Q&A with author Maggie Shipstead
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Maggie Shipstead, author of “Great Circle and You Have a Friend in 10A” visited Steamboat for the 30th annual Literary Sojourn on Sept. 9. She participated in a post-Sojourn interview for those who are curious about her work and a career in writing, but could not attend the event.
Question: Your collection of short stories You Have a Friend in 10A has such striking settings and characters. “Cowboy Tango,” a short story about a love triangle on a dude ranch, comes to mind. When it comes to personal exposure for a project, how much time do you need to develop such strong characters?
Shipstead: I never worked on a dude ranch, but I did grow up riding horses and have some friends who worked on ranches. For “Cowboy Tango,” I asked them a lot of questions and stole details, and I also read a lot too. I think it’s never good to assume that you know enough about a place or a topic. I have this “internal alarm” going off when (I think) I don’t know enough. For my book “Great Circle,” I was never going to be a pilot, but I wanted to do as much research as I could. Finding that balance is part of the process.
Question: When you put so much work into the research for a book, how do you let go of the parts you no longer need?
Shipstead: It can be hard to do so much research and then realize it doesn’t really need to be in the book. But maybe it helped you get it where it needs to be. Sometimes it’s kind of nice not to have to look at a paragraph you’ve been trying to make work for a long time, and just let it go. The editing doesn’t happen all at once though, it’s a lot of different layers and drafts.
Question: What kind of feedback do you like to receive during the drafting and editing process?
Shipstead: I read my drafts over and over which you just have to do. I don’t have a lot of readers. Novels can be hard to get feedback for (unlike short stories) because if you make one change, there’s such a ripple effect throughout the book.
Question: How did you develop the patience to go from your first novel, “Seating Arrangements,” which took less than a year to write, to “Great Circle,” a novel that took close to a decade to write?
Shipstead: It takes time, and it doesn’t get easier with each book, in fact it gets harder. But I did a lot of travel writing to fuel my research for “Great Circle,” and life happens while writing books. I know I’m not going to write a book in a day, so it’s more about the incremental daily progress while balancing other parts of life.
Question: When did you first think you were a writer?
Shipstead: For me, it probably wasn’t until my first book came out. But being a writer can mean a lot of things, and people should be allowed to define it for themselves.
Question: Do you have any advice for writers?
Shipstead: Writing takes time and patience and there are parts that can be challenging, but there’s something to be said about losing yourself in the work. If you found that feeling of absorption, that ability to focus, then you should keep doing it.
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