Books·Magic 8 Q&A

What Emily Schultz does when the writing is going badly

The author of Men Walking on Water answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Emily Schultz is the author of Men Walking on Water. (Sara Maria Salamone )

Emily Schultz's Prohibition-era novel Men Walking on Water begins when a Model T full of rum, cash and a man named Alfred Moss disappears through the frozen Detroit River on a smuggling run to Canada. Moss's death has consequences for several characters, including his wife, a French Canadian brothel owner, and a crooked preacher.

Schultz, author of The Blondes and Heaven Is Small, takes CBC Books' Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight randomly selected questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What do you do when the writing is going badly... or not going at all?"

I give myself permission to write bad scenes. I say to myself, "Okay, so this is just awful and what I write today is something I'll probably throw away..." I find once I have that permission it's freeing and usually the writing improves!

2. Ian Hamilton asks, "What was the worst review you ever received and how do you cope with it?"

I think most things are fair game in a professional review and you learn to move on. But one review literally called me "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" about my award track record. I thought that was some seriously unnecessary shade.

3. Xue Yiwei asks, "Would you feel comfort with the success of your book translated into a language you have no knowledge of?"

I think translation requires trust. My novel The Blondes was translated into French by Eric Fontaine — I had enough understanding of the language to be able to flip through it and know which scene I was in. But my French wasn't strong enough to be able to read the reviews when they came out.

4. Michael Christie asks, "Was there a book you actually wanted to live inside as a child?"

Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia was my favourite, though I didn't actually want to live inside it because it was terribly tragic. It's about a boy and a girl and their friendship. I related to the isolated world of these two country kids and their longing for art, adventure, magic. I read it dozens of times, never dry-eyed.

5. Robert Wiersema asks, "If someone were to create a comic book based on your life, what would your hero name be, and what would be your special gift/skill?"

Back in university, I went for Halloween as Menstrual Girl. Laugh all you want, but you just try making a wig out of tampons.

6. Adam Haslett asks, "From which other art or discipline have you drawn the most aesthetic inspiration?"

Film. It's one of the most intimate forms of storytelling. Besides the novel, of course.

7. Emma Donoghue asks, "What quality or tic in your writing, or flaw or dearth in your works as a whole, makes you blush?"

Nabokov-style character doubles and blurred identities.

8. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "Writing sex scenes: fun or torture?"

Fun — and not nearly as awkward as writing a sex scene in a script, where you know eventually two people may have to act it out.