Interview with Barbara Shoup
Q1. You write both YA and Adult novels. Which is easier to write between the two? And is the process of writing them any different?
They feel exactly the same to me. Everything I write is about exploring a question about something I can’t forget, something I know I will never understand. The idea for Looking for Jack Kerouac—a kid taking off on a road trip to find Kerouac in 1964—came from a friend, who kindly turned it over to me when he decided not to use it himself. But it was just an idea. I noodled around with it unsuccessfully for a long while. Then, sadly, one of my sisters died of brain cancer. Not long after her death, an image of her behind the counter of a diner floated into my mind’s eye. There was Ginny! One of the most painful things about my sister’s illness and death was watching her two teenage sons go through it and, after I found Ginny (and the idea that I could, in a way, bring my sister back to life through her), it occurred to me that Paul might have had the same experience as my oldest nephew. At which point the book became about a whole lot more than a road trip for me. It was a way of processing my own grief about my sister and trying to better understand what losing their mother had been like for her boys.
Q2. What made you decide to write a book about Jack Kerouac? What kind of research you do for this project?
The book really isn’t about Jack Kerouac. It’s about a broken-hearted kid who goes in search of Kerouac, his favorite author, with the idea that meeting him will somehow help him figure out what he’s supposed to do with his life. He doesn’t actually meet Kerouac until the last quarter of the book. Nonetheless, I felt a strong responsibility to get Kerouac right and to figure out what he could give my character, Paul, to help him on his way. What I knew (or thought I knew) about Kerouac when I started was that he was the most famous of the Beat Generation of writers, that he lived a pretty crazy life—taking off whenever he felt like it to explore America, and that he died early of alcoholism. But as I read his work and everything I could get my hands on about what other people had written and said about him, a far more complicated person began to emerge.
Q3. If someone new to Jack Kerouac works will try his books, which one will you recommend and why?
On the Road is a classic—and the book that made him into an American Icon. It would be my first pick. But if you really want to understand Kerouac, I’d recommend his autobiographical novel, Visions of Gerard, which explores the death of his older brother, a saintly child, who died when Jack was just four years old. Dharma Bums explores his fascination with Buddhism, adding even more to a reader’s sense of who he was.
Q4. What is one thing you hope readers will learn from reading Looking for Jack Kerouac?
Honestly, I’m a selfish writer. I write what I need to write and what feels possible. I never think about what readers might learn. That said, I hope they learn what I learn by reading and writing novels. That life is complicated, nobody is all good or all bad, the most important questions don’t have answers, and the more you know about any person or group of people, the more compassionate you can be toward them.
Q5. What are you reading now? Any recommendations for us?
Right now I’m reading Ann Patchett’s This Is a Happy Marriage, a wonderful book of essays about writing, relationships and…life. Some recent favorites are Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—and, if you like a good vampire/werewolf novel with real ideas in it, try Sam Cabot’s The Skin of the Wolf. You won’t be able to put it down!
Q6. Are you working on any project right now? What we should expect from you in the near future?
I just finished an adult novel, The Green Heart of Lucy Stone, that I’m about ready to send out. I’ve got a few young adult novels in process and I’m trying to decide which one to focus on when I get back to my desk. One is set in a correctional institution for girls, the other explores the effect of a brutal murder of two teens on a wealthy suburban community. I’ve also been working on a book about writing geared to teenagers and writing teachers of teenagers, called Driving at Night.
Q7. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Read. Anything, everything. It will make you a smarter, better, more interesting and compassionate person. And be curious. Curiosity trumps hate every single time.
About the Book
When Paul Carpetti discovers “On the Road” in Greenwich Village while on a class trip to New York City, the world suddenly cracks open and he sees that life could be more than the college degree his mother is determined for him to achieve, a good job and, eventually, marriage to his girlfriend, Kathy. But upon his return, his mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer and his world falls apart.
Set in 1964, “Looking for Jack Kerouac” tells the story of how Paul’s dreams of a different life and his grief at the loss of his mother set him on a road trip with his rowdy friend, Duke, that includes a wild night on Music Row in Nashville, an all-too-real glimpse of glimpse of racism; and an encounter with a voluptuous mermaid named Lorelei – landing him in St. Petersburg, where he finds real friendship and, in time, Jack Kerouac. By then a ruined man, living with his mother, Kerouac is nothing like the person Paul has traveled so far to meet.
Yet, in the end, it is Kerouac who gives him the key that opens up the next phase of his life.
About the Author
To say Barbara Shoup is passionate about writing would be an understatement. The award-winning author has been recognized with multiple honors for her work, and in August, she will release her eighth novel “Looking for Jack Kerouac” with Lacewing Books, the young adult imprint of Engine Books.
Shoup is the author of seven other novels, including “Night Watch” (1982), “Wish You Were Here” (1994/2008), “Stranded in Harmony” (1997/2001), “Faithful Women” (1999), “Vermeer’s Daughter” (2003/2014), “Everything You Want” (2008) and “An American Tune” (2012). She is the executive director of the Indiana Writers Center and the co-author of “Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process” (2000) and “Story Matters: Contemporary Short Story Writers Share the Creative Process (2006).”
Shoup graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in secondary education. She taught creative writing to high school students for more than twenty years.
Shoup’s short fiction, poetry, essays and interviews have appeared in numerous small magazines, as well as in The Writer and The New York Times travel section. Her young adult novels, “Wish You Were Here” and “Stranded in Harmony” were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. “Vermeer’s Daughter” was a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults.
Shoup is the recipient of numerous grants from the Indiana Arts Council, two creative renewal grants from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, the 2006 PEN Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the 2012 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Regional Indiana Author Award.
Shoup has lived in Indiana all her life. She is married with two daughters and two grandchildren.