Today we’d like to introduce you to Sean Eads.
Sean, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m originally from Kentucky, but moved to Colorado in 1999, when I was 26. I’d just finished getting a Master’s degree in literature from the University of Kentucky and was desperate to leave the state, but also a little intimidated at the idea of moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone. Luckily, my best friend, whom I met in grad school, had moved out here already with his wife and infant son, so I felt like I had an anchor.
I’d started working in a public library midway through my Master’s program and decided I liked it a lot. It’s a great job where I get to help people with no strings attached. I’m not trying to sell them on some products, for example. And you learn a lot in the process. So I got a Masters in Library Science along the way and I’ve been a reference librarian with the Jefferson County Public Library for the last 17 years.
But writing and storytelling were always my true passion. I wrote my first story around the age of 12 and I’ve stuck with it ever since. My influences range from contemporary popular authors like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury to more literary writers like Hawthorne, Hemingway, and Melville. I’m something of an absurdist at heart and like to think of myself as a mix of Kafka, Camus and David Sedaris.
My first published novel The Survivors (2012), was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. My third novel, Lord Byron’s Prophecy, was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Colorado Book Award. In 2017, I had a short story collection published called Seventeen Stitches. Right now I’ve got several novel manuscripts out with agents and publishers. It wouldn’t matter if I never saw another work of mine in print, though; I’d write regardless.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Writing isn’t a struggle at all. Publishing on the other hand, is an absurdist nightmare. I’ll give you an example. My second novel Trigger Point was my stab at doing a very popular, James Patterson sort of story. It was based a bit on Philip Markoff, the so-called Craigslist Killer. This was back when Craigslist had an “erotic services” section where people could solicit prostitutes, generally under the guise of getting a massage. I was fascinated because I was already doing some writing for Massage & Bodywork magazine, and I’d gotten to interview several licensed massage therapists who were still fighting the silly but lingering stereotype of seedy massage parlors that are just fronts for the sex trade. So these Craigslist ads weren’t helping.
I wrote Trigger Point in a few weeks, redrafted and edited it, and started submitting to publishers and agents. And one response I got is so typical of the fickleness of the publishing industry: “We loved the prologue, and felt it moved at a great pace. But the story really bogged down in the first chapter.” I stared at that email for a few minutes in disbelief, because the prologue was about five pages long and the first chapter was four pages long.
How the hell could a story “bog down” in four pages? Was I not even allowed to stop and give my characters names? I’ve never explored self-publishing, but responses like the one I just noted offer an easy explanation for why so many people do. It’s a good thing I do happen to like absurd stories because most people who commit to the writing life are entering a world of arbitrary tastes and nonsense.
Please tell us about your work.
I came to librarianship with a specialization in research. Nothing pleases me more than a reference question that’s going to send me scouring through multiple databases before delving into microfilm and then the unindexed pages of some family history tome. Not too long ago, for instance, the new owners of an old local bar had decided to restore the place to look as authentic as it did in the 1920s. They’d found some of the original barstools and were trying to figure out where they’d come from based on the stamped maker’s mark on the bottom of the seats. So we’re doing a lot of online searches, then going through city directories from almost 100 years ago to identify the area furniture stores, and stuff like that. Lots of fun, and you feel like a detective.
But as a public librarian, I find I get fewer of those sorts of really in-depth questions, so my interest over the last couple of years has turned more toward creating programs for our adult patrons. I’ll moderate foreign policy discussion groups, lead crafts programs for adults with disabilities, coordinate after-hours astronomy programs, and bring in local authors to conduct readings. Programming has become a real passion of mine because it brings in so many people who might not otherwise have a reason to come to the library. It’s neat when people come in as strangers and leave as friends.
Kurt Vonnegut once said, “The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.” The America I happen to love exists in a lot of other places too, but I think the public library is the heart of our democracy. It’s a place for those who wish to serve the public without any ulterior motive other than to help someone who has a problem. It’s a place where all ideas are given space to rise or fall on their own merits. It’s a place where people can disagree without their disagreement devolving into cable news shouting matches.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
The great what-if in my life happened when I was 23. I decided to get the Masters in English lit over my other desire, which was trying to enroll in either a high-level film school or creative writing program such as Iowa’s. A friend of mine at the time went out to USC’s film school and his master’s thesis was adopted into a large film. I always thought to myself, “Damn. I bet I could have done that, too.” So I do wonder what my otherwise sluggish writing career might be like if I’d pursued a film degree. On the other hand, as I mentioned, I met my best friend by opting to get the Masters in English lit, and that friendship is more important to me than any script or novel I might create.
The photo of my face should be credited to Aric Vyhmeister. The photos of Seventeen Stitches and Lord Byron’s Prophecy should be credited to Lethe Press. The photo of Trigger Point should be credited to Hex Publishers.