Yuri Stanilaf Davidof, a personable teacher of the old language, enamored of pirates and the seas
they sailed on as was his father before him, heard the sounds of the sea calling to him on dark nights,
alert or in dreams.
And that is a pretty nice beginning to a story.
Here are Mr. Sheehan's questions and answers.
What were early influences for your writing?
My maternal grandfather, Johnny Igoe, read Yeats to me as soon as I could understand language. My paternal grandmother, Mary E. King Sheehan, a bookbinder for over 60 years at Ginn & Co., in Cambridge, MA, brought coverless books, production rejects, with her on every visit. We had full shelves. My father had me reading 2 hours a day until girls and football came on the scene. I was enamored of Tom Wolfe’s work, Tom the elder, and years later, as a patient at Mass. General Hospital, I enjoyed sunny visits to perhaps the same solarium where Wolfe positioned the elder Gant in Of Time and the River and revisit that place and time on my Kindle, presented to me by a son now in North Carolina.
There were a few teachers who got in the way of my early foolishness, all English teachers at Saugus High School, who must have seen my real desire for writing, such as Albert Moylan, Ashton Davis and John Burns. John passed away a few years ago at 93, well after we had borrowed $60,000 from the local bank to print a book not yet written (10 of us signed on the dotted line). We put the book together, 453 pages, printed 2000 copies, sold 500 the day of release, and printed 500 more and sold them all. So we did a second book, all 2000 now gone. Copies of our books went to 47 states, 8 countries and 3 territories, with a copy of their first book in the National Library in Paris. John Burns was 63 years in the Saugus High School English Department, and when he put out the word, former students responded, many saying he was the best teacher they ever had at any level. We had over 150 contributors of material – biographies, timelines, color and B&W photos, poetry, nostalgia, great historical moments in our small town. Nowadays I hear a few people have found copies via eBay or Craig’s List.
I once saw on Public TV an NYU creative writing professor tell his students that everything he had been trying to teach to them was in the first few pages of Angela’s Ashes. I had been saying that for a number of years about the first few pages of A Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price.
What were you reading early in life?
The authors I read early in my life were wide and varied: I feasted on W.B. Yeats, Tom Wolfe, R.L. Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Richard Lovelace, Zane Grey, Reynolds Price, Ambrose Bierce, Shakespeare, The Maid of Amherst, H.D. Thoreau, J.F. Nims, A.E. Housman, the pulp magazines such as G-8 and His Battle Aces, Doc Savage, The Shadow, and the wild west cowboy magazines by the pound, I swear, by the pound. (And now share over 360 western stories on the Oregon Internet site, Rope and Wire Magazine, and other entries in Western Online, Frontier Tales, Nazar Look in Romania, and sites elsewhere.
When was your first publication and when was your first reading?
They each came at the same time; in the second grade class with teacher Marleah Graves (for whom that old school building is now named and is a cultural center.) At a recent special ceremony for John Burns in the same classroom were two of my second grade classmates the day in 1936 I stood beside my little green chair to read my first story and the girl beside me jumped up and kissed me on the cheek. I knew then what I wanted to do, and now and then still manage to get kissed.
Where does much of your material come from?
Much of it centers on my comrades in Korea in 1951, unforgettable cohorts, personal experiences, old teammates and classmates (the few left hooting and howling), and from current writers and speakers of written material that shake me loose from sworn duties, like Dan’l Shanahan, Melissa Wattenberg, Mike Hood, Joe Coleman, Martina Newberry, Raymond Soulard, Rick Amante, teammate Don Junkins, Seamus Heaney (RIP) whom I introduced to a standing-room crowd at Boston College in the early 80s (where I told him he’d get a Nobel Prize someday when he was a little older), and others who can shake, rattle and roll with the best of them..
What have you worked on most recently, what are you working on now, what is in line?
I have four mystery novels recently released as eBooks by Danse Macabre (Murder from the Forum, Death by Punishment, Death of a Lottery Foe and An Accountable Death), one new collection of stories in the publication cycle with Pocol Press, In the Garden of Long Shadows, and a few proposals in the works, all while 8 collections of cowboy stories are in that publisher’s queue, flashing back on my Depression Years of reading, and I have not yet ridden a horse. Just prior to those publications were Korean Echoes, nominated for a Distinguished Military Award, and The Westering, nominated for a national Book Award, both from Milspeak Publishers.
What intrigues you?
Those special people who have carried a most marvelous story, article or poem around in a memory bank for 60 or so years and cannot get it down on paper … and may never do so, cheating us of some great work. Many of them move around us on a daily basis and the hardest part for me is to see it in their eyes, catch it in a soft comment or a singular aside that’s left trembling on the air, in my ear. How I envy their knowledge of something so special it has hung around all that time.
At age 86 next, are you rushing at anything?
I am not hungry, but I only have so much time. I like to share what I write. I like to read at a few favorite spots, such as Out Loud Open Mike at the Beebe Estates in Melrose, MA once a month, and always trying to get to Somerville on Saturday mornings to share with the Bagel Bards and Wilderness House Literary Review folks, including Steve Glines and all associates, but winter weather, driving alone and not dragging someone with me, plus my own desire to get early to this machine for long hours, all hindering that connection. Perhaps I do that best, share. I hope so. In that vein, I do my 1000 words a day as best I can, often at this machine at 4:00 A.M. and submit material all around the world, spreading the good word, and often find new places where it gets shared.
Any slogans or advice that stays with you?
I’ve told my children, “We come with two things, love and energy, and we damned well better use them up.”
My grandfather said,
“Listen for the words with handles.” My father said, “Crow a little when in
luck, own up, pay up, and shut up when you lose.” My mother said, “Keep the
grass trimmed.” She was saying something else. I still hear her. I still hear
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