The 5-Question Interview: Christine Schwab
The writer talks about tempering fear with passion, the warning signs of repetition, and being a trendsetter, not a copycat.
Christine Schwab is the author of The Grown-Up Girl’s Guide to Style and Quickstyle (published under her maiden name, Kunzelman). She has talked about style on Oprah!, NBC Nightly News, CBS-The Early Show, The Today Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, Rachael Ray, Inside Edition, CNBC News, Fox Network News, E! Entertainment and Weekend Today. She is a former contributing style editor to Redbook, and has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and many, many others.
Meredith: How do you balance the outer world of beauty with the inner world of writing when you create? Is it seamless or conflicted? Is the intersection, in fact, quite natural?
CHRISTINE: For me the intersection is totally natural. I never have to stop and think about it. My world of fashion and beauty is part of me, it comes out on my pages in many different ways. My insight into people. My visual analysis of situations. My love for texture and color. I know some writers can go completely out of their realm and write. I am not one of them so far. .. Everything I write reflects on my background, my career in television and fashion and beauty, and who I am as a person. Having just finished my first fiction book after publishing two books of non-fiction, I am seeing how characters take on a life of their own and have the ability to take me, as the writer on a journey totally unplanned. It’s exciting and stimulating to realize that I may indeed go down different paths as I write more fiction. And who knows, someday I may write something totally unique when it comes to my life and experiences. I look forward to exploring fiction more and seeing where it takes me. It’s like moving to a new place, taking a new job, or going back to school. You never know how you will come out from the experience, but the journey is fascinating.
Meredith: Some people refer to their creations as their children. How about you?
CHRISTINE: I just finished my first novel and fell so in love with the characters and the journey they were taking me on that the day I wrote the last sentence I actually felt a sense of loss and cried. And for several more days I felt empty, missing my new found friends. Before, the closest I came to this feeling was with my first two non-fiction books when I mailed the package off to my agent. I actually wrote Federal Express with a commercial idea: how as a writer I felt as if I was packing up my first born and shipping him off. Of course Federal Express hires one of the most prestigious public relations companies in the world to do their commercials so they passed on my idea. Still, as I handed the package over to the Fed Ex man my emotions were raging. I had worked so hard to turn my pages into a story and now it was in someone else’s hands. Out of my control. Now, with everything electronically transferred, it is the same feeling when I press the send button on my computer. How can we not feel so close to our work when we put our heart and soul on the pages?
Meredith: Is fear ever an issue, like does your creativity measure up? How do you temper fear?
CHRISTINE: Most successful writers I know have either fear or extreme nerves over a project. I find this good because it means you’re making demands of yourself. Fear is always an issue for me. Some days I feel like I can do anything. Other days I read my words and question what I have written. As in the television world where I have worked for many years, one always questions their talents. I feel because we put so much of ourselves out there when we write and read, or submit, or go out to sell, how can one not be afraid? Rejection is tough, no matter how experienced a writer you are. I know a writer who has written and sold over a dozen books and with each new book she expresses fear.
I have written and sold two books and now I have a novel out in the “for sale” world and I am once again in my fear mode. Will it sell? One day I know it will: it’s good, it’s timely and well written. The next day I think of all the reasons it won’t sell: the economy, it’s too long, it’s my first work in fiction and I am known for non-fiction. Try as I might, I can’t stop vacillating back and forth. Can any writer? I have all the ‘believe in yourself’ slogans surrounding me. I wear a good luck bracelet. I am a great believer and a very positive person and yet fear sneaks up on me. However I think fear makes us try harder, grow as writers and move forward because those victories are oh so sweet.
I temper fear with passion. I remind myself how happy writing makes me. How much I adore the process. As I sent this last book to my agent I asked my husband to remind me when I get down about the enjoyment I had in writing. I cut out encouraging sayings and tape them all around my desk:
If everyone thinks your ideas are good they aren’t ideas, their copies.
I will write myself into well being.
If it was easy everyone would be doing it.
Fear? Yes, it’s part of being a writer for me.
Meredith: When you write and report on image and style, does your mind wonder first what you would like, or what others would? Do you think about pleasing the crowd?
CHRISTINE: I have to write about what I believe, even if it gets me in trouble. That said, isn’t it the perfect solution to write what you believe in that makes readers happy? That is a best seller Don’t we all want a best seller?
If I write only to please readers I’m not giving any honest information, just copy-cat words. My job is to look at the trends and translate them for real people. Not fashion people. Not designers. People who will go to the stores and spend their money on what they feel are the most important purchases. Especially today, when money is tight you don’t want to invest in fads, you want longevity. In The Grown-up Girl’s Guide To Style I spoke from experience and honesty. People loved me or disliked me because I didn’t always tell them what they wanted to hear, I told them what they should hear. I feel that my value as a fashion writer is to help people. Style is something anyone can learn. I look at my job as being a teacher. I have great experience, I want to share it with readers. I never want to be a copy-cat. After my book came out many other books followed that adopted much of my philosophy. That’s when I know I’m doing my job.
Meredith: Once you have the basic idea for what you will be writing about, how do you expand on it? Now answer this: How do you know when enough is enough—a line in an essay, a chapter in a book?
CHRISTINE: You have to write what you know. I have never found it hard to fill up a book because I always write what I know and believe in. If you’re reaching for fillers you are most likely on the wrong topic. I feel when you’re writing what you know the words flow. Sure you come to a glitch every now and then, but basically you know where you’re going and how to get there.
I think you know enough is enough when you start repeating yourself. You fill in with long descriptions or dialogue that slows the story. You start looking at other books or magazines and pulling ideas from them instead of from your own head. I believe the more I can take someone into my head, the better the journey. The deeper I dig, the more fulfilling the work, for both me and my reader.
Christine lives with her husband in southern California where she is at work on a second book of fiction. “While many writers only deal with the ‘art,’ I feel you must take a look at the climate and write accordingly. My 25 years in front of the television cameras taught me to flow with the tides. Unless you are only writing to please yourself, you need to see what’s selling, or in the case of my fashion TV work, what’s hot and what’s not. Hot sells. It doesn’t mean you are selling out by any means, it simply means you are being smart,” she says. You can get to know more about her at her website, right here.