Travelin’ man

Mechanicsburg author willing to go anywhere for his craft

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Eric Shonkwiler kicks off his first book tour for “Above All Men” in a small, mining ghostown.

What would bring a kid from Mechanicsburg, a town with one stoplight, to West Virginia, California, New Mexico, and beyond? “I follow what lets me write,” author Eric Shonkwiler says.

Shonkwiler graduated from Mechanicsburg High in 2003, and since then his own life sounds like it stepped out of a novel. Although he is still good friends with many kids he went to school with, his locale since has been all over the map. Shonkwiler has traveled the country, lived in a trailer, slept in the backseat of his car, and is now publishing his third work, “8th Street Power & Light.”

Only in the past year has this travelin’ man set up shop, living with “a regular job and bill payments” in Nashville, Tennessee. He met his girlfriend Jordan at his “favorite bar in the world” in Athens, Ohio, and was willing to move to Nashville to be with her (love will do that to you), although he still keeps a job that gives him time to write.

The writing bug bit Shonkwiler when he started penning short stories in high school (a collection of these stories is available in book form as “Moon Up, Past Full”), but his love of writing really took hold when Shonkwiler was midway through studies at Wittenberg University. “I realized I wanted to write big, highfalutin’, stinkin’ novels,” Shonkwiler declares.

Even though some of his professors laughed and many of his family members were wary, Shonkwiler changed his career path. He received his MFA from the University of California-Riverside as a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows and got odd jobs in Nebraska, Texas (where he notes they had “oddly good Thai food”) and New Mexico—jobs that would allow him to continue writing.

“The nine to five grind is like a wasting psychological disease to me,” Shonkwiler says. “I prefer traveling around, living hand to mouth, out of the backseat of my car, on tolerant friends’ couches.”

And of course, he continues to write. Shonkwiler was even selected for a writer’s residency in the New River Gorge Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville, West Virginia, where he completed the first draft of his first novel. Seven years after he started his new lifestyle, Shonkwiler saw that first novel “Above All Men” was published. He notes writing the book was a ton of work, and a lot of man hours, but completely worth it.

“Writing is the most important thing,” Shonkwiler says. “I wouldn’t be able to function as a member of society if I couldn’t write. The more I write, the more it’s just everything about my life. It’s a means to combat the injustice I see in the world, to show how I view the world.”

Shonkwiler encourages burgeoning writers to be unafraid of the long process, and believe that they’ve got something to say. “You have to cultivate a lunatic faith in yourself,” Shonkwiler says. “You have to be sure that you’re the next big thing.”

Critics and readers have jumped on board with Shonkwiler’s expectations, as book reviewers and bloggers have showered him with praise. He’s been given a Luminaire Award for Best Prose, had his debut novel named a “Midwest Connections Pick” by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, and still averages 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon reviews.

Sparse yet poetic fiction

So what does Shonkwiler write about? He describes his style as “sparse yet poetic,” borrowing from a reviewer that he says summed it up perfectly. Shonkwiler’s characters don’t often tell the reader what they’re thinking, but allow the reader to pick it up indirectly through “how the character sees what’s going on around them.”

The first novel, “Above All Men,” is set in a desolate near future, where crops are drying up and oil is running out. People are escaping to the countryside, worsening drought conditions and opening the land up to crime. The book follows war veteran David Parrish, who fights to keep his family and farm together while hunting for the killer of a local child.

The second novel, “8th Street Power & Light,” revolves around Samuel Parrish, David’s son now grown-up. The organization 8th Street Power and Light, described as “part government, part gang, and part power company,” has tasked Samuel with keeping their Midwest city clear of meth and bootleg liquor. But when Samuel goes head to head with a well-connected dealer, it’s almost lights out. Here’s a look inside at some of that award-winning prose:

He kissed her again and left. Her lips and the bed and everything else held to him like a loose shroud as he walked down the hall, the stairs. It was the dead hour before the notion of dawn, bitter cold outside and bright. They had been shut in with the curtains drawn, and in that time the sky had fallen close to the light, and it snowed heavily. He moved along the uneven sidewalk with his arms crossed and his collar pulled to his neck. Marblings of snow laced the pavement, shifting in the wind and settling back, drifting in the gutters…His hand rested on the knife, and he walked quietly among the wrecks of The Boneyard, still enough he could hear the snowflakes break on the roofs of the cars.

A new novel in the works is staying within the same geography, but moving to a different era. Shonkwiler will be exploring the Dust Bowl in the Depression, telling the story of a con man who convinces farmers to pay him an exorbitant amount of money to make it rain. The story idea came from an anecdote a reader relayed to him on the book tour for “Above All Men.” This upcoming novel will focus on one family that is staying with their farm and trying to survive.

“This is what I’m going to do with my life,” Shonkwiler says of writing. “I made that decision [in college] and I never looked back.”


For more information about Eric and his works, please visit Books, audiobooks, and e-books of his works are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound, and directly through the publisher.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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