I am THRILLED to be able to post my interview with Holly Schindler, the unfairly gifted author of YA novels "A Blue So Dark" and "Playing Hurt," as well as the forthcoming middle-grade novel, "The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky."
|Holly's debut novel|
It’s clear from the personal information you share online that you’re grateful for a priceless gift you’ve received from your mother: the freedom to pursue your writing career without having to worry about supporting yourself with a “day job.” Has a version of your mother shown up in any of your novels? If so, which of your characters represent her, and in what way?
None of my characters are ever based directly on people I’ve known in life. And the situations I choose to include in my novels on are all completely fictitious, as well. In fact, most of my novels involve situations that are completely beyond my realm of experience—I’ve never had any personal experience with mental illness (which is a big part of the focus of my debut, A BLUE SO DARK), and I’ve never played an organized sport (though the characters in PLAYING HURT are both athletes).
In addition to being a cheerleader and a source of financial support, my mom’s also my first—and last—reader. It’s been incredible to have an in-house editor—someone I can turn to at every stage of a book’s development. We talk through plot outlines, brainstorm characters. She sees my earliest, messiest pages. She’s also helped read proofs, when they arrive from the publisher, and has even nailed the official titles on both my published YAs!
Aura, the protagonist of “A Blue So Dark,” is afraid of everything – talking to Jeremy, the boy on whom she has a crush; confronting her father with the effect that his emotional abandonment has had on her; and most of all, her genetic legacy of mental illness that she’s convinced is linked to artistic ability. By contrast, Chelsea, the protagonist of “Playing Hurt,” seems not to have known the meaning of fear until her life was turned upside down by physical injury. You describe yourself as having been a painfully shy child. What was it like for you to write about Aura? Same question for Chelsea? What process did it take for you to be able to get inside the skin of a girl like Chelsea?
I was incredibly shy, you’re right—I used to cry when my parents took me to playgrounds, because other kids were there, and I couldn’t stand the thought of interacting with them. And while I’m still pretty introverted, I had to get over the shyness completely in order to pursue a career as a writer. Promotional efforts don’t leave much room for shyness, that’s for sure…but there’s also nothing shy about publishing a book, either.
Even though I’m not writing about the people in my life or about situations I’ve experienced, I’m still letting people into my head. My own observations, my humor, inevitably make it into my books—especially when I write in first person. There’s something about using “I” in every sentence that makes it easier for bits of yourself to leak onto the pages. In some ways, I always feel that when a reader picks up one of my books, they’re getting an intensely personal look at the inside of my head. It takes a serious amount of guts to submit a book, to let an agent or editor read your work—let alone the entire reading public!
As far as getting into a character’s skin…as I said before, I think it’s really important to write beyond your own realm of experience. (If an author were to write only about their own life experiences, they’d basically wind up writing the same book over and over.) Maybe it's because all my characters are a bit of a stretch, but I don’t really feel as though the process of getting in their heads is really all that different. I’m always putting myself in that character’s situation, trying to look through their eyes, as I navigate their dilemma—but in a way, you do that as a reader, too—you put yourself in the protagonist’s situation, see the world through their eyes. That’s the fun part of really connecting with a book, as a reader. It’s complete escapism.
Speaking of skin, there’s quite a bit of it in “Playing Hurt.” If the novel were a movie, it would definitely be rated R. In “Blue So Dark,” Aura’s best friend Janny, a miserable single mother at 17, seems like she could be a poster child for “just saying no” to teenage sex. Since Chelsea in “Playing Hurt” is so intensely focused on following the sexual attraction between herself and Clint wherever it might lead, and since we’re never told whether Janny got pregnant because she and Ace blew off using birth control or just had an equipment malfunction, what are we to make of the huge discrepancy between the consequences of having sex for Janny and those for Chelsea?
Sex has consequences for both Janny and Chelsea, actually. And the consequences are positive and negative for both of them.
One of the limitations about writing in first person is that you only get the protagonist’s perception of other people—not, sometimes, how secondary characters really are. We don’t get Janny’s story and how she feels about her situation straight from Janny—we get it from Aura, whose idea of motherhood (or being a caretaker) is being colored by her current situation. Aura presents Janny’s motherhood in a negative way at the beginning of A BLUE SO DARK because her own situation with her mother is pretty miserable (and Aura’s actually taking the role of caretaker in their relationship). By the end of the book, though, she’s getting a different view of Janny’s life. Aura begins to understand how Janny must feel for her son (especially during scenes like the one in which the two girls paint Aura’s bedroom). She notes, too, how much better Janny begins to look physically as she gets her life together. In the epilogue, she notes that both Janny and Ethan are “fearless.” By the end of the book, Aura sees promise of a life of love with her son for Janny—in part, because she sees the promise of a happier life for herself.
Sex for Chelsea also has positive consequences—her relationship with Clint helps to lead her back to the light in her life following her life-altering accident on the court. But the flip side is that she loses Gabe. By trying to cover up her relationship with Clint—and letting Gabe figure it out on his own—she completely destroys her relationship with Gabe. Breakups have different shades, depending on how two people decide to leave a relationship. By letting Gabe figure out about Clint, Chelsea’s breakup with Gabe is far different than it would have been if she’d said that she felt they needed to start seeing other people.
When Chelsea goes to school, she’ll see Gabe on campus. And I do think she has guilt—at the book’s end, we see her keep trying to text Gabe, racing out of White Sugar and trying to explain the situation to him again. Seeing Gabe will be a constant reminder that she could have handled things differently.
Nell, Aura’s semi-secret grandmother, tells her, “Worst thing you can be in life, boring. Worse even that being selfish.” Do you subscribe to that view? If not, what do you believe is the “worst thing you can be in life?” How does that belief play itself out in your writing?
I think the worst thing you can be is unfulfilled. For me, being fulfilled meant writing. Period. I think you’ve got to dig your nails into the thing that’s going to give you your life’s fulfillment and hang on—not let anything derail you. I also know, though, that sometimes, that’s easier said than done. It took seven and a half years of full-time effort to finally get my first “yes,” my first book deal. There are times, when you’re in hot pursuit of your dream, that you’ll feel as though the entire world is standing between you and your dream. But that’s the time when it’s the most important to dig deeper, to hang on.
This one’s a three-parter: (a) You’ve said that you want to explore many different genres, and you’ve carried through on that: a YA literary novel, a YA romance, and then a middle-grade novel. What’s next? (b) Do you find that your reading tastes change, depending on what you’re currently writing? (c) Do you ever find yourself missing the characters from your previous books, and thinking about doing a sequel so you can hang out with them again?
Oh, yes—I’m always exploring different genres. My writing tastes are every bit as varied as my reading tastes—and I read everything. Honestly. Sci-fi, horror, romance, literary, classics, great billboards, clever cereal boxes…I never know where inspiration will take me next, but that’s part of the fun! I don’t necessarily find myself having to read the same genre I’m currently working on, though—when I’m at work, it’s all about character and pacing and believability—and that’s a part of any good book, regardless of genre.
As for revisiting past casts of characters, I sometimes find myself wishing I could explore minor characters, who didn’t get much attention the first time around—Angela Frieson from A BLUE SO DARK, for example. Aura’s situation colors her depiction of her own best friend. Imagine how much she probably has wrong about her lab partner!
What’s the one piece of advice that you most wish someone had given you when you were just starting out in your writing career, but that you had to find out the hard way instead?
I think everybody has their own delusions about what a writing career will be like. My own crazy belief was that once I sold a book, I’d be “in.” It wouldn’t be as hard to sell my subsequent books. But even published authors go through long periods of rejection—though I’d sold two YAs, it still took my agent a year and a half to sell my first MG! Don’t expect a writing career to come all at once, like winning the lottery. A writing career is built step by step.
Could you describe A Day in the Life of Holly Schindler?
Honestly, from the outside, my daily life looks about as interesting as watching your toenails grow—it’s me at my computer for a good eight hours a day, typing away. But anyone who writes fiction knows just how thrilling eight solid hours at a computer can be—and how innervating, how rewarding. I think writing a novel takes every bit as much energy and hard work as building a house—and I love to go to bed each night bone tired, with dirt under my nails.
Holly, I can't thank you enough for your kindness! And I can't wait to read all your future books!