Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Emily Schultz

Blonde ambition

With the release of her third novel, one of Canada’s most promising young writers is poised for her breakout moment

By Vit Wagner

Emily Schultz has been a steadily rising star in the Canadian literary firmament since the publication a decade ago of her debut, Black Coffee Night, a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for a first book of short fiction.

Since then, Schultz has published a poetry collection and two novels, all to positive notice. Upon the release of her first novel, 2005’s Joyland, she was hailed in The Globe and Mail as “one of tomorrow’s Ondaatjes and Munros,” a forecast that seemed prescient when, in 2010, Schultz’s second novel, Heaven Is Small, was a Trillium Book Award finalist on a list that included fiction by Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, and Anne Michaels.

It’s no surprise, then, that expectations are ramping up in advance of Schultz’s forthcoming third novel, The Blondes, which shoulders the added freight of being the author’s first for a major multinational publisher, Doubleday Canada (a division of Random House of Canada).

“I felt more pressure to try to get it right this time,” Schultz allows. “I felt I needed to be less self-indulgent. There are things we like to do as writers that are sometimes bad habits. With this book I tried to weed out more of my bad habits.”

Aiding in that objective is Doubleday Canada publishing director Lynn Henry, who, in her previous gig as publisher at House of Anansi Press, had worked with Schultz on Heaven Is Small.

“The stakes are higher,” says Henry. “But after the success of Heaven Is Small they were going to be higher no matter where she published. Anansi has a reputation of doing big things with writers that not everyone has heard about. So whether it was Anansi or Doubleday, there was going to be some expectation around this book.”

Due out Aug. 14, The Blondes is similar to its predecessor in blending fantastical and realistic elements. Heaven Is Small is about a writer who winds up proofreading romance novels in the afterlife. The new novel is about a pregnant cultural studies Ph.D. candidate struggling to complete her thesis and reunite with a former professor who is also father to her unborn child. It is set against the backdrop of hysteria around a plague that turns blonde women psychotic.

Much of the novel is set in New York City. Schultz and her husband, fellow author Brian Joseph Davis, moved from Toronto to Brooklyn in 2010 so that she could fine-tune episodes in the book, including a passage involving a blonde attack in the subway.

“When I had written that scene the first time in Toronto, it read very well to me,” says Schultz, on the line from Brooklyn. “Then I moved to New York and realized if I set the scene at that time of day, the subway would be way busier than how I’d written it, so I needed to bump it back to 2 p.m. from 5 p.m. I also realized that New Yorkers don’t act the way Torontonians act. There would be some standoffish people, but then there would be other people trying to help.”

Schultz adds: “I love all of those little details because they help readers believe in the story. Especially writing something fantastical, I feel I have to convince the reader that much more.”

Slated for release in the spring, The Blondes was delayed by a series of personal events, including the birth of Schultz’s son last October and the death of her father in March. Coincidentally, the novel also deals with pregnancy and the death of a parent, although Schultz was well into writing the story before her own pregnancy began.

“I wrote it straight through, based on what people had told me about pregnancy and what I read about it,” she recalls. “Once I was pregnant myself, I added more from what I knew first-hand. I was glad that what I had written the first time had held up. It just needed to be a little more authentic.”

Parenthood has imposed its own agenda. Dividing time between Brooklyn and Wallaceburg, Ontario, where Schultz and Davis both grew up, she has had to relinquish editing chores at Joyland, the online literary journal she co-founded with her husband, as well as the ebook imprint Joyland Books.

“Right now I’m in baby rhythm,” Schultz says. “I’ve been trying to start new projects, and it is really difficult. But I will have to figure it out, that’s for sure.”

While Schultz’s next book may take some time, her editor at Doubleday Canada has every confidence in her continued progress.

“Emily’s process has been slow and steady,” says Henry. “Now she’s at a point where you want to see her go to the next level with her visibility and her audience. She’s poised to do that through her own work and the recognition that she’s received, but she is mature both as a writer and as a person who understands what it means to be a writer.”

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