Some time ago, author Barbara Shoup of Indianapolis was talking to a friend and he had an idea for a book about a teenage boy growing up in the 1960s who goes in search of Jack Kerouac. She thought it was a good concept, so she told him, "if you don't use that idea, let me."
With her friends permission, she starting writing the story, but says she hit a wall. The story became boring, even to her. That was until life intervened.
One of Shoup's sisters was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. And she and the family watched, she said, "her two nephews, who were the age of characters in her book, 'Looking for Jack Kerouac,' dealing with the death of their mother."
This personal tragedy also changed the fate of her lead character, Paul, who in the book loses his own mother to brain cancer. And that changes the path of his own life.
In writing this book, Shoup got off the beaten path of major interstates that cut through Florida and took a road trip through the state with a friend. The trip was paid for with a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. She said it exposed her to places and ideas she never would have encountered had she not taken the journey. Like the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs.
And Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg, a haunt for Kerouac when he lived there. "His books were alphabetically on the lower shelf, so he would move them up," she said, to make them stand out more to people who were browsing.
Writing the book also helped Shoup deal with the tidal wave of grief that befell her with her sister's death. She came to see that such a loss is not something you ever recover from.
Shoup will speak at the University of South Florida this Thursday afternoon (2/19) Looking for Jack Kerouac: The Long Road to Discovering a Story at 2 p.m. at USF Tampa Library Grace Allen Room, 4th Floor. The event is free and open to the public.