Author Profile: Nina Schuyler [in Bloom]
Wife, mother, teacher, poet, writer – Nina Schuyler wears many labels. Her youngest is still a toddler, she balances multiple part-time jobs, keeps up with the daily-life expectations of cooking and laundry, soccer and basketball mom-ing, not to mention the care and feeding of the family’s dog and fish.
In the midst of all the multi-tasking, Schuyler has managed to write three novels, with a fourth in progress: her debut, The Painting, hit shelves in 2004 when she was 41; she wrote a second novel that she hasn’t yet shared with the world; her latest, The Translator, pubbed in July 2013, almost a decade after her first; and she’s already blogged about the sex scenes in her latest book-in-the-making.
“Like most writers, I work at the edges of the day,” Schuyler confesses in a recent blog post on her author website. “Early morning. Late at night. A babysitter who comes and watches the little one, giving me the luxury to stretch out in a big acre of time.” Although she refers to “discipline” as “an archaic word,” she relies on a $5.00 kitchen device to keep her writing. Literally.
[M]y friend, my enemy, my companion, my task master is the Timer . . . it sits on my desk and I set it for thirty minutes. The implicit agreement between Timer and me is that I cannot move from my chair until the beeper goes off. … A new novel, page by page, hour by hour, something – a story? … I sit and write until I hear the beep.
Schuyler had much to do before settling into writing fiction full time, including the study and mastery of many languages. Before, during, and after studying economics and human biology at Stanford University, then law at University of California Hastings College of the Law, Schuyler also acquired Spanish, Danish, and Japanese. She honed her writing skills as a journalist at a legal newspaper, where she dealt with facts. “[A]s I gathered stories for the paper, so much was left on the cutting floor, so to speak,” she told Amy Sue Nathan of the Women’s Fiction Writers blog. “A newspaper article uses a specific form that delivers information efficiently and concisely to the reader. Yet I met so many fascinating characters, characters in the true sense of the word.” That fascination sent her back for a third stint at school, this time to San Francisco State University’s graduate creative writing program: “When I was accepted, I got enough validation to keep writing.”
By the time Schuyler finished her MFA, she had what would become her first published novel. That debut – Schuyler’s thesis after many revisions – “had a speedy entrance into the world—in a matter of weeks, I got an agent, and she sold it quickly.” The Painting was the result of a confluence of sights, sounds, and smells during a Japanese language class in her teacher’s home. On Backstory, Schuyler recalled her introduction to ukiyo-e: “It means ‘pictures of the floating world,’ [Schuyler’s sensei] said, smiling faintly, as if she’d just laid down a winning card. She knew I dabbled in painting and she’d probably found a way to spark her flailing student’s interest.” During an afternoon redolent with green tea, mochi, and the scent of fresh-cut grass outside intermingled with the musty pages of books inside, Schuyler listened to her sensei explain: “’For the first time, art being created for [the] everyday person.’”
These popular paintings of “almost everything” produced during the 17th to 19th centuries became a major export item when Japan capitulated to the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, which opened Japan’s trade routes to the West after 250 years of isolation. That ukiyo-e prints traveled far and wide through open borders was especially fascinating to Schuyler:
I was struck by the image of colorful paintings flying through the air from East to West. Over the next weeks, I found myself thinking about these paintings, broadly, in history, and I couldn’t shake the questions: what is the purpose of beauty? The purpose of art? What if the world was knit together by beauty?
In seeking answers, Schuyler wove a resonating story spanning cultures, oceans, time. [… click here for more]