Schulz, eldest son of the famed Peanuts creator, just released a new novel that follows farm boy Alvin through a cross-country journey in the pre-Great Depression era. Think that sounds like heavy lifting? This Side of Jordan is just the first part of a 1,000-plus page novel that the Californian spent more than 12 years writing. Good grief! 11 am Sunday, Oct. 11. Powell’s Books Stage.
What’s your personal writing ritual?
I write on a desktop iMac because my hand hurts if I write more than three sentences! If I wrote my novels in longhand, they’d be about six pages long. I work nearly every day from somewhere between noon and eight in the evening, and try to get a page or two a day finished. I’m more the tortoise than the hare. I work steadily, but I get it done.
What are your favorite themes to write about?
I don’t know about themes, but for some odd reason there is an old boarding house in each of my books. Maybe I like the idea of a crossroads where people’s lives intersect, and the boarding house offers that more than modern apartments or suburban neighborhoods. I like writing about people in transition, drifting from one life into another, that great American restlessness and gift to be able to reinvent ourselves simply by moving on.
The most beautiful word in the English language is: Amethyst.
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?
Carl Sandburg, Thomas Wolfe, Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, and Carson McCullers (I found her novel The Member of the Wedding to be a great template for my own fiction style). In addition to Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, which I greatly admire, I believe that James Jones’ last novel, Whistle, and MacKinlay Kantor’s Andersonville are the two most powerful novels I’ve ever read.
Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?
Amy Tan, and her little dog, too. She seems like a pansy. I’m reasonably sure I could take her.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
Many people believe Catch-22 was the greatest novel to come out of World War II, and it’s a fine book, all right. But I don’t believe Heller’s satire is ever as grimly honest as what James Jones wrote about war in The Thin Red Line. War can be absurd, but it is not funny. What James Jones wrote makes the reader pale and uncomfortable, and that’s why his book is much better.
What I’m doing now, with Fantagraphics Books buying all five of my novels and publishing them in the next three years, is easily a dream project. It’s something I could never have realistically hoped for.
Most recent nightmare:
I have a seminar paper due tomorrow and I’ve never even been to the class! I have that nightmare at least once a month. It’s fed by my own experiences in junior high school and as a freshman in college where I took the final exam in psychology without going to class or reading the textbook. Yes, I got a D, which proves miracles do happen, because I should have failed!
Your cure for writer’s block:
I never get writer’s block because I believe that writing something, anything, no matter how bad, is better than nothing. My dad told me once that only amateurs get writer’s block; professionals can’t afford it. I try to write whether I’m inspired or not, whether what I put down is good or awful.
Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?
I wrote for 15 years without anyone reading my work, so I suppose a writer has to write, regardless of circumstances. I think we write for ourselves, anyhow, and that ought to be enough.
Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.
How can you beat having a real author and reader in the Oval Office? Literacy reigns at last.
Share one thing you’ve had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.
I spend more time than usual these days doing my best to help friends find work. Also, seeing what my wife and I can do to help fund projects within the local school district that budget cuts due to the recession have limited otherwise.
Please paste a short paragraph from a story, poem, article, blog post, etc., you’re currently working on:
“One day we wake up and we are old. That call to glory quiets and all our tomorrows are spoken for. We find so many loved ones visit us now in our dreams, we are glad to remember even those wounds which refused to heal. Looking backward only to make sense of our cruelties and chastisements seems irreverent. No man can be perfect in this world, nor do we expect it. There is some good in each of us, though, and we see it from time to time in the great and the obscure. A life reveals more than the glands of our bodies and the constitution of our brains. We are bound firmly and completely, perhaps even our ends shaped, by the eloquent traits of those stubborn and ageless strangers, our ancestors, who tilled the ground of their birthright, so their children might inherit fitter soil. Time was, a garden bloomed in Paradise. Far wanderers are we, and hope our faithful companion, ever longing to find a contented heart at rest in the fullness of days.”