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Interview with Author Shirley Anderson

Memoir author

Today I have with us, Shirley Anderson, a newly published former nun who is an absolute delight. Shirley has lived quite the adventurous life, and shared some of wonderful stories in her memoir, Poverty, Virginity & Love.

Jeanne: Shirley, tell us about yourself

Shirley: I tried to think of a fun fact or something quirky the reader might not know about me. The best I could come up with was I do not like fishing, an experience I have had twice in my life.

The first was after I left the convent and was dating a divorced business professor who took me fishing in his “sturdy” jon boat with two bench seats. I am not sure if it was aluminum or wood, but it was not sturdy. A short way from the Florida shore, the boat overturned, and now we were swimming. We didn’t take time to blame the waves, one another, or the devil.

“Can you touch bottom?” I said frantically.

“Yes, it is shallow,” he said. “You can walk to shore.”

Wet and struggling, we pulled the boat and didn’t even consider trying to regain his fishing gear.

I did continue to date him, but never fished again in Florida.

My second experience with fishing was on a family vacation to Rend Lake in Illinois. Two grandsons were with us and the oldest, Brennan, caught his first fish. When he saw blood near the mouth of the cold-blooded tiny creature, he said, “Grandpa, please help him, he’s hurt.”

Grandpa removed the hook, returned the green-banded bass to the water, and we watched as the tiny creature swam home. Brennan’s sad face returned to a smile as I gave my compassionate grandson a hug.

Jeanne: What a sweet story. Out of the mouth of babes.

Jeanne: Tell us about your new book

Shirley: I started Poverty, Virginity & Love as a vignette of cities I had visited. When my husband died in December of 2018, the book evolved into a memoir that begins with me entering the convent, and recounts a life far more adventurous than expected. I had considered going to Africa and being a martyr, and dying for Jesus; instead I was gifted with a life lived six years in Pusan (Busan), Korea.

The first title was Six on a Honda, but some thought it might be confused with Sex on a Honda, and a family member rejected it because, “Title doesn’t describe the content of chapters.” I had only a few chapters drafted at that time. As for titles, there were thirty suggested before I decided on this one. Those with “Grandma” and “Nun” were discarded. I selected the present title because as I nun I had taken the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, and the current title also describes me after leaving the convent.

The next foreign experience was in war-torn Vietnam, comforting my parents with “Not everyone returns in a body bag.” The tour of China with the family, especially the ten-year old grandson was memorable. Consulting in the State of Kuwait was a professional highlight. I learned from cultures dangerous, historically ancient, entertaining, and exciting throughout the world, and trust the reader will also find this to be an enriching experience.

Jeanne: What kinds of jobs have you had in the past? Does it play any role in your stories?

Shirley: In 1997, I retired from Saint Louis University as Professor Emeritus after twenty plus years of tenure in the Medical Record Administration Department, which subsequently changed to Department of Health Information Management, in keeping with the advancements in computerization of medical information.

My memoir includes my medical records career, staring with an assignment by the Mother General of Maryknoll to study this field for nine-months at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Lowell, Massachusetts for accreditation. After that, medical records was part of my life until retirement.

Writing articles for professional publications was needed to advance from Assistant Professor to Associate, and then Professor. I did not consider books until I was selected by Delmar Publishers to be a Series Editor. This entailed contacting my colleagues to have them publish their books with Delmar. I co-authored a book during this time. I learned that books required for courses sell better than generic books about the profession.

Jeanne: Name a book that made you cry. Why?

Shirley: I did not shed actual tears, but other than the Bible, the story that has added meaning to my life choices is the play/novel (1960), movie (1966), and TV movie (1988) A Man for all Seasons, thanks to Robert Bolt, the playwright. My favorite scene in the 1966 movie, which is recorded on my TV, is when Margaret, Thomas More’s daughter, is engaged in Latin repartee with King Henry VIII. Orson Wells is Cardinal Wolsey in the movie version and Charlton Heston replaces Paul Scofield as Henry in the 1988 TV movie. For me, Thomas, who was a scholar and the most brilliant lawyer in England, followed his conscience even though it meant being beheaded and his family suffering from his decision.

 Jeanne: How long have you been writing?

Shirley: From the time I entered the convent in 1953, a weekly letter home included such requests as “Please send me a card of hair pins. Some of the other postulants set their hair so I guess I can too.” I wrote to my family and friends during my Novitiate in Valley Park, Missouri. My father typed weekly letters to me, and I responded until the early 70s, when I was settled in the States.

During my six years (1961 to 1967) in Pusan (Busan), South Korea, I prepared letters informing benefactors in the States about activities, requested donations for the children and the hospital, and thanked them for past contributions.

The nine page article “Vietnam Report: A Medical Record Librarian in Saigon,” June 1970 issue was my first professional publication. An article based on my Thesis was published in 1973. For over twenty years, the typical college professor’s activities: consulting, publications, presentations, community service, teaching assignments, grants, and honors were included on my curriculum vitae. In 1991, I began as Series Editor in Health Information Management for Delmar Publishers, which continued until 1997, when I retired as Professor Emeritus from Saint Louis University.

Jeanne: It sounds like writing has always been a part of your life.

Shirley: From the time of retirement until the present, I tried to write a novel. When my husband died in 2018, I changed to a memoir and thanks to Jeanne Felfe, I have a publication.

Jeanne: Your project has definitely been one of the more interesting ones I’ve worked on.

Jeanne: How do you write? Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

Shirley: I wrote this memoir on my computer in an office with three windows facing the street. I use longhand when I need to copy from the Internet or other places.

Jeanne: Do you have a lucky something?

Shirley: I try to avoid 13 for important events, although my niece Susan Marie, considers 13 her lucky number. I try to avoid eating around my computer most times. When my husband was alive, we would use folding tables for light meals as we watched one of the grandsons play ice hockey streaming on the computer screen.

Jeanne: What are you currently reading?

Shirley: With a published book, I now have time to start reading my editor’s book, Bridge to Us, which is hard to put down, at a time when marketing is a top priority for me.

Jeanne: Aww…thank you for saying that.

Shirley: I have a goal of fifteen minutes of spiritual reading daily. Most recently this has been Welcome, There is More to Life, a publication of The Dynamic Catholic Institute and Beacon Publishing. Welcome is more than a book, it is an experience with meetings, now on Zoom, and a preparation for conducting a retreat for women of the parish. Men have this study to conduct a retreat for men.

During the formation process a few of the subjects are “God’s Dream for you,” “Prayer,” and “Do You Trust God?”

Jeanne: Do you have a favorite quote?

Shirley: In February of 1961, I began writing in my black book, quotes from spiritual reading. Some have titles only. One from “Reader’s Digest” is humorous and may not be a direct quote, but this is how I jotted it down:

“An old Englishman I met in Africa was reminiscing about his explorations in earlier days, and the shock of one culture meeting another the first time.”

“Can you imagine,” he said ‘people so primitive that they love to eat the embryo of certain birds, and slices from the belly of certain animals? And grind up grass seed, make it into a paste and burn it over a fire, then smear it with a greasy mess they extract from the mammary fluid of animals?’”

“While I shuddered at such barbarianism he went on. ‘What I’ve been describing, of course, is a breakfast of bacon and eggs with buttered toast.’”

Jeanne: That’s hilarious!

Shirley: In the 60s I read Springs of Oriental Wisdom by Fu-Kiang. These are a few of the quotations:

Confucius says: “Man has three ways of acting wisely: Firstly on meditation, this the noblest; secondly, on imitation, this is the easiest; and thirdly, on experience: this is the bitterest.”

“He who is really kind can never be unhappy; He who is really wise can never be confused; He is really brave is never afraid.”

Lao-Tse says: “Kindness in words creates confidence; Kindness in thinking creates profoundness; Kindness in giving creates LOVE.”

I have several from A Man for All Seasons, among them these two:

“And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?” (Thomas More)

Margaret to her father: “But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?”

More’s response, “Well…finally…it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”

Jeanne: those are some awesome quotes.

Jeanne: What’s Next? What are you working on now?

Shirley: I have Squeeze, a children’s story with a piano accordion as the main character. It needs more work, illustrations, and I would like to include an accordion sing-a-long on a CD. I may return to it after marketing my current book.

Jeanne: That sounds cute.

Shirley: Also I could work on Eating to Be Healthy and Happy, originally The Hail Mary Diet, about slow eating.

Jeanne: something I’m sure we could all use.

Jeanne: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad ones?

Shirley: I am looking forward to positive, constructive reviews and will definitely keep these. When I was a professor and teacher, I kept all the positive comments from my students. Incidentally, there are no negative ones in my file. I am not sure how I would deal with bad book reviews as I am sensitive. Time will tell.

Links to Shirley:

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Shirley, thank you for spending time with us. Be sure to check out Shirley’s newly published memoir, Poverty, Virginity & Love.

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