A few pages into Leslie Schultz’s novel, The Howling Vowels, and a true Minnesota aficionado will begin to have an inkling that Schultz’s fictional setting for the novel, a town called Sundog, seems a lot like the real-life Northfield, Minn. Like its setting, the story’s plot is rooted in reality. When Schultz had trouble finding books that her home-schooled daughter, Julia, could relate to, she decided to write her own.
— Claire Walling
Why did you decide to write this book?
It’s fun to read about characters who are going through the same things that you are sometimes, just like it’s fun to travel outside of your experiences. [Plus], the quantity of mainstream fiction with home-schooled main characters has increased since I began writing The Howling Vowels, and if only one kid finds it on the library shelf and is able to relate to main character, Alexa, the effort will have been worth it.
So was your daughter the motive to begin writing, then?
She wasn’t just the motive to start writing—but also the inspiration to finish. For some reason I just thought ‘who is ever going to want to read this?’ and I think I just got stuck. But I had all of those rough drafts, and Julia would color on the backs of the pages. She would turn them over and she would read a chapter or so and go ‘mom, this is really good. You should finish this.’ She really encouraged me throughout the writing process. I wouldn’t have had a thought for the story without knowing her, and I wouldn’t have finished it without her coaching.
So a mother/daughter effort, then.
Julia provided key input for the first book—Alexa is Julia’s favorite name—and helped write the book’s lexicon. She is also following my lead. Not only did she help write the sequel to The Howling Vowels, And Sometimes Y, but is also writing her own picture book, called Alpha, Beta, aimed at getting other kids interested in learning languages.
How do you feel about being a Minnesota writer?
I think the climate of the arts in Minnesota is something to be really treasured and celebrated. I think being in Minnesota feeds that part of me that’s an artist. I’ve lived a lot of different places and Minnesota is where I feel the most at home. I think part of that is the seasons [and] the beauty of the state; part of it is the people—the friendliness and kindness of the people here, you know—the interesting quality of the people here—and part of it is that rich artistic and cultural life that our state treasures and fosters.