I’m very happy to present an interview with one of my favourite authors here today: the American writer Cathleen Schine! After having been introduced to my first book of hers when my friend Evelyn gave me „Rameau’s Niece“ way back at university in the nineties when we were both struggling with our final papers, I got hooked and read all of Cathleen Schine’s books as soon as I got hold of them. Some of them both in German and English. Some time ago I „met“ herself on facebook. 🙂
No idea how many times I have read her books already. I get back to them again and again and also find a lot of inspiration in her style of writing. The novels I like most are: „The Evolution of Jane“ and „The Love Letter“. You can read more about Cathleen Schine’s books on her website linked at the end of this interview.
- What made you start to write and what do you like most about being a writer?
Honestly? I couldn’t do anything else. And I did try to do other things – graduate school in Medieval history, then tried to get a job as a buyer in the fashion industry – because, although I had always wanted to write, I was too afraid to. But, finally, it is the only thing I really know how to do. Which is pretty lucky for me.
I like the freedom of not having a normal job, although there is also a lot of anxiety and financial insecurity that goes along with that. But what I like most about writing is… writing. After the procrastination has been strung out as long as possible, when I finally get started, there is nothing more thrilling.
- Do you have the complete story and all characters in mind before you start to write or do you develop it all while writing?
I usually have a character or characters who interest me or a relationship that I want to explore and the story grows out of that. The one time I wrote a full outline, I looked at it and thought, „Why bother to write the book? I already know what’s going to happen.“ It was too boring to go on. I abandoned that one. I usually discover what happens along the way.
- I adore the use of language in your books, especially when it comes to the ways the characters think. Is that a language you only use in writing or are you talking/thinking like that yourself?
First of all, thank you! And second, that’s an interesting question that no one has ever asked me before. I never use that kind of language when I speak. I’m often pretty inarticulate. I do think in the language of my characters when I think about them. And I often write passages in my head when I walk the dog or take a shower. But I would say that the language in the books reflects the language around me more than my own inner monologue. I love to listen and I’m a good listener, and often one single phrase or intonation overheard on a bus or from a relative at a holiday dinner will inspire a character or a scene.
- Would you say your novels are rather written for women?
In the United States, most of the people who read fiction are women, so I’m guessing that most of my readers are women. Certain books, „Rameau’s Niece“, for example, appeal more to men than others. It’s also true that most of my novels are told from the point of view of a woman. But I don’t write for women. When I write, I try very hard not to think who I am writing for. Marketing people have to ask: Who’s the audience for this book? The author doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t. If I do, it warps what I’m doing. I write for the characters, for the language, going from word to word. Thoughts of possible readers, men or women, young or old, are distracting and depressing. I mean, what if there are, finally, no readers at all? That particular thought can distract me for hours. Or: What if the readers hate it? Then: Maybe I shouldn’t do this, maybe people like this other kind of thing better… I find that worrying about who I’m writing for simply undermines and dilutes what I’m working on.
- Which of your books was the most difficult to write and why?
The second: „To The Birdhouse“. It took me seven years. Why? I had two babies! It was much for fun to play with them than to work.
- You once said your characters are „very real“ for you. Which one of your characters is your favorite and why?
I’m very fond of most of them, when I think of them. But usually I am thinking only of the characters in the book I’m working on at the moment.
- In another interview you showed the parallels between your own life and the things that happen in your books. Do you need own experience as a starting point to write?
No, but there has to be some personal imaginative moment, certainly, something that strikes me a kind of urgent curiosity. With the exception of my first two books, none of the novels is really autobiographical, but I do always incorporate things and relationships and dialogue and characters that figure in a greater or lesser degree in my experience.
- What do you think about the changes the book business is going through due to the new digital ways of distribution and how do you respond to that yourself?
I wrote my first book on a typewriter, before there was such a thing as the personal computer, so things have changed tremendously over the course of my career. I see so many friends, more and more every day, lose their jobs as print publishing and print journalism shrink, and that is a terrible aspect of the changes. The traditional publishing world has been very good to me, so all this change is threatening, like any revolution, and this is a revolution, obviously, as disruptive and full of promise as the invention of the printing press. On the other hand, I love the internet, I love being able to do my research so quickly, I love everything about it. I am an addict. I mean, I can read poetry on my iPhone. It’s great. But… I love real physical books in an almost primitive way, and I just hope the bound book does not completely disappear in my lifetime.
- Is there a new novel in the making and can you tell a bit about it?
Yes, and actually, at the moment anyway—it can still change, I’m only on page 30 – the narrator is a man looking back at his life at fifteen in 1964. It’s a bit if a departure for me. It’s invigorating, doing something so different.
- Where can others find you on the web?
Thank you very much, Cathy, for this interview! 🙂
Photo of Cathleen Schine: James Hamilton