Word: dalliance [dal-ee-uhns, dal-yuhns] n. 1. a trifling away of time; dawdling 2. amorous toying; flirtation
Birthday: Johns Hopkins (1795), Albert Fish (1870), Ho Chi Minh (1890), Malcolm X (1925), Jim Lehrer (1934), Nora Ephron (1941), Pete Townshend (1945), André the Giant (1946), Grace Jones (1948), Joey Ramone (1951), Nicole Brown Simpson (1959)
Interview: My friend Marc Schuster recently launched his first novel – The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl – and was willing to accomodate a few questions. Here’s a little information on the up-and-coming novelist, followed by our interview:
Marc Schuster is the co-author of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and the author of Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard and the Consumer Conundrum. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals ranging from Weird Tales to Reader’s Digest. The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl is his first novel.
The daily euneJeune (TdeJ): First, congratulations on the publication of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl. Can you give us a little background on what inspired the story?
Marc Schuster (MS): A few things inspired the story. The first was some research I did back in graduate school while writing a paper on T.S. Eliot and the theme of self-medication that comes up in some of his poetry. He has a great line in one of his poems that says humankind cannot bear very much reality. This idea shows up a lot in Eliot’s work, and I was investigating some of the ways in which people in the first half of the twentieth century attempted to numb themselves to reality. Drugs were a big part of this movement, and some of the books I read on the subject spilled over into the latter half of the twentieth century. The earliest seeds of my novel were probably planted then.
Years later, I was in a writing workshop whose members would come up with a new assignment each month. One of the assignments was to write a story about obsession. Some of the ideas I uncovered in my research on Eliot and the numbing of the masses were still on my mind, so I turned obsession into addiction and wrote the short story that eventually grew into The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl. The story got some really good rejections—always a plus when you’re a struggling writer—and most of the people who read it said that they were immediately taken in by the scenario I’d set up but that the piece had to be longer. That’s when I decided to make it into a novel.
TdeJ: Was writing a novel always a goal of yours, or was it something that evolved from teaching and/or your other writings?
MS: Writing a novel was always a goal of mine. In eighth grade, we had to do mock interviews for career day, and I insisted on doing an interview for a position as a novelist. As if publishing houses just have novelists on staff who crank out books like so much bratwurst. But I guess that’s the cool thing about being twelve years old. You don’t know how things really work, so you just figure you can do anything.
TdeJ: From beginning to end, how long was the entire novel-writing process?
MS: I wrote the short story in the summer of 2003 but probably didn’t start trying to turn it into a novel until 2004. Over the summer of 2008, I finished the final draft, then polished it until early 2009. So, all told, it took me about five or six years to write. Of course, I was doing other things at the same time—teaching, finishing graduate school, working on other writing projects—so it’s not like I was waking up every morning from August of 2003 until January of 2009 and working on the novel. I had to squeeze the work in whenever I could.
TdeJ: You’re a man who doesn’t do drugs. Did you encounter difficulties writing from the point of view of a drug-addicted woman?
MS: One of my biggest concerns was getting some of the details right, particularly with respect to the drugs. I’d seen plenty of movies and television shows in which people snorted lines of cocaine, but it was tough to figure out exactly how much cocaine is in a line or how many lines are in a gram. So I had to do some research—the bookish kind, not the personal experience kind. I read a lot of case studies of people, especially women, who had been addicted cocaine. I also read a decent number of documents from the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the drug trade in general. That’s how I learned the street value of a gram, for example.
Writing from the point of view of a woman, on the other hand, was less worrisome for me. One reason for this may be that I grew up with four sisters, so maybe I’m more in touch with my feminine side. At the same time, though, a lot of the issues that Audrey has to deal with aren’t specific to women. She’s lonely. She yearns for adult conversation. She wants to be loved. Pretty much everyone can identify with these feelings at least once in a while, so it wasn’t too hard to tap into the part of myself that resonates with Audrey’s needs.
TdeJ: Two weeks ago, I attended your book launch where were signing copies of your novel for your fans. Is that a completely bizarre experience? What thoughts go through your head?
MS: I don’t know what’s weirder—signing books for strangers or signing them for my family. With strangers, I think, Wow! Here’s someone who’s never met me and is excited for me to deface a perfectly good book with my signature. They’ll never be able to get a refund now! With friends and family, I keep wondering whether or not I should sign my last name. I mean, they can call me on the phone anytime they want to. Is it impersonal for me to sign my last name? Insulting? Am I insinuating that they don’t know who I am? I signed a book for my mother, and I hesitated before signing my last name because, technically speaking, I used to live inside of her. If anyone knows who I am, it should be her. Signing my name at this point is a little superfluous.
TdeJ: Growing up, were there any particular authors that inspired you to write? Are there any current authors you’re reading that give you the urge to write more?
MS: Douglas Adams was the first author I really developed a taste for. I think I read Restaurant at the End of the Universe the summer between sixth and seventh grade, then had to read all of his other books, too. He was just so zany and clever at the same time. I loved his absurdist take on the meaning of life, even if I didn’t understand half of what I was reading at the time. Years later, I went through a weird John Steinbeck phase—talk about a complete 180 degree turn. Then I got back on track with the more bizarre stuff when I got into Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon. That was probably in my first or second year of college. Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, and Chuck Palahniuk. I especially like fiction that’s grounded in reality but takes a skewed look at it, which is what I try to do in my own writing.
TdeJ: What are your thoughts on the current blogging phenomenon? Do you find blogging useful for anything but entertainment?
MS: I think blogging is especially useful for people who blog with a specific purpose in mind. I personally hesitated to jump into the blogging game for a long time because I was afraid it would turn into a distraction, that if I had a blog that was just about whatever happened to be on my mind at any given moment, I’d spend so much time running at the mouth that I’d never have time for the bigger writing projects I want to work on. And there’s a real danger that I’d run at the mouth because I never get tired of hearing my own voice. Eventually, though, I decided that a blog would be the perfect venue for reviewing books from small presses—something I’m very passionate about—and I started Small Press Reviews. The blog’s focus on a particular subject keeps me from going on and on about the minutia of my daily life and, as a result, frees me to work on more demanding projects.
TdeJ: What are a couple of your favorite blogs and why?
MS: Another reason why I wasn’t so big on starting my own blog was that I don’t really read many. I’m more of a New York Times kind of person. Not that I read the whole thing from cover to cover, but it’s set as my homepage, so it’s also where I get a lot of my news. Though I must say that I do enjoy The daily euneJeune!
TdeJ: You’re very much involved in Philadelphia Stories magazine. Can you give us some information on what it’s doing to help the cause of the arts in Philadelphia?
MS: I can’t say enough about Philadelphia Stories. It’s a free quarterly literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the writing of authors from in and around the Delaware Valley. On a shoestring budget, they’ve managed to stay in print for nearly five years, and in that time, the magazine has published work from over 150 emerging writers and poets. A lot of these writers are people who had never been published before, so one of the benefits of the magazine is that it shines a spotlight on people who, up until now, haven’t had a venue. The magazine also helps to create a stronger sense of community among writers in the area by offering readings, writing workshops, retreats, an annual conference, and other events throughout the year. And now that they’ve added a books division with PS Books, they have a whole new avenue for discovering emerging talent. But, like I said, they do it all on a shoestring budget, and none of what they do comes cheap. As a result, they need to put as much effort into fundraising as they do into publishing the magazine. If any of your readers want to help a burgeoning Philadelphia institution continue to find new and interesting voices, I’m sure the folks at Philadelphia Stories would love their support.
TdeJ: Lastly, list three elements you think aspiring novelists need to know if they want to get published.
MS: Persistence is essential. A major part of writing is revision, and that means returning to a project after three or four drafts and working on it even when you can’t stand it anymore. I’ve often thought that my greatest talent is that I can sit in front of a blank computer screen for hours on end and not get so discouraged that I refuse to ever come back. And in addition to persistence, it helps to be in a community of writers. I prefer to write first drafts on my own, but without the members of my writing group and the folks at Philadelphia Stories, I’d have no way of knowing what works and what doesn’t in my fiction. Finally, writers need to be readers—not just to see how other writers do what they do, but also to understand the market. It’s important to know, for example, what styles of writing different journals publish, just as it’s important to know what kinds of books various presses put out. And it’s good for writers just to read for fun as well—if only to remind ourselves why we keep at this maddening, if not entirely irrational, pursuit.
Once again, thanks to Marc for his insightful answers and, on a personal note, the time he makes for me with his advise and encouragement.
Marc will be appearing at The Doylestown Bookshop this Friday, May 22nd, at 7pm for a reading of his new novel. Get out there and show some support for one of Philadelphia’s great local authors.
Quotation: Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. – Chili Davis
Incoming: Tomorrow – My take on the Stanley Cup Playoffs and what it’ll mean if Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins win it all. Thursday – Annoying Sayings & Misused Words