Teresa Schulz is from New Zealand and writes fast paced, post-oil dystopian thrillers. Her stories are based in future rural NZ and contain just the right balance of gripping tension and Kiwi humour. Barbed Wire and Daisies is a prime example - a book set in 2030, when world wide oil supplies come to a grinding halt. As our Author of the Day, Schulz talks about doomsday scenarios, parenthood and much more.
Please give us a short introduction to what Barbed Wire and Daisies is about.
The story is set in the year 2030, in an isolated valley in rural New Zealand. It focuses on one particular family, the MacGregors (Gen in particular), and their close-knit village. Oil supplies worldwide suddenly come to a halt through the actions of terrorists or pirates, and the last remaining oil tanker in service is put out of action. Supplies in recent months had been very unreliable, but as of this day, there is no more oil coming, permanently. Agriculture, transport, essential services and food supplies very quickly come to a halt. People, especially those living week to week, very quickly run out of food. As you can imagine, absolute chaos ensues in the city, and the starving hoards eventually venture out towards the countryside in search of food and supplies. The crux of the story is what happens when this starving hoard finds its way to Gen’s home in Arrow Valley, and what lengths she is prepared to go to, to protect her family.
My three dogs.
What inspired you to write a post-apocalyptic book in which a mother has to defend her family?
A couple of things really. Firstly, any parent worries about their children, from the day they are born. We live to protect and provide for them. I always look ahead for potential problems to try and prepare my family as best I can to cope with them. The other reason was back in 2011 I was doing a Communications in the Sciences Paper at Massey for the degree I was working on, and had to give a presentation on bio fuels. In my research I came across a book called ‘The Long Emergency’, James Kunstler. It was that book, in a way, and his thoughts and advice on what we should be doing to prepare for the likely future he envisaged, together with my natural protective motherly instincts, which prompted me to begin writing the book.
Why did you use an oil crisis for your doomsday scenario?
Because over the years through reading material and the Environmental Science Degree I am doing, I have learned that there is not an endless supply of oil on our planet. We have already passed its peak extraction, and the remaining oil is getting more difficult and expensive to extract. I learned how dangerously reliant we all are on oil for many important aspects of daily life, and I said to myself, ‘What if it stopped coming? How would I protect my kids?
My pet cow Daisy and dog CC
Your book also covers environmental and social issues that are affecting us today. Why did you take this approach?
As mentioned in the previous sentence, I am studying Environmental Science. I have always been a keen Science student, but I am also aware that humans, mostly, tend not to act on warnings until the SHTF and they are basically forced to change bad habits. I thought by writing this book, I could try to illustrate just how ugly humans could get in the face of starvation and panic, and how easily we could get to this stage if that precious magic oil stopped coming... which it will, in most of our lifetimes; though not necessarily in the way I imagined it.
Despite all the heavy topics, the book also contains a healthy dose of humour. Why?
I’m pleased you noticed that. J Maybe it’s just a Kiwi thing, maybe a human being thing, but I included humour in my book because, in my experience, humour helps people cope with rough patches in life without going completely mad, and feeling like giving up. (Especially as a single-mother who doesn’t get out a lot). Bob Mayer, bestselling author and former Green Beret, has said similar things in his books on coping with emergency situations. Not verbatim, but I believe the general gist of what he said was, your attitude can make a big difference to your survival. A bit of humour can help you hold it together.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I have done a little Karate training in the past, (Orange Belt). I can ride a horse, (and milk a cow) reasonably well. I am fairly knowledgeable on medicinal herbs. Reasonably good at drawing/sketching. I wanted to be a Veterinarian, however life got in the way. Living on a small lifestyle block, I once had to stitch the skin on the nose of a sheep’s face back on, either that or kill it; I chose to stitch the poor thing. And if I am in the right mood and state of intoxication, could possibly have my arm twisted to get up and sing Karaoke.
My Bilbo Baggins writing desk and a picture taken at Pohangina where I wrote Barbed Wire and Daisies.
Does your book contain an underlying message? What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Without preaching, yes. I hope it makes people think about their own fragile, vulnerable existence. Forewarned is forearmed. This future I am talking about might never happen. The oil will run out or become unpractical to extract eventually, but humans might adapt, and evolve to renewable energy or simply degrowth of the economy, before that happens. But knowing the human race as I do, I wouldn’t bet my kidneys on it. I like to give people a little head’s-up so that they might be in a better position for whatever disasters, natural or otherwise, life might throw at them.
The other message is that I have a warped, wicked sense of humour and a love of fast action stories, so if I can help that message get out, yay!
Readers report that the book is fairly fast-paced and had them hooked throughout. How did you pull this off?
I have always loved to write stories, from around eight years old. In my mind, I see scenes happening, hear conversations between characters, and imagine where they are taking me. I write them down as quickly as I can in case they vanish, as good dreams do when you wake up in the morning. That’s probably part of the reason my stories set a fast pace. The other reason is that I don’t like dithering around reading books that have far too much detail, you know, like a whole chapter on the plants and the trees and the flowers ... and you are still on the same day. I tend to skim read and skip past boring bits to get to the action, the good stuff. I ‘try’ to write stories which I would enjoy reading.
Four of my novels.
Do you plot out your books before you start writing?
Not a lot. When I get a strong idea, I like to know how it’s going to end; where my characters are headed. Then I jot down a basic skeleton of a storyline, (unless it’s part of a series, when a bit more planning is definitely called for). From there I just write scenes as they appear in my mind as I am doing dishes, or taking the dog for a walk. The characters usually dictate where the story is heading, and the scenes could be totally out of order. I jot them down and then gradually splice them into the storyline so that it flows and makes sense. Otherwise I file them away for future story ideas. I guess I am one of those annoying people, (at least to perfectionists) who never do things in the ‘normal order’, but march to the beat of my own drum a bit.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent and refuse to do what you had planned for them?
Well, as I don’t explicitly plan what they are going to do, I don’t really have that problem. Their future is unknown until it enters my head and my keyboard. But one of the characters, the scientist named Neil, was only supposed to be a minor character in the first book, and to my surprise, he has ended up having a relatively pivotal role throughout the whole three books of the trilogy.
Have changes in your own life affected any of your characters?
Yes, I think so. The author is essentially ALL of the characters, when it boils down to it, and we draw on life’s experiences to make them seem as believably real as possible. I am a single mother and life has kicked me in the teeth a few times. If it wasn’t for my strong, stubborn, resilient nature and upbringing, I could have gone right off the rails instead of heading in the positive direction I have forged for myself and my children. Those traits can be seen in the main character, Genevieve (Gen) MacGregor.
Other characters in the story are based on a combination of personalities I know and some which I may have seen in movies or read in books. Bad guys?... I guess we all have a bit of a suppressed villain buried deep in our psyche somewhere; at least authors seem to.
Tell us about your writing habits - favourite writing spot, the best time of the day to write, etc.?
I do have a lovely old writing desk, reminiscent of Bilbo Baggins, but to be honest with you, that’s really just for show. I tend to write anywhere with my laptop; my bed, on the couch in the lounge, or even outside if the weather is nice. Mornings are probably when my mind is freshest but I have to wait until the kids are at school or in the evenings after they go to bed as they are too distracting. Usually, I make a coffee or tomato cup-of-soup, and I get settled comfortably in a quiet spot, zone out on real life and morph into my imaginary world. Winter when the fire is nicely glowing, as it is now here in NZ, is my favourite time of the year. You can write anywhere really, if you are determined to finish that story.
Another picture taken at Pohangina where I wrote Barbed Wire and Daisies.
What are you working on right now?
I like variety, and jumping genres, (much to the bewilderment of some authors I know) so I am currently working on a dark-fantasy thriller, called Succubus. It is set in the 17th century in a castle in Romania. Kind of a reverse Beauty and the Beast thing where the woman (the Succubus) is the scary one and some of the men might need rescuing. Think of a blond Morticia Addams and you will get a feel for the main character.
Also a historical romance novel set in 1763, when the British evacuated Florida after the end of the Seven Year’s War. I had someone comment that I should stick to one genre, and therefore took it as a bit of a dare. But I am still working on the third year of my degree, so those ones might be a wee way off just yet
Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Just a couple more things I’d like to add. I did worry a little, after publishing, that I should perhaps have put T M Schulz on the covers, instead of Teresa Schulz, (as J K Rowling did at the request of her publisher) because some people might consider that a man might perhaps write better thrillers/ or fiction in general, than a woman. But it would have been a real pain in the butt changing all my covers and besides women can: run a country, be a doctor, a scientist, a pilot, an astronaut, a warrior ... the list is endless, so please try not to underestimate us female authors when it comes to writing fiction and thrillers. Give them a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised.
And just a little interesting side note on Barbed Wire and Daisies, the story features a cloned Haast Eagle, thanks to Neil; just to throw a little more fun and adventure into the mix.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I would love to hear from some of your readers. I have a website, https://teresaschulz.com/ where there is a Contact Tab and anyone can send me a message or questions. All of my currently published books are on there with links to places you could get a copy.
I also have a couple of author Facebook pages, one https://www.facebook.com/Teresa.M.SchulzAuthor/ is featuring the children’s trilogy I wrote called The Chameleon Shop, and https://www.facebook.com/BluePhoenixPublishersNZ/ Blue Phoenix is the name I publish under and that page features more on the Barbed Wire and Daisies, Lost Land series. Also on Twitter @vetgirl4 if you want to add me or just say ‘Hi’, that would be lovely. I did have Instagram, but I am too slack at taking photos because I am too busy writing and studying at the moment, but will try to add that later on some time.