[img_assist|nid=4351|title=Green Grass Grace|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=229]When local author Shawn McBride read at the recent Philadelphia Stories’ silent auction, he did what he does best in writing: merge art and humor in an entertaining way. He called up poet Daniel Abdal Hayy-Moore, who had just read from his vast portfolio of work, and asked him to accompany him on autoharp as he read his “Ode to Breasts.” His debut novel, Green Grass Grace, also combines humor and art – coupling lyrical prose with the comedy of raging hormones. The novel rang true to fans and critics alike, and it was selected by Barnes & Noble for its “Discover Great New Writers” series. McBride spoke with Philadelphia Stories about writing, not writing, and his love for Philadelphia.
[img_assist|nid=4350|title=Shawn McBride and Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore|desc=Photo: Rob Giglio|link=node|align=left|width=200|height=150]How did you evolve from DeSales University graduate to mailman to fiction writer?
Not sure I’d call my career an evolution. That implies an upward arc. I have taken more the pinball route. I ended up working laborer jobs with an English degree because I hated the corporate world, where I worked editor jobs for medical magazines and academic reference texts. Which is a fancy way of saying I fixed grammar in relation to articles with titles like Acid-Peptic Disorders of the Upper Gastrointenstinal Tract. Jobs like that almost turned me into a case study for such articles. I loved the mailman job then. I got to know the ins and outs of different Philly neighborhoods. If it was sunny, I was out in the sunshine. If it was raining, I was getting paid to jump in puddles. I ran from dogs. I got yelled at by old ladies for accidentally tearing the corners of their Harriet Carter catalogs. Women were outside everywhere, looking perfect, working on their gardens or tans. It was in many ways my dream job. It was so simple and stupid and honest and fun. It paid more than editor jobs too. Way more. I would deliver mail in Afghanistan before I went back to a corporate cubicle job.
What is your next project?
My next project is a Christmas book called North Pole To Philly. I am far from done. So very far. Still a day job monkey. But I am working on the thing.
Did you find a second novel easier to write than the first?
For the first book, I had the luxury of being even more clueless about how to do it, so everything I wrote sounded perfect at first, and I kept moving forward. Now when I write something and it blows, I know it, and even though I keep moving forward, I am that much more aware of how far I am from something great. The first book took maybe two years to write, and I think anytime anyone asked how it was going, I would tell them: great, great, I think it will be done in two or three weeks. And I was serious. Now my reply is: don’t ask. I had more energy last time around. I moonlighted writing that one, and a key motivating factor was that, after I finished, if published, I figured I would never have to write another one like that from the money I made. Which was so stupid and naive I almost wish I could travel back in time and pinch my own cheek. Either that or kick my own ass. So it is both. Life is always a trade like that.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
My writing process is: turn the computer on, make shit up. I keep a copybook and take notes when I am not at the typer, if I get an idea. My handwriting is so bad I usually can’t read what I wrote anyway. So the whole copybook thing is just a waste. I should throw that out. Music is key. I love music and listen to everything. So if I am sitting around near a stereo and start to feel something from the music, I hit the typer. When I write, I listen to weird shit, like sitar soloing, at a low level. Or a shortwave radio if I find something where someone is singing in a different language. Stuff that makes me feel like a speck of dust but also connected to things. I now fear that I am sounding like a hippy. I sure hope not.
What do you like to read?
I want to be entertained when I read, so I am always quicker to reach for a James Ellroy than a James Joyce.
How has the Philadelphia area influenced your writing?
Philadelphia has influenced everything about my writing. I lived my whole life here, not counting four years at college. I love everything about this place. I would hug the whole damn town if my arms were big enough. I love all the different ethnic neighborhoods. I love when ethnicities come together, like Olney, which I live near and like walking through, where an Irish bar sits next to a rib joint, which sits next to a Korean church, which sits next to a Latino community outreach center. I eat all that up. I love the murals everywhere, the tarred rowhome rooftops, sneaks hanging on wires, skyscrapers downtown, the forty thousand funeral homes on Broad Street in South Philly. This place is my home. I probably got DNA shaped like Billy Penn standing on city hall if you looked at it under a microscope.
Can you offer any advice to the many creative writers who are trying to juggle work and family, yet want to write fiction or poetry?
Advice is tough, especially in such broad terms. Just make sure you go get some fresh air and sunshine once in a while. Don’t miss the real world making up your fake ones.