Friday, October 18, 2013

Interview with MG & PB Author: Heidi Schulz

The Secret Life is so excited to have the chance to interview Miss Heidi Schulz on the awesomeness that is her MG book HOOK'S REVENGE with Disney Hyperion (2014) and her PB titled GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING with Bloomsbury Kids (2015). Heidi tells us all about her ideas for each book, as well as her secret writing process. Let's get the questions rollin'!

What has the editing process been like for you for both your picture book and your middle grade? 

Before I answer, I want to say: I love both my editors. Like, a lot. Almost as much as I love pie. If you follow me on twitter, you know how how I feel about pie: Pie is my patronus.

I did revisions on both projects with my agent, Brooks Sherman, before they went on submission. My post-sale edits have been fairly light. I got my first edit letter for Hook's Revenge at the beginning of August. I was in the middle of the woods, camping with a girlfriend and our daughters, so I couldn't actually download and read the inline comments until I got home. 

That first round I was given a four week turn-around. In a stroke of good timing, my daughter was scheduled to spend the entire next week visiting my grown-up niece and her family. I got the bulk of my edits done then and finished the rest over the next couple weeks.

My second round edits had a two week turn-around. I addressed all the comments within a few days, then printed out the entire manuscript and gave it a thorough read over the next several days. I ended up making a lot of additional little changes, like cutting nearly all the "seemed as if"s. 

Why did I have so many? It seemed as if I used it a hundred times. Um...

Hook's Revenge is now with the copyeditor and I am both eager and anxious to get it back.

I recently began edits on Giraffes Ruin Everything. That edit letter came just as I was setting up for Wordstock, a huge Portland lit fest I was working with. I got the email on Friday, but couldn't even read the inline notes until Sunday night. And then I left for the beach for a few days and had no internet access. I wasn't able to actually work on it until I had had it for nearly a week.

I just sent some possible changes and notes to my editor. I hope she likes them. (Fingers crossed.)

How did you come up with the ideas for both of these books? Was it something that came at you all at once, or did it develop over time as you drafted/revised?

Peter Pan has been an important story in my family since my daughter was very small. He was both her imaginary friend and her alter ego for years. In fact, I remember when she was only three, she would get so immersed in being Peter Pan that even her body language would change. I could see it come over her from across the room.

We spent a lot of time reading and rereading the original J. M. Barrie book and pretending to "fight all the nasty pirates" together. She slept with a plastic Tinkerbell in her hand every night. I painted Peter Pan's shadow on her wall. And when we moved to the East Coast for a few years, we were certain that the fireflies in our yard were really fairies having grand parties.

I feel like I was pretty well steeped in Neverland for several years, but hadn't ever considered writing about it. That is, until I got the flu.

My daughter was only five at the time. Too young to fend for herself while I took a Mama Sick Day. So, I turned on movies--Hook and the 2003 live action Peter Pan. She watched while I slept on the couch. 

I woke with a question in my head: What if Captain Hook had a daughter? 

I saw the girl very clearly in my mind--mud on her hem, a mess of dark curls, and wearing her father's too-large red coat. As you might expect of his offspring, Jocelyn refused to be ignored. I would get little flashes of inspiration at odd times--while showering, drying my hair, or just before I fell asleep. 

I put together a basic outline and began drafting over the next few months, but then my life took some hairpin turns. My father-in-law became ill. My husband and I decided to move back home to Oregon to be close to him. Shortly thereafter, we made the choice for me to begin homeschooling our daughter. Less than a year after that, my father-in-law died. I'd pick up my story on occasion and play with it, but it wasn't until last February that I felt it was time, and that I was ready, to give it my all. 

The basic premise and most of the situations I imagined way back at the beginning didn't change as I began making serious revisions, but three chapters of unnecessary backstory were sliced right off the front and other areas were expanded. Then, after I began working with Brooks, many new scenes were added.

As for Giraffes... you can read what inspired me to write that story here. I tend to view all real life giraffes as terrible, ruinous ruiners, so no one that knows me was surprised by this title. However, I have been a bit surprised by the giraffe I wrote. 

I actually like him. Go figure.

What do you do when you get stuck? Do you wait it out or do you have strategies for getting unstuck

Take a walk. Take a shower. Talk it over with a writer friend or my agent. Work on a different scene. Lose myself in a good book.

Those all generally work for me, though a few months ago I did shelve a project that I had been working on. I had a completed draft, but I just could not make it sing for me. I wrote it and rewrote it to the point that I hated both it and writing in general and then I decided I needed to put it away.

I hesitate to even mention it because I have no happy ending, so solution to offer someone else who may be struggling. If that person is you, I want to cheer you on, to tell you you can do it. But really, maybe it's not a bad thing to hear that sometimes letting go is okay.

We so often hear, "Finish your work," and that is very good advice. Every novel will have times that are soul-crushingly difficult, times where you want to quit. The only way through that, truly, is to work it out.

However, I think it's also important to trust yourself as an artist and listen when that creative inner-voice stops saying, "This is really, really hard" and starts saying, "This is killing me." 

Or maybe that's just me. I don't know. But I do know, hard as it was to admit to myself--and to others, that project definitely wasn't the right one for me at the time. Maybe one day it will be--I hope so--but not now.

Tell us how you fit writing into your daily life. Are you a night writer, 5am writer, or oh-god-whenever-I-can-get-to-the-laptop writer?

Pre-submission revisions on Hook's Revenge were so exciting I couldn't stay in bed past 5:00 am. In fact, quite often, I'd wake at 4:00 or 4:30, unable to sleep any longer because I was so ready to get to work. 

I still write early in the morning, but not every day. I write while my daughter is doing her schoolwork (we have continued to homeschool) or taking classes outside the home. I write when she volunteers at the library or just after dinner while she and my husband watch TV. I write on Saturdays before and after family time. I fit it everywhere I can--except on Sundays. No matter how much I have to do, I need that break and I'm always better for taking it.

I also don't write much late at night. I have in the past, but I've learned that for me nothing aftermidnight is as good as it seems at the moment--and I will be exhausted and fairly useless at writing (and anything else) the next day. As tempting as it can be sometimes to stay up and work late, I'm much better off during the day (or before day breaks).

Can you talk a little bit about the submissions process? How many drafts did you go through before your agent submitted it to publishers? How long you were on sub for and how did you handle being on sub without wanting to hurt someone?

For a lot of Hook's Revenge I revised as I went along, so it's hard to say exactly how many versions I went through. I know I did two full revisions after I had a completed draft, before I began querying. I did a Revise and Resubmit for Brooks before signing with him, and two edits--one quite thorough, one lighter--after signing.

I went on sub the first week of December last year. We had a week-long family vacation planned at a condo in central Oregon and I worked hard to finish before we left. I actually went on submission the day after we arrived. It was perfect. I barely had time to be overly stressed--I was too happy to be on vacation. And when we got home, there were Christmas preparations to keep me busy.

I also found being on sub far less stressful that querying. I placed all my trust in my agent (lucky for him that worked out). I felt like it was out of my hands, which was oddly comforting.

The first offer came in at the end of January and we sold at auction on February 5th.

Being on sub for Giraffes was even less stressful. Things happened so fast with it--I sent a draft to Brooks on a Tuesday--just to see what he thought. He gave me some suggestions and we went back and forth on revisions over the next few days. He ended up sending it to editors the following Monday afternoon.

I think because it happened so fast, I didn't have time to get nervous about it. The whole thing was a bit of a blur. In fact, I just had to look back at my emails to see how long it was on sub. It looks like it took around six weeks to sell.

About a month later I flew into New York for BEA. While I was there, I was able to meet both my editors which was really lovely. 

Which character in HOOK'S REVENGE is the most like you and why?

There are little bits of me in all of them, though none is terribly close to me as a whole. For example, the narrator has an extreme dislike for children. That is certainly not me, I love children. (Babies, not so much. Sorry.) I like to talk to them and tease them and tell them stories. I enjoy hearing how they see the world.

But I will say there have been times that I have liked children a bit less than they seemed to like me. I remember an afternoon berry picking where a group of unknown children decided I was fun and kept coming to pick off the bushes I was at. They stripped those raspberry vines clean all around me, and I just couldn't get rid of them. My own child was quite irritated by the whole thing. She is singularly unimpressed by me--as is her right. No one's own mother is all that interesting. At any rate, on that day, I could sympathize in a small way with some of the narrator's feelings. 

And like Jocelyn, I felt the sting of mean girls at school. There is a scene where she finds her cloak pocket filled with nasty, anonymous notes. That scene is pulled from my own painful last few months at elementary school. (One of my notes said, "Dear heidi, Notice I did not capitalize your name. That is because you are not important." Oh how that stung! Though as an adult I can appreciate the cleverness behind it. It's too bad I don't know who wrote it. She probably posts really funny grammar memes on Facebook.) 

Also like Jocelyn, I hate being told that I must do this or I must not do that. I like to make my own choices.

Was there a specific moment or scene in your book(s) that you're especially proud of? Can you tell us a little about it? 

In Giraffes I have a page where a child is waiting behind a giraffe for his turn on the slide, but its neck is so long that when its feet are at the bottom its head is still at the top. I love the utter ridiculousness of that image and cannot wait to see it illustrated.

For Hook's Revenge, it was very important to me that I stay true to the original Peter and Wendy. I read and reread both it and the Peter Pan chapters in J.M. Barrie's The Little White Bird(published on their own as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens). Though Captain Hook himself is not present in a lot of my book (this is Jocelyn's story, after all), there is a scene near the end where we get to hear from him. Every time I reread it, I get a little thrill. His character rings true to me. I am particularly proud of that scene. 

What's a secret about you?

You want all the juicy dirt? Are you sure?

All right then, but I hope you will still like me once you know the truth. Lean in here and I'll tell you.

I am the one who ate all the m&ms from your trail mix.

But what more could you expect? I'm a bit like the pirates in my story too.

Thank you, Heidi, for being a part of the Secret Life! We can't wait to read your books, and we hope you all add them to your Goodreads list!

Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, co-captaining a crew made of their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Her debut novel, HOOK'S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion in Fall 2014 followed by her first picture book, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, from Bloomsbury Kids in Fall 2015. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter: @Heidi_Schulz.

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things.

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1 secret replies:

  1. Thanks, Andee and Secret Life! That was not so secretly fun!