Interview with A.J. Schaar, author of The Storybook Coroner
A.J. Schaar is the youngest of four sisters, three of whom are writers (like the Brontës). Already an acclaimed playwright of small renown, A.J.’s first published novella, The Storybook Coroner, was almost immediately recognized as an “INDIE BOOK WE LOVE” by LoveReading. Her work across written mediums is most often called, ‘entertaining,’ ‘surprisingly funny,’ and ‘whimsical.’ (She is going for the record number of times ‘whimsical’ is ascribed to a body of work as an adjective.) You can find her online prescence here.
What is your favourite dragon in literature?
Of course, my first response will be: Smaug. I’d call him the OG (original gangster) of dragons in literature because he not only has dialogue—but his lines are all ‘HOT.’ ‘You have nice manners for a thief, and a liar.’ Objectively outstanding ‘BURN.’
Other personal favorite dragons would include Maleficent, Falkor, the Jabberwocky, and Figment. Cosy Dragon readers may also be interested to know there is a dragon in The Storybook Coroner, “Great Malicestriker,” who lives in the mighty tree at the Center of Asgard.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
The idea is still with me for ‘The Tuber of Terror.’ A small potato in a humble garden patch witnesses the massacre of its family before its many eyes on Thanksgiving. Then a freak accident occurs whereby the potato grows to over ten feet in size and develops telekinetic abilities. With its heart set on revenge against potato-eating humans, it becomes a terrorist, suspending its victims in giant jars of water with giant toothpicks. Not too bad for an 8-year-old’s premise? But I’ve never figured out how to make it sustain itself for a full novel, or graphic novel. It might make a better mock ballad, like ‘The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati’ (shout out to novelty records, everywhere, and may Dr. Demento be blessed).
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
My writing has improved over time in two clear ways:
One, I used to be very susceptible to voice. You could tell who I had been reading by what I’d been writing—especially in terms of rhythm and style (not content). I’m happy to say I am less susceptible now.
Two, I used to explain everything—
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
It’s very rare that I start a new longform project unless the idea’s stuck around for several years. That said, I have so many ideas that have been with me for years now, it’s wonderful to have several new projects to decide from as soon as one is finished (or ‘settling down’).
I also like to have at least 2 projects in the works at the same time so I can keep a relatively fresh point of focus on each.
What kind of research do you conduct while writing your books? How does it influence your writing and shape the story?
They say reality is always stranger than fiction, and I must agree with ‘them’ there. I research as I go on almost every project and incorporate a great deal of what I find. My favorite sources are always ‘the original source’ if I can find it; then I trust the Wikipedia wormhole; and if possible, I’ll always talk with real, living, human experts—who know true things that aren’t always publicly disclosed…
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and in what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
Tables and chairs most often… Yes, sometimes I write just sitting in a chair; sometimes I write just standing at a table—most often though, I’m writing while sitting in a chair, at a table. The table and/or chair could be anywhere.
Sometimes I just bend over to put in a small edit… but then I end up doing much more extensive revisions while I’m at it, and end up crouching or kneeling—as if I’m just about to finish it—until some body part gets stiff or falls asleep.
In terms of medium, I can only write poetry with pen/paper because I can’t write ‘finished from the pen,’ and have little arrows and additions drawn all over the pages… For books and plays, digital is so much faster (and I’ll know what I wrote afterwards. Handwriting, shmandwriting).
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I’m very lucky to have family and friends who will read and comment on my work! These days, I’ve finally written enough material that they’ve liked in the past, I don’t even have to harass them to do it. Much.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – eBooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I can’t do the eBook thing. I’d like to, because so much is immediately available. But you should see the sheer number of books in our house. And we (my husband and I) reference most of them, constantly. Any new city we go to, we check out the indie bookshops. That said, we probably order most of our physical books online—because we live in the future.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
Tough question… I’ll probably go back to revisit the classics (across genres) more than anything else. In terms of new work, I’ll probably (like you) spend the most time in fantasy, and then second place would be a tie between westerns/noir/sci-fi/adventure. I’m also a sucker for a good biography. And I’ll always stop to read a manifesto.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
Personally, I don’t check out social media at all anymore. Professionally, when it’s had to do with plays, I’ve worked with an awesome social media manager! I’ve never walked out a self-published novel before and look forward to learning from the experts as I go.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
Not when the questions are as much fun as these! I truly appreciate the opportunity to share this Cosy chat with you.
About The Storybook Coroner:
Kidnapping. Robbery. Death Queens. PsychoPumps. Master Plans. Hell Holes. Gods. Dragons.
INDIE BOOKS WE LOVE. “This is a tale full of irreverent humour, with a broad cast of gods introduced, mysteries uncovered, and grand rescue plans concocted… Easily readable and whimsical… An interesting and entertaining romp through mythology, with a modern twist.”
Learn more and purchase this novel at the following links:
Details soon at LoveReading’s Indie Books We Love