With me on the blog today is another of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA: Nora Shalaway Carpenter. You might remember her from this post. She’s here to talk about her young adult novel, The Edge of Anything, which debuted on March 24. It was published by Running Press Teens/Hachette Book Group. Click here for the synopsis.
Nora is represented by Victoria Arms Wells of Wells Arms Literary in association with HG Literary. Now let’s talk to Nora!
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. My favorite food is watermelon.
2. I am a certified yoga teacher.
3. My favorite imaginary creature is a phoenix.
4. My hair is often blue.
El Space: The Edge of Anything is very powerful and moving. How did it come to be? What came first—the characters or the plot?
Nora: Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The characters definitely came first. I’ve always wanted to write a volleyball character because I played volleyball growing up and it was a huge part of my identity. However, I never found any books about teen volleyball players while I was growing up, and I wanted to change that. That’s how Sage got her start.
Len evolved because I wanted to write a character who was unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis. This happened to me in early adulthood and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what was happening, and even though I had a supportive spouse and good health insurance, we had an incredibly tough time not only figuring out what was happening, but then finding the right care. I remember thinking I was going to die. I also remember feeling so incredibly alone, like no one else had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. I later found out that wasn’t true, of course, but there’s so much stigma and misinformation about mental health conditions—and the people who suffer from them—that many people don’t talk about it. I wanted to open a conversation. The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len—like all real people struggling with mental health—is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.
El Space: What were the challenges of bringing personal issues to light?
Nora: I talk about this a bit in the author’s note, but the biggest challenge was dealing with any lingering shame I had about my own experience with severe OCD. Over the years, I found that the more I talked about having OCD, the more people connected with me about it and offered their own experiences, and the less shame I felt. Still, writing a book is a whole different level of opening up. But I wanted to. Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions, and if my story could help someone, then I wanted it out there. It’s also important to note, though, that The Edge of Anything is not autobiographical. I used my own emotional experiences to inform Len’s, but the story is fictional.
El Space: Why was the setting important to you?
Nora: Place always plays a big role in my stories. A number of important scenes in The Edge of Anything take place in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it was super important that the book be set somewhere where the characters had easy access to such a place. There are also hiking scenes, and as I live in the North Carolina mountains, I drew on my own experiences hiking the area.
Blue Ridge Parkway
El Space: I love the emphasis on female friendship. Please tell us why that was valuable to you.
Nora: I’ve always been fascinated with deep friendships—why they form and how they last. Female friendships have been incredibly important in my own life, and so I wanted to really dig into what puts one of these life-changing friendships on a different level than an average friendship. How is that bond established?
El Space: As you wrote your novel, what craft advice, if any, helped you along the way?
Nora: I struggle with perfectionism, which is basically the antidote to productive writing, so while writing The Edge of Anything I adhered to the mantra “write shitty.” It might sound silly, but my writing flows much better if I have permission to write badly at first. I even have a sticky note on my laptop that literally says, Write shitty, Nora. It makes me laugh, and it also makes writing much more manageable for me. I want my work to end up beautiful and cohesive, of course, but if you set out trying to write a finished product from scratch, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
First drafts are always bad, unless you’re the kind of writer that revises while you write, which can take a long time. But when I see my note to myself, I relax, because the pressure is off. I know I can write shitty, and so the words start flowing. Then, after I get the story out on the page, I can go back and see what themes my unconscious has put into the book, and start to tease those out. I can revise and re-vision and make the words beautiful. That mantra got me through drafting the book, and I recommend it to writers constantly. One of the biggest challenges for many writers, I think, is getting to the end of a draft when you know there are lots of things you want to fix in the beginning and middle. Of course there are and there’s time for that. But you have to get to the end so you can see the whole picture.
El Space: Did you read YA books growing up? How do you feel being part of the community of YA authors now?
Nora: This is an interesting question because there weren’t that many books designated as YA when I was growing up. At least I didn’t know they had that designation if they did. I feel like I jumped pretty quickly from reading the Berenstain Bears to middle grades like Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia and then Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. I do remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and freaking loving it. In fact, I’m a little afraid to reread it as an adult because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it as much. It’s truly a life-long dream come true to be part of the author community now.
El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Nora: Other books and nature. Whenever I’m feeling creatively stifled, I always start reading a ton and I spend as much time as I can outside and away from my phone and social media. For me, there is nothing like soaking up great books and reconnecting with the earth to get those creative juices flowing.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’m currently writing another contemporary YA. This one is set is rural West Virginia. But my next book is a mixed genre anthology called Rural Voices: 15 authors Challenge Stereotypes of Small-Town America, out October 13, 2020 from Candlewick Press.
El Space: Thanks, Nora, for being my guest!
Nora: Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Linda!
Looking for Nora? Click below:
Looking for The Edge of Anything? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.
One of you will receive a copy of Nora’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed next week sometime.
In these days of social distancing, the book club had to meet on Zoom. But they were on the same page when both said they wished the characters in The Edge of Anything were friends of theirs.
The Edge of Anything book cover and author photo courtesy of the author. Chip Bryan took the photo. Cover illustration: Fabio Consoli. Cover design by Frances J. Soo Ping Chow. Other book covers from Goodreads. Volleyball from cliparts.co. Blue Ridge Parkway map from blueridgeparkway.org. Watermelon image from download.com. Yoga clipart from 101clipart.com. Other photos by L. Marie.
Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere.
Thank you for the reblog!
Thanks for introducing me to Nora and her book. This looks like a perfectly fascinating read, one that I’ll enjoy. I like her answer: Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions and wish more people understood that. I also like Nora’s writing advice. I am an expert in it. That’s what editing is for, right? 😉
Yay! Glad to feature Nora! I also follow that advice! Yep! The editing phase is when the book really takes shape. Until then, we have permission to write crap! 😀
Great to see Nora here again, L. Marie. Her book sounds like a great read and one that could help many struggling with mental health issues. I agree with Nora’s advice on writing. Get it on the page and it can always be rewritten. This is why I love so much about writing. Wishing Nora all the best!
Glad for Nora to make a return visit, Jill. Yes, her book is very thought-provoking. I also adhere to the advice to just get it on the page and then revise. 😀
I loved this interview, Linda and Nora. Great questions and thoughtful, inspiring replies. Your writing advice to let go and just get the draft down is something I struggle with, Nora, as perfectionism is an issue for me, too.
Congrats on this fabulous book, and the one coming out in October, Nora! So happy for you!
Me too, Sharon! So cool to have two books debut in the same year! 😀
I loved your interview with Nora, Linda, which made me hanker for watermelon, not available in the stores these days, even in the rare times I shop.
Your book seems timely with a character that unknowingly is suffering a mental health crisis. I think we all feel tilted mentally with the world turned upside-down. As for OCD, I wouldn’t classify my husband with the disorder, (he’d admit he’s messy in other ways), but long before the COVID-19 crisis he was fussy about cleaning items when he went shopping – and washing his hands.
Congrats as your book launches, Nora, and thanks to L. Marie for featuring you. 🙂
I’m glad to feature Nora, Marian! She handles the subject of mental illness with a delicate touch. It’s very real and raw.
I was thinking the same thing about watermelon–how it would be nice to have some right about now. 😀
It’s really nice to meet Nora. I admire that she’s open about her OCD. I’m a person who likes to be open about challenges I’ve faced in my life, and it’s difficult to find others who are willing to do the same. I think it’s wonderful to share this in a fictional novel where it might help some not to feel alone.
The “write shitty” mantra describes exactly what I did with my WIP. I could not get through the first draft for the longest time, because I thought the writing sucked. When I finally decided to just write and let it suck, I got through it. Now I’m going through the first draft and cleaning it all up. Whew. There’s a lot to clean, but I’m pleased with how the story unfolds.
I’d be curious to know if Nora writes an outline first, or if she writes BSP, By Seat of Pants. 😉
Quick note, I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. We used to go there frequently when we lived in Florida.
Good luck to Nora with the book.
Good question, Lori! I myself am a hybrid writer. I used to be a pantser. But I found I needed at least some semblance of structure. So I make an outline of sorts, but also wing it in places. How about you?
Every time I start a new project, I try writing an outline and fail. So, I’m a pantser.
Hey, it’s snowing here!!! How ’bout by you?
It snowed in the afternoon! What a day!
Yet another wonderful interview! Thank you so much, Linda, for introducing people to new authors and for hosting the authors. It’s a lovely thing you do. I also loved Nora’s book (which I read as part of the Secret Gardener’s ARC tour) and I was – like you – struck by the depth of the female friendship that Nora depicted in her story as well as the nuanced sense of the crises that both girls experience. Thank so much to both of you!
Thanks, Laura! Yes, Nora’s book was heartfelt and soulful. 😀 Would love to hear some teens talking about it in a book group.
Thank you for this interview, Linda and and Nora! For those who haven’t read it, The Edge of Anything is awesome. I loved the sense of place and am looking forward to more of that in Rural Voices. Oh, and I already have a copy of the book, which came from my own indie bookstore, WORD Community Bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, near where my verse novel in progress takes place.
Can’t wait to have you on the blog to talk about that one, Lyn!
I remember Yoga Frog! I right now re-checked the amazon site and wonder why I never ordered it and the cute figurine for my over 30 daughter who loves both yoga and frogs…definitely now on my gift list.
As for your new book, Nora…excellent subject matter and age group focus, too. we all know/remember the angst that goes with being a teen-female and hopefully this will give some young woman support in a non-threatening manner along with just being a good read, too.
L.Marie – you are such a good friend to your peeps…your amazing interviews are proof positive.
Thanks, Laura! 😀 I’m glad Yoga Frog is on your list! I wish I had thought to include a copy of it with the giveaway for the novel. And thank you for your interest in Nora’s novel. It’s powerful and painful. I hope it will encourage teens and adults.
Glad that your book club group is staying safe on Zoom ~ love that they are holding Nora’s book cover in their hands!
Thanks, Nancy! They are enjoying their Zoom chats. I’ve had quite a few myself these days!
Hope you’re keeping safe and encouraged! 😀
Nora, you had me at yoga and blue hair 😉 I’m not a yoga instructor but I practice regularly and my hair has been many colors, including blue. Your novel sounds compelling, and my interest is also peaked by the anthology that will be coming out in the fall. I also appreciate your writing advice 😉 Linda, thank you for hosting Nora. Another fascinating author interview!
Always glad to host authors on the blog. One of these days, you’ll have to come on the blog to be interviewed about your essays! 😀
Great interview, I like how Nora has managed to channel her own health issues into this character. And ‘Write Shitty’ is a mantra to adopt!
It is indeed! I find comfort in the fact that I can write as much crap as I want initially. It doesn’t have to be good! Now I need to tell my fingers they have permission to do so. Type, fingers!
Our book group hasn’t met for two months and the May meeting doesn’t look like it is going to happen. sigh. Maybe I’ll suggest zooming. 🙂
What an inspiring interview, L. Marie, and best wishes on your book, Nora. One of our daughters has OCD which reared up after her second child was born. As I said, this was an inspiring interview and a book I will look forward to not only reading, but, sharing.
Great idea to Zoom, Penny. I’ve had many a meeting with family and friends via Zoom.
I’m glad to recommend a book that will encourage others, Penny. 😀
Amazing how much we are all using technology during these trying days. Stay safe.
So true. I’ve discovered facets of Zoom I never thought I would.
Lovely interview with Nora. I’m always impressed by authors who bring their own experiences to their works of fiction. It not only adds authenticity, but I think it speaks directly to readers, either touching their own similar experiences or generating empathy, something the world needs. Congrats on the new book, Nora, and thanks for the introduction, L. Marie. ❤
So glad to do so! And I’m grateful you enjoyed the interview. It definitely takes courage to be real on the page. I’m glad Nora had the courage to tell this story. 😀