Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sharma Shields calls Erin Pringle a "Great Ringleader" and the world seems good again

"Mournful, funny, piercing, and profound, Erin Pringle's Hezada! I Miss You is a stirring, vivid novel about a declining circus and its dynamic denizens. Like a great ringleader, Pringle highlights the most exciting, daring, death-defying, and dangerous aspects of the human condition. Hezada! I Miss You is a breathtaking work of art.”

Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunters’ Almanac 


Sharma Shields
(photo by Rajah Bose)
This is the story of how Sharma Shields came to read Hezada! I Miss You. 
    Maybe I'd lived in Spokane a year, though probably less, before I was talking to a librarian who asked if I knew Sharma Shields. I did not. I'd never met anyone in my life named Sharma.

    Oh, she writes stories, too, said the librarian.

    I liked the sound of Sharma. It sounds beautiful enough to be anyone, and fragile enough that one ought not to assume who this person might be.

    A kind of fairy-tale beginning, I think. 

    I would encounter Sharma at a reading at a different library; she read a story from Favorite Monster while I carried my baby from shelf to shelf, trying to keep him more silent than giddy. Or maybe that was another reading, same shelves. Maybe there was no baby yet.

    A few years passed before we would meet. Or maybe it wasn't that long. But in feeling. Years.

    It was in the lobby of The Bing Crosby Theatre before Lilac City Fairy Tales, an annual event Sharma curated. She'd found my email, asked me to participate. Our first in-person conversation went something like this:
    She hugged me, and I thought it was very nice that she should hug me, and that people named Sharma must be very nice. 

    Several years passed before we'd meet again, which seems impossible when most of the writers in Spokane seem to run into each other monthly. Sometimes, I think they actually live together, share laundry, memories, electricity, and only pretend it's funny to find each other outside their shared home. But that might be the way with writers. They're an interesting species.

    One day, Sharma thought aloud on Facebook that she might not make it to an event--an event she seemed to want to attend. She has MS. It takes over her, sometimes. Probably more than sometimes. It reminded me of my best friend Alexa who had similar experiences toward the end of her life, so I immediately wrote to Sharma and said I'd be happy to take her wherever she need go. 

    Luckily, artists are immune to quirky people, so she graciously thanked me for offering to carry her on my back. Me, who'd hugged her once in a lobby.

    Time passed. A year? A June came, and we found each other in Seattle, doing a reading at the Hugo House with  Gary Lilley and Ann Tweedy. I'd read the same story she'd asked me to write for the Lilac City Fairy Tales--now, it was bound in my book of stories.

    After the reading, listen to this: she bought everyone's books right there--her arms full and her face bright. I was so confused. People named Sharma hugged in lobbies, asked for fairy tales, then bought books at readings she was a part of.

    Then, damn if she not only read mine, but also wrote about it in Spokane/C'oeur D'lene Living Magazine

    The rest is either history or bullet points.

    • She wrote a piece for Book Your Stocking (read here)
    • I sent Scablands Press (her press) Hezada!  
    • Then Awst took it. 
    • She congratulated me.
    • Later, I would ask her to read Hezada! I Miss You as a potential blurb-writer. She said she would. She said it with enthusiasm. 
    • Every few months we summon the energy to schedule a walk, a coffee, a casual time, and then after a round or two of our calendars, we give up.
    • Sharma's newest novel The Cassandra came out. 
    The Cassandra seemed written for me--not me Erin, but me as a mind. A woman of my grandmother's era, and told in that era, goes to work at Hanford, where the plutonium for the atomic bomb used on Nagasaki was manufactured. But it's set in the past, so no one knows what's going on. The book winked at me unlike books ever do. Like, it expected me to get inside jokes that women looking back into time and forward from the past would understand. Nobody has ever expected this of me as a reader, or given this to me, or showed me how that was missing from merely all of literature. 

    But aside from all of this, I think it comes down to Shirley Jackson. Sharma loves her. I love her. So, were this a fairy tale, this is how I would have met Sharma: There she'd be, holding The Lottery in her hands, and I'd wait until she looked up so as not to interrupt.
    I'd tell her it was a sunny day.
    She'd say it was a longtime ritual.
    Then we'd sit together before the story, heads bowed, until the child picked up a stone.
    We'd shake our heads as though to say, But isn't that the truth?