Healey’s interview, Fiction editor, New
Tim: When did you start writing, and what story themes intrigue you the most?
Sheehan: Composition came very early at the insistence of my maternal grandfather who read constantly to me Irish poets and their bardic backgrounds, and stories by writers that had intrigued him. At six or seven I was comfortable with creating my own characters and situations, often the carriage of justice being the favorite exercise. To this day I love treating justly those beset in this life by mischance, misfortune or misdeed imposed on them. I replied to this question on another occasion, for readers find this bent in me, which was asked this way: Is there a reason why some of your stories involve characters who have been irremediably hurt (One Oh for Tillie; A Toast for Skink; Falling-down Jack, A Study)? Is it just the natural flow of your inspiration or do you think that literature ought to give a place to the weak, the silent and the forgotten? I said then and say now that literature damn well better give them all a shot, for frailty is ours without a doubt and will ever be with us. To me they are all remarkable people for one reason or another. Are they here for me, by me? Who knows, but at the end of Jack Winters I say if perhaps I do not remember him, or his like, he will not have been. That is crushing to me. There but for the grace of God, as said. I am warmed thinking of them, of their being real or imaginary regardless of stature, position, influence. The whole proposition is addressed in the dedication of my new book, A Collection of Friends, where I say: For those who have passed through Saugus, those comrades who bravely walked away from home and fell elsewhere, and the frailest imaginable soldier of all, frightened and glassy-eyed and knowing he is hapless, one foot onto the soil at D-Day or a statistical sandy beach of the South Pacific and going down, but not to be forgotten, not here. I am haunted by those last moments of the hapless hero who is at that spot by chance and by human requisition. Beside us they are, among us, the distraught, the cheated, the abused, the impoverished, wanly seeking justice, begging for recognition.
On the other hand, the very practical calls for recognition. Just about yearly I read in the local school systems and love to get the youngsters involved in fables and a bit of magic. I have been doing this since my kids were very young and love the attention I get from youngsters when their eyes are lit up and they become involved in a story that has other-world stuff in its makeup. When I address this cause it never fails that what’s good for the kids is good for the granddads among us. Magic of a sort, and these good feelings, never fail on attentive ears. Fables generally produce a marvelous kind of justice, at least for me, and that is not at all counter to my aims, and the issues that intrigue me.
Tim: Which writers do you most enjoy? Why? How do these authors help you with your writing?
Sheehan: Oh, there are a ton of
them, and I tend to initially lean with those I have had personal contact with,
hearing them read, sharing certain views, loving their grasp on the language. I
once introduced Seamus Heaney at a reading at Boston College back in the early ‘80s,
perhaps 900 people in the audience. Oh my, what a night that was, spilled-over
listeners sitting down the middle aisle of St. Ignatius Church, a traffic jam
outside on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue at a poetry reading. Then
sharing a podium in Portland, Maine with Bill Roorbach, diving into The Mother
Tongue with Bill Bryson, knowing the crispness of John Le Carre in Absolute Friends. Hearing poetic
friends read, like Dan’l Shanahan and Michael Michael Motorcycle Hood and Tom
Weddle the geologist and Jim Smith the former acquisitions editor and the apt deft-nitionist, with poor eyesight and
totally deaf, Charlie Poulon, whom I worked with for years on top of years, and
the ultimate sage of Saugus, John Burns (we borrowed $60k from a local bank to
print a book not yet written and sold out 2500 copies, 452 pages at $42 a
piece, all proceeds for scholarships). They all give me roots of language, theme,
the burst of ideas, the metaphor booted and buckled
and hustling for a place to ride, prodding and producing, as my grandfather
said, words with handles on them, words for my grasping. They allow opportunity, demand an attempt at perfection from me.
Tim: Your stories are eclectic. They range from light inspiring pieces to everyday drama. Where do these story ideas originate?
Sheehan: They come from around me, at my fingertips, a noise behind me, a vision as I drive, a stray comment from a friend or a suggestion, from my reading, from a casual look at some decent person or some poor slob caught up by chance or choice. Oftentimes with a character nothing happens, and that is as much a story as a perceived threat or story line, for something could have happened. From the top of the ladder one day while painting, catching a scene in a few seconds a hundred yards away, came a story, Passion at High Elm (or l'Orme d'en Haut, "The Elm up there"). I wait to see it published. I think that is thrilling, that small circle of energy
waiting to be completed.
Tim: Where are you in your writing career today?
Sheehan: Buried is where, and
measuring time (as I just painted the house except for the four peaks: my
ladder’s too short and my wife Beth’s too nervous). Seven or more novels in
this machine, all done, three published; another book of poetry at hand after
two issued in the past calendar year; two collections (or more) of short
stories/memoirs/essays in the compiling/segregation process, all of which (just
about) have appeared on the Internet, or will, and some in print. But most of
all in trying to finish the piece I am working on at the moment, to give it
grace, to give it energy, to give it all my love. As I have said to my children
for years, “We come with just two things --- love and energy --- and we damn
well better use ‘em.” I think they know it, for a coach approached me one time
and said, “I don’t know what you do with your kids, Sheehan, but you ought to
5. What are your future writing plans? Are there any long-range plans you are currently working on?
Sheehan: I believe I have
finished another mystery, a long one, about the National Hockey League, called Murder from the Forum. Daily I treat
small pieces of it, looking for the perfection, the energy, the love, the sense
of grace it might have. And look for a publisher. It has roots in the French
Foreign Legion, Dien Bien Phu, the NHL, New France and old detectives, and a
solitary but deadly creature bent on revenge for his comrades, the men of his
squad, all who were murdered in captivity.