By Anderson McKean, Page and Pallette
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South. He is the author thirteen books and the creator of the Sean of the South Podcast. Dietrich chatted with PORTICO about his latest book, You Are My Sunshine.
Q: In You Are My Sunshine, you reflect on the importance of keeping promises and focusing on what really matters in life. What inspired you to share this story with your readers?
A: I’m not good at taking pictures. So I keep journals instead. I find them more fun, more multisensory, and most of all, cheaper. I wanted to share an experience that filled my journal. This was a pretty special experience for my wife and I. I wanted documentation that we actually did it. Primarily, so that she won’t ever ask me to do it again.
Q: What was the best part of your very long bike ride along The Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath? What was the worst?
A: The best part of the trail was always being lost and submersed in nature. The worst part of the trail was always being lost and submersed in nature. The trails themselves are both unique. Probably one of the best parts of the whole experience was being out of a hustling society that never quits moving, driving, texting, emailing, dinging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. Out there the only tweeting you hear comes from warblers. And if you were to try Facebooking while riding a bike, you will wake up wearing your bike as a dress.
Q: You and your wife Jamie are quite the dynamic duo. How did your partnership on this ride shape your experience?
A: We are two very different people. My wife is Type A, whereas I am Type Sean. She likes to have everything planned out. I am very disorganized. Eventually we found a happy medium on the trail. She made all our daily plans. And then I disorganized them.
Q: You have the unique ability to write heartfelt novels of historical fiction such as The Incredible Winston Browne and Stars of Alabama, as well as a compelling memoir, Will the Circle be Unbroken — all of which are universally loved by your fans. Talk about your approach to writing in these different genres?
A: Nonfiction is a different animal than fiction. In fiction, anything goes. There must be a story arc. There has to be some semblance of a plot. In nonfiction, readers want all those things. The only complication is, instead of creating plot and arc, you have to find them. So it becomes more like playing detective rather than being a writer. You’re constantly reprocessing your own experiences, looking for a common thread. The difficult part about this is, you have millions, maybe billions of stories occurring in your own life each moment of each day. Which story do you choose? This is why most nonfiction authors drink.
Q: Do you consider yourself a Floridian or Alabamian?
A: I am definitely an L.A. man. “Lower Alabama.” This is because the part of Florida I come from is lovingly called L.A. by residents. My home county borders Alabama. So most of the residents where I come from root for Alabama, Auburn or Troy. So even though my driver’s license said Florida, I’ve always sort of considered myself an Alabamian. Now that I live in Birmingham, however, it’s official.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers, bloggers and podcasters?
A: Be comfortable with yourself. Be comfortable with your flaws and shortcomings. Don’t try to change them. Don’t apologize for them. Dedicate all your energy toward learning to be okay with yourself. Not being the best. Newsflash: You’re not going to be the best. And even if you actually were the best, they’d still give the award to someone else. So quit trying so hard and learn to enjoy your life. Learning to be comfortable with who you are will make your content less desperate. Less frantic. And everything will happen much easier.
Q: What books are on your bedside table?
A: Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends. I have read that book a dozen times, and it never gets old. Samuel Clemens’ Life on the Mississippi. Also Shoot Low Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies by Lewis Grizzard.
About You Are My Sunshine