Exaclair is honored to feature authors from around the world who are willing to share the secrets of their success; including tips and techniques for aspiring writers, and a behind-the-scenes look at their life and latest work.
Literary Renaissance woman Shanna McNair fills her time with an inspiring lineup of creative pursuits. She is the Founding Editor and Publisher of The New Guard literary review and director of its educational offshoot, The Writer's Hotel. She writes fiction, poetry, scripts, and articles, and has a novel and a collection of short stories forthcoming. She is an award-winning journalist. And she's currently finishing up her second masters at Dartmouth College - in Liberal Studies, with a creative writing concentration.
The Writer's Hotel:
The New Guard:
Please introduce yourself . . . I understand you've lived and studied in Maine, Vermont, and now New Hampshire, as you complete your second masters at Dartmouth. Are you from New England originally? If not, what brought you there?
I am a writer, editor, publisher, journalist and creative writing instructor. I also have visual and performing arts training. In 2009, I founded The New Guard literary review (TNG) to serve the literary community and support fellow writers. TNG is a literary anthology centered on contests in fiction and poetry, and established and emerging writers contribute to the special sections. Incredible judges and contributors have offered up new work, such as Sharon Olds, Charles Simic, Tim Seibles, Adam Braver, Stephen Dunn, Afaa Michael Weaver, Thomas Lynch and Tom Grimes. We were even able to run a previously unpublished Ralph Ellison story in Volume II, "A Storm of Blizzard Proportions." It's been a very fulfilling venture. The New Guard also has an editorial and teaching arm, called "The Writer's Hotel." The Writer's Hotel is a writing service, and hosts writing conferences in NYC. The Writer's Hotel Master Class in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry is offered each June at a floating campus in Midtown, Manhattan.
Personally, as in my business venture, my life centers on writing and the writing life. I'm grateful to have a literary agent. I'm grateful to be writing and working. And I'm especially grateful to have a partner who's also a writer. Life is good. I'm living in New Hampshire temporarily, to attend graduate school Dartmouth College. I did spend most of my childhood in New Hampshire, but I've also lived in Chile, Spain, Ireland, California, Nebraska, Maine and Oregon. More than anything, I'm bi-coastal. I'm either missing the west coast or the east coast.
What are you working on now?
I'm presently at work on a novella set in Santiago, Chile, and I've got some short stories and poems cooking. I'm also working on a novel. My writing sort of hovers over dark topics, and I tend to fold in social commentary and comedic elements. There's nothing like writing when you're all the way into the story, getting to know your people. Working to get my consciousness down on the page, and inventing and imagining deeply as I write is my life's inspiration. For me, there is nothing that compares to the exquisite communication of writing.
What is your writing process? Do you compose longhand or on a computer, or does that differ by genre?
There is an all-at-once sort of feature to how I write. My job as my own editor, ultimately, is to organize all of this idea and writing energy I have, this kinetic jumble. Basically, I write all the time. There is an urgency, when I get an idea or a line, and it can't be contained. I always have a small notebook with me, like the Rhodia webbie, so I can save my thought. When I am writing for a long period, I tend to write on my computer, unless I am in editing mode. When I do my larger edits, I print my and write my edits on those pages in longhand. If I need to expand a thought, if I need to plan a story and go deliberately and slowly, I'll sit with a big notebook, like the Rhodia landscape webnoteboook and a nice felt tip pen, like the Stabilo Greenpoint, or maybe a roller ball pen like the Schneider Slider Memo XB. I also use the Exacompta Bristol Cards on occasion, because they are excellent for scene and chapter building. I feel like I'm part of a tradition. Vladimir Nabokov used index cards.
What are your writing routines? Is there a certain place or time of day you like to write?
Waking up and writing in the early, early morning is best. Committing to this as a routine transformed my writing process and my output. I write when nobody's up, before any of the buzz of day gets into my head. It's a fertile time, and it's all mine and I love it. Especially if I get to watch the sun come up. Another thing I like to do is to ask a question about a character or a stanza or plot point just before dropping off to sleep. My dreaming self tends to respond. It's a continuation of the writing meditation. I do believe this helps.
What writing supplies are you most passionate about? Any oddities you've picked up through your work with others at The Writers Hotel?
I am a huge fan of Rhodia notebooks and Clairefontiane notebooks. The A5 lined spiral makes me happy because it reminds me of working as a reporter. Again, the Rhodia Webbie is a handy small notebook, so resilient with rounded corners, and fits in a purse or pocket. And Clairefontaine Crok' Books are some of my favorites for schoolwork. They're slim and you can pop them into a folder. The CF Trophees are also great. I also like the Apica Premium CD A4 notebooks for special projects.
What's surprised you most, either personally or creatively, about your work at The Writers Hotel?
I should explain what The Writer's Hotel is, first. The Writer's Hotel is a hybrid conference. I modeled it after the low-residency MFA, while keeping an eye to the publishing industry. Instructors work with attendees before and after the on-site conference. In Manhattan, attendees attend workshops and lectures and literary events, meet agents, and they also get to read their work in the city. The idea is to help writers bring their manuscripts from their desks to the marketplace in NYC. This is extremely happy work. I've seen writers hit home runs and sign deals. More importantly, though, I've seen writers evolve their ideas from inspiration to actual writing, fully develop their novel or story or essay or poem, and show it to agents and read it at a great venue on one of our reading nights. It's a wonderful thing to be a part of. And I get to cheer the whole way through.
Surprises are at the center of the creative life, I think. I welcome surprise and change, and so I am probably surprised more often than most. As far as The Writer's Hotel goes, two things stand out as the most surprising. I'm always surprised by the intensity and the ardor NYC seems to instill in my fellow writers. NYC is like no other place on earth. New York City is so alive and buzzing with vitality. NYC galvanizes writers to write; the energy is palpable. The center of the publishing industry is there. Lincoln Center, The Met, the incredible lights of Times Square. TWH workshops and lectures are held at the penthouse floors of Library Hotel and Bryant Park Hotel, with astonishing views. Being up there at the top of the city changes your perspective—you can see the New York Public Library, the park, Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. By the time writers get to read their work at a famous reading venue in NYC—I can actually see them exuding excitement, inspiration and confidence. It's amazing.