My relationship with Ellie Sharrow goes a long way back. She taught the only Creative Writing classes in my high school. I took her class, did independent study with her, and was lucky enough to “student teach” one of her writing classes under her supervision. She was the first adult who told me that I could become not just a writer, but an actual author.
So I was thrilled to hear that her first novel was published last year. One of the central characters is a creative writing teacher in a small town high school. I’ll let her describe it to you:
A loner misses his deceased father; an urban transplant experiences the racism of low expectations; a middle sister burns with an unlikely crush; a daughter survives years of sexual abuse; a bullied and neglected boy just wants to do something. All have access to weapons as well as the concern of adults who step up in unusual ways.
Ellie’s bio is subversive, too:
Retired from the best job in the world, I am a grandmother and a sustainer of my NPR station. I am a liberal who acquired a CPL (Concealed Pistol License) in the process of researching my book. It’s never too late to learn something new.
Here’s our interview:
Did something in the real world inspire Subversives?
My own long teaching career was a peaceful one. The rise of school shootings, beginning with Columbine, occurred as I retired. I was horrified, of course, and then appalled as schools, including those in my small city, needed to prepare for carnage that, hopefully, would never occur. But no one could ever be sure of that, so the places where young people had felt the most safe were “hardened” with increased security and limited access and security cameras, metal detectors and active shooter drills. These measures make children feel very unsafe, ironically. My own experience told me that while these precautions might assure parents that something was being done, old-fashioned low-tech measures are more effective at identifying students most likely to bring their rage to the classroom along with their backpack.
I have always known that good teaching is a subversive activity, developing non-cognitive life skills of empathy, critical thinking, confidence, and responsibility, which are far more valuable than memorization of facts and acquisition of employment skills. Relationships nurturing this growth occur in the classroom and the hallways and also out in a community, where caring adults interact with youngsters.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
Once a week John and Joey go to the gun range after school to learn how to shoot. This would appear to be inappropriate for the prevention of gun violence, but look at it from a different angle. John really misses his dead father, who had been a regular at the gun range and whose collection of handguns is a part of his legacy. The range is where John feels close to his dad and Chuck, the range owner, steps up to fill the void in the teen’s life. Joey is younger than John. Gloria, his negligent mom, signed her permission for Joey to be taught to shoot when she learns that the instructor would be her own sixth grade teacher, whom she thought would be a good influence on her bullied boy to “man up.”
Joey’s mom had run off. Gloria was gone for weeks, abandoning her son to look after himself. My favorite scene is her return, showing up at the gun range to claim her child and take him home. When he resists, she grabs him to pull him into the car. Mr. Knott, firearm in hand, confronts her.
“Stop right there.”
John witnesses the moment of high drama thinking, wow, this would be a cool scene to read for Author’s Day.
What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?
I used a lot of post-it notes.
Deciding the time span for the story was important to its structure. A semester-long creative writing class was the hub, a device that allows the five students and their teacher to interact. The final semester of senior year, with a framework of school events culminating with Commencement, was my decision. Fitting the characters and events into the framework was my challenge.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
Reconnecting with old friends has been the best part. I have also been amused by the number of readers who are certain that they appear in the book. It is true that I described real settings. The bakery, for example, and the gun shop are very familiar from the real world. And a few distinctive characters (and real subversives) are easily recognized. But, of course, this story is fiction.
What do you have planned next?
“Death in the Dog Park” is the working title of my current project. Of course, I am using another familiar setting. Taking my own two dogs to the dog park twice a day, which is only doable when one is retired, has taught me that we learn the names and backstories of the dogs long before we know the same about their owners, if ever. Comedy happens there, and drama, between the dogs and also between their owners. The dog owners share info about themselves, like seat mates on a long airplane ride, in the intimacy of strangers. Chuck, the gun guy, returns in my research. A retired detective and police chief, he brainstormed the crime for me, and then suggested I take his ideas and “turn them into poetry.”
I reviewed Subversives on Goodreads.
You can pick up a copy in paperback or ebook from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2KYCsZN