Anna Shinoda at Book Soup: Learning Not to Drown

It has been roughly a year of anticipating Learning Not to Drown with Anna’s last editing updates, the growing press on her novel, cover designed and a date set… it’s been ten years in the making for her, but for us- this novel has fallen into our laps in a bit of an immense wave.

Yesterday evening, the first of many signings for her debut novel was held in Book Soup, an intimate environment crammed wall to wall with shelves upon shelves of books, a turn here and a turn there to suddenly go from traveling and biographies to evolutionary studies and children’s adventures. Despite Mike being there to support her, it was calm and a good amount came to show support and grab their copy before its official release today.

She started the signing by reading an excerpt of Learning Not to Drown, the first chapter up through chapter six available here.

Anna then gave us an introduction about herself, told us about how she grew up in a large, busy family and she’d escape to a tree with a blanket and book, climb up into a cradle in the branches at just the right height. Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables were just few of her reads. Makings of a good childhood.

But she also explained how she had a brother, and all she knew as normal in her family was to see him go in and out of prison. It’s been like that since she can remember. And she noticed more and more people knew what it is like to have someone in their life incarcerated. It was time to reach out to people that may not have the exact story as she did, but very likely felt the same overwhelm of emotions about the fact that someone they loved, was ‘a bad person.’

She started writing down any memories she could think of, but they were small slithers, small bits that could not be used to make a solid nonfiction. Moreover, wanting to respect her family members, she decided not to make this an autobiographical piece. So she started researching others’ stories, and how they felt and how they dealt with it, and started lacing their stories with hers. She then represented all their emotions, into her characters of fiction: Clare, her two brothers and their parents.

(This is where my memory just completely gives up and cannot remember what she answered to being asked if her family had already read it. I will update if I do, or if I can find out from other attendees.)

During discussion, I wanted to know how she handled editors making changes to her work she may have wanted a certain way since it has a personal touch of her own experience.

Anna explained that for some parts, she did need the different approaches as suggested by her editors- take Clare’s mother; for a good while, she was very one dimensional, even coming off as a villain. Her editors strongly advised something needed to be done about her. Then, Anna became a mother herself, and now understood Clare’s mother. It is hard to choose between your children. Knowing that herself, Anna was able to make Clare’s mother grow past just the words on the page.

And ‘suggested’ is key in how she worked with editors on a novel with so much tied to her. It was always just suggestions given to her, and she had the creative choice to work with those suggestions or not, never forced to apply them.

Another attendee asked what her creative process was, which Anna answered as not elaborate at all, but I personally think simplicity goes the furthest. She cannot sit at a computer x amount of hours and force herself to write, but rather she lets scenes brew in her mind until she can see it play out, hear the voices of her characters so it flows when she decides to finally write it out. She also told of us how when she would travel frequently with Mike [and the band], she never knew what her environment would be- a tour bus, a hotel, backstage; so she always had a ‘traveling candle’ and earphones to drown out the noise or whatever music was blasting, and listen to classical music, and write.

It was Mike that then gave us all a laugh and started to ask a question which she immediately outed him to already know the answer- but like he said, we didn’t; Mike asked Anna to explain at what point did she separate herself from Clare.

It was when she had her sneak out of the house, and be damn good at it.

Anna said she was brought up with strong Catholic views- so much as to nearly becoming a nun at sixteen. Of course, she followed the rules, didn’t ‘rebel.’ So she had her character, Clare, do it. She made Clare sneak out, so often in fact, that she knew which board creaks and not to step on it. Making her do something she wouldn’t have done at her age, Anna was able to give her emotions to Clare, but let her build her own story.

We finished with Anna heading to the back counter and grab a Sharpie to start signing. She took the time to personalize and sign each book and chatting to us, and it was nice to finally meet her in person. There was a photographer there, so surely enough photos will soon be up if not already. It was a great experience and a great night off to my busy, furry life- if you have the chance, you should definitely attend the Festival of Books at USC April 13th and grab a copy of Learning Not to Drown if you haven’t already. Come ready for any possible questions for Anna; I definitely have more now after last night, and hope we have a great discussion again.

[This is heavily paraphrased for the most part and not recommended to quote.] [Photos thanks to @beephobia!]

Upcoming Events for Anna Shinoda:

3 April 14 – Signing and Discussion at BookCourt: – Brooklyn, NY

13 April 14 – Festival of Books at Norris Theater: – Los Angeles, CA


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