Six Questions with Maxine Rose Schur
Maxine Rose Schur is an award-winning author of children’s books for. preschoolers to YA.
Maxine’s advanced picture book, Brave with Beauty, told the little-known story of Afghanistan’s powerful 14th century queen, Gohar Shad, and was named Best Picture Book of the Year by the Northern California Book Reviewers Association. Her most recent books are the revised edition of her acclaimed MG historical novel, The Circlemaker, the humorous picture book, When Zissel Got Rich, and the MG novel, The Word Dancer which Kirkus called, “a page-turning fantasy adventure for kids that enlightens, entertains, and, ideally, empowers.” Maxine’s upcoming picture book is A Tale of Bread and Thread.
1. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?
At five I was crippled by rheumatic fever. Just before, I’d seen the 1952 movie Heidi, filmed in the stunning Swiss Alps. I was given a book with the abridged story of Heidi and the illustrations were scenes from the B&W movie. This was my favorite book and I made my mother read it to me again and again. I pictured myself as Heidi, leaping along the Alpine meadows. Curiously, I never identified with the wheelchair-bound Clara. As an adult I realized that this book served as a hope for me--- I would be like the future Heidi—strong and able to run. This did happen and I believe Heidi served at the time as subconscious therapy for me.
2. What are you working on? What’s next for you?
I’m finishing a YA novel, Star Brother, that’s science fiction. I came up with the idea about 30 years ago so it’s now less fictional and more science! I see it as a movie. Actually, that’s how I envision my books—I first see them as if on a movie screen. Also, I’m completing an advanced picture book biography of a woman in Mexico City, an extraordinary Holocaust refugee who became the world’s authority and champion of indigenous folk art. Her name is Ruth Lechuga and she had taken 20,000 photos of tribal life and collected 10,000 artifacts of Mexican folk art. She was a great treasure and through her I fell in love with all of Mexico’s astonishing crafts.
3. Do you ever struggle to come up with your next project? Or do you have lots of ideas and find it a challenge to narrow down your ideas?
I never struggle to come up with ideas. I have so many ideas that at times it can feel a bit stressful. I don’t have enough time to write all the stories in my head! I work only on one project at a time and often it’s slow going. I don’t write every day as I have other things I do so I prioritize my ideas. The ones that haunt me the most are the first ones I write. I have 3 more books now at the head of my idea queue. It’s a blessing not to struggle for book ideas but also a curse as there’s only so much time and each book requires a great deal of time.
4. Where did you get the idea for The Word Dancer? What was your inspiration?
I’ve always loved language and in particular, all the many fun things you can do with the English language--- the wordplay. I worked for a couple of years as a full time writer for a 6th grade Language Arts textbook and I had to come up with all sorts of fun wordplay: spoonerisms, palindromes, metaphors, riddles, poems homonyms etc. In The Word Dancer I created an adventure story but one that contains a good deal of wordplay. I had a lot of fun creating chants, poems, riddles, metaphors, similes, rhymes, word puzzles that I integrated into the tale. And, though it’s a fantasy, it has a touch of Elizabethan speech here and there and that was fun to do.
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
When I got the idea for the book I had a job with a long commute so much of the plotting occurred while I drove. Because of this, the book took 3 years to write. The publishing part was depressing. I couldn’t get an agent to take it and I got a truckload of rejections. Yet when it finally got published, it garnered terrific reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly with these words: “Masterfully plotted… glittering with intrigue and mystique, the prose shimmers, a page-turning fantasy, a memorable read, lyrical and propulsive, brimming with amusing and innovative ideas.” So when I teach children’s book writing, one of my main points is to have faith in your work. Don’t give up!
6. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
I’d want to leave kids with respect for words. The phrase “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” is false. Words can hurt. Even one word has enormous power and because of this, we must use words as ideas, not weapons. I’d also want to leave kids with an inventive approach to words. The English language is extremely rich in opportunities for wordplay. Shakespeare certainly knew this! I invite kids to play with language— to create their own rhymes, definitions, jokes etc. There are so many fun ways to explore the power and the beauty of words.