Thursday, May 07, 2009

Interview with Carol Lynch Williams

I am happy to present my interview with Carol Lynch Williams author of the powerful new YA novel, The Chosen One. Her book is releasing May 12th. My review of The Chosen One. Here is my take on it, "This book is well-written; fascinating; compelling; powerful. I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend this one. I just loved it. Loved Kyra. Loved her story. It's an emotional roller coaster, no doubt, but definitely worth it!"

Can you share with us a little bit about your background and your journey towards becoming a published author?

First, Becky, thank you for taking the time to interview me. And thank you for your kind responses to my novel. You made me smile.

I always wanted to be a writer. I was raised in Florida and I remember when I was a teenager I had three goals: Move to Utah (I had just become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), sell a book and get rich. I did two of those things!!! (Yes, I live in Utah now) So I started writing at a very early age. My poor grandmother watched plays I wrote, and when I wasn’t forcing her to watch those, she listened to me sing all the main parts of Jesus Christ Superstar (I was Jesus and Judas and Mary Magdalene.). I also made her watch me dance to the song Popcorn. Some synthesizer music-thing. She never, not once, laughed in my face. But I bet as she drove home she had to pull over to guffaw.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

I love making things appear out of nothing—after a lot of work, of course. I love beautiful language. I always want my writing to seem simple. The easiest part of writing, for me, is the beginning. My friend Ann Edwards Cannon (Charlotte’s Rose, Amazing Gracie, Loser’s Guide to Life and Love) says that starting a new novel is like getting a new boyfriend or girlfriend. All new and romantic. That’s how it is for me. I love the discovery of the character, finding out who she is, what makes her tick, what her problems are going to be. The hardest part of the novel is the middle. Here, Ann says, the love affair is starting to look a little less romantic. You know, you see that guy or girl you like doesn’t floss or wears stripes and plaids at the same time. The middles are tough for me! The magic of making something out of nothing is suddenly becoming hard work. But when it’s finished, when you type those words, “The End” (and I always do), that’s just so fun. So satisfying.

What is a typical day-in-the-life like as a writer?

For me, I write before my girls get up (we home school). I like to write a chapter a day. If things are going okie dokie, I can write a short chapter in about an hour. I check my email, of course. Back in the olden day, before email, I’d clean when I was having trouble with writing. Now I just check email or Facebook. Or look out the window, check email and Facebook and think about cleaning, all at the same time. I read fiction every day, and I teach creative writing at the local university.

What inspired you to write The Chosen One?

Several years ago I heard about a girl who had run away from home several times. She ran because she was supposed to marry someone in her extended family. The girl was part of a small polygamist group. At that moment I knew, someday, that I would write something to do with polygamy. That’s when the seed was planted, many years ago.

How much research (if any) did it involve?

I did a lot of research. I read many articles about polygamy, watched several specials that were aired as I started writing, talked to people who practiced polygamy or came from a polygamist background, and spent a lot of time making sure the facts for my story were right for my story—if that makes sense. This is a piece of fiction. But a lot of what I talk about has happened. Abuse occurs in all religions—and in homes where there is no religion.

Did the character of Kyra come to you all at once, or did the character take some time to evolve?

Kyra evolved. In fact, at first I thought there might be two girls, one who wasn’t a part of the culture and Kyra herself. I wrote this novel different than any other I’ve written. This was put down in episodes. It was such a hard topic, and I wasn’t sure how to get in all the back story. So I wrote scenes. Then I laid them all out on the floor and looked to see how they might go together. During that time of shuffling scenes, Kyra became ‘human’ to me. She grew spunky. She became tough. She became a musician (I have a daughter named Kyra who plays the piano, so I borrowed that part from true life).

Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene? (My favorite scene is her first experience borrowing books from the mobile library.)

I like the book mobile scenes, too. I like Patrick. He was a surprise—in fact the whole book mobile thing was a surprise to me. And I like the sweet scenes with her family, as Kyra realizes what she’s been blessed with. I’m all about relationships in my writing. And this is part of what this book is all about: someone giving up important relationships to save herself—and maybe in the long run, others—and having the courage to do so.

What was the most difficult scene to write? Which scene was the easiest?

The hardest part of this book was knowing that much of what I wrote truly happens in some homes. I cannot abide the thought that any child might be in a dangerous situation. So I didn’t relish the dark scenes of the book. When I talk to people about writing I always say, “Someone is either dead or naked in all the books I write.” When I realized exactly what was going to happen in this book, I was not happy. Still, the worst scene for me is when Kyra leaves home. I hate that she leaves her best friend, her sister, behind. I mean, what are the chances that Kyra’s coming back?

How did you choose which books Kyra would discover? Were these books some of your own favorites at her age? What were you like at Kyra’s age?

At Kyra’s age I was geeky and boney, tall (shooting up toward 5’10”—that was coming quick), super shy, gapped tooth, blond. Afraid about a lot of things. (I’m still a big chicken gut.) But I read like crazy, and as I said earlier, I wrote. I read Steinbeck, Faulkner, Welty. I read The Borrowers. The names of the books that Kyra reads are some of my favorites now—though there is one that is mentioned that I only like.

I loved the first sentence. "If I was going to kill the Prophet," I say, not even keeping my voice low, "I'd do it in Africa." Did this line come easily or did you struggle with getting it just right?

I’d heard a friend mention termites in Africa and how they could devour anything in a short amount of time. So cool, I thought. And then one day the line was in my head, “If I was going to kill the prophet, I’d do it in Africa.” It was a gift line, just handed to me. When I got that sentence, I was ready to start the novel.

What was your first impression of the cover art for The Chosen One?

“Wow! Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? This is crazy beautiful.”

I was in New York when they showed me what they thought the cover would look like. And I think I kept saying “I love it! I love it! Thank you! Thank you!” My sweet editor was pleased. My agent was with me, he thought it was beautiful. I just kept thinking, it’s so simple and yet it seems powerful, just like Kyra. Kind of like how she was when she realized “I have to get out of here.”

Are you surprised by all the buzz surrounding your book—the early praise your novel has received?

I am so surprised. Isn’t it crazy? People keep saying nice things and I just keep grinning. Especially because I know there are so many wonderful novels that are coming out at the same time. My good friend Ann Dee Ellis has a terrific upper middle grade novel called Everything is Fine. Wow (you are going to love that book, Becky. Simple and heartbreaking!).

But I am pleased and thankful. I’ve been beautifully supported by my agent, Steve Fraser, my editor, Hope Dellon, and my house, St Martin’s Press.

My girls have always believed in me—even during the toughest times (we all have them) and are my biggest supporters. They listen to every review (I don’t even have to make them) and grin with me. It’s been a lovely moment in my life, as far as books are concerned.

What would you say (if anything) for those critics who would say your book judges this alternative lifestyle too harshly, too stereotypically?

I would probably listen carefully to what the critics had to say. When you’re writing a book you do the best you can to get everything right. You don’t want to make mistakes but they sometimes happen and you clap your hand to your forehead thinking “Ack!” I’m not sure there is a perfect book. Maybe Holes and A Long Way from Chicago.

I’d want everyone to know that this book was bought a day or two before all the Texas stuff. And that I had thought about writing it for many, many years—not just because of a headline—but because when I heard the story so long ago about a girl running for her freedom I was so touched that I knew I had to do something with that emotion. So the book was in the making for a long time. And I started the actual writing more than two years before the Texas incident.

Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress? Do you have any upcoming releases?

I have a book coming out from St Martin’s Press tentatively titled Lost in Peace. It’s about a girl who lives alone with her mother who is. . . shall we say . . . having a hard time in the real world. The main character’s dead grandfather figures into the story as well. It takes place in about 12 hours or so. And I have a book coming out from Paula Wiseman’s imprint at Simon and Schuster. That book is called A Glimpse is All I Can Stand and is another relationship book, about two sisters and what happens when the main character’s older sister tries to kill herself.

How do you find time—do you find time—to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

I love to read. I don’t read as much as my friend Cynthia Leitich Smith reads, but I am usually reading two novels at a time, and something to my kids (who are older. But I still read to them.) Books are a writer’s best teacher. I just read a terrific book called Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers. Talk about a dead-on voice. Wow! I just started Cynthia’s novel Eternal and the first thing I thought was, “Why in the world can’t I come up with cool fantasy ideas?!” I’m reading AE Cannon’s Loser’s Guide (mentioned above) and enjoying the comedy of it and I started Drowning Ruth last night. So far it’s intense.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

Would a time machine work anything like an airplane? Like would it be a bumpy ride? Or snap! and you’re there (By the way, I’m working on an early reader with a friend of mine that involves a time machine. Anyway.) . . . because I really hate to fly. I guess I should just answer the question.

I’d probably take my kids places in history—to hear the Gettysburg address (we’d be ready for President Lincoln to speak and not miss his words) and Martin Luther King’s addresses (there are several I would love to witness). And if we had a lot of money we’d eat at the best restaurants. And we’d meet up with the famous writers and artists of the times. I’d go see people I admire. Talk about a home school experience!

I’d also listen for great lines from the people I was meeting and then take them home to put in books. Then I could write everything off my taxes!

Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to interview you!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Fantastic interview Becky! My copy of this book isn't coming fast enough and it's driving me nuts! I MUST read it. I hope to meet Carol when she does her signing at the Kings English Bookshop in SLC.

Julie P. said...

Great interview! I read this book last month in one sitting -- I couldn't get enough of it.

Melissa said...

Great interview, Becky. :) (Oh, and Carol, too.)

Tarie Sabido said...

Thank you for this interview, Becky and Carol. The Chosen One sounds intriguing. :o)