In the midst of writing new fiction, directing the Creative Writing Program, teaching and advising MFA candidates, Julie Schumacher somehow found time to answer a few questions about her new book, The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls, due out this May from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Here's a sneak preview of the opening lines:
I'm Adrienne Haus, survivor of a mother-daughter book club. Most of us didn't want to join. My mother signed me up because I was stuck at home all summer, with my knee in a brace... The members of "The Unbearable Book Club," CeeCee, Jill, Wallis, and I, were all going into eleventh grade A.P. English. But we weren't friends. We were literary prisoners, sweating, reading classics, and hanging out at the pool. If you want to find out how membership in a book club can end up with a person being dead, you can probably look us up under mother-daughter literary catastrophe. Or open this book and read my essay, which I'll turn in when I go back to school.
Julie, how would you say this novel is different from your previous work?
It's the only book I've ever written that was not my idea originally. It was my editor's idea. It's a book about books and reading--which, when I first considered it, seemed like a fun and simple project, but was not.
And on the flip side, how is it related?
No matter what I start writing about, I end up gravitating toward a particular emotional territory: family relationships, characters who are drawn toward one another but don't get along, off-beat interactions or misunderstandings, unrealized desires. Those motifs work just as well and can be at least as satisfying in YA literature as in literature for adults.
What was the biggest challenge for you in writing this book?
Structure. There were a lot of pieces that needed to be fitted together: mothers with daughters, daughters' life experiences with the books they were reading, etc. And somewhere along the line, for my own amusement, I decided that the main character in the book would be the daughter of the main character in my first novel, The Body Is Water [published in 1999 by Harper]. Which added a few plot complications as well.
Have you ever been in a mother-daughter book club like the one you write about?
No, I haven't. I have two daughters, one of whom finds reading fiction to be a terrible chore, and the other who, when she was younger, wanted to read only books with dragons on the covers. It would not have worked out.
How does the process of writing a book work for you? What makes you despair, what makes you ecstatic?
Ecstasy doesn't enter into the process very much for me. There are the moments when I can feel the project moving forward or evolving, and moments when I'm driving and have to pull over because something in the book has unlocked itself in my mind and I have to write it down. Those are great moments. But there are also plenty of dead ends and frustrations. Lots of writers are brooders and ruminators, I think, by necessity. They need to mull and examine and re-examine their thoughts, and mull again.
Without giving too much away, do you have a favorite scene or chapter?
There's a scene I like at a mini-golf course. It's a decrepit place run by a guy named Mr. Baxter--but he exists only off-stage.
Rumor has it this may be the last YA book you write. True? What's next for you?
I'm working on a short story collection, which is almost done. My head and my imagination aren't in the YA world as much as they were when my own kids were younger, so I'm not reading as much YA as I used to. But I do like the idea of keeping a foot in both worlds, and I've never felt there was a gulf between YA and adult lit. Good writing is good writing, regardless of where it's shelved.
Editor's note: Julie's novel is now available on Amazon for pre-order of the hardcover and Kindle editions.