Our guest: Cori McCarthy is a Michigan-based author of YA fiction. Her latest novel, Breaking Sky (read our review HERE), comes from Sourcebooks, and follows her debut, 2013’s The Color of Rain, from Running Press. Breaking Sky is being developed into a film by Sony Pictures and Josephson Entertainment.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
My dad read The Hobbit to my brothers and me at a very young age; I was about five. My brothers were older and appreciated it more, but I was determined to pretend like I understood the story and characters. I was particularly terrified of Gollum and grew up believing that at some point, my whole life might come down to a game of riddles.
I identify with Sara-Louise in Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved. I know that that story is largely about jealousy, but I’ve always attached to the character’s innate sense of loneliness and how she is emotionally marooned and yet still self-determined.
Melina Marchetta. I simply love her realistic contemporary books Jellicoe Road, Saving Francesca, Looking for Alibrandi, and The Piper’s Son. But then I also LOVE her fantasy trilogy, Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn. Those books will be re-read many times throughout my whole life.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
First off, Tim Wynne-Jones (left, Photo: Richard Lautens, Toronto Star) because he is the life of any fun party. Secondly, Harry Potter because he deserves to have a good time for once. Thirdly, Melina Marchetta because she is by far my absolute favorite writer, and then fourthly, YA author Amy Rose Capetta (right, Photo: Cori McCarthy) because she is by far my absolute best friend. Finally, Walt Whitman because I love him, and I believe that his poetry appeals to all age ranges.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Honesty and nuance. There is a struggle in children’s literature right now to show an appealing character versus an authentic character. I don’t believe that we do young readers any favors by painting everyone as good or evil, or by dividing all character traits into categories of angelic or horrid. In Breaking Sky, the main character is incredibly self-centered. It would have been a lot easier to write a character whom everyone loves inside and out, but I wanted to show that jerks can be main characters as well—that they have fascinating and important emotional journeys too.
As another example, my new book coming out next March (from Sourcebooks Fire) entitled You Were Here has one teen character who smokes and one teen character who drinks. The story is not about the ills of teenage drinking and smoking, and by including these characters’ choices, I’m inevitably inviting a reader to ask, “Why don’t you show them learning a lesson about how horrible cigarettes and alcohol are?” Within the story, these characters authentically have addictions, and these addictions don’t make them evil. At one point, both characters will have to quit these habits, but that’s not part of this story.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Someone recently complimented me on having strong (but not necessarily likable) protagonists who have steep character arcs. I’m rather proud of this as I believe that the main character’s emotional journey should be at the heart of the story. For this reason, I will strive to always put an intense, realistic emotional journey at the very center of my books.
I would love to be Katsa in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. This is mostly because I am a romantic at heart, and I simply love Katsa’s relationship with her beau, Po. Plus, Katsa’s “grace” is extreme capability, resourcefulness, and heartiness. Who wouldn’t want to come back as a person who can set his or her sights on anything and accomplish it?
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Oh wow, what a question. I wish I could go back in time and do something to help my debut novel, The Color of Rain, find her audience. (Editor – The Color of Rain was released in 2013, by Running Press.) The book was marketed under a variety of flags like edgy, bleak, and sci-fi. But honestly, it is a literary fiction-friendly story (heavily lyrical) about human trafficking and the debilitating effect of using your own body as a commodity. I wish that book had found the readers who need it: Teenage girls who have gone too far for love and need to find a way back to owning themselves.
Marion Dane Bauer (left), my mentor at Vermont College of Fine Arts, encouraged me to find my own story—to find the one story that I’m telling over and over again through the variety of manuscripts and books that I write. Knowing my own story has helped me keep an eye on the core issue of every book that I write and given me the courage to allow my writing to be a cathartic journey.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I work in a variety of places, so this is tough! Sometimes I write on the couch, beside many, many shelves of gorgeous books. Sometimes I write in my local Panera because having the world’s white noise around can make the revision process much less taxing.