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A Conversation with Phyllis Schieber, author of ‘The Manicurist’



The first great irony of Phyllis Schieber’s life was that she was born in a Catholic hospital. Her parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants.  In the mid-fifties, her family moved to Washington Heights, an enclave for German Jews on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, known as “Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson.”

She graduated from high school at sixteen, earned a B.A. in English from Herbert H. Lehman College, an M.A. in Literature from New York University, and later an M.S. as a Developmental Specialist from Yeshiva University.

She lives in Westchester County where she spends her days creating new stories and teaching writing. She is married and the mother of a grown son, an aspiring opera singer.

The Manicurist was a finalist in the 2011 Inaugural Indie Publishing Contest sponsored by the San Francisco Writer’s Conference.

Phyllis Schieber is the author of three other novels, The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, Willing Spirits, and Strictly Personal.

You can visit her website at

About The Manicurist

The Manicurist is the story of Tessa Emanuel, a young woman who is engulfed by vivid images of the past.  When Tessa is a child, both parents allegedly die in a car accident.  However, the body of Tessa mother, Ursula, is never found. Tessa is obsessed by memories of her mother, whose battle with mental illness made Tessa’s childhood a secret world of intrigue and betrayal.  Now married with a daughter, Tessa must come to terms with her own identity as a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a woman—but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories and a gift of clairvoyance that threatens to dismantle her life.  At times she wants to escape this “gift,” but eventually she uses it discreetly in her work as a manicurist—where a peculiar client changes her future forever.  Mysterious and compassionate, The Manicurist is a spellbinding novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knot of her life.

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Phyllis.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

The Manicurist is my fourth published novel.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

My first novel was published by Fawcett-Juniper, a mainstream publisher.

My agent at the time made the decision.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

I don’t remember exactly how long it took to see the book in the stores once the contract was signed, but I’m fairly certain that it was at least 18 months.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

Other than the birth of my son, my first publication was the most thrilling event of my life. To celebrate, I bought my son, who was about two at the time of the sale, a toy wooden car. It was handmade and very expensive. I told myself that I would always remember that I had bought that car on the day I found out I had made my first sale.

Q: What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?

It was the pre-Internet age, so there wasn’t much I could do. Strictly Personal is a young adult novel, so I spoke at a few schools and did a few book fairs. I was very naïve about the industry at the time. I thought my future as writer was set just because I had sold a book.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

I’m always growing as a writer. The work is a manifestation of where I am at the moment. When I read my work from even two or three years ago, I always think how I might have improved the narrative. William Faulkner said that he never looked at his work again once it was in print because he was too tempted to take a red pen to it. I think it’s understandable. It’s the same reason actors don’t like to watch themselves in old films.

I see that my writing has become more controlled, more confident. I grasp the “less is more” concept and choose words with a much defter hand. In this way, I see that the narrative flow of my work is unimpeded.

Being a published author is wonderful, but it has not changed my growth as a writer. I am happy to know that my work is being read and enjoyed. And who wouldn’t love seeing her book in a bookstore! It’s always a thrill.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

I continue to be surprised and amazed at how little the industry will do to promote a writer. It’s a conundrum. You finally have a book published, but the publisher does nothing to help promote you. Then, when you don’t sell enough books, the publisher loses interest. It’s an impossible situation.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

Well, since the financial reward for most writers is negligible, the only reward is that your work is being read and having an impact on others. That means a lot to me. Even if I made a lot of money from my work, I would still feel more rewarded by positive feedback from my readers.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Write and then write some more. Write every day, and write because you must.

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