"One of the wonderful things about writing, as compared with some other art forms like acting and music, is that you don't need to live in the major cultural meccas in order to succeed." - Adam Schuitema
Brandon Will (BW): How do you feel living in Michigan has informed your sensibility as a writer? Do you feel a need to represent something of the Midwest in your writing?
Adam Schuitema (AS): In many ways, I was conscious of representing Michigan and the larger Midwest in the stories. Like many people who live their whole lives in one state, there was initially a kind of resentment... that I'd never have the necessary material to write great things. But at some point it clicked, I embraced the unique settings and opportunities that came from writing about my particular region. I realized that, just as Stuart Dybek could write collections of stories about childhood in the south side of Chicago, I could tell stories based on my own experiences and surroundings. Michiganders are proud of their land and their lakes. And I think we're also a bit sick of being the poster child for the bad economy. I've noticed all of these little movements popping up in the state--a real resurgence of pride--especially when it comes to buying local goods and supporting local artists.
AS: The earliest drafts of the earliest stories go back about a decade. I wrote most of the book in graduate school at Western Michigan University, when I was in my mid-twenties and was doing a lot of running in the woods and along the beaches of Lake Michigan. Two of the major things that would rattle around in my head during those runs were environmentalism, and a lot of childhood nostalgia (I'd spent a lot of time near the lake as a kid). The collection took about five years to write, though I was several stories in before I started thinking of it as a book... as something hopefully greater than the sum of its parts. My agent shopped it around for a couple years, with publishers often expressing that they loved the writing but wanted to wait until my novel was complete. Story collections aren't always an easy sell. But my eventual publisher, Delphinium Books, takes chances with short stories and other literary fiction, and they liked Freshwater Boys enough to give it a home.
AS: I don't think living in the Midwest adversely affected the book in any way. If anything, I think readers on the East Coast were able to get a glimpse of Great Lakes landscapes that maybe they don't see as often. One of the wonderful things about writing, as compared with some other art forms like acting and music, is that you don't need to live in the major cultural meccas in order to succeed. In the end, the work is fairly solitary, done in a small room in front of a laptop, punching away at keys. Because of this, the history of American literature is full of wonderful regionalism, including amazing fiction and poetry from the Midwest.
AS: With the book now in print and my touring underway, I'm having the opportunity to meet more and more. While in graduate school I was surrounded by great writers, but most of them were from all over the country. Now I'm starting to meet not only other local writers but all of the local independent bookstore owners, who are critical to the success of a book like Freshwater Boys.
BW: How did your friends and family react to your stories? Did any of them see themselves in your writing?
AS: For so long--other than my closes friends and family members--the book was a pretty private thing. Then, finally, it's published, and out there for both acquaintances and total strangers to read. It's exhilarating and wonderful, but also a little strange at first. But everyone has been supportive. The conflicts in the stories are all invented, so they don't really notice themselves there. What they--and other readers throughout the region--seem to notice most are the landscapes.
One really interesting moment did occur. The first story in the book describes an old school bus sitting atop a sand dune that an old hermit had made his home for years. The bus was a memory from my childhood, located in the small town of New Era where my family has a cottage. I never knew, in real life, anything about the man who lived there. But then, a few days after the book was published, a student of mine, who's about my age, stopped me on the stairwell at school. He'd read the story, and told me he remembered the bus, and knew about the guy who lived there. It was this wonderful moment where he felt emotional because I'd captured memories of his own childhood, and I felt emotional because a fiction I'd created came smack up against reality. It took a while for me to get my head around it - over the years the fiction had become more real to me than what it was based on... so much so that I'd almost forgotten that the memory wasn't completely my own.