Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A BLUE SO DARK and PLAYING HURT by Holly Schindler

Holly Schindler is the author of the brand new YA novel PLAYING HURT. I was originally just going to feature PLAYING HURT, but Holly's first novel, A BLUE SO DARK, had such a compelling premise that I wanted to highlight it as well.


Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talent artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura’s dad left them. Convinced that “creative” equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.

Starred Review, Booklist
One of Booklist’s Top 10 Novels for Youth (2010)
Silver Medal, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year (YA Fiction)
Gold Medal, IPPY Awards (Juvenile / Young Adult Fiction)


Star basketball player Chelsea “Nitro” Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea’s dad springs for a three-week summer “boot camp” program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?

Here are some questions I asked Holly:

On your website you talk about making margin notes. What other strategies do you use as part of your writing process and can you tell us more about your journey toward becoming a writer?

My journey was looooong.  In some ways, it started when I was a little girl.  From the moment when I realized there was an actual person who had created the books I loved, I had it in my head that I would go to college, and then I would write.  Period.  I got my Master’s in English in ’01, and immediately took my mom up on her incredible offer to feed me while I wrote.  (Very Virginia Woolf, isn’t it, getting a room of my own and freedom from financial concerns?)  I’d been lucky enough to place some poetry, fiction, and literary critique in journals during college, and was under the grand delusion it would take no time at all to publish a book.  The reality?  It took seven and a half years to get the first book deal.

My strategies…I’m an idea junkie, and in order to get to all the novels I had outlined, I used to try to work on multiple projects at once—dividing my days into halves or even thirds to work on two to three different books.  Again, the reality?  Didn’t work.  I have to devote myself to one project at a time—I give myself crazy word count goals, to make sure I get each book drafted quickly, so that I can move on to another.

I know what you mean about dividing time! Right now I'm querying my completed novel, revising another, and I just got a great new idea for a third book this morning! It's hard to put your energy into multiple projects--maybe I'll take your advice and finish revisions before writing my new book!
 In A BLUE SO DARK, one of the characters has schizophrenia. Why did you choose this particular mental illness for your character, and what do you want readers to take away from the book when they're finished?

I think, in some respects, that a hallucination comes the closest to mirroring a creative “a-ha” inspirational moment.  In some respects, the “vision” an artist has of his or her end product is a bit like a hallucination, in that both involve an image or situation that only one person can see.  Since I was exploring the idea of mental illness and creativity being linked, I wanted the mental illness to involve “visions” of some sort—and that’s why I immediately gravitated toward writing about schizophrenia.

I really do hope that readers always take from my work the idea that there’s light at the end of a struggle.  That realization occurs for both Aura in A BLUE SO DARK and for Chelsea and Clint in PLAYING HURT.  Tragedies or hardships can only mark the end of one chapter—but the book, if I’m to continue with the metaphor, is still a work in progress.  I really do believe that the heart is the most resilient muscle in the body, and I hope that comes across in my work.

It sounds like both books are an inspiration, and will be relatable to a lot of readers! 
The discussion guide for A BLUE SO DARK states the title is metaphorical. How did you come up with the title and what would you recommend to aspiring writers having trouble finding titles?

Confession time: the original title—the title the book was acquired under—was THE OCEAN FLOOR.  My editor was really lukewarm about it, though.  He suggested I troll through the manuscript for phrases that would make possible titles.  My mom (also my first reader) and I both reread the manuscript, coming up with lists of possibilities.  I shot my editor several; he instantly fell in love with A BLUE SO DARK, which was from my mom’s list—she was also the titler for PLAYING HURT!

Sounds like an effective strategy--and a nice reminder that friends and family can be a great source for inspiration.
You have a forthcoming middle grade novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY. What differences have you found between writing MG and YA? What other projects are you working on?

The pacing is really different—MGs are roughly a hundred manuscript pages shorter than YAs.  The hundred and fifty or so manuscript pages you get for your MG can really begin to feel like a tight squeeze, especially after you’ve already spent thirty pages just setting the book up!  Each scene carries more weight in a middle grade, because there’s less space from the start.  One thing that’s similar, though, is that both MGs and YAs need to ring true to the reader.  You can’t be anything but brutally honest—otherwise, it’ll ring false to the audience.

My writing interests are every bit as varied as my reading interests…and I read everything.  Really—romance, literary, classics, sci-fi, clever cereal boxes…You never know where I’ll find inspiration next!

That's probably one of the clearest definitions I've heard for MG vs. YA. Thanks for sharing!
What do you love most about the writing life? What are some of its biggest challenges?

Honestly, I love the entire process.  The writing, the revising, working with editors, blog tours…Back when I was still reading Little Golden Books, my dream job was to be a writer.  And I’m so, so lucky that every single day I get to wake up and do just that—I get to be a writer.

Holly can be found at and at her author blog:  She also has two group author blogs, one for YA:, and one for MG:  She's also on Twitter: @holly_schindler, and Facebook:

1 comment:

Award winning Seattle Landscape Architect services said...

Love the review. I've been playing around with adding this one to the wish list, and it sounds like I should.