Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A BLUE SO DARK by Holly Schindler

After obtaining her master’s in English back in 2001, Holly Schindler decided to nix the idea of getting a full-time job in favor of pursuing a writing career, her lifelong dream. She says, “After wearing out a half-dozen or so keyboards drafting far too many manuscripts to count…after revising and submitting and revising again…after seven and a half years of rejections…I sold my first novel, a YA titled A BLUE SO DARK, to Flux!” In addition to her debut novel, Holly sold two more books that will be forthcoming in 2011!

The buzz for A BLUE SO DARK:

"Breathtakingly, gut-wrenchingly authentic...A haunting, realistic view of the melding of art, creativity, and mental illness and their collective impact on a young person’s life."
—Booklist, starred review

“A Blue So Dark is one of those rare books: It never shies away from the darkness yet still manages to find the light. A truly real, emotional, and honest read.”
—Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward and Love in the Present Tense

“Schindler’s lyrical debut explores the nightmare of mental illness in a voice that is sharp and funny and all her own. This is as real as teen fiction gets. A must-read.”
—Crissa-Jean Chappell, author of Total Constant Order

“A Blue So Dark is a raw, compelling and eloquent portrayal of art and madness, and the freeing, healing gift of creativity. Schindler's voice is brilliant and true.”
—Carrie Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Need and Captivate

Congratulations on your debut and the awesome reviews, Holly! Welcome to the Café! Let’s get started . . .

Mary: Tell us about your newest book, A BLUE SO DARK.

Holly: In short, A BLUE SO DARK follows a young girl’s attempts to care for her schizophrenic mother (an artist and art teacher), while fearing that her own artistic ability is an indicator that she, too, will become mentally unstable.

Here’s the jacket copy, which offers a little more detail:

"Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura’s dad left them. Convinced that “creative” equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears."

Mary: It sounds like a gut-wrenching book to write. Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Holly: I remember writing the scene in the kitchen, which appears in chapter 1: Aura making a sandwich for her mother, who’s already beginning a descent into madness.

But as I rewrote and rewrote, the mermaids (driftwood carvings that were always hanging from the ceiling of the kitchen) began to feature more dominantly in the book. The last things I wrote were the prologue and epilogue (which both take place in Florida). I really love the bookends they put on the novel. With Aura being in the same physical place at the beginning and end of the book, it kind of forces readers to consider the EMOTIONAL place she’s in at the novel’s start and at the novel’s end.

Mary: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Holly: First draft. I think most readers assume that the first draft is the fun part—the discovery part, the time when an author’s imagination can run wild. But I really dislike the first draft. It’s sort of painful for me to have to start from scratch.

Revision? I ADORE revision. I feel much, MUCH better when I get something DOWN to work with.

Mary: I'm right there with you on revision. That’s when the fun starts.

Holly: The thing is, I love a book that’s layered. A book that has multiple dimensions. And I think a book gets layered with successive rewrites. Every single time an author goes back, she (or he) adds a new subplot. Or a secondary character that forces the protagonist to reveal another dimension of their personality. Or a simple turn-of-events that notches up the tension in what can so often be the saggy mid-section of a book.

When I’m writing that first draft, it seems so…two-dimensional to me. But once I start to go back, start to add in all those layers, and my book starts to come alive? THAT’S when my juices REALLY start flowing.

Mary: Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Holly: I ALWAYS have another book in the works. I’ve got a towering stack of manuscripts that I drafted in my pre-acceptance period, which now need to be revised and resubmitted. And, of course, there are the two books that are still in development. I know…to go from no publications to THREE in one year…I was incredibly lucky.

New ideas for novels pop up all the time. Drafting one project, I’ll get ideas for half a dozen additional books! When ideas pop into my head, I jot down whatever’s just come to me—a character sketch, a premise, a basic outline—then try to put it aside so that I can finish my task at hand. That also means I have a stack of notebooks FILLED with ideas for books! Honestly, once I finish a project, it's kind of hard to decide which idea / outline I want to tackle next. (What a fantastic dilemma, right?)

Mary: Yes, that is one great dilemma to have! What three things are always on your desk?

Holly: Confession time: I have a tendency to be a little bit of a slob while drafting. But I also tend to really want to tidy everything up while I’m revising! So my desk can either look totally cluttered or completely clean and dust-free, depending on what stage my writing’s in.

Three constants, through either clutter or clean, are a cup of hot coffee (cream, no sugar), my dog, Jake (who’s usually UNDER the desk or the nearby couch), and my glasses. (I’m totally blind—20/700 vision! So if I want to completely turn off my inner critic, I take my glasses off and type away. If I can’t SEE it, I can’t second-guess it!)

Mary: I love this! It’s a great way to tame that annoying internal critic.

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment! Holly will pop back in for one week to respond to questions and comments.


C_Rodden said...

Congrats for your hard work paying off in such an exciting way. 0 to 3 in under a year must feel amazing. I am curious if you have one of those unusual "how I found my agent" stories?

Holly Schindler said...

Thanks on the congrats! I think my unusual story is actually that I didn't use an agent to sell A BLUE SO DARK or either of my two forthcoming novels. They all came out of the slush pile! And while I think most editors / agents would argue that it's probably harder to sell a book on your own (without an agent), I think my incredible luck in '09 just goes to show that editors really DO pay attention to the slush. (I know, at times, the slush pile feels like a complete dead end...)

Patty said...

I'm really happy for Holly, her publication story and all is quite inspirational for those of us who will start the process soon. Awesome interview!

P.S. I hate revising, love first drafts.

Ro said...

This was a wonderful interview! I feel much better as an avid writer myself knowing that there are other authors out there who 1) get lots of ideas at one time, and 2) have many stories going at once, because that is exactly how I am! Do you still write your stories in notebooks, or do you keep it all on the computer? How many different versions of A Blue So Dark did you write before you had written one that you thought "okay, this is worth publishing!"? How long do you try to write for? Do you make any elaborate notes or outlines before you start your writing, and do you use these as guides for your writing, or do you mostly just let what happens happen? Do you have a clear idea of where your story is going to go when you start, or does it (sometimes) show up later, during the writing process?

Sorry for so many questions! Thanks for considering them!

Holly Schindler said...

Thanks, Patty! And Ro, I do still outline in notebooks! (I'm so low-tech, it's silly...) And I overhauled BLUE about four times before I finally sold it. As for having a plan vs. letting what happens happens, I have to say that honestly, each novel is different. I've especially found this to be true since I've been writing in multiple genres. (BLUE is 2nd YA is romance, and my 1st adult is heavy on comedy...And the book I'm working on now is a completely different genre from any of those that've already found publishing houses.) I think as a writer you have to be open to changing your routine to fit your may find yourself suddenly needing to keep track of subplots with a story board, or you may do better writing a certain story out in longhand rather than typing on a computer, or maybe you're in the right frame of mind at night rather than early in the morning for a particular project...Sometimes, you have to stand back, if your having trouble getting words on a page, and really think critically about your technique...Sometimes, it's not the project itself that's giving you fits, it's the way you're ATTACKING that project...

Holly Schindler said...

...Sorry, that's "you have to stand back, if YOU'RE having trouble getting words on a page..." Yeah, I'm a hopeless reviser...

Savannah said...

This book look interesting. I'm going to have to pick it up. Loved the interview.

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Award winning Seattle Landscape Architect professionals said...

Great review. I'm not sure the cover would make me pick up the book, but your review certainly would.

Marlene Detierro said...

Though there are many heavy aspects of this novel, there were lighter, brighter parts as well, like Aura's crush on a cute skater boy. This was a huge part of the novel, as expected, her mother's illness occupied much of Aura's time and energy, but I was grateful for the romantic reprieves.

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