To celebrate her debut release A Blue So Dark, I had the privilege of asking Holly Schindler two questions- both of which she gave great answers to! Interested in this book? See below for your chance to win your very own signed copy!
Book Summary: 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.
What was the process like for you in regards to the schizophrenic aspect of this book, from research to knowing the behaviors?
I don’t have any personal experience with schizophrenia, so I did have to do some preliminary research. I read everything I possibly could on the subject—including some nonfiction material I found in the YA section of my local library. I figured, if I was writing FOR teens, it was important to find out how the illness had been described and presented to a teen audience in a factual way.
But I wasn’t writing nonfiction—and I think you ride a really fine line, with research, of sounding TOO technical. So my goal was to absorb everything I could—behaviors, symptoms, treatments—and just put it all away. Let my characters and plot—all the elements of FICTION—drive the book, so that it wouldn’t sound like a factual account of a mental illness.
…Before I even got the general idea for A BLUE SO DARK, though, I had to do another kind of research…I had to explore the intricacies of the teen voice.
The thing is, I’d really only been focusing on material for adults when I started teaching piano and guitar lessons out of my home to help pay some bills. As I started to get to know my students, I was absolutely shocked at how…well, FAMILIAR they all seemed. They sounded so much like the kids I remembered going to school with…
So I dug out all my old papers, journals, notebooks—I poured through everything I could find that I’d written when I was a teenager. Once I’d reconnected with that teen voice, I knew I had to try my hand at YA…
At that point, I began to brainstorm topics. Over the course of a few weeks, I assembled all the biggie pieces (the conflicts and main characters) in A BLUE SO DARK…THAT’S when I started digging into research materials regarding schizophrenia…
A large part of the premise of this book is Aura hiding the truth about her mother’s mental state. Have you had a time where you had to keep a huge secret from everyone, even at the expense of yourself?
The short answer is—well. Ahem. No.
But the longer answer is—well. Kind of. I mean, when I got my master’s degree, everybody else I went to school with was moving on to either PhD work or an actual full-time job.
Me? I decided to chuck the whole full-time-job route in order to pursue my lifelong dream: being a writer. (This was only possible because I had some INCREDIBLE financial support from my family.) But when I TOLD everyone that was what I was doing? They kind of looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. And after a few unpublished years, that look EXPLODED.
I suppose, though, that anybody who DOESN’T write really doesn’t have any idea what hard work it is. I mean, I was putting in FAR longer days than I would have if I HAD gone after a 9-5 job. Wasn’t making any money at it, and I hadn’t gotten a single “yes” from a publishing house—nothing to show for my efforts. Yet. So after a while, when people asked what I was doing, I’d say, “I teach music lessons,” which was just what I was doing to pay the bills. My primary goal, my primary love was my writing. It was just easier not to have to deal with the YOU HAVE FLIPPED YOUR LID looks.
The hardest part of the whole thing was having to endure how much time it took to get to that first acceptance…and this is where I AM like Aura: In A BLUE SO DARK, Aura doesn’t really feel like she has much of a choice but to continue to care for her mother as best she can. I didn’t really feel like I had much of a choice in my situation, either. No matter how long the years were getting, I didn’t feel like writing was EVER something I could just walk away from. In fact, the longer it took, the more determined I was to get to that first publication. I can be incredibly, maddeningly stubborn. But I think every writer has to be, to some extent…
I just can’t say it enough: writing is INCREDIBLY hard work. And I’m not just talking about the struggle to put the right word on a page. Yes, writing a novel takes some blood and sweat. But the REJECTION is also hard. The WAITING is hard. And once your book is published, allowing your baby out into the world to let the world just say and do what it wants with it is may
Thank you Holly for those fantastic answers!
Fill out this form for your chance to win a signed copy of A Blue So Dark. Contest is US mailing addresses only and will run through Sunday, June 20.