Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Interview with Holly Schindler

Last summer I got the coolest email out of the blue, an invitation to join the Young Adult group author blog YA Outside the Lines. The administrator is YA and Middle Grade writer Holly Schindler. At that point, I hadn't yet stumbled onto this blog  (although I was familiar with Holly's other blog Smack Dab in the Middle). YAOTL operates the same way: each month members contribute a post on a particular theme. I have no idea why Holly thought to ask ME to join, but I am eternally grateful.

What an awesome, eclectic, brilliant, creative, supportive group of writers! Some I had heard of before joining--Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay it Forward), Rosemary Clement-Moore (The Splendor Falls), and Cheryl Renee Herbsman (Breathing). Now I'm reading my way through the others and feeling like a gushy fan. My faves so far: Patty Blount (Send), Kimberly Sabatini (Touching the Surface), Jennifer L. Armentrout (Obsidian), and Holly Schindler, our hardworking administrator. I picked up her book first, A Blue So Dark and was blown away.

The main character, 15-year-old Aura, is an artist struggling to take care of her mom, (also an artist) who's schizophrenic and spinning out of control. There's a core story here about mother/daughter relationships and the desire to break away from home while at the same time longing to fix a suffering loved one's problems. The book raises thought-provoking questions about the interplay of creativity and madness and the healing power of art.

I'm thrilled that Holly's agreed to let me interview her. It's not every day that you get to chat with the author of a book you love!

Jody: Holly, I'm going to start with the question I ask every visiting writer: Where do you get your ideas?

Holly: I’m a complete idea junkie.  I get more ideas than I know what to do with.  That sounds like a real luxury, I know—but in the beginning, it was tough.  I’d get about a quarter of the way through a book, and I’d be struck by one of those ah-ha! moments… combine that with the fact that I love writing beginnings and find middles a little torturous, and I was having problems staying focused on one project.  I tried all sorts of methods to deal with my ideas, even drafting multiple projects, but that proved to be more trouble than it was worth.

In the end, I figured out that I needed to keep a notebook.  While I’m drafting (or revising) one book, I write any new ideas down in my notebook.  Then I get right back to work on my current WIP.  A simple fix, I know—but it’s truly the best way to stay focused on my current idea and let me rest assured that I won’t lose any new ideas!

Jody: Once you've chosen an idea to play around with, what's your next step? Do you outline? Or just start writing and see where the story goes?

Holly: I always work from pretty extensive plot outlines… but I think you have to be aware, as a writer, when your characters are shaking their heads at you, telling you that your plan is a bunch of bunk.  You have to be willing to let your characters guide you, take you on a detour—you have to be open-minded about revising your outline along the way.

Jody: Very true. That's one of the weirder things about the writing process--when those characters take on lives of their own. Beginning writers (at least ME, when I was a beginning writer) tried to rein that part in. You have this plan where you think things should go, and you try to force the characters to do it. Never works. Letting them go was a breakthrough for me, and eventually put me on the road to my first sale. Not that the road was a straight shot to publication...

Was it a long learning process for you too? How many books did you write before you got your first book deal?  How many rejections did you get along the way?

Holly: I honestly lost count of how many books I wrote.  And I know that I was rejected well over 1,000 times before I got my first yes—my first published book, A Blue So Dark, was actually rejected over 80 times.

I received my master’s degree in the spring of ’01.  Writing was always my lifelong dream; Mom invited me to stay home and devote full-time attention to getting my writing career off the ground.  I jumped at the chance, thinking it would take a year or so to get a book down, it’d sell (I’d actually placed short fiction, poetry, and literary critique in journals when I was still in college and honestly thought publication would be fairly easy), and then I’d have money in the bank and I’d be off and running.

…It actually took seven and a half years to get that first yes.  It was the time that bothered me, really, more than the number of rejections I received.  Each spring, another graduation season would roll around, and my friends from college would be closer to their own dreams—they wrapped up PhDs; they snagged full-time jobs.  And I felt like all I had to show for my time was a giant hole in the wall where I’d been slamming my head.

I had a few down-times in the pursuit of that first “yes.”  But I always pushed through it—mostly because I could feel I was getting closer with each rejection.  Over time, form rejections became personalized rejections became invitations to revise and resubmit…

The thing is, every author gets there eventually.  The only ones who don’t are the ones who give up.

Jody: I'm stunned that A Blue So Dark was rejected that many times. I'm so glad that you didn't quit submitting it. I guess it's easy to look back now and sort of gloss over the struggle, but as every writer knows, each one of those rejections is painful and has the potential to shoot you into a spiral of despair. You can't let it! You've got to keep writing and try to remember that each day it's just you and the blank page (or glaring computer screen)--whether you're the published author of multiple books or a collector of rejection slips. At least this is my mantra...

What's your writing day like? Do you have a schedule?

Holly: I do some work every single day.  “Work” never really does seem like the right word, though, does it?  I’ve been obsessed with books and literature ever since I was a little girl and had to have a new Little Golden Book each time I went to the supermarket with my mom!  Being a writer is my absolute dream job, and I have the Ultimate Luxury: I’m a full-time author.  Have been ever since ’01.  When I first started writing, though, I really hated the fact that I wasn’t contributing to the household.  So I started teaching music.  I figured it was the perfect balance: I could write all day, then start lessons late in the afternoon, when kids got out of school.

I was writing adult-level books when I first started out, back in ’01.  As soon as I started teaching music lessons, I was really struck by how similar my students were to the kids I’d gone to school with.  They were so familiar, in fact, that I was suddenly inspired to try my hand at writing for kids and teens.  It’s funny—I had no idea that teaching music lessons would give me a career direction.  But that just goes to show you that getting out there and trying new things, living your life, is just as important as putting words on the page!

These days, I average about eight hours a day writing. I also spend a significant amount of time on social networking and blogging—the hours I spend online actually outnumber the amount of time I spend writing each day when I’m actively promoting a new release.

Jody: I'm glad you brought up social media. I'm just dipping my toe into the marketing/self-promotion part of this business, and it's a little overwhelming. What's your experience?

Holly: Like all writers starting out, I had a miniscule promotional budget for my debut novel.  But I also drafted my first books on a real dinosaur of a computer—it was pre-Internet, didn’t even have a modem.  I didn’t get Internet in my home until ’07, believe it or not…and then I only used it for research and to submit work.  I had never, ever, ever done anything with social media when I signed my first book contract.

When my editor at Flux first suggested blogging, I cringed.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about putting myself online.  But that was when I discovered the book blogging community.  And I fell in love.  Since discovering the blogosphere, I’ve gone on extensive blog tours, and now administrate two group author blogs: YA Outside the Lines, for YA authors, and Smack Dab in the Middle, for MG authors.

I also feel really lucky to be writing at a time when I get to read not only trade reviews, but blog reviews as well.  I have Google Alerts out on my name and titles, and read everything that comes in.  I think that’s part of my job.  I feel so lucky that I get to be a fly on the wall, hearing online discussions of my books…and I feel ESPECIALLY lucky that I get a chance to meet and interact with my fabulous readers online.

Jody: That is the plus side of social media--creating a community of readers and writers. It did bring US together after all. Thanks, Holly, so much, for chatting with me today. Before I let you go, give me a rundown of where fans can find you.

Holly: Readers can get in touch through my website: hollyschindler.com, become a fan on Facebook: facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor, follow me on Twitter: @holly_schindler, or email me directly: writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com.  You can follow my author blog at hollyschindler.blogspot.com or my group blogs at yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com and smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com. If you'd like updates on me (or my books) please sign up for my newsletter!

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.

Praise: “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

Star basketball player Chelsea "Nitro" Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone's admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea's dad springs for a three-week summer "boot camp" program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she's immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who's haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?

Praise: “Loved Playing Hurt. You find yourself rooting for Chelsea and Clint from the moment they meet. And the writing? Wow. The writing was exceptional, and I must say, I've developed quite the writerly crush on Holly.”
—Jennifer L. Armentrout, Author of Young Adult and Adult Urban Fantasy and Romance


  1. My interest is actually more in the picture book area, but I decided to accept your invitation to bop over here from the Midsouth listserv, Jody, and am so glad I did. An interesting and inspiring interview. Congratulations to you, Holly, on your perseverance and successes! Your 1000+ rejections are definitely an inspiration to the rest of us who are struggling for that yes.

    1. Evelyn, I'm glad you bopped over too. Whatever kinds of books you write, it's always hard to put them "out there" for possible rejection. I don't think it ever gets any easier. But you just keep going--writing, and you'll get better, if nothing else!