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A conversation with Christina Schwarz

A conversation with Christina Schwarz

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Published by AtriaBooks
A conversation with Christina Schwarz, the New York Times bestselling author of THE EDGE OF THE EARTH
A conversation with Christina Schwarz, the New York Times bestselling author of THE EDGE OF THE EARTH

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Published by: AtriaBooks on Mar 29, 2013
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03/30/2013

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A Conversation With
CHRISTINA SCHWARZ
Q: The
 Edge of the Earth
seems similar to
 Drowning Ruth
, in that it’s set
in the past andhas a somewhat Gothic feel. What prompted this return?A:
It didn’t happen on purpose.
 
When I’m in the process of choosing the subject for a
novel, my first consideration is that it be an idea that will sustain me for the two years or 
more that I know it’ll take me to write a book. I have to feel that the dream I’m entering
is so fascinat
ing and full of surprising possibilities that I won’t get tired of 
thinking aboutit. For me, the past easily provides that sort endless interest, because you can never knowfor sure what happened or why. Immediately after 
 Drowning Ruth
, I
felt I’d
exhaustedmy store of words and my supply of the type of scenes that would convey thatatmosphere of the past. I had to write a comedy and then a contemporary relationshipnovel, in part simply to refresh myself. But over those years, the well that contains myexcitement in the past and my attraction to people who harbor dark secrets there refilled.Q: Readers and reviewers have commented on the vivid sense of place in all of your novels, and the setting of 
The Edge of the Earth
is clearly at the heart of this book. Whatattracted you to the lighthouse off Big Sur, California?A:
The Edge the Earth
 
was absolutely inspired by its setting. Anyone who’s driven on
the Pacific Coast Highway south of Carmel knows how dramatic and isolated that area is.Mountains crowd the road to the east; the Pacific spreads to the west; and the lighthousestands on its own morro, almost unconnected to the land, a scrap of human habitationsurrounded by miles and miles of rock and water. For me, it was a perfect setting for a
novel, a dramatic and difficult place where I could trap characters and where they’d haveto confront each other and stumble over each other’s secrets. I think setting can be asstrong an influence on character and story as any other factor. Also, I’ve
discovered thatI need to know a place well to set a convincing story there. Because my fiction is soremoved from my real life, I need solid ground
 — 
a thousand concrete details
 — 
on whichto build a substantial dream, and those specific details are what make the story feel real.Q: Certain aspects of the end of the 19
th
century seem particularly important in thisnovel
 — 
the approach to science, attitudes about women, the closing of the Americanfrontier. How much did those influence your choice to set the novel at this time?A: Not as much as they should have! I wanted a time when the lighthouse at which mostof the book is set would be particularly isolated, when the only contact with the outsideworld would have to come from the sea. When my characters would have to wait manymonths even for a letter. I also wanted the freedom of a time when a person without anextremely specialized education could be convinced that he might make a great scientificdiscovery just by observing and thinking about the world around him. I lucked out in that
 
this also turned out to be a time in which women were beginning to think that perhapsthey need not be entirely dependent on men. In fact, that they might require somethingother than a husband and children to fulfill themselves. This is the period in which KateChopin wrote
The Awakening 
and Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote
The YellowWallpaper 
.Q: Some writers outline meticulously before they begin; others start with something aslimited as a single image and see where it takes them. Where do you fall in thatcontinuum?
A: For me, an outline takes all the life out of it, but I’m afraid to start without some senseof the world I’m going into, because I know how much time I can waste.
The Edge of the Earth
, as I said, started with the place
 — 
I knew when I saw it that there was a story in itfor me; I just had to look until I found it. I had the idea of the place in mind for a couple
of months and was toying with some characters that I couldn’t quite grasp. It wasn’t until
I went to Big Sur and explored the area around the lighthouse for a few weeks that themain character 
 — 
Trudy
 — 
emerged for me, sort of like a bubble rising to the top of myswamp-like brain. Her situation arrived with her 
 — 
the idea that she would have come tothis place from Milwaukee, a city I know well, with a husband who would, like the place,
turn out to be different from what she’d expected. At that point, I plunged in and started
writing. I tend to write, very haltingly but steadily, pretty much in what I think will be
the order of the book (although it doesn’t always stay that way). As I go along,
fragments, which can be images or pleasing phrases, come spontaneously into my mindand usually I can use these fragments in some way
 — 
I think this is evidence of my
unconscious mind at work and I’m grateful for it. Inevitably, this process carries me
about two-
thirds of the way through, and then I crash and realize I don’t really have a
story and despair and have to rethink and unravel. Those are probably the most hideousmonths, but then I figure out what my story really is and the revisions, while probably thehardest work are also the most satisfying.Q: How many hours do you write a day?A: Not enough. My work habits are deplorab
le; I’m very undisciplined
, especiallyduring the initial creation stage. Every day I vow to begin as soon as my son goes toschool, but then there are dogs to walk and cat litter to empty and a kitchen to clean upand email to answer and more coffee to make.
However, I’ll always write before folding
laundry.
Then I’ll just be getting going
when I
’ll
have to stop to go to an appointment or do a long overdue errand, which I then carry out in a very distracted way, because half my mind is still in the book 
. On the other hand, I’m always chipping away at it; I’ll takemy computer along when I know I’ll have an hour to wait somewhere, for instance. It’s
really the worst of all worlds
 —I’m never working really hard but I’m never not working
.
Also, when I’m fe
eling un
der a lot of pressure, I’ll keep this up until
late at night, which
is pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, once I’m revising I can concentrate for eight
hours at a stretch, take a short break and dive right back in, day after day. I
t’s rare
that Ihave access to a big chunk of consecutive hours like that, but when it happens, I barelyeven need to eat.

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