Sean Eads grew up in Kentucky, but has called Colorado home since 1999. He has a masters degree in English literature from the University of Kentucky and a masters degree in library science from the University of Illinois. He’s been a reference librarian with the Jefferson County Public Library since 2002. His first novel, “The Survivors,” was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. His third novel, “Lord Byron’s Prophecy,” was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Colorado Book Award. “Confessions” is his fifth novel and was also a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Sean Eads: Well, the high school teacher Sarah Lawrence is based on a teacher I had, and some of the actions she takes in the book mirror a few things this teacher did in life. But I didn’t have any relationship to her that mirrors what Nathan has in the novel.
In many ways, the book is sort of a literary homecoming for me. I grew up in Kentucky, but I’ve lived in Colorado for almost 25 years. I’d never written about my home state and I’ve contemplated my refusal to do so for a good long while. Some of those tensions are in the story — feeling uneasy about the past, regretting how we can let other people shape us, cringing at our more pretentious and unguarded moments, desperately wanting a do-over now and again.
SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Eads: The excerpt is from almost the exact middle of the book, and involves the unusual way two of the three narrators — Nathan and Sarah — have a reunion after about 30 years of not seeing each other.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
Throughout the book, the narrators’ primary protagonist, Nathan, finds himself in situations that make him face up to memories he’d rather keep buried. Coming to terms with what happened between himself and Sarah Lawrence and understanding her reasons and regrets is a moment that’s both crucial and ambiguous in the story.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write?
Eads: I believe it’s the second book I wrote in the triptych structure, which I first encountered after reading Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours,” a novel I liked very much. The notion of moving between three characters who have thematic connections to each other even if they don’t actually meet.
SunLit: What did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?
Eads: There were several research deep dives, since one character is a funeral home director and another is a dentist — two occupations I know little about. So little details about how a funeral home director handles bodies, what skills they need, what equipment they use — my YouTube history search looked quite strange for a little while. I also learned some very unique things about Kentucky, which actually leads the nation in fluoridated public water supplies.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?
Eads: “Confessions” was unusual in that it got interrupted by a health scare. I was zipping along with the story and was getting close to the 40,000 word mark after three weeks of writing, and then I got COVID. This was in April 2020, so it was the original virus. I was completely out of it for two weeks and then there was a long recovery and I didn’t pick up the story again until early August. By that point I felt so distanced from the novel’s three narrators that I had to sit down and read the story from scratch to rediscover them.
SunLit: What’s the most important thing – a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers should take from this book?
Eads: Everyone in the book is to some degree lost and thinks that time is either running out on them or has already run out. I think the redemptive message overall is that it’s usually not too late to try again.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Eads: For the longest time, I held to the 1,000-2,000 words a day scenario, usually writing from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and then going off to work. Over the last several years, I feel like I’ve become more of a “burst” writer, where I tend to generate several thousand words in a day or two, and then maybe not write for the next couple of days. It really depends on the nature of the project.
If I’m writing a novel, then it’s back to that consistent daily output more often than not, whereas something like an 8,000-word short story might be drafted over a period of three days writing for hours on end.
I wrote in longhand for the longest time, but the last three novels were done entirely on a word processor. I like to write to almost any kind of music, and I almost always dip into a bit of poetry beforehand, usually classic and more lyrical poets like Yeats, Frost, Wordsworth and the like. Having the cadences of verse fresh in my head just always seems to grease the gears for me!
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Where to find it:
- Prospector: Search the combined catalogs of 23 Colorado libraries
- Libby: E-books and audio books
- NewPages Guide: List of Colorado independent bookstores
- Bookshop.org: Searchable database of bookstores nationwide
SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.
Eads: My next novel is called “Lost Story” and it’s structured similarly to “Confessions” as a triptych, a story with three narrators. It’s primarily about Ernest Hemingway and the famous incident in his early writing life when his wife packed all of his manuscripts into a suitcase and then the suitcase was stolen, resulting in the loss of almost all of his work until that time.
“Lost Story” is about Hemingway’s obsession with one particular lost manuscript; the effect that manuscript has on the little French boy who stole the suitcase; and the impact of the lost story on a contemporary literature professor, whose family patriarch met Hemingway just before his suicide and was roped into trying to recreate the missing manuscript.
A few more quick questions
SunLit: Which do you enjoy more as you work on a book – writing or editing?
Eads: Editing and rewriting for sure. The first draft is fun, but all the magic happens in the rewrites when you can stand back from the initial jigsaw puzzle of it all and really start shaping the picture.
SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of?
Eads: In 11th grade, I started taking a Composition Through Literature class, and wrote an analysis of “The Portable Phonograph” that my teacher was enthusiastic about.
SunLit: What three writers, from any era, would you invite over for a great discussion about literature and writing?
Eads: Oscar Wilde for sure. Hemingway, just to see how long it takes him to hate Oscar Wilde. I think my third would be Shelby Foote. He’s just a good storyteller — period.
SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
Eads: The entire Whitman poem “O Me! O Life” is a quote about writing as far as I’m concerned, though writing itself is never directly mentioned. Nevertheless, the final line — “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse” — sums up my attitude towards writing.
SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?
Eads: My current collection tells visitors that I’m downsizing. I moved to Colorado with a few thousand books, mostly gross paperbacks from thrift shops. These days I have a single shelf of books in my living room to let people know I am a man of great literary insight, with the proper mix of Roman and medieval history, conspicuous examples of unread Russian and French writers, and of course the smattering of Foucault, Derrida and Freud. I think I have the Bible somewhere in there too.
SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?
Eads: Soundtrack for sure. I actually like a lot of chaos and noise around me when I write. I do remarkably well writing at airports for some reason. But I love to have music and I feel like I feed off that creativity. The music I write to has to have lyrics. It’s like the way I enjoy reading poetry before I start writing — I just respond to words.
SunLit: What music do you listen to for sheer enjoyment?
Eads: Mostly classic rock: Elton John, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. Some classic country (outlaw country) and some classic rap like NWA or Ice Cube. I find most contemporary pop, like Taylor Swift, utterly bland and uninteresting.
SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?
Eads: My first day in 9th grade English class. The teacher gave us an in-class assignment — “Do you like to write and why?” We were to compose a little essay about our feelings and share with the class. There was a lot of grumbling — no one wanted to write.
Wanting to fit in and knowing I’d have to read it, I wrote the first sentence: “I don’t like to write.” And I stopped. I just stared at the sentence and knew it was a huge lie. A lie too big to let stand, and I erased it and wrote, “I love to write.” I don’t think I’d realized it until then, but after understanding it I was all in.
SunLit: Greatest writing fear?
Eads: I guess “drying up” as a writer would be the greatest fear, the idea that the well is just empty.
SunLit: Greatest writing satisfaction? Eads: Any time a really great phrase or image comes to mind, or you come across some insight into a character that you were blind to before.