About the Author: Abraham Schroeder '01
Place of Birth
Amherst College, '01
School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MFA in Studio Art, '05
Amherst College Major
Fine Arts, Asian Languages and Civilizations
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I moved around a lot as a kid – Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Minnesota – and spent 8th grade through high school in Homer, Alaska. I wanted to go back East for college and continue studying art and Japanese. I fell in love with Amherst when I visited. The lack of core requirements was a big factor in choosing Amherst, and also School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for grad school. The schools trust students to follow paths of study that are personally important, with the freedom to explore varied interests, and I think I was able to find a good balance between focus and diversity of study at both places.
Most memorable or most influential professor
Professor Sam Morse was my advisor from the beginning. He gave me many valuable lessons in and out of the classroom over the years, from intense immersion in Chinese and Japanese art, to late night chats after I would babysit his kids.
Most memorable or most influential class at Amherst
Photography Professor Matthew Swarts offered the first digital art course at Amherst, I think during my
sophomore year. He really pushed all of us to not only learn the technology but to use it to make powerful and purposeful art. That experience flipped a lot of switches in my head and continues to inform my art making today.
I can't pick favorites, and I like a lot of books for a lot of reasons. My library is always overflowing with new favorites. Other than the art and reference books that take up the most space, I most often revisit compilations of short stories, sci-fi/horror, fairy tales, and mythology, and I tend to read scientific, anthropological, and historical nonfiction, the fun stuff for the armchair dabbler, like the books of Oliver Sacks and Mary Roach.
Having a toddler, I'm reading new picture books all the time, discovering gems and duds, and I've been surprised to find that some books I loved growing up have lost their appeal or are downright disturbing. A few old favorites of mine are Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, Mouse Tales,The Frog Band books, and Eloise.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.
I consider myself a visual artist more than a writer, and my working process has always begun with collecting. I collect objects, interesting or quirky or well-crafted artistic or functional items, things that might be useful someday, pieces and bits and scraps that I might reassemble or reuse, potential art projects. I also collect ideas, stories, fun facts, personality sketches, mythologies, bits of knowledge of scientific processes, art history, biology, zoology, and anatomy. And books. Lots of books. Art and writing are extensions of my process of collecting, rearranging, and sharing.
The first story I wrote that felt really meaningful was around 2003. The characters, plot points, and moral messages wove naturally through the story, I made dozens of drawings to go with it, and a few sequels followed easily. After those first steps, I started taking my notions for writing projects more seriously, and if I found some little line of thought or character idea running through my head, I paid attention and worked at it, considering carefully where it might go.
In the case of The Gentleman Bat, I was working at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, cataloging the museum’s spectacular collection of roughly 60,000 Japanese prints, and found among them an 1880s print of bats. I got this little snippet of rhyme in my head, and when it wouldn't go away, I wrote it down and started fleshing it out and making sketches. I showed it all to a friend from grad school, Piotr Parda, who got hooked and also started sketching. We passed ideas and drawings on bar napkins and emailed Photoshopped notes on each other's images back and forth. By the start of 2012, we had made slow, roundabout progress in our spare time (for more, see www.TheGentlemanBat.com/aboutthebook.html), and I was ready to take next steps with the drafts. I also had a bunch of other great manuscripts sitting in files going nowhere, so I started putting them in proper order to submit to publishers. I planned to try my hand at publishing them myself if none got picked up.
Right in the middle of that whole process, I heard about the newly formed Ripple Grove Press and their call for submissions. I'd spent months prepping for just such an opportunity, and I think it took about three days to get a packet together with a half dozen stories. Some, like The Gentleman Bat, I had labored over for years, and some, like Too Many Tables, were newer ideas in rough form. I was thrilled when they called back wanting to move forward with these two books.
Tips for aspiring writers?
1) Write all the time. Write and rearrange in your head while you brush teeth or commute or wash dishes, keep a notebook, jot down ideas, and at 4am when your baby wakes up up for the fifth time that night, obsessively go over and over the words in your head until you are sure you won't forget, or sleepily tap them into your phone with your thumb.
2) Collect things that inspire you, whether or not you think they relate to the project at hand. The more sources you have for parts, the easier it is to grab the right one when you need it.
3) Set aside pieces that don't fit or aren't working with the current section or project. In art and writing I am constantly revisiting old ideas and scrap piles, finding new applications for unused nuggets, or finally being able to realize some elusive idea that didn't come together before. With The Gentleman Bat, there was a ton of great material that didn't make it into the first book, and the bits of cut text and the countless sketches exchanged back and forth with the illustrator have become a goldmine to work with as I sort out next steps for this world we've created.
4) Write what you want to read, and what matches your values. I don't consider The Gentleman Bat a “children's book” other than that it is designed to be not inappropriate for children, and I stand strongly by an “all ages” label. We put together a book that we, as adults, found meaningful, and that we hope could be enjoyed by anyone, and it's packed with all sorts of details that could be the start of any number of worthwhile conversations and explorations for any audience. Too Many Tables is more than a little bit sillier, perhaps, but I wouldn't want to be friends with anyone who would refuse to look at a picture book, or anything, just for being a little silly.
For more on Abraham Schroeder visit www.AbrahamSchroeder.com.