Gals and Ghouls: the Spooktacular Susan Sheppard

Born in Clarksburg, I grew up in West Union, a small town in Doddridge County. I’m a graduate of Doddridge County High School.  I married at a young age and moved to Parkersburg. I was then, and still am, trying to balance my three primary interests which are writing, art and topics of a spiritual nature.  I’m the author of “The Phoenix Cards,” and several other non-fiction books.  I was the winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Poetry Prize in 2005.

Tell us a little about your writing background. When did you know you wanted to write?

I knew I wanted to write in first or second grade. I was interested mostly in poetry; however, I also wanted to write fiction and non-fiction.

Who would you say among authors living and dead are your favorites and why?

Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, Pablo Neruda, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Anais Nin, Louise Erdrich, William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman, Rumi, James Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dylan Thomas, Sharon Olds, Jayne Anne Phillips and others. I think for the most part these are writers who are led by sensation and feeling in their works. Others are gothic or speculative.

How have any of these authors influenced your own writing?

I would say they all have.

Do you have a writing group? Describe.

Yes. Now three years old, we have a poetry group who meets weekly in the old Dils Department Store in downtown Parkersburg. We call ourselves the “Sacred Way Poets,” but we’re not a religious group. We named ourselves after a street in nearby Marietta called Sacra Via, or Sacred Way. In Rome, the road was called Via Sacra, a very ancient road.

Explain your connection with Celts and how did you come to write your poem, “The Green Children”?

Well, I’m part Celtic but also Native American. However, since I write in English (which is not Celtic, but…) I cannot help but be influenced by the magic and legends of the British Isles.  The concept of fairies is, of course, great fun. I think I naturally gravitate toward the Irish imagination, which is dark, foreboding and magical.  Many of my ancestors came from Ireland but my other forebears, according to DNA testing, have been in North America for 12,000 years.  The poem is based on an old English tale about two green children who were found wandering. They were unable to speak and one died. The other child survived and eventually the green color left her skin.

“Where the sky broke open/ to reveal the furnaces of heaven”—what does this line mean in your poem “The Green Children”?

When clouds part, the sky looks like it’s on fire, sometimes like a furnace, which of course can be beautiful, maybe off putting.  Also, I had a vision once of heaven being like a turning wheel of fire. When the soul passed through this fire wheel, any negative residue of earth was burned off and the soul then became cleansed. If the soul was too dense, too weighted down by earthly life, then it was best they return to earth and try it all over again. I suppose that means I believe in reincarnation. There is always a mystical dimension behind everything I write.

Tell us about your latest project.

My latest project is the film “White Zombie 2014” that I wrote the screenplay for. It is a re-imagining the old 1932 movie starring Bela Lugosi. This is not your usual zombie film. It was directed by Arthur Leo Collins and will be released by RagNbone Productions located in Youngstown, Ohio. I also created “The Creative Writer’s Inspiration Deck” which is searching for a publisher, and I am always writing poetry.

Who is Scarlet?

Scarlet Elisabeth Sheppard is my amazing daughter who is a writer and an actress. She helped out with the West Virginia Writer’s Conference for a few years and is a popular young lady. Scarlet has the ability to lift the mood of any room she walks into. She is in her last year at Columbia College in Chicago.

Respond with poem or prose to the following scenario:

A woman is sitting by Edgar Allen Poe’s grave. The Poe Toaster, the mysterious man in black who for decades left three roses and an unfinished bottle of Martell cognac at Poe’s grave on Poe’s January 19 birthday comes no longer. She is going to start a new tradition, not in January, but on All Hallows Eve. What will her tradition be?

If I was the woman sitting by Poe’s grave (which I have done twice) I would start the tradition of having people dress in the costumes of Poe’s characters on Halloween and play the “exquisite corpse” poetry exercise (after all, it was developed by the surrealists in Paris who were so influenced by Poe’s writings) for an hour or so.  Later we would get a Ouija board and suggest the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe send messages to us from the beyond, and maybe, if we get lucky, perhaps his spirit will even write out some new poems. At midnight we would embark on a ghost hunt of the catacombs of the Westminster Church where Poe is buried. (He isn’t buried in the catacombs; his grave is visible from the street.) We would end the night with a toast of hot chai tea because Poe died from his addiction to alcohol. I don’t think his memory is best served by bringing in the thing that killed him. Of course, Halloween was not really celebrated during Poe’s time. The idea of Halloween was brought to America’s shores by the Irish in the 1840s and Poe died in 1849. But that wasn’t enough time for Halloween to become a tradition.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Gals and Ghouls: the Spooktacular Susan Sheppard

  1. Sherrell Wigal

    Another excellent interview!

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