Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Introducing Pamela Schoenewaldt, USAToday Bestseller, Part II

Today it is my pleasure to host Pamela Schoenewaldt for the second part of her interview. Pamela’s first novel, When We Were Strangers (HarperCollins, 2013), was a USA Today Bestseller, a major book club pick, a Barnes & Noble Great Discovery, short-listed for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and has been translated into Polish, Dutch, and Russian. Swimming in the Moon(HarperCollins, 2013) was cited by the Pittsburgh Examiner as a “a must read for anyone who enjoys beautiful, richly drawn characters, and a historical setting so realistic that one would believe they had been transported to another time. A glorious, unforgettable novel, A+.” It was a runner-up for the Langum Prize and connects powerfully with those who struggle with the impacts of mental illness in their families.

So often our life experiences or those of people we know and love make their way into our novels. As a sometimes historical writer, I'm always curious about research challenges of other authors. What challenges confronted you as you wrote these stories of immigrants traveling from Italy to the United States at the turn of the century? 

Research is one of the reasons I love the historical fiction genre. I enjoy finding out stuff. Of course there is a tremendous amount of material on the Internet, including images, personal accounts, and all the million factoids you need to weave your story. But you can’t stop at Google. I constantly draw on my public library for research or interlibrary loan. I contact experts and am always amazed at how generous people are with their time and expertise. For instance, in crafting the symptoms of Teresa, the gifted but deeply troubled mother in Swimming in the Moon, I spoke to therapists and scholars of the history of psychology, gleaned what I could from online sources, and used the public library to get some excellent texts on the horror of mental health “treatment” in the early 20th C.

The generosity of others with their expertise surprised me, too! As a writer, do you find time to read? Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading Ghana Must Go, by Selasi, an intriguing, beautifully written novel I just happened on. Also some writings by the German theologian Bonhoeffer, and for contrast, an anthology of American humor writing. Reading for me is a huge challenge. Between writing and researching all day and often late into the evening, sometimes I just can’t stand any more print. My favorite American author today is Kent Haruf. I’m in awe of his spare style that goes so deep and is so in touch with the human spirit.

You also teach writing workshops. What words of advice or encouragement would you have for someone who wants to write but doesn’t know where to start or how to finish?

Both for starting and for finishing, I’d strongly recommend a writing group, ideally one that’s face to face, not online. Everybody in the group needs to be writing—no observers. A group with our local writing guild helped me polish and publish short stories and when one of them grew into my debut novelWhen We Were Strangers, it was keeping the deadlines for each chapter that helped me complete the project. At every level, I believe, you simply must listen to good readers. Maybe you don’t implement every comment, but you listen with an open mind. Because that’s what writing is—connecting. You put out your words see if they reach another soul. Beyond that, writing every day. It’s a job, a discipline. It’s not about time, as in, “I’d write a novel if I had time.” Nobody says, “I’d be a brain surgeon if I had time.” If it’s important, you make time.

That is great advice for aspiring authors. So tell us, what’s next for you?

I’m finishing my third novel. Right now my agent is reading the first draft. Our projected publication is Spring, 2015. It’s another historical fiction, but with magic realism elements, set in the German-American community around World War 1.

It's been great having you join Novel PASTimes today. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes, as Garrison Keillor says, do good work and keep in touch. I love interacting with readers and book groups, either in person, or by Skype, email, or phone. You can contact me at If you’ve read one of my books, I’d love to know your reactions. My website has a blog, excerpts, photos, reviews, and events. I also post about my life, work, and events on my Facebook author page: Come visit!

Thanks so much for joining us!

To be entered for a chance to win a copy of Pamela's Swimming in the Moon, please answer the following question along with your email. The winner will be drawn this Saturday (due to the last notice this week) at 8AM EDT. US addresses only are eligible.

Question: What makes a book about early 20th century immigration relevant today?

1 comment:

petite said...

Immigrant stories of the early twentieth century resonate with me since my parents emigrated from Eastern Europe to Canada. They were young and learned English and became part of the fabric of Canadian society which was rich in culture and traditions which they held onto. Their values and principles are important and should be cherished. Life was hard but they adapted and improved their lives for succeeding generations to appreciate. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com