Neal Schusterman


Today author Neal Shusterman joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Neal is the author of over two dozen books, including Tesla’s Attic, UnWind, UnStrung, UnWholly, and UnSouled. In addition, Neal is the author of several “How to Host a Teen Mystery” and “How to Host a Murder” games and the “Armchair Detectives” Mystery Jigsaw Puzzles

How did you get started writing?

I always enjoyed writing as a kid, but it was my ninth grade English teacher who really made the difference. She challenged me to write stories for extra credit.  She really nurtured my talent, and encouraged my interest in writing.

Who influenced you?

Teachers who encouraged me along the way, as well books that stuck with me, particularly “the Lords.”  That would be Lord of the Rings, and Lord of the Flies.  Very different, but just as influential for me.  I think Kurt Vonnegut’s work really teased out a sense of dark humor, and a desire to write science fiction with a literary bent. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series gave me a sense of the comically absurd. John Irving helped me to understand depth of character. I’m still influenced by authors and books I read and admire.  You never stop growing as a writer – that’s one of the things that I love about it.

Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

I love characters that are complex, subjects that I can’t stop thinking about, and settings that are unique, yet strangely appropriate. As a writer, I find the characters I’m most interested in are the antagonists.  What makes them tick?  How did they get to be that way?  Can they be redeemed, and if not, what is their fate?  Along those lines I would say Mary Hightower from the Everlost books is a favorite character — not because I like her, but because I’m fascinated by her.  I’m also fascinated by Starkey in the Unwind Dystology.  My favorite character of all time, though is Antsy in The Schwa Was Here, Antsy Does Time, and Ship Out of Luck.  He feels so real to me, and he makes me laugh.  Settings for a writer are like really cool playgrounds for a little kid. The more interesting the setting, the more fun I can have — but it has to work with the story, it can’t be random. For instance, I needed a sanctuary for AWOL unwinds, and came up with the airplane graveyard — a real place, filled with thousands of decommissioned aircraft that are stored in the desert at the edge of Tucson, and used for their parts.  A perfect metaphor for Unwind!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?  

Five things:  1) Write!  Don’t just talk about it, or dream about it, but actually do it. Many people are in love with the idea of being a writer, until they realize how much work it is!  2) Rewrite.  Rewriting is the single most important part of the writing process.  Nothing’s ever done the first time you write it, and you shouldn’t expect it to be.  It takes many many drafts to really write a story. 3) Deny writer’s block.  There’s no such thing. Writing isn’t always easy.  Sometimes it’s grueling, frustrating, and miserable. Sometimes it takes days or weeks just to work through a single page of your story. That’s not a block, that’s just the process.  Deal with it. 4) Read.  And don’t just read a single genre; read out of your comfort zone.  You learn by seeing what else is out there, and seeing how other authors do it.  The more you limit your reading, the more limited your writing will be. 5) Persevere!  You probably won’t sell your first novel. I didn’t.  It was my third novel that sold.  My first two will never be published because they’re awful. Of course at the time I thought they were good, but only in retrospect could I see how much further I needed to come as a writer.  It takes time to learn the craft of writing — much more time than any of us expect, and perseverance is the only way to get there.

Where is your favorite place to write?  

The Sistine Chapel.  Seriously.  I went to Rome, took a tour of the Vatican, and sat in the Sistine Chapel, beneath the greatest work of art ever created by mankind, and for two hours wrote in my notebook, looking up whenever I felt like I needed some creative inspiration.  I also love writing on cruise ships.  I’ll take cruises as writing retreats -  I don’t get off the ship. I just hang out, on deck or in a lounge looking out over the ocean, and I feel so creative, the words just pour out!

What else would you like to tell us?

I’m very excited about my next three books that are coming out!  UnDivided, the concluding book of the Unwind Dystology, in mid October, and Edisons Alley, the second book of the Accelerati Trilogy  (co-written with Eric Elfman) in February.  The third book, which is my most ambitious yet, and most personal is Challenger Deep, coming out in April.  It deals with teenage mental illness – a subject that needs a great deal of attention.


Neal, thank you so much for spending six minutes with LitPick and our readers! A extra special thank you to LitPick member Lori Castello for suggesting we interview you!