Interview With Author Monte Schulz

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I am Monte Schulz, author of Metropolis, and several other novels. I’ve been writing since my early twenties and have a B.A. in English and a M.A. in literature and history as part of American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, where I taught later on in the College of Creative Studies.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

The story of Metropolis is entirely a work of fiction, but there are little snippets of my life, emotional resonances and incidences, concealed here and there. I’m talking here about conversations between my character Julian and his father, and certain moments Julian shares with his lover, Nina, and perhaps fragments of dialogue with certain other characters in the novel. Perhaps my readers will recognize these and muse on what’s true and what’s invented. I drew on those thoughts and feelings consciously in this scene and that for inspirations of the heart. Likewise, those memories of my past seemed to assert themselves into the narrative perhaps as a way to anchor me to the story as a way of reminding myself that all stories are, in one way or another, universal in how we think and feel and act in this world.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Inspiration is an elusive creature, perhaps a habit of reading and studied thought. That is to say, a novel of any length cannot rely entirely on inspiration that comes and goes like a spring breeze. No, the very act of sitting down to write allows for the possibility of inspiration but does not guarantee it. While most of Metropolis I can attribute to constant visitations from the muses, that has not been true of my other books. Not at all. I couldn’t say more than ten percent of any of those novels were products of mysterious inspiration as much as they appeared from hours and days and years of hard work, that necessary slog most writers understand is the core of writing. Yet I do believe inspiration comes from both reading and imagination and, again, being present in the creation of the story.

# How do you deal with creative block?

My dad had the best line about that when I was younger. He told me, “Only amateurs get writer’s block. Professionals can’t afford it.” So, I’ve never let myself get “blocked.” When I address that issue in writing workshops, I tell my students that being “blocked” is basically one of two things: either being afraid of writing something bad, or just being lazy. To write, we need to write, words on a page, good or bad. But write, and sort it out afterwards. Nothing is gained by a blank page.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

One very obvious mistake is going too far in a wrong direction, allowing ourselves to be led off that proverbial path in the woods without a good direction. And I’m not even talking about plotting, or planning out an entire book, so much as simply not spending a hundred pages on an idea that is not working. That said, editing can repair a lot of that trouble by writing deep into a book, discovering a plot line that works, then cutting everything that doesn’t, and stitching the narrative together, a not uncommon experience.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

For me, titles come out of the text of the book, or the theme. My novel Crossing Eden drew its title from the American narrative of a people in search of that undefinable place in the sun where all our dreams will be met, that future history we longed to create. The “Eden” of the title refers to the idea of America, that new world replicating the lost Eden of Genesis. In that sense, the book is a sort of travelogue of the American experience my characters witness as the book proceeds. It’s also possible to find titles in the works of other books or poems or songs whose ideas reflect the theme of our own. That’s not at all uncommon.

If we’re fortunate, and with my current publisher I certainly have been, we’ll have some input and conversation on the cover art for our book. But usually not, which was the case with my first novel published by Viking. There, I had more or less right of approval, essentially agreeing with the artwork they came up with. Publishers don’t generally want to have conversations between the author and the book designers. I presume conflicts arose that disrupted the direction and schedule of the publishing. In other words, we write the book, they create the cover art.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Nobody likes rejection anywhere in life. No matter how we feel about our work, whether we love it or recognize weaknesses here and there, we don’t enjoy hearing negativity. But it’s a fact of the creative life once we choose to offer ourselves to the opinions of others. So, what do we do? How do we handle rejection? First, we have a clear idea of what we’ve been doing creatively, and how well we’ve achieved what we set out to do. If we’re not entirely confident, then we can listen closely to the opinions we don’t enjoy but which may give us some insight into what we can do to improve our work. After that, we need to understand that criticism of all kinds, no matter the source, be it casual readers, workshop members, agents or editors, is simply opinion. And some of it might be correct, and some of it might be entirely wrong. We need to recognize the difference and keep going forward, and not let ourselves be distracted or dissuaded.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

I’m not sure. I would like to say that my creativity has been pretty steady over the years, but the writing of Metropolis was so different from anything else I’ve experienced, simply through how quickly I wrote it, that I’m baffled at the difference. My novel Crossing Eden was a thousand pages and took ten years to write. Metropolis is 668 pages and I wrote it in nine months. The difference? Hard to know exactly, but one obvious difference with Metropolis was my relentless schedule of writing at least one page each morning before I ate or drank anything, and I only missed three mornings in those nine months. That worked to build up the page count at a very good pace. I had nothing consistent like that with any of my other books. Consequently, they took longer to write. No big surprise. Was I really more creative in my results with Metropolis? I don’t think so. I just wrote more steadily.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best and most surprising happening in the creation of Metropolis was how the muses just gave me the entire book from start to finish. I never had any trouble with plotting or ideas. Nothing. Sentences and scenes just zipped out of me as though whispered in my ear each day. And I never created an outline or plot. I literally made up the entire book as I wrote it, something I’d never experienced before with any book of mine. And Metropolis is a fairly complex novel, too, which made the act of writing so surprising. Conversely, there is a scene in a circus sideshow in Crossing Eden that is about three or four pages long and took me an entire month to write with no inspirational help from the muses whatsoever. In that scene, I was able to come up with only one sentence per day with never any idea what the next sentence would be, not even what the scene was even about, or what the story was. I enjoy how is came out when I read it now, but at the time I was incredibly frustrated.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

A writer has to please him or herself, primarily. Unless we’re paid enough money to cover all our life expenses with enough left over for extravagant holidays, writing something that is intending to please readers instead of ourselves just feels to me like a shortening of life. Also, I think that writers ought to believe that what pleases us will please our readers, understanding, of course, that some percentage of our audience will not resonate with anything we write. Those readers need to be ignored and forgotten. Write for yourself, make yourself laugh and smile. Be proud of your own achievement. Enjoy seeing your favorite words, characters, scenes on the page. Then, and only then, will you most likely be satisfied as a writer and find your own best audience.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

I’m not sure emotions have a big part in creativity. Certainly, in evolving Metropolis, what I wrote made me sad or thrilled or anxious, but that can’t be sustained over months and months and hundreds of pages. So, I think emotions are incidental to the process, though the impetus and desire to write a book is itself emotional, that need to be present in the birthing of a fictional world with characters that are brought to life in a narrative that is separate from our own lives. In that sense, emotion does play its part.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

Writing Metropolis, I developed a schedule where I obligated myself to write at least one page each morning before I was allowed to eat or drink anything at all. One page. I forced my creativity, and it worked. For the nine months I took to write that novel, I only missed three mornings, and those were when I was out of town. Otherwise, it was one or more pages each morning before eating, and, of course, further work in the afternoon. Sometimes creativity CAN be given a schedule!

# What are your plans for future books?

I’m currently writing the sequel to Metropolis, a novel called Undercity. A totally different kind of book, structurally and plot-wise. Rather than a single narrative proceeding through the novel, Undercity has that plus a variety of short vignettes with multiple voices telling stories of the world they’ve been experiencing, some brutal and ugly, others curious and beautiful, stories of love and magic.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Quirky facts? I like sports as much as I like reading. My favorite sports team is the Brazilian national soccer team. I prefer decorative painting to fine art. Victorian is my favorite architecture. I read and enjoy both commercial fiction and literary, but don’t really care for 19th century novels. I did not think either Midnight or Fifty Shades of Grey were terrible novels. I prefer Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Hemingway. My favorite poet (and perhaps writer) is Carl Sandburg. Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding is my favorite novel. I also love the novels of Roberto Bolaño, James Jones, Paul Bowles, Lee Child, John Sanford and Stephen King. I think Cormac McCarthy is the greatest living American writer. And I am a lifelong fan of the late-Joan Didion. Probably my two favorite movies are The Trip to Bountiful and Aliens. I love mid-engined cars, and do not enjoy vegetarian lasagna. California and Hawaii are my two favorite states. I speak English and German and some French. Why not?

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