Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

“I love that ability to capture the surreal and the comical” — A Chat with Emily Schultz

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Emily Schultz is the co-founder of Joyland Magazine, host of the podcast Truth & Fiction, and creator of the blog Spending the Stephen King Money. Schultz’s newest novel is The Blondes (St. Martin's Press 2015, Doubleday 2012).

KM: You have a strong capacity on the page to take an imagined world – the fantastic, if you will—and make this realistic and accessible to your reader. I’m thinking of your novel Heaven is Small (House of Anansi Press, 2009), in which a writer with literary aspirations has not noticed his own death. He goes to an afterlife that looks eerily familiar to the contemporary world, where he takes a job as an editor at a publishing house that specializes in pulp romance. While quirks are slowly revealed in this afterlife, it feels like realism that has been slightly bent by one or two degrees. In your writing life, how far back do you trace this mix of the realistic and the fantastic?

ES: I came from a fantasy household. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud to my older brothers and me. My mom was a fantasy fan and my dad a detective/noir fiction fan. Both had their Master’s in English so there were a lot of arguments about books, and it’s probably no surprise that my work is a collision of styles and genres. We lived in a small Ontario town with no bookstores, just a library. I used to read anthologies of the great Canadian poets, or the great American short story writers and work my way from front to back. In high school I started to get interested in more experimental and transgressive writing.

Don DeLillo’s White Noise was an influence on both Heaven is Small and The Blondes. I love that ability to capture the surreal and the comical. But I also watched a lot of films. For The Blondes, I was playing with the plague narrative so Cronenberg’s Rabid, Hitchcock’s The Birds, or even comedic fare like Shaun of the Dead helped. When world-building, however outrageous, you have to become convinced yourself. For me that means a lot of attention to those little realistic details.

KM: Between your work as co-founder of Joylandmagazine.com, which really set the tone for what an online literary magazine should be, and your podcasts at Truth & Fiction, you seamlessly work in areas that some writers are reluctant to get into. Many writers would be happiest if left alone to read and write, and to let their writing be their contact with the outside world. Of course, this is impossible and perhaps ill advised. When you are interviewing writers for podcast, do you find it challenging at times to put people at ease and open up about their work? We’re all recluses, to varying degrees, so how do you bring people out?

ES: Yeah, I don’t know anyone who “just writes.” I’ve always edited or worked in publishing to pay rent. I started Joyland (with my husband Brian Joseph Davis) because I was between novels and needed to feel stories were still important. I was teaching short stories, sending work out, and getting rejections (and of course I still get a lot of rejections). Building Joyland and getting local editors involved was part of feeling like at least there would be one more place for short fiction.

When I’m interviewing for Truth & Fiction, I really don’t find writers halting or hiding. Most of us are so passionate about our work—and so happy when someone else has read it and wants to talk about it—that I think we open up and speak very engagingly. Of course, I did some journalism first and maybe I learned from those interviews to keep questions simple. Years ago I interviewed Charles Simic, who is one of my favorite poets. I had these complex questions and I could hear him on the other end of the line, uncertain how to answer. Trying to impress someone is the worst way to interview. On the podcast I always tell authors ahead of time, “We’re just going to have a conversation like friends. We’ll talk about you, and where you come from, and then we’ll get to the book and do some shop talk as writers. Say whatever you want.”

I interview people in their homes or mine. Brian recently turned my office into more of a studio with pro set-up. I interviewed Tamara Faith Berger (Maidenhead), Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist), and Michael V. Smith (My Body Is Yours) in hotel rooms. Right away, that’s an intimate situation and I think it helps shake off any jitters. Bringing cookies helps too.

KM: You moved to New York after spending much of your life in Canada. Do you find any new challenges as a writer being immersed in a new community?

ES: I lived in the U.S. when I was younger, before I was a writer. I have found it interesting because Canadian and American markets are so different. Americans really wanted my novel The Blondes (which released in the U.S. just this spring) to be a thriller, where Canadians saw it as more literary and relationship-focused. The French saw it as more political satire.

The bigger issue for me is really more of being a parent versus a non-parent. When we lived in Toronto we had no children, which left me free to attend almost any literary event at night. After coming to New York, my nights became spoken for by a small person. So that has meant I interact more digitally than in real life. It’s one of the reasons I started the Truth & Fiction podcast: getting out for an hour and doing one-on-one was easier than attending readings in bars and bookstores. It’s important to remember that sometimes the circumstances that feel trapping (like lack of funds, or having other responsibilities) will lead to a new way of writing.

One thing that has been fun is having two countries claiming me as a writer. I’ve always been a dual citizen, but after my blog Spending the Stephen King Money I started seeing myself labeled an Ontario writer by Canadian media, and a New York writer by American media. It felt good, kind of like being part of a really big family. I’ve had a lot of people on my side and I feel very fortunate.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Ken Murray

Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in journals, newspapers and magazines in both Canada and the United States. An avid athletic amateur, he likes kiteboarding, skiing, snowboarding, running and cycling. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel.

You can contact Ken throughout the month of July at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Ken Murray’s Author Page