Julie Schumacher is the author of six books and writes for younger readers as well as adults. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Ms., Minnesota Monthly, and in The Best American Short Stories and the O'Henry Award anthologies. Her new novel, The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls, will be published in May 2012. She directs the Creative Writing program at the University of Minnesota.
Tell us about your relationship to your art.
It's complicated in the way that human relationships are complicated. Sometimes my writing and I get along wonderfully and happily don't analyze our relationship at all; at other times one of us feels abandoned, or guilty, or inadequate, or unfulfilled. The challenge, I think -- as in human relationships -- is to create a healthy sense of self, in relation to and apart from one's art.
What's a project (yours or another's) that has been exciting you lately?
I tend to get stuck on projects when I think about them too long or too seriously, and when I get stuck I try to write something different, something I can safely call an experiment, something that seems low-stakes. For me, that's poetry (which I almost never write) or nonfiction, or visual art, which often feel new and different because I don't know what I'm doing when I sit down to give them a try. And that's exciting, and it can get me unstuck.
Tell us a little of your motherhood journey.
I've got two daughters, 23 and 20. They're old enough so that I have a birds-eye view, now, of their childhoods. I can see the portions of their growing up that seemed to go well, and the portions that were difficult or traumatic. I can see the things I wish I'd done differently, on their behalf and on mine. But there's no re-do, and they're great people, so I try not to torment myself.
What are some crucial elements of your process? How has that changed since having children?
When my kids were young, I was incredibly disciplined about my writing schedule, because I was paying for it, hourly, in the form of daycare. I wrote my first novel on Tuesday and Thursday mornings over a period of 4-5 years. Now I've got more time, and I fritter more of it away.
What are some of the ways your family and your art interact?
At this point, my kids are useful critics. They correct my references to all things technical and internet. But during the writing process itself, I need to be alone, away from everyone, apart from phone, email, and friendly and supportive human beings.
Do you find your attitude towards your art might be different because of your parenting / has it changed since you became a parent?
Hard to say. Parenting is glorious and humbling. Writing can be glorious and humbling. Both help accustom a person to striving, day after day -- and not always coming up to the mark.
Are your children ever subjects in your art? [If yes, how so? If no, why not?]
Tricky question. Parenting is so all-encompassing; it takes a person over. And if a person is an artist, parenting and the relationship to one's children creeps into the art -- to varying degrees for different people. I have mercilessly 'stolen' and fictionalized aspects of many of the people I'm closest to. But if I feel those people might be recognized in what I've written, I always consult them before attempting to publish.
How does travel figure into your art? Do/did your children come along? How has that worked out?
I like to stay put when I'm writing. Travel is a great thing, but I can't write when I'm doing it. At this point, my children come along on trips with me only if they're interested in the places I'm going. More often, they're traveling to the more interesting places, and I'm visiting them.
What about promoting the arts with your own children--any fun projects to share?
I read to them both, a lot, when they were growing up. One of my children is a fanatical reader; the other, though artistic, seldom finishes reading a book. When I hear parents say, "I read to her every day, and that's why she loves books," I think, "Don't kid yourself. Don't give yourself that much credit." But then, I'm a cynic. And I recognize that your kids don't have to resemble you, or have your interests, or your politics or other beliefs, to be marvelous and beloved people.
How do you escape?
Reading. Alone. When I'm almost finished reading a book, I usually hide in the bathroom so I can't be interrupted.
What advice do you have for expectant mothers in your field?
Be kind to yourself. Have a sense of humor. Try to live in the moment, rather than wishing those moments -- even the difficult or frustrating ones -- away.