Friday, October 17, 2008

Interview with Julie Schumacher, author of Black Box

Yesterday I reviewed Julie Schumacher's Black Box, a powerful novel about a 16-year-old girl struggling with depression as seen through the eyes of her younger sister. (You can read my review here.)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie about Black Box, and she was nice enough to answer my numerous questions. Thanks, Julie, for taking time out of your busy schedule for me!

What prompted you to tackle such a heavy topic as depression?

I don't begin with topics. I begin with characters. I started with Elena and Dora and their relationship, and the plot developed from there. That said, I did end up writing about depression because--as in the author's note at the end of the book--I had seen several people very close to me suffering from mental illness.

Why did you choose to tell the story from the point of view of Elena, whose sister is struggling with depression?

I was more interested in the idea of the "bystander" or the person who had to try to decide if and when to intervene in a crisis. Elena at first assumes that there is no real crisis; but as her sister's condition deteriorates, she begins to believe that she is responsible for Dora. She's well intentioned but mistaken both times.

A lot of stories I've read about mental illness make it a point to show cause, focusing on the character's past or family life. I don't recall a reason for Dora's depression being revealed in Black Box. Was this intentional?

Yes. I didn't want to create and point to a "cause" like abuse or foster care or trauma. Often there are no objective causes for depression or other forms of mental illness. I didn't want to provide a tidy explanation--like an escape clause for the reader--or an easy answer, when in life there often are no answers.

At 164 pages, Black Box is a pretty short book, but it packs a punch. How long did it take you to write the book?

I wrote the first draft pretty quickly, in under a year. Then I revised for another 1-2 years. Revision always takes longer than I imagine it will. That's where the heavy lifting really takes place.

What is the one thing you want readers to take away from Black Box?

I think the author's note at the end of the novel summarizes my hopes for what the reader will take away from Black Box. That shame should not be the corollary of mental illness. That keeping one's misery to oneself is a mistake. That books can make a difference in our lives.

Are you working on another novel? Could you describe your writing process?

I'm working on several projects, including a book of short stories and a novel. As for my process: I used to be more haphazard, writing whatever I was interested in at the moment. But in the past few years, I've tried to become more disciplined and more organized. I make outlines. I try to stick to a schedule. I try to write a full draft before going back to make changes. But of course sometimes I break my own promises...

What are you reading right now? What's the one book you can't wait to read?

I'm reading Marilyn Robinson's Home and My Abandonment by Peter Rock and a couple of collections of short fiction. The book I can't wait to read is the book I don't know about yet, that a good friend will recommend to me.

Thanks again, Julie! I look forward to reading your other works, and I wish you all the best in your career!

Dear readers, please let me know if you get a chance to read Black Box. I'd love to know your thoughts!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great interview!

Serena said...

Great interview! I like how Julie is waiting for the book that her friend will recommend! :)

Darlene said...

Great interview! I especially like how she says there is often no cause for depression-it just is. Sounds like a really good novel.

Lenore Appelhans said...

I really liked that the book was from the perspective of the sister.

darbyscloset said...

Gosh, this sounds so good! I'll let you know when I read it....first I need to get my hands on it!
Thanks for the great interview!!
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I'm not a writer, but I always figured the plot came first. I guess it makes sense though--especially since I prefer books that are character-driven.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating interview, Anna.

I completely agree with what Julie said about there not being an identifiable cause of depression much of the time. I'm such a perfectionist, I'd have a difficult time waiting unti I finished to make changes, but I'm sure it's better to do it the way Julie does because you're not distracted from the flow of the story.

It always amazes me how much time authors dedicate to the revision/editing process.

This book sounds wonderful.

Anna said...

Bermudaonion: Glad you enjoyed it!

Serena: I thought that was interesting, too!

Dar: I was so glad the book didn't try to blame someone or something for the depression. It's not always like that, and Schumacher's approach made the story real to me.

Lenore: I think telling the story from Elena's point of view allowed more questions to be asked and more emotions to be explored. I think Schumacher made an excellent decision in that respect.

Darby: I'd love to hear what you think if you get a chance to read it!

Trish: I love character-driven books, too, though in my own writing, I tend to come up with the plot first.

Shana: I'm such a perfectionist that I start a story or a chapter in my book numerous times before I'm happy. I just can't let it go for the time being and write. It's like I think it must be perfect from the start. LOL I agree about being surprised at how much time goes into editing and revision.

Wendi said...

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index

:) Wendi

Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi!