Carrie is the Author in the Spotlight for the month of May here on Booksnob and she has graciously agreed to answer some questions about her books, Sex & Violence and Perfectly Good White Boy. Find out what Carrie likes to read, get some writing advice and learn the back story behind her books.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m almost 40. I’m married to a dude. We live in the suburbs of Minneapolis. I have one daughter and a dog. I grew up in Southern Minnesota so I’m kind of small-town in my ways. I mostly define myself in things I don’t do. I don’t camp, or hike, or fish or like to do things in noisy crowds (parades, malls, outdoor festivals, etc.) I’m highly boring. I like reading and I like writing and I like sitting around doing nothing.
For jobs, I’ve mostly been a teacher. I used to teach high school Spanish, until I realized that I don’t like singing, dancing, traveling or talking to people I don’t know, so probably that was a terrible fit – foreign language teachers tend to be sort of extroverted and what not. Also, I don’t really care about Spanish as a subject. Probably, if you’re going to spend your days teaching a subject, you should care about it a lot.
2. What is the inspiration behind your book Sex & Violence”?
It’s hard to remember. It started with the character of Baker. I was reading lots of YA where the girl character was this loner type with long black hair and thrift-store style and she was all ‘different’ than any other girls and I was bored of that. I wanted to see more of a Buffy Summers character; a girl who bought her clothes at the mall and did school spirit stuff and got good grades. Yet she also wasn’t averse to risk: she drank and smoked pot, she had sex, etc. Baker is kind of exactly everything a kid like Evan needed.
3. What is the inspiration behind your new book, Perfectly Good White Boy? Can you tell us when your new book hits the bookstores?
Perfectly Good White Boy comes out October 1 this year. And it’s inspired by my husband, really. He joined the Navy just out of high school and that decision has always rocked me. I liked thinking about that question: what would make you give up your liberty and choices for a career in the military? How do you get to that point? Do you think about it a lot? Or not at all?
I read a lot of stuff about military life and history and war stories. The idea that young men view the military as an easy choice – a direct route to being a man, as it were – fascinates me. Our military is all volunteer now so there are so many stories behind why all these people join. What problems it solves; what problems it creates. I wanted to show one kid’s life, up until the moment boot camp transforms him into the familiar product we’re so used to seeing and dismissing. I wanted to imagine that this was the life of a kid who is now fighting a war for his nation. This is where he came from and this is where we’re sending him. How each sailor, soldier, airman or Marine comes from a specific place and family life. Do we care about them as individuals, these people who fight wars we don’t have think about any more?
4. Usually an author puts some of her own life experiences in the book. Did you do that? Do you have anything in common with your characters?
I tend to have most of the opinions my characters have. Like 99% of what Evan Carter thinks is something I think, especially his views on women. I’m very critical of myself as a woman so that was an easy road to travel.
The lake in Sex & Violence is the lake my grandparents had a cabin on when I was younger; that’s what I pictured the whole time I was writing those scenes. And a lot of the stuff about boxing and fighting were things my husband taught me while he was teaching me to box; we used to have a heavy bag in our basement of our old house and I’d go down there and hit it when I got anxious. Which was a lot.
Also, while I don’t have PTSD, I do have generalized anxiety, so I understand that part of Evan’s life. I’ve been in therapy before, so a lot of those experiences helped me write the Dr. Penny scenes. And in Perfectly Good White Boy, Neecie is a character with hearing loss and most of what she says about that are things that have occurred to me.
5. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
I started writing poems in 2nd grade. Then I always had a journal or a diary. My dad used to bring me reams of dot-matrix computer paper from his office and I used those to write stories.
6. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
I love to read and have always loved to read. Both of my parents are readers, but my mother was really the one who got me into reading fiction. She took me to the library every week, so she could stock up on books herself. I can’t remember not being a reader.
In terms of influence, it’s hard to say. I think Catcher in The Rye is a big influence on Sex & Violence, but I’ve never read anything else JD Salinger wrote so I can’t say if he’s an influence of that book is. Eireann Corrigan’s Ordinary Ghosts and Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast were also key YA books with boy narrators that made me realize I wanted to tell a boy’s story at all.
I also really like to read books that aren’t anything like my life or like how I write. I like YA, for sure, but I tend to like fantasy and science or speculative fiction in YA, too. Big concept books are fun for me, though I don’t think I’ll ever write one.
I don’t read much regular fiction, but I love Jeannette Winterson. She just knocks me out. And I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I like to read romance novels, especially regency historical romance novels. Especially when I’m working on a book really intensely. I like knowing that I can fall into bed with a book like that, full of taffeta skirts and fancy ballrooms, and they’ll have nothing to do with what I’m writing or thinking about.
7. I know you teach classes at the Loft Literary Center. Can you tell us about some of the classes you teach?
I mostly teach classes that are based on popular YA fiction. I’ve taught classes on The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, YA dystopian fiction, and Cassandra Clare novels. I like using these books that we’ve all read as reference points to discuss what makes or breaks a story.
I’m not sure I know how to teach anyone ‘how’ to write. I think our main purpose at the Loft is to get people excited about writing and make them feel like it’s a valuable endeavor. A lot of my students just like the time and space to write; they want to sit in class and make up fake people and hang out with other kids who like to do that, too.
8. How do you balance teaching, writing and a family?
I do most of my teaching in the summer time, so I have this great babysitter come mind my kid while I do that. Which is excellent, because she does things with my kid that I don’t like to do! And I have a husband who’s been willing for the last decade to be the primary wage-earner, so he doesn’t mind that we don’t keep pace with people we know who have dual incomes. And he believes in what I do and what I could do, so this is important, because that allows me to step away from family or house-hold stuff and get my writing done. This matters, because if he didn’t value my writing, then it’d be even harder than it already is to tear myself away from dealing with endless kid/household matters. Because it really is easier to do laundry or make dinner than it is to sit down and make up fake people stuff some days.
This was more of an issue before my daughter started school. But she’s 11 now so I get about 5-6 hours a day to work on my stuff, at least during the school year. I think that’s pretty lucky of me, actually. But it’s still hard sometimes when you have a kid to put your own stuff first. You don’t want to be selfish. But I think being selfish is important, because you’re showing your kid that your own dreams and work matter to you and that you’re not always going to drop everything and cater to their stuff.
Also, having one kid makes this easier. There’s a reason I have one kid. I don’t think I could handle having another kid, really. I know other people manage this but I don’t know that I’d be able to write books and be a good parent to two or more children.
9. Can you impart some of your writing advice to us?
I think you have to find what works for you. Your personality, your preferences, your financial situation, your family situation. Telling a person they have to write every day or they have to write so many words a day or they have to write every morning at 4 am – no. I don’t know what your life is like and what your struggles are like. It’s really going to be a matter of scheduling, more than anything else. The writers who make this scheduling/time management work are ones who mostly enjoy writing, though. If you don’t enjoy writing mostly, I don’t know why you’d bother with the constant struggle to finish work or rearrange your schedule or whatever.
10. You won the Minnesota Book Award for your book, Sex & Violence. Can you describe your initial reaction when they called your name at the awards ceremony?
I really was shocked. I didn’t think they’d give the award to a book with my title. It seemed somewhat undignified, I guess, for so many smart librarians and book people to want to award a prurient title like that.
Also my husband screamed and freaked out and I was crocheting so I was trying to set that down so nothing would spill on it.
I was also very happy, though, because my editor Andrew Karre was there, as was an entire group of people from Lerner Publishing Group. I was glad to bring home a win for them, very much. They’ve been such an absolute pleasure to work with.
11. In one sentence, tell readers why they should read Sex & Violence.
It’s kind of funny, sort of sad, and at times sexy, so if you go in for any of that kind of thing, maybe you’d like it?
If you would like to win a copy of Carrie's book Sex & Violence please enter here; Sex & Violence Giveaway