Monte Schulz ‘83 attended UC Santa Barbara for a Masters of Arts in American Studies. Through countless seminars and lengthy research, Monte found a passion in American history and culture, which eventually led to the writing of his historical fiction novel, Crossing Eden, a few decades later. While he traded in writing for music producing after Crossing Eden, Monte returned to his literary passion just five years later to publish the dystopian novel Metropolis in 2022. Now, Monte sticks to a strict writing schedule as he works on the novel’s sequel, Undercity.
Q: You received your Masters of Arts in American Studies from UC Santa Barbara. Your novel, Crossing Eden, is based in the Jazz Age, a historically rich time in the 1920s and 30s. What effect do you believe your studies have had on your writing?
Studying American literature and culture gave me access to many writers that I probably would never have read otherwise. When I was in graduate school, I was not the writer I became later in life. It took a while for it to percolate. But, my studies gave me the idea of writing a book about America, which became Crossing Eden several years later.
Q: How would you describe the evolution of your writing style from your first novel, Down by the River, to now?
It’s a complicated answer. I was always interested in writing, even before I came to UCSB. Inspired by Thomas Wolfe and Carl Sandburg, I wrote poetry and a little short fiction. But I just couldn’t find the right voice until I got to graduate school. In a seminar with Emeritus Professor Lawrence Wilson, we read Carson McCullers. When I read her novel Member of the Wedding, it was a style of writing that I finally felt suited me. I didn’t publish Down By The River until six years after I graduated, but I started it in the mid 1980s. In publishing that, I began to learn how to tell a story and construct a commercially viable novel. That led to me attempting to write Crossing Eden, which took another 10 to 12 years to finish.
Q: How has your father's work influenced your own creativity and passion for storytelling?
Dad was a conduit to reading. He introduced me to many authors, like Joan Didian and Truman Capote. He also influenced me with his words. Once, we were talking about writer’s block and dad said, “Only amateurs get writers’ block. Professionals can’t afford it.” I’ve always carried that with me. Writers’ block derives from one of two things, either you’re lazy or you’re scared to write something bad. But certainly, writing something bad is better than writing nothing.
I also read some of the books in dad’s library after he died. One of his favorite authors was James Gould Cozzens, and I read his novel By Love Possessed, which was also his favorite.
Q: Your most recent project, Metropolis, was 22 years in the making. I understand that you returned to this project after over a decade. Could you share some insight on your writing process?
There were 16 years between starting the project and picking it back up in 2019. After Crossing Eden, I didn’t think I would publish any more books. I did music for a few years, but it didn’t fill up my time enough so I went back to writing. When I started working on it again, I developed an interesting writing schedule. I told myself that I had to write at least one full page before eating or drinking anything each morning, which acted as a good incentive. In nine months, I only missed 3 mornings.
Q: What specific books or authors have inspired you throughout your career?
Aside from those I’ve mentioned, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, and Joan Didion. Commercial writers like Stephen King and John Grisham have taught me that you have to tell a story and move it along. Stuff has to happen in books! Cormac McCarthy also had a big influence on me more recently.
Q: I understand that you are the owner of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. In what ways has that work been rewarding to you as a creative?
To me, it is the social element of being in a society of writers. Being around hundreds of like-minded people makes you realize that you’re not alone. I think that may be as valuable as anything you’re going to get out of one of the workshops. It’s important to understand that writing is a shared pursuit and passion.
Q: Looking ahead, do you have any new projects in the works?
When I finished Metropolis, I had this funny feeling of ‘I wrote another book’ because I had said that I was never going to write and publish again. That realization led me into my most recent project, Undercity, which is a sort of sequel to Metropolis. I feel that it is a better book, in many ways.