Today I'd like to share a "Q & A" session Shauna and I recently shared together. Enjoy! :)
Shauna, how do you describe Cold Tangerines to someone who hasn't read it?
It's a collection of essays about celebrating everyday life. Each chapter is a snapshot from my life--my family, my street, my high school memories, my confessions-- not because my story is special but because all of our stories are special. I hope when people read it, they find bits of themselves and their own stories in it.
Were you writing to a specific audience? Were you writing to/for yourself? Or for both?
I was writing for people who love language and image and story. I love those things, so it was really a goal for me (whether or not I accomplished it) to write satisfying, high quality prose. And I was writing as a friend. There have been books that have affected me and when I was finished, I felt like I had met a friend. That’s what I wanted. I wanted people to feel less alone, to feel like they’re not crazy for having questions or for being jealous, and that they’re not crazy for wanting to believe that life, and particularly life with God, is extraordinary and rich and worth loving and devoting yourself to.
Describe the turning point for you, when you decided to start appreciating the "cold tangerine" moments in life? How has this perspective changed you?
I feel like I hit this same turning point about three times a week. I catch myself waiting so often-- waiting for things to settle down, waiting to feel more capable, waiting for things to get easy. I know better, but I still do it. So on a very regular basis, I return to the cold tangerines and the pennies and the red tree, literally and figuratively, and I decide once again that today is enough, that God is enough. I decide that what life is offering to me in this exact moment is enough, and is worth celebrating and investing in. I wish there was a before-and-after, but it seems to be more like again-and-once-again, like most of life.
What inspires you when you're writing?
When I’m living well, everything inspires me. What I mean is that if I’m taking care of myself-- reading great books, sleeping enough, spending time with people who restore me and challenge me and make me laugh, then all the world is inspiring….and if I’m running too fast, not connecting well to the people I love, or living for the to-do list, then it all looks flat and gray, and I can stare at the blank screen for what seems like days. It’s a good motivator for me to live well, as if living well was not reward enough in itself.
What do you most enjoy about writing? What do you least enjoy?
What I love about writing is that it forces me to see what’s happening around me, and what’s happening in me, and it forces me to think and feel and notice the world on a deeper level. I’m a multi-tasker: I want to read a magazine while something’s on the stove and something else is in the oven and I’m watching the news and returning a call and folding a little bit of laundry and buying a gift online. That’s my nature.
But I miss a lot that way, and writing ushers me into a much slower, much simpler way of living, and it’s better for me. It’s one of the only spaces in my life that’s very quiet, and very focused, and requires every single speck of attention that I can give it. It feels like very hard work, and is very rewarding to me. I also just love playing with words. There are moments when it feels like play, and I love that. I’ve always always loved playing around with words.
The hardest part is that it requires me to be alone more than I would like, so I have to work intentionally not to get too isolated, and to make sure that I’m getting good time with friends and family, as a balance for all the aloneness. I think good writing comes out of a full life, not from an isolated mind.
Your writing is so honest and transparent. Have you ever struggled with being real with your shortcomings and feelings? What would you say to other women who struggle with this?
On one hand, I always struggle with that—-I would love for people to believe that I’m sailing through life without neuroses and missteps. But on the other hand, what draws me to people is their honesty, the cracks in their armor, the tiny vulnerabilities that we reveal when we tell each other the truth about our lives. I’ve watched my friendships deepen in the moments of ugliness and truth in ways that never happen when we’re all dressed up and on our best behavior.
From a writing standpoint, I have worked hard to dance on the line between helpful, sometimes surprising honesty and, say, totally inappropriate over-sharing. I’m not a particularly private person, both by upbringing and by nature, so my housechurch and a few other close friends and family members read through an early version of Cold Tangerines, keeping an eye out for things that might be ‘honest’ among friends but ‘creepy’ in print—-and I did change a few things because of their advice.
I'm really committed to honesty as a writer. When I began, I said that I wanted anything I wrote to be honest, brave, funny, and well-written. I'm attracted to honesty in other writers and other people, and I think humor surprises people, especially when the topic is faith. As I was writing, I wrote the most naked, bold, entirely truthful things I knew how to write, and then my editor and close friends helped me decide what things needed to be taken out or changed a little. That's a really important step, and I did make changes based on their recommendations.
You are a wife, a mom and a writer. How do you juggle all of the demands of life and how did you find time to write a book?
Juggling is a good word for it, I think. It feels like juggling: mostly out of balance, verging on disaster, and occasionally quite fantastic, just for a moment. My friend Denise, a woman, mother, and leader I respect very much, once told me that it’s easy to decide the things you want to do in your life, but the real challenge comes when you have to decide what you’re willing to let go undone. I think there are layers and layers in that statement, especially for women.
There are a lot of things I don’t do, in order to have the time and space to do the things I care most about. My house is not a showpiece. Frankly, it’s as dirty as I can get away with having a three year old, knowing that he’ll eat whatever he finds on the floor. As much as I know it would help me physically and mentally, I don’t spend much time at the gym these days. Let’s be honest: I haven’t been to the gym since 2007. I blow dry my hair only when I have to speak or go somewhere really fancy, and I wear my pajamas in public fairly often.
I actually made a Things I Don’t Do List, and that really helped me get clear on the Things I Do List. Things I Do: I read, write, cook, and spend time with a few close friends and family members, most important among them my husband and my boy. Those are the things that matter most to me these days, so a lot of the other things go undone.
I also think that especially for mothers, it’s important to think about life in terms of seasons. There is a way of living that works for this season, and we’ll figure it out anew when Henry goes to preschool, or if I have another baby. We’re on like a three month plan these days, constantly re-evaluating.
A big theme in Cold Tangerines is celebration. How do you celebrate?
For me, the first part of celebrating is noticing. I find that it's easy for me to get stuck in what's broken or wrong with a situation, instead of seeing the beautiful parts of it, too, or that I move so fast I don't see anything at all. These days I'm trying to notice everything, to live slowly enough to see what's unfolding around me, and especially to look for the tiny, beautiful surprises even in the midst of wreckage and ugliness.
What are you working on now?
I just signed with Zondervan for two more books. The first is a collection of essays called Bittersweet, about change, grace, and learning the hard way. It’s a similar format as Cold Tangerines—short essays—and it centers around seasons of change and glimpses of God’s grace in the midst of them. It will be out in September 2010, along with a Cold Tangerines paperback.
The second book is called Bread and Wine about faith, family, friendship, and food—the spiritual and relational significance of sharing meals together, of gathering at the table together. Bread and wine are two of the most central, common items on out tables, and they’re also the traditional communion elements. I want to explore both those things: what happens around our own tables, and how communion and community unfold in all different ways.
It's about the sacred and strange and wonderful things that happen when we gather together to eat-- celebrations, traditions, memories of life around the table. When I look back at the last two years, so many of the best moments of family or friendships have happened around the table, so I'm thinking and writing about the significance of what, how, and with whom we eat.
How does it feel to be back in Chicago?? What was the hardest part of leaving GR?
It feels fantastic to be back in Chicago. We love our church and are so thankful for old friends and new friends, and the gift of living near family. We love the energy of the city, and try to get downtown as often as we can. And the hardest part of leaving Grand Rapids was leaving people that we had really grown to love. Also the Cuban Eggs and the cookies at Gaia, the grilled ham and cheese sandwich at the Green Well, and Marie Catrib's curried rice and chocolate pudding.
Thanks so much, Shauna!! We miss you in Grand Rapids, but are thrilled to watch God turn your dreams into reality!! Keep up the GREAT work!! :)
And now, a chance for you to win an autographed copy of Cold Tangerines...
To Win my Giveaway: Leave a comment in the comment section answering this question:
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Many Blessings to you!
P.S. Click Here to check out Shauna’s website. You will love her blog! Zondervan is also running a special on her books ~ perfect for Christmas ~ and she has all of the details listed on her website.
Also, if you live in the Grand Rapids area, come by the Woodland Mall Barnes & Noble to meet Shauna on Monday, November 30th at 5:30 PM. I'd be blessed if you told Shauna you saw this on She Sparkles! And who knows...maybe we will even bump into each other! :)