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 CafĂ©! 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.