May 18th, 2010


Interview: Holly Schindler

Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to interview Holly Schindler about her debut novel, A Blue So Dark. The final, edited version of the interview was included in the back of the book as a bonus feature. Now, it's time to give you blog readers a bonus: Here is the full, unedited version of the interview. Let's lead in with a little backstory:

A Blue So Dark studies the life of a girl who, as she turns from 15 to 16, watches her once lively mother lose her grasp on reality as she is overwhelmed by schizophrenia. Recently published by Flux, this is Holly Schindler's debut novel.

Little Willow: What prompted you to write about schizophrenia? How much research did you do into the condition before or while writing the book?

Holly Schindler: I hate math. I'm talking serious hatred. And science. Computers. Any class that involved definite right or wrong answers was not my favorite, either in high school or college. I preferred the courses that required more than just memorization and multiple-choice tests: Art. Literature. Creative writing. And I've always loved music to the point of obsession. (I didn't take any music classes in school - was never in choir or band - but I did race out of elementary school every Monday afternoon to get to my weekly piano lesson, and I spent Saturdays as a teenager driving all the way across town so that I could take guitar lessons from a member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.) Basically, if it involved creativity, I was there.

I've also always been interested in what makes a person creative. Why one person can write an entire volume of poetry while another just stares at the blue lines on a blank piece of notebook paper, unable to come up with a single rhyme. My interest in creativity really exploded in grad school...I taught a few courses while working on my master's, and I was amazed by the way some of my students could go on for half a class period about the meaning in a poem I'd bring in for discussion, while others would just read the literal surface-meaning, not probing any deeper, not really making any connections or seeing metaphors. But why is that? Why do some people look at everything literally, while others constantly see something more?

A Blue So Dark isn't autobiographical in that I didn't grow up with a mentally ill mother. But while I don't have any personal experience with schizophrenia, I didn't have to probe very deep into the subject of creativity to find out that many of our "great" artists - playwrights, poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, musicians - were in some way affected by mental illness - schizophrenia as well as depression or bipolar disorder...The idea of the "mad genius" is so pervasive, there's even a Wikipedia entry for "Creativity and Mental Illness!"

With this novel, I got a chance to explore the idea that creative thought and mental illness are linked. And, yes, I did have to do some research into schizophrenia - symptoms, treatment, etc. But I was writing fiction - so of course, my characters and their experiences had to drive the book, not descriptions of the condition. I internalized everything I read, then put it all away. When I drafted (and revised) the novel, I focused on character development, plot, the mother-daughter relationship between Aura and Grace.

In fact, as I tightened up the novel, and Aura became a stronger, more fully fleshed out character, I actually felt like schizophrenia fell somewhat into the background. I know that probably sounds a little absurd for anyone who's just read the novel. But the first few drafts were almost completely about Aura and her mother. I found out that for Aura to be a real person, she had to be more than just an artist. More than just a girl struggling with her family's history with mental illness. She also had to have a best friend, a crush, a life at school...

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Many thanks to Brian Farrey for arranging this interview and its publication.

Visit Holly Schindler's website and blog.

Read an excerpt of A Blue So Dark.

Here's the roundup of links to today's interviews across the blogosphere:
Mary Jane Beaufrand at The YA YA YAs
Rita Williams-Garcia at Fuse #8
Jennifer Hubbard at Writing & Ruminating
Charise Mericle Harper at Shelf Elf
Holly Schindler at Bildungsroman

Check out the full schedule for the 2010 SBBT.

Read my 2012 interview with Holly Schindler.