Her 1983 novel Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail was named Best First Novel of the Year by USA Today and turned into the feature film Summer Heat. It was followed by A Whistling Woman in 1993, and, most recently, My Shining Hour, a memoir of World War II, in January.
The Chronicle sat down with Shivers to ask about her writing life and a new project that aims to break her once-in-a-decade publishing streak.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: “The next one, which I have really almost finished and am researching all the time, is my Civil War novel, again set in Eastern North Carolina. The title of it is Leaving Cold Harbor. Cold Harbor was a battle, and I just liked the sound of that. Somebody said, ‘Well, that sounds too much like Cold Mountain,’ and I said ‘That’s too bad. This is mine.’ I just liked it. I started out in poetry. I liked the sound of those words. It’ll probably be out next year.”
Q: Eastern North Carolina features prominently in your work. Why is it important to you to pay tribute to the towns where you were born and raised?
A: “It’s because I didn’t live there, I think, and the memories are stronger. Who knows what would have happened if I had lived there, you know.”
Q: What’s your writing process like? Do you have any rituals?
A: “I still write longhand on legal pads. It just seems to flow better. I do that every morning. I now edit on the computer, and I can write non-fiction on the computer. Just when I wake up, I have coffee, and I try to go directly to it, because you’re still tuned to the unconscious mind and the day hasn’t taken over and all the problems of the world haven’t come in. That’s my best writing time.”
Q: What’s the cure for writer’s block?
A: “I’ve never had writer’s block. If I have a day that I feel stale and it’s not coming what I do is my other favorite thing on earth, my research. That keeps it going even if you haven’t come up with maybe even a word that’s original. You just have to keep going and stay in the work.”
Q: Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading?
A: “I’m reading the memoirs of (Ulysses S.) Grant now. I’m back into my Civil War reading now. But I do certainly have favorites. One of them is Nick Hornby, English writer. My favorite book of all time is The Killer Angels by (Michael) Shaara. ”
– Kelly Jasper, staff writer