Interview with Tucker Shaw, Author of "Anxious Hearts"

Anxious Hearts

Hey everyone! My special guest today is Tucker Shaw, author of the wonderful novel "Anxious Hearts". If you missed my original review of "Anxious Hearts", you can view it here.

Can you tell us a little about Anxious Hearts?

Anxious Hearts is a re-telling of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.” Wait, that’s not quite right. Anxious Hearts is a story inspired by Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” Uh. Sort of. How about, Anxious Hearts is a novel in which the characters have the same names as the main characters in Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” Oh, I don’t know. It’s a story that has a lot in common with Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” And it’s about love. Which, I think, is one of the most important things in the world. No, actually, it’s the most important thing.

Do you remember when you first discovered the poem "Evangeline"? What were your first impressions?

It fell into my hands. Literally. I was dusting the bookshelves (a.k.a. procrastinating) and an old edition fell off the shelf. I caught it. I sat down. I started reading. Instant enthrallment, from the first line, “This is the forest primeval.” Three hours later, I’d finished it. And, then, I started reading it again. Not because I wanted to – I needed to. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about any story before, much less a 90-page poem written in dactylic hexameter.

Was it difficult to adapt the classic story for modern readers? If so, what sort of problems did you encounter?

Top problem: The source material was Longfellow. Longfellow! Who has got to be on anyone’s short list of GREATEST WRITERS OF ALL TIME. Not exactly un-intimidating. But once Evangeline and Gabriel set up shop in my brain, they took over and kind of charted their own course. I had little choice in the matter.

The ending of Gabe and Eva's story differs from the original ending of Longfellow's "Evangeline." Why did you decide to diverge from the classic storyline?

Longfellow’s poem was already a retelling, of a fairly well-known folk legend (perhaps partly true) told to him by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (Yes, they hung out.) Knowing this emboldened me to take detours. For example, Longfellow’s poem took place in Nova Scotia (formerly Acadia), but I moved Anxious Hearts across the Bay of Fundy to Maine, where I was born, because I know it better.

If Anxious Hearts were made into a movie, who would you choose to play the main characters? Why?

Wow, that’s dreaming pretty big for me. I can’t even imagine. If that ever happened, all I’d want is actors who really connected with the characters. I’m not an actor, but I bet it’s not easy to portray love and longing and the crazy, scary, beautiful way people act when they’re wholly in love, which is what Anxious Hearts is about. So, I’d want actors who really believed in the story. I wouldn’t care if they were famous or not.

Some writers have daily routines that they stick to when working on a project. What is a day in your writing life like?

Well, I usually only get to write fiction on the weekends and in the evenings, because I have a job as a newspaper writer and that takes up my weekdays. (It also pays my rent.) But when I do get obsessed by something, I work on it every hour that I’m awake. Not always sitting and writing, but always thinking, planning, plotting, looking for words. Every hour. No joke. All day, all night, all weekend. I grow a beard.

What was the most difficult part of the writing process for Anxious Hearts? The easiest?

I loved writing this book. Loved it. The most difficult part was letting it go, calling it done, turning off the computer. I could have lived in that imaginary world a little longer -- or a lot longer. The easiest part was knowing where to look for inspiration: Longfellow. He wrote things like this: “He was a valiant youth, and his face, like the face of the morning/ Gladdened the earth with its light, and ripened thought into action.” Hello.

Do you have any interesting stories about the writing of this book that you would like to share?

Um, that first time I read Evangeline, there was a pork roast in the oven. I kind of forgot about it in there, and it stayed in the oven an extra, like, two hours. But it turned out to be the best roast I ever made. (And I’ve made a lot.)

The cover of this book is beautiful, and the internal page designs are both lovely and functional. Did you have any input into the creation of the book's physical appearance?

Very little, and I’m glad of it – I think the folks at Amulet/Abrams did such a spectacular job producing this book and I probably would have just mucked it up. The team there really believed in it, and it shows. And Jonathan Beckerman’s photography is beautiful beyond measure. (You can see outtakes from the shoot here:

You mention several songs in the book, among them "Vincent," by Don McLean, and "Over the Hills and Far Away," by Led Zeppelin. Did you listen to a lot of music while writing this book, and if so, what kind of a soundtrack would Anxious Hearts have?

Anxious Hearts” is set in two times, which are, roughly, the past and the present. But I thought a lot about 1970s rock and pop, about the freedom and complicated innocence in those songs, and the purity of the emotions. I mean, that song “Vincent,” by Don McLean, has made me cry more than once in my life. “This world was never meant for one/as beautiful as you.”

Do you have plans to write any more young adult novels based on classic tales? 

Who knows? There’s so much to draw on. I’ve done it before: My novels “Flavor of the Week,” is a riff on “Cyrano de Bergerac,” and “The Girls,” is a re-think of a 1939 movie, “The Women.” What I do know is this: All the great stories do one important thing – they live.

What are you working on now? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Right now, mostly, I’m reading. A lot. Book after book. Today, I’ve been immersed in “Just Kids,” by Patti Smith, which is like a dream, a perfectly beautiful but totally heartbreaking dream, only it’s true. It’s about her life in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe in the 70s and 80s. Whether you know anything about these two artists or not (I knew very little), it’s a brilliant window into a brilliantly romantic, tragic, hope-strewn time.

Is there anything you would like to say to your fans and potential readers?

If you’ve made it this far into the interview, thanks. Really. That was a lot to read.

A very special thanks to Tucker Shaw for his fantastic interview!

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