1. Your debut novel, A BLUE SO DARK, featured the heroine’s mother having schizophrenia. What made you decide to write on this issue and what kind of research did you have to do for this subject?
In A BLUE SO DARK, 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.
More than I wanted to write about mental illness, what I really wanted to write about was creativity. I’ve just always been fascinated by how some people have minds that are wired to do something creative, and others aren’t—at ALL. Where does creativity spring from? What’s the source?
In some ways, a hallucination doesn’t really seem all that different from an artist’s “ah-ha!” moment—that vision of what a finished artistic product would look like. Both are products of the imagination, things only one person can see…Sometimes, you have to wonder where the line is between a creative genius and a person who suffers from a mental illness…That gray area between the two is really fascinating…
As far as research for the project, I really just immersed myself in reading—I even went through everything in the YA non-fiction section of my local library, so I could find out how schizophrenia had been presented factually to the YA readership. Once I’d read, I put it all away. I wanted my characters to drive the book—I didn’t want it to be a factual description of a mental illness.
2. Onto some general topics: Which do you think is more important when writing a story? Great characters, or a great plot?
This question’s really asking whether I prefer literary (character-driven) or genre (plot-driven) fiction…I’m an old lit major, so I really do prefer the literary. If I’m intrigued by the characters—and by “intrigued,” I mean if they seem real to me…I don’t even have to necessarily like them—I’ll be propelled forward. I’ll continue to read even if the events of the book are relatively quiet.
(As an example of how I love and appreciate character-driven work: I really enjoyed watching the recent MILDRED PIERCE miniseries.)
3. Why do you write YA novels? What are the challenges of writing them? Also, have you ever thought of writing novels for adults?
When I first took the plunge into writing full-time, trying to snag my first book deal, I was ONLY writing novels for adults. To help pay some bills, I started teaching piano and guitar lessons out of my house. Interacting with teen and tween students one-on-one actually inspired me to try my hand at YA. (I thought those lessons were just going to help give me extra cash…I didn’t know they’d give me a new career direction!)
I think one of the challenges of YA is just breaking in. Some of the best authors out there are writing YA—it’s really hard to get that toe in the door (as it is with any genre, really)…
My first middle grade is in development as well, and is set to be released by Dial in 2012…and I’m in the midst of working on an adult novel right now!
4. What does it take to be a successful author?
Persistence. Patience. More persistence. Being an author means finding yourself faced with one struggle after another. First, it’s getting your story down on paper. Then finding an agent. Finding an editor. Completing revisions for your publishing house. Establishing a readership. Growing your readership. Writing’s not like winning the lottery. Writing’s more like climbing a mountain, one step followed by another…
5. Do you have any favorite books and who are your favorite authors?
Right now, I’m on this local color kick. I love anything with a real sense of atmosphere, of place—that goes for my current favorite songs (“Turning Home” by David Nail or “Colder Weather” by Zac Brown), and the books I’m now gravitating toward. Elin Hilderbrand has such a fantastic sense of place in her work. Her setting (Nantucket) is truly a character in and of itself.
6. Could you tell us a little more about your latest release, PLAYING HURT?
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?
7. Last but not least, do you have any experiences on your writing process which you’d like to share with your readers?
I filmed a tip on drafting that my readers have found helpful…and I’ll be posting more writing tips soon…Follow along at hollyschindler.blogspot.com or subscribe to my YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/hollyschindler
Holly on Twitter: @holly_schindler
She also blogs with other fellow YA authors at YA Outside the Lines: http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/ and have just started a group blog for middle grade authors at Smack Dab in the Middle: http://smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com/