Lecturer’s novel a ‘spiritual detective tale’
Jay Shearer’s first published novel, Five Hundred Sirens, has been called “utterly engaging,” a work that “will shake you even as it keeps you smiling.”
A lecturer in the English department, where he got his Ph.D. in 2011, Shearer teaches first-year composition, media and professional writing, and fiction and nonfiction writing workshops.
The novel, published in May, follows Philip Palliard, a frustrated playwright and a stay-at-home dad who can’t help but spy on the neighbors. Palliard becomes entangled with the lives of others as he undergoes his own personal struggles.
Shearer calls it a “spiritual detective tale,” but another description he enjoys — coined by a reviewer — is “coming-of-middle-age-story.” Five Hundred Sirens was meant to be a collection of short stories, but after Shearer wrote the first one, a novel took shape.
Having real-life success in publishing a novel helps when Shearer offers advice to students and other young writers. “The first thing is to read voluminously,” he said. “Find somebody whose voice speaks to you.”
For Shearer, authors Flannery O’Connor, T.C. Boyle, Don DeLillo and Philip Roth made a big impression. “Those are some I really, really like,” he said. “Writers who have an investment in style as well as content, usually with a dark-comic streak.”
He suggests keeping a consistent schedule for writing, remembering that initial efforts may be flawed. “I forget who said it, but most artistic creation is manure for the occasional flowers that bloom,” Shearer said. “But it’s always worth writing.”
Shearer said he thinks of negative reviews as learning experiences. “It’s always humbling. It always reminds one that no work is perfect. Luckily, there hasn’t been much that’s negative, but in a sense it keeps you honest.”
Shearer’s work has appeared in such publications as Other Voices, Beloit Fiction Journal, Southeast Review, Southern Indiana Review, Peregrine and Main Street Rag. His 2012 novella, The Pulpit vs. the Hole, won the USC Gold Line Press chapbook competition.
His current project is a re-working of his short story collection How Exquisite the Dead Girl, a finalist in the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.