Shomer is an award-winning poet and fiction writer who lives in Tampa. She has written two story collections, Tourist Season, which received the Florida Book Award for general fiction, and Imaginary Men. In December, National Public Radio selected her latest work, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, as one of the six best historical novels of 2012. The novel, her first, is about an imagined meeting between Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale.
What's on your nightstand?
I just got The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks. I also have Metroland by Julian Barnes. I like the energy of Metroland. It's a coming of age book, and I thought I might not like it, but it's funny. I also just got the book From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun. It's a tome, about 500 years of Western culture. I figured it would be good for reference. He's brilliant, but the book (is heavy). I read it by using the Levo Book Holder. I call it a bookstand, but it's got Velcro straps and it stands like a floor lamp. Great for people who have neck or arm problems.
So you don't use an e-reader yet?
I'm beginning to see the virtue of using Kindles. The biggest problem is that you can't browse as easily with them. I like knowing where I am in relation to the end, the beginning and so on, and where the next illustration is going to be.
When you think of other writers who have written both poetry and fiction, who stands out?
I started with poetry and then I realized you can't do character in poetry. It's very hard unless you do an epic poem, perhaps. … I knew other writers who did both. I studied with Maxine Kumin at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. What I liked about her was she does everything — poetry, essays, novels, children's books — and then, of course, there's Margaret Atwood, who is incredible and has always done whatever she's wanted.
Who do you recommend to get inspiration flowing?
A book I used to teach in a workshop for the low residency MFA program at University of Tampa, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic. Cornell was a collage artist. I had the students work on verbal collage. I brought in about 30 magazines, really wildly varying. They cut out phrases and moved the phrases around. They could add simple words and weren't allowed to invent language. The book helped them get started.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer