I had retired the literary Would You Rather interview series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!
Joining us today is Nina Schuyler. Nina’s novel, Afterword, will be published May 2023 by Clash Books. Her novel, The Translator, won the Next Generation Indie Book Award for General Fiction and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Writing Prize. Her novel, The Painting, was shortlisted for the Northern California Book Award. Her short story collection, In this Ravishing World, won the W.S. Porter Prize for Short Story Collections and the Prism Prize for Climate Literature and will be published by Regal House Publishing in 2024. She lives in California.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I walk a lot, miles and miles, always with a pen (see below) and paper just in case. But rarely do I write anything down; I let my mind wander and become diffuse. I live in a place with a lot of trees and green, all different shades. Birds, coyotes, deer, and raccoons, they are neighbors. People in my area love to grow flowers and there are a handful of master gardeners, so in the spring in summer, there is immense color. To move from the white page with black text to the proliferation of color is astonishing. To go from the imagined to the real, it’s what my body and mind crave when I’m not writing.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I live with three males, my husband and two sons, which means I’ve cultivated lowering the toilet lid to an art. It’s a necessity so the fumes of piss don’t overtake the house. I also invested in the slow-lowering lids and attached them myself, so when the lids hit the toilet seat there is barely a whisper. It’s like a leaf falling. The slow-lowering lid is an art in itself, defying gravity, and deciding on its own terms how it will fall. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?
I have a favorite pen, the Pilot Precise V5 RT (sounds like a jet plane), and when I discovered it, I bought 20, plus ink refills. I have far too many but my anxiety about losing my favorite pen and running out of ink is alleviated, which, I think, was the point of the purchases. Though it might also be that I always need my favorite pen with me, so there’s one at my desk, several in my backpack, my coat pocket, in my car, and on my nightstand. If I find one of the 20 has migrated to somewhere else in the house, I quickly return it to its home. I don’t trust my family to give it the same respect.
Describe your book in three words.
Love, AI style
If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?
To Virginia, who is 75 years old and a pioneer of artificial intelligence, I’d say: do you see equations everywhere? Is everything translated into numbers? I’d ask: with your blinding intelligence in this area, where are we headed? Should a machine be held accountable for its actions? What will be the relationship between humans and machine? I’d ask: if you wrote a novel and put yourself in it, would it be like the one I wrote? What did I overlook? I’d say: I admire and adore the depth of your love and your ambition and your intelligence.
Would you and your main character(s) get along?
Oh, yes! Virginia and Haru, her math professor whom she fell madly in love with, are fascinating! They live the life of the mind and are far smarter than me. It would be so stimulating to meet them. I think I’d form a book club and give Virginia and Haru a novel to read. Perhaps we’d read The Door, by Magda Szabo, with her very complicated female character, Emerence. Or maybe one of the Elena Ferrante books, My Brilliant Friend. I think Virginia would love that book with the girls’ fight for an expansive life. We’d sit and talk for hours about life, death, AI, the eroticism of the ideas, and what is intelligence, exactly. I’d marvel at the acreage that their minds travel with their history of abundance and intense deprivation, and what ultimately gave them deep pleasure.
What is your favorite book from childhood?
So many! But I’ll go with the Cowboy and His Friend because I still have the book and the teal cover is so water-marked, it looks like I read it many times and at least a couple of times in the bathtub. It’s about a boy and his imaginary friend, the Bear, and they do everything together. Perhaps this was the first nudge that the imagination can fill a void, the lack that Lacan speaks of. Perhaps this was the beginning of understanding that the imagination can create an entire world that is utterly compelling.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve given/received as a gift?
A goat. My friends and I bought our good friend, Libby, a goat, for her fifth or sixth birthday. I’m not sure why we did it, but it was a fun goat and she got to keep it for a while. Somehow it knew how to play tetherball, batting the ball hung from a string on a pole with its head. It was full of life and played well with a gaggle of young girls who loved it. I think, ultimately, she gave it to a farm.
What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
I’d ask that younger self: What gives you pleasure? Follow that. Early on, I was a reader and I writer. I would write in a little sketchbook that I hid under my bed. No one knew. I’d write little things about the day, bits of dialogue, strange things that I couldn’t make sense of. It was there; my love of reading and writing at the very beginning of my life, but it took a long time—travels through the study of economics, finance, and law—before I found it again.
Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?
Hundreds of books live with me. When my family and I had to move, it was an agonizing and long-drawn-out ordeal of which books could come along with me, and which ones had to be given back to the world. I moved pounds of books. I have a special bookshelf for the 50-plus books that matter the most, that resonated or vibrated something incomprehensible inside. I don’t know why they made their mark, and I’m not interested in deconstructing it, but rather I’m happy that they make me feel more alive. I often feel they contain a more real reality than reality itself, whatever that means.
Lonely for the man who once held her heart, artificial intelligence pioneer, Virginia Samson creates an AI version of her deceased husband. When she’s approached by a Chinese-based company, she’s moved to give them her beloved’s algorithm so they can build an AI companion for the aging population. Soon, Haru starts spying on Chinese citizens, funneling the information to the Chinese government. When Virginia frantically tries to rebuild him, she uncovers his terrible secret, forcing her to decide whether to keep him or kill him. Afterword explores what it means to be human and is a moving testament to the deeply human desire for belonging, companionship, and love.
buy the book here: