Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Memories of High School You - Sheila Welch

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion and music have changed but that overall quest-for-self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  

This week, I'm pleased to introduce Sheila Welch. Sheila is a fellow Blueboarder, but in the course of this interview we've learned that we both are horse people, have both adopted older children and share a common theme of family in our work. Sheila's newest book, WAITING TO FORGET, is out with Namelos Publishing, run by many of the same folks who helped create Front Street Books, a small but highly acclaimed Asheville, NC house. WAITING TO FORGET was recently honored by being listed by Bank Street College as a Best Books of the Year, 2012 Edition.
Namelos Press Link

So without further ado, may I introduce the high school Sheila. (And I love this photo in the art studio!)

Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
Boyertown Area Senior High School, for grades tenth through twelfth, is a public school located in Boyertown, PA. The town is small, nestled between rolling hills in the southeastern part of the state only about 50 miles from Philadelphia. When I attended, we had a graduating class of almost 250 students, and only two were nonwhite. No wonder I wanted to attend a large city university.

Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
There must have been cliques – jocks, cheerleaders, musical kids, brainy kids, etc. But there was a good deal of mixing of the groups. This may have been because it wasn’t a huge school. I was, and still am, shy, so I had a few close friends and knew most of the brainy kids because we were in classes together.

Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
My English teachers in my junior and senior years were excellent and encouraged me to write. Mrs. Read was instrumental in my being recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English. Mr. Hefner gave thought-provoking assignments and was always interested in what we were reading. 

Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
My older sister was the writer in our family, and I was the artist. In junior high, I was already thinking about writing and illustrating children’s books. But if my sister had pursued a writing career, I probably would have concentrated totally on art. Instead, she earned her doctorate in psychology and in recent years has become a published poet. Although we are both writing, the type of work we’re creating is nothing alike. 

What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
This is a really hard question because I read a lot. Thinking back, it wasn’t the content of books so much as the way they were written that had an impact on me. Early in high school, I read most of Rumer Godden’s books and was fascinated by her ability to evoke settings and develop relationships between characters. As a senior, I fell in love with John Updike’s short stories. When I read his Pigeon Feathers, I was hooked and began to write a few stories of my own.

What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
I must have been a weird high schooler. I listened to a mix of classical music – loved Stravinsky – and the recording of the original Broadway performance of West Side Story. I also loved to dance an improvised jig to life concert recordings of the Irish singers, The Clancy Brothers. It was in my freshman year at college that the Beatles first visited the United States.

What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
Here again, I am weird. I can not think of any item of clothing that I wanted or felt I needed. I certainly would have been happier wearing jeans to school instead of dresses and skirts with stockings or pantyhose. Yes! That’s what we wore. Yuck!

What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
I lived in the country and spent many hours outside with my menagerie of pets  –  dogs, cats, goats, horses. My best friend and I often rode our horses through fields and woods, and I helped her train the filly that was foaled on her farm. Many of my stories and books feature animals, and one of my books, A Horse for All Seasons, is a collection of horse stories. At school and at home, I did a lot of drawing and painting and eventually decided to major in art. I was the art editor of our senior yearbook and did  pencil illustrations for the divider pages. As an adult, my illustrating and writing have gone together in some of my books, and a Pennsylvania setting can be found in Don’t Call Me Marda and The Shadowed Unicorn. I was ten years  younger than my brother  and six years younger than my sister, and in high school, I thought it’d be very cool to have a bigger family and often thought about adopting a sibling. Now, my husband and I have seven children, six were adopted, and several of my stories and books focus on adoption, including my most recent, Waiting to Forget. (I love that we've had similar paths - well except, you're multiply published and I'm a bit of a late bloomer, sticking with the art for many years)

Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
Can’t you tell? Okay, I was a good kid and not inclined to follow the crowd. 

Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
I don’t think I ever used it aloud (thankfully!), but in my diary I often wrote “perhaps.” (you were oh so scandalous! :0))

If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
I’d tell myself, “Just as you imagine, you really will meet the love of your life while working at a summer camp, and stop writing ‘perhaps’ in your diary!” (Love this :0))

Thinking of the characters you’ve written, is there one who embodies more of your high school self than others? What attributes do you have in common? Differences?
Most of my stories and books are for middle grade readers so the characters are not high school students. I have written one YA novel, Unsaid, using the pseudonym Anika Cassidy, and the main character is a lot like I was in high school. Janice is shy, quiet, a good student, and loves animals. She’s also an observer of the  adults in her family. She keeps a journal and is interested in art. The differences are mainly in her circumstances since her family is nothing like mine, and the situations she deals with are ones that I never encountered as a teenager.

How do we find you now? 

Thanks, Jaye, for this chance to travel way back in time. (Thanks for the interview, Sheila!)


  1. Fun interview, as always :) I love learning about different high school experiences--Shiela, yours sounds wonderful!

  2. I always enjoy author interviews; they are the story behind the story. Thank you for the insightful questions and responses.

  3. Great interview, Sheila! Nice questions, too. And, Sheila, you're not the oldest on the BBs!
    Tori :)

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  5. Leone Castell AndersonMay 3, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    I'd know this was you, Sheila, even if your name
    wasn't used! Great interview. Lee

  6. I love the concept of visiting an author's teenaged self! Great interview and I enjoyed WAiTING TO FORGET!

  7. Thanks Shannon, and thanks to the rest of you for stopping by.

  8. Hi!

    I'm back again to say another thanks to Jaye for hosting me as a guest here on her blog. Also, I'm glad readers stopped by and made comments. Here's the "ending" to this trip down memory lane. My dear husband was inspired to locate music by the Clancy Brothers that I hadn't heard in close to 40 years. So now I can listen while I do my exercises. (I never have learned the jig.) Thanks, everybody!

  9. Great interview, Jaye and Sheila! I love the "high school" focus--very different and fun!


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