INTERVIEW WITH SHIRLEY ANN PARKER
What exactly made you decide to write a book of short stories?
The stories didnít start out as a book, but gradually I came to realize they were reflecting some of my many experiences living in the United States. These stories share a connectivity, or themes if you will, of family, friendship, and humor, even though I have changed and grown immeasurably over the years.
Some people might think that statement is a bit conceited, to say youíve grown immeasurably.
They might, if they have difficulty grasping that weíre supposed to change. We do change. Youíre not the same person you were an hour ago, a minute ago. And neither am I. Everyone we meet, everything we do, becomes part of who we are now and will be in the future. Weíll continue to evolve as human beings, hopefully along the path to kindness and wisdom, not to the dark side we all have buried within us. We may long for less stressful times in our lives, but we canít stay the same person, regardless of our circumstances.
So these stories are autobiographical?
Not in the usual sense of the word. They resemble what happened to me the way a pearl resembles the grain of sand that irritated the oyster. Over the years, the oyster lays down layers of pearl over that irritation and eventually creates something distinctly different, something beautiful.
I detect a sense of wonder in many of the stories. Where did that come from?
Itís part of me, part of the awesome regard I have for the Universe and all the Creatorís works. And there are other dimensions weíre not attuned to yet.
I still donít understand how you can write these kinds of stories.
No one can truly understand the creative process. Itís a gift from God, as all talents are. What we do with those talents is our gift back to Him. But we have to work with the talents weíve been given: practice, practice, practice. And people donít like to hear that. They donít want to know that a pianist, for example, has given most of her life to being the concert level pianist she is. I know that during the years I didnít write or couldnít find the time to write anything creative, my writing talent atrophied. It was hard to get that creativity back. I had to let go of a lot of other burdens that had been dropped on me, to get back to doing the only thing I really want to do. Iíll probably never make up for the lost time, so I just have to move forward anyway. And lifeís crises still interrupt me.
So youíre saying youíve had several instances of writerís block?
No, that wasnít it. I had people block, work block, health blocks, but not writerís block! Itís amazing how many obstacles are thrown in a writerís path. The world does conspire against you when you have something good inside that needs to emerge. Sometimes, those attacks drop you to the earth; you just have to wait them out because you canít defeat themóyou canít even move. At other times, you find a way over them, under them, around them, and when all else fails, right through the middle of them!
You bulldoze your way through?
What kind of writerís training did you have?
Iíve been writing since I was a little girl, so itís hard to say. I used to make up stories for my sister when we played shadow puppets on the wall, using the streetlamps. Then I made up stories for two of my friends when we were teenagersóscripts for Wagon Train and movies that had made an impression on me at the time. At my academic high school in England, there were no creative writing classes as such. We were taught good grammar, of course, and had to write some probably boring essays. I couldnít stand my English teacher, as a matter of fact. Everything else English-related was a study of literature. Macbeth comes to mind. But my first article was published in England when I was 16.
You didnít take any creative writing courses?
Not till I was older. I took a few college history classes in my 20s in California, but I didnít go back to college till I was 36. By then I was already a published writer with multiple sales to small magazines and a few larger ones. Some of the short stories in DISCOVERIES A Journey Through Life were written while attending Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. I had several excellent English professors there who actually gave me encouragement I hadnít received anywhere elseóbefore or since, I might add.
Does fiction writing pay well?
You are kidding, right? There is no money in fiction writing for the majority of authors. We write because we want to, and hope that someday we can actually pay the rent doing this. Some superstars make the megabucks, maybe a few dozen out of the thousands of published authors. People love to read a good story that makes them feel different emotions, but not many people want to part with hard-earned cash. I donít mind people sharing my book when theyíre out of work, hubbyís sick, etc., but I honestly prefer that they buy their own copy. Royalties are always minuscule, after the publisher, the agents, and the other middlemen take their cuts.
Tell us more about Shirley Ann Parker
I was born in Eastleigh, Hampshire, England. My dad was from Leeds in Yorkshire, so after I finished high school, he moved the family back up there where he had found work. I wasnít happy because it was such a drastic change of environment, so about 18 months later, I moved to the United States. I was supposed to work as a nanny in Jenkintown, near Philadelphia, but the job hadnít been described properly to me, so I moved on.
My motherís still alive and fairly well at 80. I have two brothers and a sister. One brother passed away at the age of 5 months and weíre looking forward to being with him in the next life. My grandma said he was too beautiful to live.
As kids, we had cats and the occasional dog and goldfish. I raised caterpillars and tadpoles for school projects, and belonged to Young Farmers Club, similar to 4-H, I guess. No birds. My mother was and is afraid of birds in the house. My early aspirations were to be a veterinarian, then a linguist/interpreter, then a journalist. Our so-called guidance counselor at the high school shot me down on all counts! It was infuriating and discouraging, especially since in those days my best subjects in school were Latin and French.
Why did he or she discourage you so strongly?
Because he was ignorant. He was a product of his time. Women didnít do things like that, especially not girls from poor families. The caste system is still alive and well in Great Britain! If thereís any bitterness in me at all, thatís where it comes from. Nowadays, in the United States most students in veterinary colleges are women! There are thousands of jobs for linguists and interpreters throughout the world! And look how many female journalists there are!
So what other kinds of jobs have you held instead?
I did finally work as a nanny in Grosse Pointe, Michigan and Wilmette, Illinois. I also worked as an accounting office supervisor for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co., before they became PacBell. Later, I was a marketing and sales administrator for an automotive engineering company. Outside of a few temp jobs, Iíve been a technical writer for the past six years. And there have been plenty of volunteer assignments to fill in the gaps.
Where can we find other published work by Shirley Ann Parker?
Much of my time for the past 6 years has been spent on work for hire, since Iím a technical writer. But you could start with my web site, www.shirleyannparker.com (Use Internet Explorer or Netscape 6x to avoid garbled displays.) The site is still evolving, and I havenít had time to post too much yet of the material I still retain subsidiary rights to. I've just finished a creative non-fiction book entitled What Shall I Write? Personal Letters for All Occasions. This was self-published in November 2002, since I didn't want to wait two years for a main line publisher to get around to it. Now, I hope to get back to at least one of several novels that are in various stages of creation. I canít tell you more than that or my brain will decide the work is done and it wonít come up with anything additional for any of them.