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Capturing Culture: An Interview with Amy J. Schultz, author of Mumentous

Schultz

Amy J. Schultz is an author and award-winning photographer who explores unique aspects of modern culture that hide in plain sight.

Amy and her husband Brian live in Texas with their gigantic golden retriever, Bentley.

When she isn’t talking about homecoming mums, Amy is writing, taking photos, working with clients on creative projects, traveling, snort-laughing, or vacuuming up dog fur.

Mumentous is Amy’s first published book, which was nurtured during her tenure as Artist-in-Residence at the Arlington Museum of Art in Arlington, TX. Her first “books,” however, were collections of three-year-old Amy’s stick figure masterpieces stapled together by her mother.

You can buy Mumentous here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.


Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

For ages, my working title for Mumentous was “Mum’s the Word,” but I never got fully attached to the idea. I then got fully detached after I realized that the word “mum” does not mean the same thing to everybody, which renders the phrase “Mum’s the Word” even more confusing. A confusing title is NOT a good title, so I kept thinking. I knew I wanted to portray the scale of mums in the title, as well as their importance within their cultural context. This led me to the notion that a Texas-sized homecoming mum is a momentous occasion to the person who wears it, and the portmanteau within a tagline was born: “all that really mattered is what the MUM-MEANT-TO-US.”

Side note: If making up a word is fun, then making up two words is twice as fun. It was at least twice as fun when “mumtrepreneur” popped in my head while I was writing the chapter about the thousands of mum-making businesswomen across Texas and beyond.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

When the first proof of Mumentous arrived in the mail, it was thrilling. With its hefty 9×9” dimensions and hard cover, it seemed so substantial. I hugged it. I hugged my dog while I hugged it. I made my husband take a picture of me hugging it. Imagine my surprise the next morning when I woke up to find Mumentous on the floor with teeth marks across the spine. Apparently during the night, my dog had hugged it with his giant golden retriever mouth.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

The subject matter compelled me to write about it. The first time I took photographs of a group of women making mums together, I knew there was something there. This particular group was making mums to sell as a gigantic fundraiser for the local high school marching band. Several things struck me. First, not every woman was good at crafting, but everyone found a way to contribute to the cause (including me—I cut ribbon into equal lengths). Second, although the women were very different from one another, they all were there to support a student who meant a lot to them. Noteworthy (to me, anyway) was that not a single band member, student, or man was involved in the herculean effort, which instead fell entirely on moms, aunts, grandmothers, and other adult women.

Then there were the feelings I experienced which I didn’t expect. The camaraderie was palpable as the group pulled together for a common goal. It had the vibes of a barn raising or quilting bee from generations past. Because the group was made up entirely of women, there was also something sorority-like about the scene, and it took me back to my own college years of staying up half the night in the chapter room with my sisters, getting decorations ready for bid day or Parents Weekend or the homecoming parade.

These loosely-connected impressions came together after I showed my photographs to a mentor. Her feedback was that I had something, but probably only 10% of something. In that moment it was clear I had a photography project on my hands. When I knew I had a full book came later when the scale of it all truly sunk in. Women, whether in groups or individually, were making mums for kids every single year, in every town, all over the state of Texas. Women, not kids, were and are keeping the tradition alive, because that’s what women do. And Texas is a really, really big place.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve worked in creative and corporate communication roles nearly all my life, which helped make me a writer but not an author. Photography was the first step to me becoming an author. Taking photos connects me with the world in meaningful ways. Sometimes details become the center of attention, and other times something in the peripheral becomes unexpectedly substantial. Doesn’t this sound like the essence of character development? I’ve learned so much through photography. It slows me down, and it helps me really see.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The most meaningful part of Mumentous was the moment I first wrote my own mom into the story. It was not something I expected or planned to do. She passed away a few years before I began working on Mumentous, and it was really nice to spend time with her again.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I love this question! I actually created a Mumentous playlist on Spotify as a creative exercise. My playlist is a mighty mix including but not limited to The Victors by the University of Michigan marching band, Homecoming by Hey Monday, We Are the Champions by Queen, Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen, Homegrown by the Zac Brown Band, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, Get the Party Started by Pink, and every version of Cotton-Eyed Joe I could find.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Bottom line: If it weren’t for women, there wouldn’t be homecoming mums, and there sure wouldn’t be a book about them. Women are society’s tradition-keepers, so whether we’re talking about mums or Christmas trees or packing up the kids to go to Grandma’s house every year, chances are there’s a matriarch making it all happen. So if I had to describe the “perfect reader” of Mumentous, it would be a person who is not only seeking a deep dive into a fascinating regional tradition but into a larger societal zeitgeist.

Specifically, I hope readers find the combination of my photography and narrative storytelling entertaining, thought-provoking, humorous, and heartfelt. I also hope they learn something about the evolution of the homecoming mum tradition as well as where it stands today, including how team sports have become platforms for self-expression, the roles women play within their family and community, and how women-owned small businesses are contributing so significantly to our economy. For readers who are familiar with homecoming mums, I especially hope that the anecdotes within Mumentous resonate with their own experiences.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’ve written a first, terrible draft of one chapter of a second book! Like Mumentous, it will be another sojourn into a uniquely American tradition through my original photography and mostly-true storytelling.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

What I appreciate most about the team at Atmosphere Press is their genuine enthusiasm for their work. As a first-time author, I asked a mind-numbing number of questions to which I always received thoughtful and thorough replies. Because my book is not a standard paperback, the cover and interior design process was additionally laborious for everyone, yet there was nothing but positivity from start to finish. My editor B.E. was particularly wonderful.

My message to aspiring authors is don’t work in isolation. Join a writers’ group. Seek out a mentor. Ask for feedback on your manuscript. And offer your help to other writers, too.


You can buy Mumentous here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

atmosphere press

Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below. 

Atmosphere Press was founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome.

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