Author shares his personal perspective

Roze Brooks

Jim Shepard hosts engaging master class, reading and interview

Award-winning novelist and short story writer Jim Shepard visited the Kansas City Public Library last Monday to discuss the inspiration for his short stories and humorous novels. The event included a free-admission reception, reading and interview. He also delivered the Cockefair Chair Masters Class on campus prior to the event, offered as part of the 2012 Writers at Work series.

Shepard was accompanied by Angela Elam of the “New Letters on the Air” radio program to discuss his aesthetic and inspirations in front of more than 100 audience members. Shepard has published six novels and four short story collections to date. His latest contribution titled “Like You’d Understand, Anyway” offers a hubristic humor for which Shepard prides himself.

Shepard was lighthearted in his gestures and anecdotes throughout the evening.

Vouching how there is a “lot of comedy in human suffering,” Shepard described his process in developing a solid piece of work.

According to Shepard, even something as simple as a title can ruin a story.

While discussing his inspirations, Shepard also shared personal experiences during his time as an author such as when he submitted his first novel. His editor called him shortly after, saying “Angels” could no longer be the novel’s title. When asked why, his editor said Dennis Johnson, a famous fiction writer, had submitted his first novel with the same title.

The difference was that the editor believed the title was brilliant for Johnson but in poor taste for Shepard.

Shepard saw another similar experience during his career. The movie “Project X” awaiting release in March has no relation to his 2004 novel of the same name. Shepard paid no mind, saying “if you worry about the film industry, you’ll be hanging yourself from a curtain rod very soon.”

Shepard also discussed his personal writing process.

The unique aspect of Shepard’s writing is the fact that many stories are based on monumental historical events. His inspiration for one of his noted works about the Hindenburg came from a children’s pop-up book. He added a level of tension by detailing the lives of two gay men aboard the aircraft. This work is included in the collection “Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories.”

Shepard thoroughly researches for his work. He admits he often takes notes and makes outlines as a safety net. Several people also support his work. His wife Karen is the only person who sees excerpts of his unfinished work. Shepard shares his work with fellow writers when the piece is near completion.

While Shepard aims to provide accurate factual information in his stories, he claims the beauty of marketing the work as fiction is “you can take risks as a fiction writer that you can’t as a non-fiction writer. A fiction writer can say this is what happened … it’s fiction.”

Though some readers attempt to point out inaccuracies in his work, Shepard takes comfort in having the sources to back him up.

Shepard had two comical pieces of advice for people suffering from writers block. The first is to “lower your standards.” The second is allowing yourself to play.

Shepard likes the idea that fiction writers have the freedom to do what they want.

“Unless you’re working on a contract, this is all you. You chose this,” he said. Where else can you do that?”

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