible sisters. Some of my favorite memories from that farmhouse involve sitting on the massive porch in the heat of the summer, reading the Hardy Boys or any other book I could get my hands on.
I also had a powerful sense of belonging, I think because my family had such deep roots in the place where I grew up. I had over 20 cousins that lived relatively close, and five or six older cousins at my school, so I always felt very protected and looked after.
2) When did you know you were meant to be a writer?
Not for many years. I always loved stories, but it wasn’t until I went off to college that I became drawn to writing. Then I got pulled into the life everyone expected me to live for about ten years, running businesses and chasing financial success, but eventually I came back around to my love of stories.
3) I read you started reading early on, what is one book that stood out for you the most?
The first books I read that had a tremendous impact on me were the Narnia Chronicles. My parents bought me the boxed set at our church bookstore for $14.97. I still have that set. From that point on, stories became my life.
4) What inspires you?
My children inspire me. My wife inspires me. Just being in the same house with them and living life is adventurous and new every day. When you are in close proximity to other people, you are kind of forced to pay attention, and I think this has been very good for my writing.
5) Who are/were your greatest influences?
John Steinbeck, Anne Lamott, and Madeleine L’Engle, just to name a few. But above all of them I would have to say that Henri Nouwen inspires my spirit as well as my writing.
6) Who are your favorite authors, books and why?
All the folks I listed in the last question, plus many others. The novels that I have loved tend to involve themes of faith and doubt because those things are so central to my own existence. The nonfiction I like tends to explore the contemplative life – things like meditation and silence.
7) What is your writing and creative process?
I’m kind of a fidgeter. It’s something I’m trying to be better about, but right now creativity to me looks like writing for an hour while listening to music and then surfing the web, writing again then getting something to eat. I’m kind of a restless creative, but I’m trying to be more grounded, more focused, just to see if I get better results that way.
8) What does your typical day look like?
I’m not an early-morning kind of guy. I wake up around 7:30, get breakfast for our four kids, then go sit in my office until noon or so. If the weather is nice I’ll write outside. Usually my brain is fried by 3, so I’ll go out, split some wood or take a walk. I try to give my family the hours from 4 until whenever. I try to write for a few hours in the evening after the kids are asleep, but that only happens maybe three times a week.
9) What are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading Aimless Love by Billy Collins. Thanks to my friend Stacy Barton, I had a chance to hang out with Billy while Maile and I were on our cross-country trip, and he was such a kind, encouraging man. His poetry is wonderful because the images are fresh and sharp and there’s a storytelling aspect to the way he writes that is appealing to me.
10) What are your thoughts on faith and art?
Far too many to share in this format! I’ll just say that most Christians try to categorize things too much – is that movie Christian? Is that book a Christian book? Using the word “Christian” to describe an inanimate object makes absolutely no sense to me, except as a marketing term.
I agree with Madeleine L’Engle in that “to look at a work of art and then to make a judgment on whether or not it is art, and whether or not it is Christian, is presumptuous.”
11) What role does faith play out in your writing?
On one hand I would say that it doesn’t play any role in my writing, at least not in any deliberate way on my part. I have no desire to use writing as an evangelical tool. On the other hand, my faith is inextricable from my writing. It’s embedded so tightly into the fabric of me that I’m sure it comes through in most of what I write.
12) How did Building a Life Out of Words come about?
After my wife and I managed to escape from the life our culture tries to impose on everyone, I felt such a strong desire to tell people our story, to help others break free. I probably came across a little dogmatic, but I was still so close to our own experience that it was difficult to bring any objectivity to the book.
13) What are you currently working on?
I’m currently wrapping up a novel I wrote for my children as well as a few biographies (that’s where I make my living, in ghost-writing and co-writing). I’m also in the middle of a book on silence, but I have a feeling that one is curing slowly, one that will take a lot more time for me to think through and get out on paper.
14) When did you start to blog and why?
That’s funny. I kind of forgot about this, but I started blogging because my wife and I decided to go a year without watching television, back in 2010. I blogged all of 2010, 2011 and 2012, and then decided to take a break for 2013. I recently started again after having been away from blogging for about a year.
15) What are your goals and aspirations as a writer and author?
I try not to think too much about big, broad goals. Mostly my goals involve writing everyday and not getting too caught up in building a platform.
16) What would you like your readers to get from your writing?
I think a lot of people have lost hope in life, for all kinds of different reasons, so I’d like to give people hope. I’d also like to remind people that there is a true life waiting for them if they can shed the pressure to conform that this culture puts on all of us.
17) Do you think writers need to get a Master’s degree in Creative Writing to succeed as a writer?
I don’t have a Master’s, so I hope not! But I think it’s important for all writers to think about why Master’s programs are important and helpful – consistency, productivity, and honest feedback, just to name a few things. I think that last one is especially important. Most writers, because of our personalities, tend to surround themselves with a cushion of people who think their writing is unbelievable – you know, mothers, cousins, college roommates. I see this in a lot of writers’ groups, where you have a group of people who are endlessly encouraging but never offer any critical feedback.
We all need support, but we also need honesty from those who read what we’ve written or we’ll never improve, never evolve. I think this gets back to why degree programs can be so important. If you don’t have a degree in writing and don’t plan on getting one, I think it’s important to somehow foster this kind of loving, critical environment.
18) In your expertise, what do you think it takes to become a great writer?
One word: dedication. To writing, but also to reading and to paying attention.
19) Lastly, what advice would you give a novice writer?
Write 1000 words every day without editing. Just write and keep writing.
Thank you for your thoughtful and generous interview, Shawn Smucker.
He lives deep in the woods of southern Lancaster County, PA, with his wife and four children.