Aurelie Sheehan’s novel History Lesson for Girls tells the story of the awkward protagonist, Alison, who suffers from scoliosis which isolates her from her peers. When her family moves to a new town Alison meets Kate the popular and feisty girl whose hidden anguish are similar to her own. Yet as their friendship grows, the issues that brought them together threatens to tear them apart. The story has authentic characters with subtle humor that will keep you reading till the last page as the girl’s confront heartbreak and betrayals.
In the interview below Aurelie Sheehan talks about her writing process and her book History Lesson for Girls.
Veronica Jauregui: How did you come up with the idea of History Lesson for Girls?
Aurelie Sheehan: I’d spent a lot of ti
me thinking about the importance of friendship for me growing up, and I wanted to write a novel that explored that.
Veronica Jauregui: In your book History Lessons for Girls, how do you think the setting and placing it in the 1970s affects the story?
Aurelie Sheehan: I live in Tucson now, but I grew up in Connecticut. Being so far away from home adds urgency to remembering and imagining a place. It made sense to me to write about a place that I knew and cared about in a visceral, and even mysterious, way. As for the era, the seventies had its own flavor- it was a unique historical time that I wanted to explore. The story would have been very different if it was set in the 2000s.
VJ: What was it like writing from a YA POV?
AS: The book is narrated from the perspective of an adult looking back, though most of the story is told in an immersive way, so that the reader is ideally “in the moment” with the narrator as she experiences life during the year the events of the book take place. When I write from a character’s perspective, I get totally into it and don’t feel that much distance between myself and the character.
VJ: What’s something you’re proud of with this book? Or with any of your novels?
AS: Writing a novel is like living a dream for a little while. You have to fully believe it, and you have to do the work to make your dream real. Whenever I step away from a project after it is all done, I am kind of amazed by the dream and how real it was for me. You can’t manufacture that except for when you’re obsessed and in the middle of the writing process.
VJ: Out of the protagonists you’ve written about so far, which one do you feel you relate to the most? Why?
AS: I am a serial monogamist- I love and relate to the protagonist I am writing at the moment the very most.
VJ: What was your favorite children’s book growing up? Why?
AS: I loved the Nancy Drew books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Alice in Wonderland.
VJ: What type of children’s books or YA novels do you tend to lean towards now?
AS: I read books with my daughter as she grew up. It was fantastic to explore some old classics and be introduced to new ones. Reading the Harry Potter series was probably the most pivotal and memorable of our reading experiences together.
VJ: What was your publishing process like from sending in your manuscript to it finally hitting the shelves/online?
AS: The most important and exciting part of writing is the actual writing itself–all the stuff that happens before you send your manuscript out. That’s when it is really alive. But then, if you are lucky, you also keep that creative spark during the publishing process. I had a wonderful working relationship with my editor, and she helped me carve the book closer to its ideal form. The part where you publicize and promote the book can make you a little frazzled. The best part is when you connect one-on-one with a single appreciative reader.
VJ: Do you find yourself writing for what can be published to the masses, or more on the side of what interests you?
AS: I can only sustain interest in a project if it comes from my heart.
VJ: Any advice to someone looking to get published?
AS: Read a lot of books and enjoy the company of the authors. They have a lot to share. Develop a writing community of your own, even if it is just one or two people with whom you can swap manuscripts. It helps to have deadlines and company in this process. Give yourself a little time to let a manuscript “cool down” before you send it out to be published. Time is an excellent editor.
Aurelie Sheehan is the author of three short story collections, Demigods on Speedway (University of Arizona Press 2014), Jewelry Box: A Collection of Histories (BOA Editions, Ltd. 2013), and Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant (Dalkey Archive Press 1994), as well as two novels, History Lesson for Girls (Viking Penguin 2006) and The Anxiety of Everyday Objects (Penguin Books 2004). A novella, This Blue, was published as a Ploughshares Solo in 2013. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, Epoch, Fairy Tale Review, Fence, The Mississippi Review, The New York Times, New England Review, The Southern Review, and in the anthologies xo Orpheus: 50 New Myths, Best of the West 2009, and Best of the West 2010. She has received a Pushcart Prize, a Camargo Fellowship, the Jack Kerouac Literary Award, and an Artist Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Jewelry Box was named an “outstanding 2013 short story collection” by The Story Prize.
Sheehan received her B.A. from Hampshire College and an M.A. from The City College of the City University of New York. Her interests include the novel and short story, flash fiction, the novella, and cross-genre writing.
Readers can check out more from Aurelie Sheehan at http://www.aureliesheehan.com
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