2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Shane Burcaw

yalsa nonfiction finalistThe YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

The five finalists for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction have been announced — and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with finalist Shane Burcaw, author of Laughing at My Nightmare, in which he writes about his experiences as a child and young adult with spinal muscular atrophy.


Photo courtesy of Shane Burcaw
Photo courtesy of Shane Burcaw

In your memoir, Laughing at My Nightmare, you write about your experience as a child and young adult with spinal muscular atrophy, taking us from your diagnosis at age two, through childhood, high school and college and up to the present.  Your book is wonderful, honest, funny, insightful — in short, I was impacted very definitely by what you wrote.  I wondered if you could share with Hub readers why you decided to write first your blog and then your book.

My reason for starting the blog was, on the surface, pretty lame. I was bored one summer afternoon and felt an urge to write. Looking back, I think I was battling a subconscious fear of being forgotten around that time in my life. I’ve been living with the reality that my disease will kill me someday since I discovered that truth in middle school, and leaving an impact on the world, making my time seem worthwhile, has always been crucially important to me. But none of that was at the forefront of my mind when I decided to write the first post. I just wanted to make people laugh. As the blog began to grow, and my followers climbed into the hundreds of thousands, I was in constant shock that people cared about what I had to say. Readers from all across the world were emailing me to thank me for inspiring them! That was never my purpose, but along the way I learned to accept that humor and positivity are powerful concepts, and I began to love that I could “help” people in that way. That’s where the book came from, wanting to take my story to the next level, wanting to share the benefits of laughter with the world.


Was it hard for you to share your life experiences so openly in your blog and book, knowing that your family and friends — not to mention the world — would learn intimate details about you?  How did you cope with this aspect of writing a memoir? 

shane burcaw laughing at my nightmareThe intimate aspects of my writing have always been difficult to share. Whether I’m talking about sex, religion, death, or my fears, it takes a considerable amount of belief in the understandingness (not a word, don’t care) of others. This mindset has paid off! I tell myself that the only way I’m going to make a difference in this world is if I’m brutally honest about every aspect of my life. Sometimes it creates awkwardness, like having my grandmother read about how I masturbate, but in the end, awkwardness isn’t that big of a deal, and I think it’s worth it.


I am guessing that you wrote your book while you were in college, but please correct me if I’m wrong.  Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you found time in a probably fairly busy schedule to write? I know that many of us would-be writers don’t actually do so because we feel that we don’t have the time.

I did write the book in college! And just like a typical college student, I procrastinated tremendously. I’m a fairly quick writer once I have an idea, so I told myself I could bang out a book in a few weeks once I set my mind to it. HA HA HAHA. I was wrong. Writing is my biggest passion on this earth, but there are moments when it’s also the most frustrating and scary thing I do. I experienced many of those moments in the weeks before my manuscript deadline.


You have probably been asked this a thousand times, but I was wondering who you like to read.  Any favorite authors, novels, genres, nonfiction?  Particularly anything that you feel has influenced your writing style and/or approach to life?

I love George Saunders. His short stories give me chills. Some other favorite authors and books (in no order): On The Road by Kerouac, White Noise by DeLillo, lots of Hemingway, The Goldfinch by Tartt, and Lorrie Moore is also pretty fantastic.


Are you working on any writing projects currently, or do you have any writing plans for the near future, whether another memoir or a different genre?  Your readers must know!

I am, but if I tell you, I have to kill you, or at least erase all of your memories. I know that seems drastic, but it’s in my contract. Joking, Macmillan, please don’t drop me. I love you.


– Anna Dalin, currently reading Shane Burcaw’s Tumblr blog and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

4 thoughts on “2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Shane Burcaw”

  1. We are a multi-generational book club–with broad interests in literature. Your book is totally unique and inspiring ..we loved it. We wish you the best …and we would all run that 5 k if we lived in PA and not multi-generational…kudos to your friends and family…
    You chose to laugh and to spend your life “blowing out your crabbies”… We are trying to do the same.
    God Bless You!
    Pat, Nola, Liz, Kim, Carolyn, Debbi, Debbie, Pat, Lynne, and Carol

  2. I loved the book. I work at the hospital with volunteers that range in age from 40 to 86 and we are passing it around and it’s been love by all. Good luck Shane!

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