Julie Schumacher, author of the newly released Black Box, talked to us this week about our shared love: writing. Read more about how she juggles writing with being a mom and a college instructor, and why it seems that YA editors are more involved than most.
1) What is your typical writing day like?
I wish I had more of a typical writing day. I teach at the University of Minnesota, so every semester I draw up a new writing schedule. Generally it consists of trying to write 4 mornings per week for about 3-4 hours. I get up relatively early, drink a few cups of strong coffee, see the kid off to school and feed the cats, and then try to reinhabit the world I was living in during my previous writing session. I’m always done writing before noon, at which point my academic and administrative life begins. I write a lot more during the summer than I do during the year.
2) Why did you decide to write YA?
I started writing for kids as an experiment and an effort to teach myself to plot. I had written two books for adults, but hadn’t built a major novel-length plot. After being stuck for about 8 years on a novel for adults I just couldn’t manhandle into any reasonable shape, I decided to abandon the project in favor of something shorter, more structurally coherent, and more direct. I graphed out a number of y/a novels that I loved and tried to figure out how they were built. Then I outlined what would become Grass Angel; I had never outlined a work of fiction before, and I wrote the book in under a year and loved writing it. And I thought, “This is the first time in eight years I have enjoyed writing anything.” So I followed Grass Angel with The Chain Letter and The Book of One Hundred Truths and Black Box.
3) What is the biggest surprise you’ve experienced when it comes to book publishing?
I was surprised by the extent of “hands-on” editing in the y/a publishing industry. Everything I have published for adults has been edited — but the writing I have done for younger readers has often been put through a series of grueling (but productive) drafts, directed by pages and pages of editorial suggestions. In my experience, editors of children’s and y/a lit are much more involved in the writing and revision process than are editors of adult fiction.
4) Do you ever have any “dark days,” when you wonder why you’re a writer? What are those like, and how to you get through them?
Yes, I’ve had plenty of those. I think writers tend to question and to examine and to doubt, and many of them — even the writers who seem to have healthy egos and luxurious royalty statements — often doubt themselves and their own work. I try to tell myself that first drafts can be ugly; that a bad writing day can be followed by a good writing day; and that meaning doesn’t reveal itself without struggle.
5) Authors talk about “the call.” Usually, it has to deal with getting an agent or getting published or getting an accolade. What was the best “call” you ever received in terms of your writing, and how did it go down?
When Michael Curtis, the fiction editor of The Atlantic called to tell me he had accepted a short story of mine for publication, I told him I loved him.
For more Julie, visit her site.