Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TBG Author Interview: Holly Schindler

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Schindler about her début Young Adult novel “A Blue So Dark,” and here it is…

1. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Yes—most definitely. I’ve always loved, loved, loved books…I was already writing stories and tying the pages together with red ribbon by the time I was in the first grade.

This probably dates me a little, but when I was young, I was over at a childhood friend’s house when the movie Romancing the Stone came on TV. In the opening scene, Kathleen Turner—who plays a writer—is bawling her eyes out as she types up the closing sentence of her latest novel. My friend nudged me at the time and laughed, “That’s going to be you!”

2. How did you come up with the idea for “A Blue So Dark”?
In A BLUE SO DARK, Aura Ambrose finds herself torn between her own creativity and her fear of one day becoming as mentally ill as her own schizophrenic mother, who’s also an artist.

As her mother sinks deeper in the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet keeps drawing Aura toward the depths of her own imagination—the shadows of make-believe that she finds frighteningly similar to her mother’s hallucinations.

Convinced that creative equals crazy, Aura shuns her art, and her life unravels in the process.

Essentially, I’ve just always been fascinated by creativity—where it comes from, why artistic ability can ooze out of some people’s pores while others practically have to set out traps for muses in order to snare a creative thought. There’s no denying that many artists have also been mad, and it was really interesting for me to devise a fictional scenario to explore the idea that creativity and mental illness could possibly be linked…

3. Where do you draw your inspiration from while you are writing? For example, do you listen to music while you write or sit outside?
I kind of pride myself on being able to write anywhere…the office in my home, the backseat of the car, under the tree in the backyard, the library, the park, the DMV…during tornadoes and hail storms…on typewriters, computers, or longhand.

…I can’t, unfortunately, write to music. (Probably because I play music and am a lifelong music fanatic…I just can’t stop paying attention to, say, strum patterns or chord changes.) It’s the only thing that really derails me…TV doesn’t bug me at all. I can pretty much tune that out. The radio? It’s a total scene killer.

4. How do you stay motivated to write? Even though you are almost published, have you ever wanted to give up?
I got my master’s degree in ’01, and decided to devote myself full-time to writing (I was teaching music lessons and offering English tutorials on the side, in order to help pay bills). It was definitely rough…especially as three unpublished years turned into four, then five, six, seven. And I’d be lying if I said I never got frustrated. But I always felt like I was getting increasingly closer to publication…As time went by, rejections didn’t come so immediately, or came with more positives than negatives and messages from editors indicating that it had been a near-miss.

The path to publication really is a marathon run…or maybe more like two or three marathon runs…You’re going to get shin splits, and you’re going to feel like falling apart. But second winds do come. And there’s no wall you can’t push through, if you want it bad enough…

5. Tell us about your writing habits: where you write, when you write, how much you write, etc.
I think a lot of people kind of have this preconceived notion that a writer’s life is a leisurely one. That they only work when inspiration strikes. But I keep the same kind of hours as a writer that most people do who work in offices…eight in the morning until about five or six in the evening…and when life dictates I be away from my desk, I have pages in my purse or a notebook in the car. While running errands, I’m still jotting chapter outlines or revising passages I just printed out.

I pretty much work every day…because I love it so, so much. That excitement you feel as a reader, that oooh-what’s-going-to-happen-next buzz? I get that feeling as I’m writing…In a sense, I can’t put my own books down!

6. How do you deal with constructive (or not) criticism? And if it’s negative, how do you deal with it?
Criticism’s rough…no doubt about it. In fact, I got my dog Jake pretty soon after grad school, when editors were returning my manuscripts dripping in my own blood, and I was left feeling in complete need of some love. (I always say Jake came from a breeder and I’m the rescue dog.)

But the thing I eventually learned about criticism is that an editor isn’t telling you that you’re stupid or inept or a bad writer when they suggest you change something…In fact, it’s a real compliment when an editor takes the time to offer personalized feedback (most will just return the manuscript with a form rejection letter).

7. How many stories did you start writing before you found a “winner” and how did you know you’d found a keeper?
I can’t even begin to really guess how many…I just know I’ve written enough manuscripts for the stack to stretch from the floor of my office to the ceiling!

When I started drafting A BLUE SO DARK, I dug through old high school journals and notebooks, attempting to reconnect with that teen “voice.” (I even included a few of my high school poems in the novel, though they’ve been tweaked to fit the events of the book.)

I knew that A BLUE SO DARK was going to be special when I put my old journals down and the voice started flowing naturally…Somehow, I just really connected with the manuscript, even as I was writing that first draft. It wasn’t forced. It just really flew.

8. Do you have any new writing projects in the works? Can you tell us about them?
Yes! I’m ecstatic to spread the word that Flux will release my second YA novel, tentatively titled PLAYING HURT, in winter, 2011!

PLAYING HURT centers on two former athletes: Chelsea Keyes, a basketball star whose promising career has been catastrophically snipped short by a horrific accident on the court, and Clint Morgan, an ex-hockey player who had to give up his much-loved sport following his own game-related tragedy.

Chelsea meets Clint (who’s working as a resort fishing guide) soon after arriving with her family for a summer vacation in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota. Sparks fly, igniting the pages, even though Chelsea has a boyfriend back home in Missouri…and even though Clint has sworn never to put himself in the position to be hurt emotionally again.

Their unlikely romance has the potential to heal their heartache and to force Chelsea and Clint to realize just how timidly they’ve been living—but are they really ready to give themselves completely to one another? How will the weeks spent in another man’s arms play into Chelsea’s feelings for her boyfriend when she returns home? And will Clint allow himself to fall for a woman who is bound to leave him at the end of her summer vacation? By playing hurt—entering into a romance with already-broken hearts—are they just setting themselves up for the kind of injury from which they could never recover? Will Chelsea and Clint pull away from each other before they have a chance to find out just how beautiful their story could be?

…I’ve also just signed the contract for my first adult novel—Blooming Tree Press will release my romantic comedy called (again, tentatively) FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS in the fall of 2011. Stay tuned for juicy tidbits…

9. When you started writing “A Blue So Dark” were you planning on trying to get it published, or did that part come later?
Yep, yup, yes, yes, u-huh. Oh, yeah. Wanted to get it published. I wrote the first draft late in 2006, in a two-month period. Several rewrites followed, and the phone call from Flux came late in 2008.

10. What did you do to celebrate when you found out that you were getting signed by your agent?
Actually, I’ve sold all my novels so far without the help of an agent…So it really is possible to get published by submitting to the dreaded slush pile!

But to answer your question more directly, the offer for A BLUE SO DARK came right at the same time as my birthday (literally just days apart). So I wore a really great pointy cardboard hat and blew lots of party noisemakers and ate an inordinate about of cheesecake…

11. Now that you’re almost a published author and a more experienced writer, what advice would you give to your unpublished self?
This is such a great question. I think I’d tell myself to take a breath. That things happen when they’re supposed to…By taking (gulp) seven years to get that first acceptance, I hadn’t just written a book, I’d learned the process. I didn’t have to struggle with getting the next book on paper.

12. What were the most difficult and best parts of writing your first novel, and about how long did the whole process take you?
I attempted my first novel in grad school (for a creative thesis). It took about a year, actually. Sweated bullets over it. To be brutally honest, the good things about it were that it met the requirements for my master’s degree, and it officially got the first book out of the way. I kind of cringe thinking about it now…But if I didn’t, that would mean I hadn’t ever grown as a writer, right?

13. What is your writing process like?
I hate first drafts…I’ll try to get through that as quickly as I can. Once I have it loosely sketched out, I’ll go back and rewrite, filling in the details…developing characters, fleshing out scenes.

The most difficult thing for me is honing back the metaphors. I can infuse a manuscript with so many metaphors, they’d leave any reader feeling as lost as a puppy wandering the neighborhood, or as dizzy as a just-spun top, or as…you get the point.

14. What kind of atmosphere do you prefer to write in, calm or chaos?
Either one…as long as nobody’s singing in the chaos!

15. Do you have any odd and unusual habits which help you in regards to writing?
When I get stuck, I’ll do something physical…Here in Missouri in the fall, that can be raking leaves, or closing off the vents in the house, or hanging Christmas decorations…anything to get me away from the blinking cursor. By the time I clean up, I’ve got a solution mapped out in my mind.

…I mean, the truly great part about writing is that no matter what kind of mess you’ve written yourself into, there’s always a way to write yourself out…


1 comment:

Holly Schindler said...

Thanks for the interview, Aaron! Can't wait for you to read A BLUE SO DARK...