Judith Shaw, an author with strong ties to Durango, has released her first book of fiction after writing two books that involved health and parenting. She was the educational director of The Family Institute of Berkeley for 25 years.
“Catching a Memory” is a grouping of stories in a collection personal to Shaw.
The stories are a fresh take on the short story genre, with an unabashed look at the human condition. The author’s keen observations and focused perspective on family, love, community, loss and death ring true. Shaw’s writing is imbued with emotion, both slight and heavy. One could view the stories as brief films casually highlighting snippets from several different lives.
The format of “Catching a Memory” is conducive to reading only one or a few stories at a time, then pausing to ponder and digest their meaning and impact on a personal level. The range of the stories is sure to appeal to many readers. Shaw’s style is easy for readers to follow and the rhythm will keep them engaged.
The first selection, “Colors Only Birds Can See in Their Mating Rituals,” received honorable mention by The American Literary Review. This particular memory is an astute observation of a singular marriage and how it functions – or not – both for the couple and those around them.
Another selection, “Affair of State,” is a poignant description of a hospitalized father who is used to being in control. Now, injured and dependent, he must bend his familiar and ordered life to the routine of the machinery of an overwhelmed institution. This story has the feel of an intense autobiographical experience. So many emotions about family, ways of communicating, things left unsaid, rituals and the roles played by each member are folded, explored and woven into the special agony of facing the downward spiral of a beloved parent.
The collection of stories included in “Catching a Memory” blends disparate events and personalities that will elicit multiple emotions from readers. This book is a treasure to be enjoyed and shared.
Q & A with author Judith ShawQ: Can you explain the title, please? Is “Stories” descriptive or part of the title?
A: “Stories” is descriptive ... even what look like poems (four-five-six lines) are “stories.”
Q: After writing two nonfiction books, what made you turn to fiction?
A: I felt there were many persons writing books about health, diet, etc.; the work writing nonfiction requires a different part of the brain. (I wanted to divert from left-sided and allow my “right”-sided brain to explode.)
Q: How did you approach this project?
A: I looked around my life and the lives of others – many others – and knew I could write stories about their lives.
Q: What is the biggest difference between writing this book and your previous ones?
A: This one required that I sit at the computer, take notes on my pad, NOT have to look up facts.
Q: Do you have a favorite among these stories?
A: “Affair of State” and “Relinquishing Immortality,” a tie!
Q: Why did you choose to include the seven poems?
A: Perhaps I should have clarified somewhere that they are in fact stories ... poems can be stories if they are written to be read as tales; mine are written as tales. The only “poem” in the book is one by Richard Wilbur, which I quote and then respond with a “poem” of my own.
Q: Did you have more stories that were not included in your book?
A: Yes! The editing process was not completed sufficiently to include them.
Q: You have ties to Durango, would you like to explain them?
A: My son, Charles Shaw (the owner of Smiley), lives in Durango with his son, Raleigh, and wife, Lisa ... for the last 20 years. (Raleigh is 11.) My son, John Shaw (the owner of Shaw Solar), has lived in Durango for 22 years. He is married to Francesca; they have two children, Ellie (11) and Isla (10). My daughter, Sarah Shaw, following her brothers, has lived in Durango for six years. Her twin girls, Alix and Maddie, are 12. She is a “marketing consultant,” working from home.
Q: Do you have a new project in the works? Fiction or nonfiction?
A: Yes, I do. I am editing several stories I have written, and writing new ones. Our pandemic has, of course, limited my presentations regarding the book. I hope to be able to present at the various places that have extended invitations when we are all safe from COVID.”
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.