Jiaying Xu ’17
On a crisp fall afternoon of Family Weekend at Smith College, Shannon O’Brien presented her newly published book “Sing Me Home” in front of numerous students and parents. O’Brien received her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre from Smith in 2013. When she was a student at Smith, Shannon actively participated in various campus activities such as a cappella groups, Residence Life and the Student Government. “Sing Me Home” is a lesbian romance novel partially inspired by the a cappella scene at Smith.
The novel tells the story of two young women who struggle to balance their senior year, extracurriculars and a budding romance. Many scenes in the novel take place in the Campus Center Café at Smith.
O’Brien’s first book produced many favorable comment from the press. One of the reviews says, “The story flows and the characters are likeable … Ms. O’Brien has captured the unfolding feelings of new love, and gives us a genuine sense of that real connection that can happen when we meet our soul mate.” After this early success in publishing, O’Brien is now in the process of writing her second book to continue the story from the first one. However, O’Brien’s success didn’t come easily. She didn’t have an agent when she finished writing her book. She researched entirely on her own and picked Bella, a lesbian queer publisher, to publish her work. The whole publishing process took O’Brien two years. In the beginning, the publisher refused to publish her work unless she added 20,000 more words. During this period, she was also busy working for a theatre company on stage design, so she devoted most of her free time to writing. After the publisher accepted her work, she went through another agonizing editing process which lasted about four months. “I’m not writing a novel to make into a TV show or become a bestseller,” O’Brien said modestly, “I’m writing a book to show that lesbian stories can also be positive when most of the lesbian novels nowadays are pretty gloomy and negative.” O’Brien suggested to students with similar interest in publishing: first, be diligent about writing; second, read every direction on publishers’ websites.
O’Brien’s experience is also inspiring for those trying to find their footings after college. Like many students at Smith, O’Brien and the characters in her book have gone through the process of dealing with the uncertainty of graduation. Graduating students tend to feel anxious when jumping into an unknown space and often do not know where they are heading. They also try hard to meet others’ qualifications by standing apart from themselves, looking at themselves objectively and pretending to be those who can judge them. However, that self-detachment to acquire security can be a deception. Enthusiasm carries much more weight in front of life’s uncertainty. Pursuing passion can seem unsafe and even quixotic, but it also opens up new possibilities for life.