The Five Questions: Katrin Schumann

Katrin Schumann

“Were authors back then as conflicted about the demands of the marketplace as we are today?”

In addition to being the co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children and Mothers Need Time-Outs Too, Katrin is a co-leader of Grub Street’s Launch Lab, a multi-week workshop for authors launching new books and new careers. She has asked me to alert fellow writers that Launch Lab is actively seeking candidates for the 2015 workshop; you can find more information here.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

When I was writing The Secret Power of Middle Children, I soon realized that in order to make the research more accessible and compelling, it would help to begin each chapter with a character sketch of a famous middle child and allow the reader to guess who it was. This proved to be great fun and a wonderful hook. So, for example, when trying to illustrate how middles are great negotiators, I researched historical figures and spent time on Google images rather than history books or websites. A lot of what I write, whether fiction or nonfiction, is inspired by images. I came up with this (see if you can guess who it is):

“The balding, fine-boned Egyptian man stood confidently in front of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, in November 1977. As he looked up from his papers, reflected in his square eyeglasses was a room packed full of people filled with both shock and awe. The crowd was full of skepticism and hope, and hung on his every word. This was the first time in modern history that the leader of a nation at war set foot on enemy soil to calmly, logically and with great finesse make the case for peace.”

Anwar Sadat. As I was researching him, I came across a striking image of him addressing parliament. This gave me the freedom to turn that moment into a mini-scene in my book, and show a negotiator—and middle child—in action.

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

Many years ago I read a quiet book by Lily King called “The Pleasing Hour” that did not get a lot of press. I think it masterfully interweaves present day with the past, and beautifully tells the story of a naïve young girl’s awakening on a houseboat in Paris. Her most recent book “Euphoria” is getting lots of attention, but in my opinion it’s this earlier novel that is truly magical.

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

Katrin to Gustave Flaubert: “Gus, how did you have the guts to center your debut novel on the story of a bored and insufferable housewife’s self destruction?”

I’m intrigued by how novelists choose their subjects. Is it obsession? Intuition? Were authors back then as conflicted about the demands of the marketplace as we are today? I wonder if Flaubert would have imagined in his wildest dreams that Madame Bovary would become a bestseller that would continue to move people with its exquisite attention to detail more than a hundred years after his death.

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

It’s been such a thrill to hear from readers that the information in my books has improved their lives. People really do go to the trouble to track you down and share their personal stories with you. It’s the kind of thing you dream of as a writer and then when it happens, it’s so gratifying.

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

One teacher insisted that you should NEVER change point of view within a scene. I’ve read many books in which the author breaks this rule and it works well. I’ve tried, but am inhibited by this teacher’s stern admonition to avoid doing this at all costs. 

For more information about Katrin Schumann and her book:

Visit her online at:

Follow her on Twitter at: @katrinschumann



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