Today, I’m talking with another great classmate of mine, Nora Carpenter. She’s here today and tomorrow to talk about her young adult novel, A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. And no, the novel isn’t about me. But thanks for thinking of me. We’ll also discuss some trends in young adult fiction. I’ve got my coffee in front of me, so let’s get started.
El Space: Welcome, Nora. Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Nora: I graduated from VCFA’s Writing for Children and Young Adults master’s program in July 2012—a proud member of the amazingly talented Secret Gardeners! I am Associate Editor for Wonderful West Virginia magazine; I’m a certified yoga teacher; I live in Asheville, NC; and I have a wonderful husband, son, and two mischievous dogs, Holmes and Watson. Sorry . . . that’s five facts. 🙂
El Space: That’s quite all right. The more the merrier, I always say. 🙂 What inspired you to write A Beautiful Kind of Crazy?
Nora: The initial nugget of inspiration came to me because of some struggles that some of my friends were going through, things for which there were no definitive answers. I started thinking about some hard topics, like family goals versus individual goals, loyalty, and betrayal, and how a teenager might handle being pulled in different directions by different people she loved. From there, the character of Cay Zeller was born. The novel explores deep family bonds, prejudice, and what it takes to heal a cherished bond severed by betrayal. And her story turned into something I didn’t expect, which was nice.
El Space: Cool! I love when a story evolves. What authors inspire you?
Nora: Gosh. So many! Actually, this is an interesting question for me, because I find most often that books inspire me. That is to say, I fall in love with certain stories and characters. There are no authors about whom I can say I love every single thing they’ve ever written, but there are definitely books that make me think, Wow. This is absolutely incredibly done. I hope my stories impact readers the way this story has impacted me.
So, let’s see . . . some inspirational books/authors for me are: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Damage by A.M. Jenkins, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, and the Make Lemonade trilogy by Virginia Euwer Wolff. I could go on all day, because I’d say anyone who writes a story that resonates with me provides inspiration. And I think I learn something from every book I read. What really impresses and inspires me is when authors make regular, everyday characters with regular, relatable problems completely fascinating and engaging.
Also, I love when authors write notes at the end of novels and talk about how they had to write their book five or six times to get it right. That is inspiring. It reminds me to make sure I give them as many drafts as needed. I think a lot of people think authors just sit down and churn out 300 pages on the first try, and that first draft is published as is. And maybe there are some people who do that. But gosh, writing is an incredibly difficult labor of love, and it can take draft after draft after draft to finally reach the heartbeat of a story and produce something that is vibrant and true.
El Space: What writing advice have you received that changed the way you think about writing?
Nora: In a fabulous lecture, Louise Hawes explained that in order to generate plot, you should constantly ask yourself two questions: “What does my character want?” and “Why does she want it?” I have these questions posted at my desk and they led me to create the plot for A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. It seems obvious now, but it was eye-opening back then to realize that in a great story, plot is inextricably connected to its protagonist. You shouldn’t just be able to change the protagonist and have the exact same story unfold. A different protagonist would have different ways of thinking about the world, and so make different choices, and have different friends, etc., all of which would change the outcome of the novel.
Breakthrough #2: During my second semester at VCFA, I worked with the magnificent Tim Wynne-Jones. He taught me so much about craft, but one of the best lessons I learned was how to make use of dialogue “beats” (pauses in which dialogue is broken by narrative—maybe a few words, maybe a sentence or longer—that make the dialogue feel real). Not only did I learn how to make fictional dialogue more authentic, I also learned how to accentuate important lines of narrative by manipulating the sentence length and structure of what comes immediately before and after.
El Space: What are you working on now?
Nora: I’m so close to finishing the last draft of A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. After that, I’ve got several ideas, but I’ll most likely be starting a novel with a teenage protagonist who suffers from undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. People usually think someone with OCD is just a super-organized neat freak. That person may have OCD tendencies, but the illness is much scarier and life-hindering than that. My character is afraid of touching certain things, can’t stop washing her hands sometimes, etc. I’m also working on some more poems for Wild, Strong, and Free: Interactive Yoga Poems for Kids, my kids’ yoga picture book.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue talking with Nora about her novel and trends in young adult fiction. For now, if you have questions for Nora about her novel, the authors she admires, or about yoga, feel free to comment below. And thanks for stopping by!
Key from eastonclass1.bltnorthants.net. Book covers from Goodreads.