Author Interview: Deborah K Shepherd

Meet Deborah K. Shepherd, author of So Happy Togethers (She Writes Press – April 20, 2021)!

As her stultifying marriage is unravelling, and in the midst of mourning the loss of her creative self, Caro Tanner has a nightmare about Peter, an old love whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years. She takes this as a sign he still needs her. With her three children safely off to summer camp, Caro embarks on a pre-Facebook, pre-cell phone road trip to recapture who she once was and what she thinks she once had.

2022 Firebird Book Awards First Place Winner in Marriage
2022 Firebird Book Awards Third Place Winner in New Fiction
2022 Firebird Book Awards Third Place Winner in Relationship

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your published book (s).
I’m way over 40 (75) and just had my first book published this year. Years ago, when my children were small, I was a newspaper reporter on a rural weekly in upstate New York. I realized that my favorite stories concerned social policy and social justice issues, so decided to get a master’s degree in social work. During my subsequent career, I directed two organizations that serve the needs of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Before going back to school, my first marriage was unravelling, and I started fantasizing about finding my college boyfriend. Instead of acting on this fantasy, I started writing a novel about a woman who does act on hers and embarks on a pre-cellphone, pre-social-media road trip to find an old love. I wrote the first draft over 30 years ago, decided it wasn’t very good, and shoved it in the back of my closet. When I retired from my social work career and started taking writing classes, I told my (second) husband that I was thinking about writing a novel. He suggested I unearth that first novel, so I wouldn’t “have so much writing to do” on the second. I did and discovered it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. It did require a lot of writing, though—four more drafts—and working with a developmental editor, and a few rejection letters, before it was accepted for publication by She Writes Press. I did dedicate the book to my husband, though.

My book, So Happy Together, is set in the 1960s, when drama students Caro Mills and Peter MacKinley were kooky, colorful, and inseparable, and in the suburban 1980s when Caro’s creative spark has been quenched to meet the needs of her husband, Jack, and their children.

The story explores the conundrum of love and sexual attraction, creativity and family responsibilities, and what happens when they are out of sync. It is a story of missed opportunities, the tantalizing possibility of second chances, and what we leave behind, carry forward, and settle for when we choose. It sits in that raw, messy, confounding, beautiful place where love resides.

Tell us about the genre you like to write, and how is it similar / different from other women fiction genres?
Although my first book is a novel, I’m currently working on a memoir. I also like to write essays, so I guess you’d have to include creative non-fiction, as well. And now I have an idea for a historical fiction book, so I guess I don’t want to be limited to one genre.

What are some of the biggest challenges authors of older protagonists face today?
I suppose the biggest challenge is relevance, both of the older protagonist and the older author (and the older woman) in our current society. My protagonist is 40, hardly old in my opinion (although my grandsons might disagree). I wonder what she’d be like at 70.

Given the ongoing popularity of chick lit, where do you see light-hearted fiction for older readers ten years from now?
I hope I’m still around ten years from now. It will be interesting to see how light-hearted fiction for older readers evolves. Actually, it will be interesting to see how anything and everything evolves.

When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer?
It first dawned on me that I wanted to be a writer when I was about seven or eight and wrote (In pencil) a neighborhood newspaper. It had two subscribers, my mother, and my father. Years later, in my capacity as director of two non-profits, I had to write innumerable grants and reports, and I swore that when I retired, I would write nothing longer than a grocery list, ever again. My novel is considerably longer than a grocery list.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer?
I had a day job until seven years ago when I retired from my position as director of a domestic violence resource center. When someone asked me what I was going to do now that I was retired, I replied “Study French.” I have no idea where that came from, as I was a mediocre French student in high school, and back then spent most of class time mooning over my teacher, the divine Mr. Trapp. But I did study French for the first few years of my retirement, and then I needed something more, so started taking writing workshops.

What are some things that inspire you to write?
In the last year or two, I’ve been inspired by the pandemic; marriage therapy; the dogs having to go out before dawn on a snowy morning; and being a first-time published author at the age of 74.

What is your typical writing routine like?I’m a “pantser” and need to be inspired to write. I wish I could say that I’m up by 6 a.m. and get right to it. I am up by 6, but it’s because my old dog has an old man’s bladder, and then both dogs want to be fed, then I do some yoga stretches and have breakfast and do the laundry and answer emails. Somehow, the morning goes by, and I don’t sit down at the computer until after lunch. But then, if inspired, I might write until dinner time. If you’re noticing a mealtime theme here, it’s no accident. Before I started rewriting my novel, I wrote a food blog, paleogram.com, which is still available, but I’m too busy to come up with more gluten-free, dairy-free versions of my family favorites, so that blog has been pretty much abandoned. It was fun while it lasted, though.

What kind of message do your book (s) convey to readers?
I’d like to think my readers will discover their own message(s) in the book: Is it about love? Friendship? Acceptance? Forgiveness? Honoring your authentic self? Or maybe all of the above?

Does your book (s) incorporate certain aspects of your own life (and/or that of others)?
As stated earlier, I started writing the first draft when my first marriage was coming apart. I never went on the road trip my protagonist embarks on, though. The scenes that take place in the 1960s do incorporate some aspects of my life and those of my friends. All of my characters are composites, and much of the story is fiction.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
More often than not, my favorite author is the one who’s written the book I’m currently reading—I read a lot of Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout. But my absolutely most favorite book is the one I read to my children many years ago, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” It’s what I aspire to.

Any advice you’d like to give for aspiring writers over 40?
Just do it! You’ll be over 40, over 50, over 60, over 70, anyway (hopefully!), so you might as well be older with that book, or essays, or short stories or poems you always meant to write.

Read more about Deborah’s book here!
Facebook—Deborah K. Shepherd, Author
So Happy Together: A Novel: Shepherd, Deborah K.: 9781647420260: Amazon.com: BooksWebsite: Deborah Shepherd Writes

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