Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Author Interview: Caroline Carlson

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi, Caroline! Welcome to the Big Blue Marble Bookstore Blog. We are very happy to have you here so close to your book release. Before we get started, here's a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.
    But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is the first installment in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2014 and 2015.

Your book is so funny and when my husband read it aloud to my kids, I could hear them laughing and laughing. Is most of your writing humorous? Did you always write funny stories?

I’m so glad your kids thought the book was funny! I’m always a little worried that I’ll be the only one who thinks my jokes are worth laughing at. But I figure if people only laugh at a quarter of my jokes, I’ll throw in four times as many jokes as I think there should be, and then the book will be just funny enough for readers.

I love writing humor, and I find it very difficult to write fiction that’s not funny. I hate being bored while I’m writing—I’m convinced that if I’m bored while I write a scene, my readers will be bored while they read it. So I write little jokes into the manuscript to keep myself laughing, to keep myself engaged in the story, to keep myself glued to the page in the same way I hope my readers will be.

In college, I spent nearly an entire week trying to write Serious Fiction with no jokes in it. I produced the single most obnoxious, pretentious, and dull piece of writing that has ever been created. It was a crime against fiction, so I don’t do things like that anymore. I do enjoy reading other people’s serious books, though.

There is also a lot of heart to your book. And Hilary herself is very brave. Did you know what Hilary's emotional journey would be from the onset or was it something that changed as you did revisions?

One of the things I struggle with most as a writer is remembering to give my characters rich emotional lives—or any emotions at all, really. Characters’ emotional journeys just don’t come as easily to me as their physical journeys do, and that’s been very problematic, because a character’s emotions should always be informing her external actions and the choices she makes.

When I started working on MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, I knew that I needed to give Hilary a very simple, straightforward emotional journey that I could state in one sentence so I wouldn’t forget about it. And I knew that I would have to be quite deliberate about working her emotional arc into the book. I decided that Hilary’s emotional object of desire would be her father’s respect; her longing to earn her dad’s approval is what drives her forward. I thought keeping track of this emotional thread would be simple, but it actually grew and changed and became much more complex and interesting as I drafted and revised (and revised and revised) the story.

In revisions with my editor, I did a lot of work to draw out Hilary’s emotions in specific moments. It can be difficult to gauge whether you’re giving your readers too much emotion or too little; there’s a fine line between writing characters who are maudlin and writing characters who are emotionless zombies, and I’m still working on finding that balance in every scene I write.

The gargoyle is my favorite. I read on the blog El Space that the gargoyle came from a story you wrote in high school. Are there any other characters in the book that existed before--either in your mind or on the page?

I’m happy to hear you like the gargoyle! I love him, too. Actually, I have to say that I really like all of my characters, even the villains. Other than the gargoyle, all of them are brand-new for MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, but some characters were planned more thoroughly than others. I knew a lot about Hilary before I started writing the book, and I knew quite a bit about her father and about her mentor, the pirate Jasper Fletcher. Other characters, like Hilary’s school friend Claire and her governess, Miss Greyson, showed up without any introduction and proceeded to make themselves at home; I had to learn about them as I wrote.

What scene in the book do you feel most proud of? (Without giving too much away . . .) Is it one you struggled to write or one that came to you all at once?

There were two scenes that I rewrote dozens of times each: the second scene in the book, and the scene that takes place at the story’s climax. I’m sure I could rewrite them both another dozen times, but I’m proud of the work I put into them, and I’m happy that I was able to make them work more or less the way I’d hoped they would.

My favorite scene in the book, though, is one that came easily to me. I barely touched it in revisions, so it’s still almost exactly the same as it was in the first draft. It’s the scene that involves a lot of pirates standing in line to interview for a job on a treasure-hunting expedition. It also happens to be the only scene in the book that was written at a coffee shop. I don’t like writing in public places, and I prefer to write at my desk at home, but the only two scenes I’ve ever written in coffee shops (one in MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT and one in its sequel) have been two of my favorites, and they haven’t needed much revising. I may need to rethink my stance on coffee-shop writing.

When you write do you think about a specific kind of reader or audience? Do you think about what you want this reader to take away from the story?

In general, I try to write the kinds of stories that I loved when I was a kid, but I’m not usually consciously aware of my audience while I’m writing. (Now that the book is about to come out, though, I feel extremely conscious of my audience!) I also don’t think consciously about the book’s themes or messages, and I’m always surprised when my editor or another early reader points out the themes that have popped up in my manuscript. Somehow, my own interests and questions about the world manage to sneak onto the page while I’m not looking.

I know you are currently working on sequels to Magic Marks the Spot. This must be very time-consuming. Do you ever do any free writing on the side on other stories or do you strictly stay in the Pirate world?

At the moment, I’m thoroughly in pirate mode: I just turned in my final draft of book 2 in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, and I’ve been doing some brainstorming as I prepare to write book 3. I do have a couple of other projects I’m looking forward to working on when VNHLP #3 is finished, though, and I’ll occasionally take notes on those projects when I get a good idea that I don’t want to forget.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?

THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones

2. What 3 books have you read recently that surprised you?

AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor
OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu

3. What 3 books influence/s your writing?

FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA (and its sequels) by Jaclyn Moriarty

Thanks so much!

Caroline Carlson is the author of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, a funny and fantastical seafaring adventure for young readers. She grew up in Massachusetts and holds a BA from Swarthmore College and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Caroline lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, amidst many stacks of books.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1), due out September 10. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Next up: September 24th, Cordelia interviews her former teacher the charming author Mary Quattlebaum!


Unknown said...

Just finished the book as I won an ARC...it was really great! It was interesting to read how the author feels about her writing! Looking forward to the next 2 books. I am a fan as is my 10 year old!

LinWash said...

Excellent interview, Cordelia!!! As usual, you ask such great questions! I cannot wait for this book! I preordered, so I'll soon have it in hand.