Shell St. James is a native New Englander, living and writing in North Carolina. Visit www.shellstjames.com, or read more at https://vocal.media/authors/shell-st-james. Her piece, ‘Cranberry Town’, can be found in EPOCH Issue 03: Roots, available to purchase here.
Why do you write CNF, and do you explore other genres in your work?
I find CNF storytelling to be more compelling than the spoken word, while for me, personally, they have a similar purpose or outcome. I’m a very quiet person, introspective to a fault, really! I spend a lot of time tumbling experiences and memories through my mind, sifting through their lessons like puzzle pieces. Writing CNF is a comfortable way for me to organize and make sense of the things that have shaped me, as well as let others see a glimpse of my inner self. Fiction is my main genre, and a lot of my short stories have little pieces of me hidden in the characters. My recently completed novel, The Mermaid of Agawam Bay, was inspired by a year of my childhood in Wareham, MA, and I found it very fulfilling and fun to write. I just learned that Shenandoah Magazine will be featuring an excerpt from my novel in their 2021 fall issue…very exciting!
Did you have a piece already written when you learned about Epoch’s theme, or did you write a new piece? If so, how did you approach the theme of Roots in the creation of your work?
This is a new piece, written for Epoch’s “Roots” theme. I’ve felt very nostalgic about my childhood recently, particularly after I turned fifty (I’m fifty-three). In the last year I’ve found myself pulled toward writing YA fiction, kind of re-visiting my adolescence, as well as writing a lot of stories set on the coast of New England.
“Cranberry Town” is based on Carver, Massachusetts, which is a short drive to historic Plymouth, where I spent my twenties. In fact, I had never lived more than thirty minutes from the ocean until I was thirty! I was intrigued by Epoch’s theme of “Roots”, and almost wrote a piece reflecting my indelible connection to the sea – something I’ve felt very deeply since childhood – our family spent a lot of time on the water. When it came right down to it, though, I realized I’m still a “Cranberry Town” girl… that small town continues to beat in my heart. My roots, which I see as the essence of what made me uniquely “me”, lie in the deep woods, quiet neighborhood streets and frozen-over cranberry bogs of Carver.
What is the biggest challenge when writing CNF?
It depends. “Cranberry Town” was a fun, nostalgic, easy story for me to write… a happy piece of myself that I wanted to wave like a flag! Sometimes, writing CNF is like a tightrope walk, especially in some of my darker, more emotional stories. You want to engage the reader, draw them into your world, but that comes with a risk of making yourself vulnerable. Often, after scribbling furiously and pouring my heart onto the page, I’ll review what I’ve written and feel that I’ve bared my soul too much. Writing fiction is much easier for me.
What’s your favourite piece of art in your home?
That’s really hard to answer, as I’m a painter myself! I work in oil, acrylic and pastel, and paint a lot of New England scenes from my old photographs. I think my favorite piece is a 16 x 20 oil painting of the Androscoggin River in Maine. I remember freezing my butt off in March of ’91, standing on the bridge as the sun started to set, and the light glowed orange through the trees, reflecting on the ice…I knew it would make a really cool painting. It was worth the frozen fingers! My art website is www.earthtonespaintings.webs.com. More info about my work can be found at www.shellstjames.com, and connect with me on Twitter @shellstjames1