Sarah Shoemaker will be appearing as the guest speaker at the First Annual Summer Book Social on August 10 at Kirkbride Hall in the Grand Traverse Commons. The event begins at 7 p.m. and is co-sponsored by the National Writers Series, Horizon Books, and the Traverse Area District Library.
The National Writers Series shares this interview before the big event.
Veronica Gregory: Where did you get the idea to write Mr. Rochester?
Sarah Shoemaker: Five and a half years ago, my book club was discussing Jane Eyre, and, not unexpectedly, we got around to talking about Mr. Rochester. What’s with this guy? we asked ourselves. How are we supposed to understand him? He seems so angry and dark at times, and yet at other times he is almost pleasant and playful. How did Charlotte Bronte intend us to see him? Jane is so intelligent, with such a strong moral compass, and yet she not only falls in love with him, but, in the end, knowing he is married (not realizing that his wife is now dead), Jane returns to him.
As we discussed all those things, I got to thinking that it was too bad that no one has written Rochester’s story, so that we could see what made him the kind of man he is, and we could understand him better. That’s when the idea occurred to me to write Rochester’s own story, to help explain to myself and other readers what he’s all about and where he’s coming from.
Veronica Gregory: Did you have to get permission in order to write about this character [Mr. Rochester]?
Sarah Shoemaker: Jane Eyre is long past copyright protection, and considered in the public domain. But, even so, it seems to be acceptable to use familiar literary characters if one does so openly and as a continuation or adjunct to the original work, and not try to pass off the original as one’s own work.
Veronica Gregory: Even though Mr. Rochester takes place primarily in England, did you ever think of northern Michigan when writing about Thornfield-Hall’s setting?
Sarah Shoemaker: What an interesting question! But I can’t say that I did. I have spent a lot of time in Yorkshire in northern England, and when I think of Thornfield-Hall’s setting, I think of that area—of the fields and fells, woods and moors where my husband and I have often hiked.
Veronica Gregory: How long did it take for Mr. Rochester to become a published book?
Sarah Shoemaker: To write, approximately two and a half years; several months to revise and make it really ready to go to market; several months to find the right publisher; and a year and a half from the offer of a contract to the published book.
Veronica Gregory: What is your opinion of Fanfiction?
Sarah Shoemaker: I am not an expert on Fanfiction. Neither my agent nor my editor consider Mr. Rochester to be Fanfiction, which they consider is a much less literary genre—not anything that gets published by major publishers. I will take their word for it. What is my opinion of books based on classic novels, which are more literary in style? I have found some of them disappointing, and at least one of them outstanding (Longbourn, by Jo Baker, which deals with the servants who run the Bennett home in Pride and Prejudice).
Veronica Gregory: When did you start writing?
Sarah Shoemaker: I started writing “books” in about the third grade. I guess I always thought I was a writer, but somehow life intervened more than once to get me off that track!
Veronica Gregory: Do you have other published novels/works?
Sarah Shoemaker: Thirty years or so ago, I published three genre novels (international thrillers) under a pseudonym. Mr. Rochester is my first literary novel and the first one published under the name Sarah Shoemaker.
Veronica Gregory: How did you get in touch with a publisher?
Sarah Shoemaker: I still had an agent from some work I had done previously, and the agent did that contact work. These days, especially for long fiction, an agent is almost a necessity.
Veronica Gregory: What is your favorite genre to write/read?
Sarah Shoemaker: There was a time when I preferred international thrillers, but now I really prefer literary fiction.
Veronica Gregory: What are your plans for the future?
Sarah Shoemaker: I have another book in mind, but right now I am still pretty busy with events and activities related to Mr. Rochester.