A Conversation with Young Author Alex Schnee
When I heard about Alex Schnee, an author and student at Sarah Lawrence college, and her recently published novel, Shakespeare’s Lady, I knew that I had to talk with her. We decided to Skype about both publishing books around the same time, what our experiences were like and why some view young women our age as complacent.
Julie Zeilinger: Ok, so can you just start by explaining briefly what your book is about?
Alex Schnee: Sure. It’s about the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Nobody really knows who she is, but I found a woman living at that time who has been propositioned as the dark lady by several scholars. I tried to weave together a fictional romance between William Shakespeare and this woman, Emilia Bassano Lanier.
Julie: How did you decide to write about that topic in particular? Was it born from a literature-based love of Shakespeare, a historical perspective, both?
Alex: It was definitely both. I was writing a report on Shakespeare and his sonnets and I thought it was kind of strange how very few people actually knew about the dark lady or who she was. I’ve loved Shakespeare and that time period ever since I was a kid so it was a very fun project for me.
Julie: Can you explain how you came to be published at such a young age? What was the experience like for you?
Alex: I had been taking a writing class with author Tricia Goyer. I showed her some of the manuscript and she encouraged me to attend the Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference in Santa Cruz, California. She thought I should pitch the novel to some editors and agents–which was kind of intimidating when I was seventeen! But everyone was really nice and interested in the story.
Julie: Had it always been a goal of yours to get published? Or was it something that just happened based on the experience of going to the conference?
Alex: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so it was a dream I kind of always had. I hadn’t ever expected it to happen when I was so young, though. I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Julie: Yeah, that’s how I felt about my book, A Little F’d Up– I just felt a lot of self-doubt because of my age.
Alex: Has it been difficult to balance school work and having a book published at the same time?
Julie: It’s been difficult, especially since I got to college and everything stepped up academically. People asked me that a lot in high school, and the thing was it was never difficult for me to balance the actual work in high school with writing the book, the issue was always more this weird dynamic that existed between me and other people because I was writing the book. There wasn’t animosity, but it was just sort of like I was the girl writing a book and I think it made people look at me differently. How was handling that balance for you? Did you write the book in high school?
Alex: I wrote it in high school, too. It was a lot of the same thing you were describing. There were a lot of people who were really supportive and there were some who weren’t so much. I guess you have to learn to separate the opinions of the people who are important to you and the ones of those who aren’t.
Julie: True. It’s something I think a lot about because I’m always asked if teen girls today are complacent and while I think that teen girls are capable of so much, I also think they’re afraid of the backlash that often comes with “overachieving” (even if “overachieving” really might just mean living up to your potential).
Alex: That’s a great point. I feel like sometimes it’s hard for girls to feel comfortable pursuing their dreams. And teen girls can accomplish so much if they put their minds to it.
Julie: So do you consider yourself a feminist? It seems like there’s a feminist thread to the topic of your novel.
Alex: I do consider myself a feminist, though it wasn’t something I was particularly passionate about as a teen. I’ve always believed in equal rights and equal pay for women, but it wasn’t really a topic that was apparent to me as I wrote the book. Only after I started attending Sarah Lawrence did I really realize that these were important societal issues to me–and that as women we’ve struggled with our rights even as far back as Shakespeare’s time.
Julie: Yeah, it’s interesting I just finished my first year of college and there was this clear difference I noticed just in the course of the year where girls who at the beginning didn’t really seem interested that much in feminism were starting to pick up on it more and becoming more interested in it by the end of the year. Was there something specific that happened during your time at college that made you more interested or was it more of a gradual thing?
Alex: I took a class in ancient Greek art, and it was amazing to me how there was constant allusion to the idea of matriarchy in Greek art. Greek mythology is the basis for my second book, and I was fascinated by the idea that women were once such an important part of religious ideology in the ancient world. I ended up writing a conference project, which is kind of like a mini-thesis at Sarah Lawrence, about how women were perceived in ancient Greece. I think that was what really got me thinking about our place as women in the world–historically and today.
Julie: That’s fascinating. Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and I look forward to reading Shakespeare’s Lady!
I hope that my conversation with Alex can be a starting point for a greater conversation in the FBomb community. To all the aspiring writers out there — I want to hear about your writing processes and experiences as well. Have you guys written essays, short stories, novels (etc) and are interested in publishing? What motivates and inspires you and what do you feel holds you back? And if you have published your work, please feel free to tell us about it here — God knows I plug my book on here, now it’s your turn.
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