We asked Emily Schultz five questions about her relationship with border-cities and researching the Prohibition era. You can find her at IFOA 2017.
IFOA: Men Walking On Water is a ‘story of a country torn between pleasure and abstinence’. What enticed you to write this story?
Emily Schultz: My grandfather was a rum runner in his teens. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 to drive booze across the Detroit River when the water froze in winter. He also helped move it in boats in summer. When I knew him, he was a very proud and law-abiding man and wouldn’t talk about his past. I learned that my great uncle Alfred drowned in that river while running rum and I immediately knew the novel should begin with a similar incident of a man going through the ice in an old Ford.
That being said, family histories are family histories. I have an aunt who swears Alfred did not die while rum running.
IFOA: How do you feel now that the story is out in the world?
Schultz: It never changes–this terror that the story is no longer mine.
IFOA: Tell us about researching the Prohibition and the Great Depression eras.
Schultz: I already knew a lot of the music of the 1920s and read from that period—Dashiell Hammett, Virginia Woolf—so I was just revisiting. I jotted down slang from old movies.
But really, 90 percent of any novel is pure invention. There’s a danger to talking too much about research as the set dressing can overshadow what’s human about the novel or characters.
IFOA: You’ve said you had interesting relationships with border-cities. What was Wallaceburg, Ontario like growing up?
Schultz: My parents were originally from Detroit and came to Canada when my dad took leave of the army during the Vietnam War, without telling anyone. So I have always been both American and Canadian in identity.
No matter where I am, it is like I am always standing on that line. I felt a real relationship with the river and the Ambassador Bridge, and as it crumbles and is replaced, I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to it, to the history of these sister cities, Windsor and Detroit.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Schultz: Mostly, I read short fiction for Joyland Magazine, so I am always coming across new writers who blow my mind.
My husband, Brian J Davis, and I founded the magazine in 2008 and even though we are in New York right now, the Canadian sections are going strong. Rudrapriya Rathore, Soli Smith, Francine Cunningham, and Dina Del Bucchia are all writers you’re going to hear a lot more from.
Emily Schultz is the author of the best-selling novel The Blondes. It was named a finalist for the Trillium Book Award and selected by NPR and Kirkus for Best Books of the Year. She is the co-founder of the literary magazine Joyland. Her writing has appeared in Elle, Bustle, Vice, The Walrus, Black Warrior Review, and Prairie Schooner. Born and raised in Southwestern Ontario, Schultz studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. She currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a screenwriter.