Unplug & Read Blog Tour: Interview with Rachel Shukert

Love books as much as I do? Great! Now turn off the TV, step away from the computer, and join up with Screen Free Week! Screen Free Week is just like it sounds: We pledge to take a little break from technology for a week in order to get back to what’s more important in life like family & friends but also for us bookworms, reading too! Screen Free Week is an effort to get unglued for a week and give us the opportunity to take a break from the media as well as get outside, go explore, and maybe do something new.

As a promotion for Screen Free Week, Random House has organized the Unplug & Read Blog Tour, bringing you reviews, interviews, and promotions to encourage everyone to take the pledge for Screen Free Week from April 29 – May 5, 2013.

Starstruck_24For my stop on the Unplug & Read Blog Tour, I got to interview Rachel Shukert, author of STARSTRUCK, to find out her opinions on Screen Free Week and a little more about her book!

Hi, Rachel! Thanks so much for taking some time out to answer a few questions for me!

For Screen Free Week, participants make the pledge to turn off the TV, walk away from the computer, and take a break from a little bit of technology. Have you participated in Screen Free Week before?
No! Not of my own free will, only when we’ve moved house and you have that horrible week or so before they come and reconnect the Internet. It’s a terrible period of existential crisis for me, like, without Twitter, how do I even know if I have thoughts or feelings? Very disturbing, and probably evidence that I could really use this. I’m terrified.

What’s your favorite thing to do when stepping back from technology? Is there anything you like to do to escape?
Actually? I really love to knit. It’s sort of a newish hobby. My grandmother was a champion knitter. She could make anything, and she taught me a couple very basic things when I was a little girl, but I never did it on my own before, I didn’t know how to cast on or bind off or read a pattern or anything. But a few weeks before Christmas, I had just turned in the manuscript for the second Starstruck book, and a draft of a TV script, and my brain just kind of shut down and I was like: “Right, I’m just going to sit here for the next month and teach myself how to knit.” And I can’t explain this, but I always had this dream of how maybe one day I would like, sit down at a harp and just instinctively know how to play it, like I had always been a prodigy and just never knew it before? That’s what knitting has been like. I am probably naturally better at it than I have ever been at anything (which is slightly disappointing; why couldn’t I be a math genius or something?) I guess it’s in the blood. It’s changed my life. The thing I like making most are these knitted toys–practically every child, and many adults that I know have received some sort of gnome or penguin or raccoon from me. Right now, I’m knitting a dragon. I don’t know, it’s very contemplative, and incredibly satisfying to see this thing come to life in your hands. And it makes me feel close to my grandmother, who passed away six years ago and who I still miss every day. STARSTRUCK is actually dedicated to her.

Would you say that the absence of TV and minimal internet helps you get more writing done or have they been integrated with your writing habits & techniques?
I’d say they are pretty integrated by now. I’ve never written on anything but a computer–I can’t write longhand, my handwriting is completely illegible and I find it too tiring. So I get into a kind of rhythm, you know, write a little, check e-mail, check Facebook, write some more. And I tend to do a lot of research in the moment, so it’s actually really helpful to be able to look something up in 30 seconds and then get back to the work. TV I use to bribe myself. “Get through this part and you can watch Game of Thrones as your reward.” That kind of thing. And it’s important to take breaks. I read somewhere that writing is the most cognitively difficult thing your brain can do, because decision making is the most complicated, and tiring, brain function we have, and writing is ALL decision making. So I’ve got to kind of feel how hard I can push myself, and when I’ve gotten beyond a point where it’s useful. And TV helps with that.

I always love hearing how each author gets in the zone to start writing. Do you employ any specific techniques or have any writing habits/quirks to fuel the process?
Panic. I’m not kidding, I find it actually helps to panic. I subconsciously push myself into this horrible place of self-loathing and doubt until I have no choice but to write my way out, so I can like myself again. But that’s just getting started–once I’m comfortably into a project, I’m pretty disciplined about just sitting down and working on it.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? And if so, how do you find a way to shake it?
Oh, God, of course! But I find I have two kinds of writer’s block. There’s the long term kind, which comes from just having no idea what I’m doing, and means I’m just not ready to write yet. This is stressful, particularly if there’s some kind of looming deadline, but in this case panic doesn’t help, the only thing to do is to just kind of sit back and let the subconscious processing do its work. It’s a bit of a waiting game, I’m afraid. Then there is the short term writer’s block, where you actually are working on something, but you just get stuck. What’s the next sentence? What happens next? What turn do you need in the plot to get to the next place? How can this be better? And when that happens, I do what is kind of the weirdest writer behavior thing that I do–I get in the shower, and I don’t come out until I’ve figure out whatever this next part of the problem is. It always works, although sometimes I do wind up taking, like, five showers in a day. But I actually think it works, because it sort of works like an isolation tank–and it’s also the only place where you can’t get online, you can’t check your phone, you can’t start emailing or Facebooking or whatever. You just have to be alone in their with your thoughts. I think the warm water helps, too. It feels very safe and womblike in there.

Of course each writer has their own unique process when approaching a story, but have there been any tips or tricks that have really helped you in particular?
It’s not a bad idea to find something that you like, and just try to write something like that. Seriously. I think the reason a lot of writers like what they like is because they see some shades of their own work in it. There’s a connection, like when people are very attracted to each other. I also stole one from Truman Capote, who said to stop for the day in mid-sentence, so when you get back to it the next day you can get back in. I don’t do it all the time, but I definitely stop a little before I’m totally out of gas, so I know I have at least a few paragraphs to start with the next day. It’s like stopping eating just before you’re totally full.

Your book STARSTRUCK takes place in the golden age of Hollywood, full of glitz and the glamor of the movie stars! How did you come up with the idea to write a period-specific piece? Was this era always interesting for you or was the idea the product of a specific inspiration?
A bit of both, actually! I’ve always loved period stuff, all periods–I love history, I love immersive worlds. And this era was a particular obsession of mine from the time I was a child. But the actual inspiration–well, there are two, actually, and I can’t remember which one came first. The first was when I was visiting my parents, and I found one of my old Hollywood books in my childhood bedroom (I had a lot of them.) I was flipping through it, and I saw a picture that I had forgotten about, of Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin and Jackie Cooper all having lunch together in the MGM commissary. They were all about sixteen or seventeen. And I thought, wow, that’s like, their school cafeteria, that would be such a great book. Then about the same time,  I remember watching the Martin Scorcese movie, The Aviator, about Howard Hughes. And there’s a scene in that where Hughes is giving this girl a screen test, and he obviously plans to start dating her, but her mother is there, she’s fifteen years old. And that was an image that stuck in my head as well. I think those two things were really the seeds of it all.

STARSTRUCK seems like the perfect book to feature during Screen Free Week since the book takes place in the 1930s, a time way before TV and internet were such a big part of life (although I don’t think they’d appreciate us turning off the movies!) – What can we learn from your characters as far as priorities and values go?
Well, the thing then was that all the screen time was communal. Going to the movies was as much about having this shared experience with all these other people as it was about seeing the movie itself. And once you saw it, and it left the theater, it might be the last time you ever saw it. One of my favorite moments in STARSTRUCK is how flabbergasted and excited Margaret (the main character) is when she finds out there’s a little theater on the studio lot where they show a different movie every day. She’s so excited to get to see her old favorites again! But that sense of sharing, of having the screen bring you together instead of pulling you apart, that’s something I think we can learn from. Media has the power to bring us together, to give us shared experiences, if we let it.

A huge thanks to Rachel for such a great interview! I really enjoyed being able to interview her able Screen Free Week and some really great sneak peeks at her book STARSTRUCK!

Also a big thanks to Random House for organizing the Unplug & Read Blog Tour and for having me be a part of it!

I hope everyone enjoyed the interview and please do give some serious thought to Screen Free Week! I think it’s a great way to disconnect and make an attempt to interact with the people and the world around us. Even if you can’t completely disconnect (like me, since I have to be on the computer all day for work), just a that little bit of time to break away from the TV for a day or two or seven can really make a difference and help you reconnect with family and friends! If you do decide to join, good luck!! And don’t worry, you still have 24 days to decide!

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