was born in Montreal, Canada and has traveled extensively through
Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. She says, "Writing
didn't turn out to be as easy as I had at first imagined. I had
tremendously bad luck with publishers, ending up writing
nine novels over nine years before one was selected for publication.
I also couldn't get into writing school even with the manuscript,
THE CAGE, which later on would win many accolades, get
translated into 9 languages, and be reviewed positively by even
THE NEW YORKER."
"Lyrical... Suspenseful... Schulman's heroine
is a true original transformed emotionally and physically by
experiences marvelously imagined and compellingly described."
Los Angeles Times
Pageonelit.com: Where did you grow up and
did you do much writing
Audrey Schulman: I was born in Montreal,
but moved down to Boston with my family when I was still a child.
I started writing when I was 12. I wrote what I called a "novel."
It was about 50 pages of a child's large handwriting
and had illustrations. If I'd ever typed it up, it would probably
have only been about 4 pages. Still, I got so much attention
from the other students for doing something that wasn't required,
that I decided I rather liked this writing thing. I imagined
a writer's life would be filled with attention, cafes, sleeping
in late and no bosses. Reality has not quite lived up to that."
Pageonelit.com: Tell us a little about your
new novel SWIMMING WITH JONAH. Where did the idea for
the plot come from and tell us the relevance of the title.
Audrey Schulman: I got the idea for SWIMMING
WITH JONAH from going with my sister to vet school one day.
First, we met all her new classmates, who seemed quite social
and pleasant, not at all Jeffrey Dahmer types. Then we went into
dissection class. These students, my sister included, pulled
on bloody coveralls, picked up chain saws and started to cut
12 inch cross-sections off dead cows hanging from meat hooks.
All of the students did this completely casually, already so
comfortable with the idea of cutting. Seeing this made me start
to think about how difficult it must be to attend human medical
school where each student is learning in the end how to cut into
a living human body. Even in boot camp in the army, soldiers
are mostly only learning to kill people from a distance with
high-powered rifles. Medical students are learning how to put
their hand on a living belly and stick a knife into it. They
are doing it in the end to help, rather than to kill, but it
is a truly huge transformation to make.
I started thinking about who would be the student
who would have the greatest difficulty in learning how to cut
into another human, and what would be the worst school for her
The title for SWIMMING WITH JONAH comes
from a shark in the story who is called Jonah. It is kept as
a pet in a pen in the sea. The students, who are all second-rate
students attending an expatriate school on a small Indonesian
island, have nothing to do except study. There is nothing on
the island except for the school,
tropical jungle, wild dogs and islanders who mostly don't speak
English. The students get more and more antsy and claustrophobic.
Partly out of boredom and frustration, they begin to tease the
shark, kicking their feet in the water of its pen, flapping dead
fish through the water and then removing the food. Ultimately,
this leads to pushing things a bit too far.
Pageonelit.com: Your first novel THE
CAGE (an adventure story with a female main character) was
well received. Was that an enjoyable book to write? Why or why
not? Where did your research come from?
Audrey Schulman: THE CAGE was a joy
to write. It took me just a year and I could almost hear
each sentence of the book as I wrote. It was almost like I was
just transcribing it. \Because the book is close to a classic
adventure story, I knew the formula quite well, what should happen
in each chapter. All I did was put it in a more literary format,
developing imagery and character more than you would find in
a Stephen King type book.
I did a lot of research for the book. It is about
a woman who goes up to Manitoba to photograph polar bears. I
read about photography, polar bears, Manitoba, the search for
the Northwest passage during the last century, musk ok, narwhals,
the English navy, etc. I was rather pleased with how accurate
the book came out. Several reviewers said I had been raised in
Manitoba, even though, I had never even visited it until after
I finished writing the book.
Pageonelit.com: Are you a full time writer
or do you have a day job as well and if so what is it? What is
your writing schedule like?
Audrey Schulman: For the last 15 years or
so I have worked about half time as either a computer programmer,
animator, multimedia designer, website designer, writer for a
prosthetics magazine, teacher of creative writing, or software
documentation writer. I write each morning for at least 3 hours
no matter what. I never take a contract for work unless I will
have the time to continue my daily writing."
Pageonelit.com: After you finished THE
CAGE, did you do the agent search or did you contact publishers
as well? What was your journey like before publication? Any tips
for those of us trying and failing with our first novel?
Audrey Schulman: I have actually written
9 novels. THE CAGE was novel number 5. Long before I finished
it, I had been trying to find an agent and a publisher. I finally
got an agent shortly after finishing THE CAGE. After 29
rejections for THE CAGE, I finally got it accepted for
publication. Later on THE CAGE was translated into 9 languages, became a best-seller in Canada and one
of the top 50 best-sellers here in the States, was chosen as
one of the 12 notable novels of the year by the American Library
Association, was reviewed positively by everyone from The New
Yorker to the Los Angeles Times. What I learn from this is that
rejections have little to do with the quality of the novel or
with what will happen to the book post-publication. I also know
of many novels which were snapped up by the first publisher who
saw them, given huge advances and big publicity promotions, and
which flopped royally.
What I advise is pure perseverance in the face
of all sorts of reality. No matter what happens to your book(s),
publication or no publication, success or no success, laudatory
reviews or scathing ones, you just have to remember that you
do writing for the sake of writing. You surely shouldn't do it
to make money or to get fame. If you want money or fame then
I would advise you strongly to check out investment banking or
software development or acting, etc.
Pageonelit.com: What's next?
Audrey Schulman: My next novel, A HOUSE
NAMED BRAZIL, is to be published the summer of 2000. It was
the fourth novel I wrote and one of my all time favorites. It
is about a mother who abandoned her daughter when the daughter
was 14 years old. When the daughter reaches 19, the mother starts
calling her up every night at 6 in order to tell her the family