You asked. She answered. Here are the many secrets of author Carol Lynch Williams. Thank you for being willing to participate, Carol!
First, there is a lot of curiosity about your new book, The Chosen One. What gave you the idea for writing it?
Long ago I heard about a girl who had run from her polygamist home because she didn’t want to marry a much-older family member. The moment I heard that story I was like, I’ll write a book about that some day. But the story stayed just a little seed of an idea for many, many years.
Was it difficult doing research? And how did you research?
I did tons of research. I used to write historical fiction and learned then you need to know the facts. So while I was writing this book, I researched the whole time. When I started looking at this topic, everything seemed to be about polygamy—stuff for me to really study. Lots of interviews with polygamists on TV, websites helping people get away from the more strict communities, lots of newspaper reports. I found out about friends who had become polygamists, or were no longer polygamists, and I learned of polygamist groups who frown on the more strict communities. I found out there are polygamists all over the United States. And as you can imagine, they are all not like the compound in The Chosen One.
Is there a lot of creative license in the characters’ lives, beliefs, and terminology used in their religion, or is most of your book rooted in true details you gleaned from your research?
The compound, the characters, the incidents, the book mobile—all of that is fictional. But it is all based in fact. Including the stories of abuse. And the strong family relationships? Those are based on fact, too.
How did you feel during the process of writing The Chosen One? Do you get wound up in your characters’ emotions or did you take a more analytical approach?
Oh, I had a hard time with this book. The research was so hard. So sad. So infuriating. I try to stay a bit removed—meaning that when I get up from writing, I leave the story at the computer. But if I wrote not caring about the people in the book, I’m not so sure the reader would care about the people in the book.
What was the most difficult part about writing The Chosen One? Were there parts that kept you from sleeping?
The only thing that kept me awake was that I couldn’t figure out how I was going to put the book together. I wasn’t sure about chapters, how to jump back and forth in time—stuff like that.
What is your favorite part of the story?
I like the tender family scenes. I like family things. I like family.
The buzz on the street is that this will be your big break-out novel. What do you think made the difference between The Chosen One and all of your other incredible books?
Perhaps my amazing publishing house, St. Martin’s Press. They took the book under their wing.
Who did the cover? That alone makes me want to read the book!
Michael Storrings at St. Martin’s Press. He brought the cover in for me to see when I was there in New York, and I nearly jumped up and hugged his neck. I was just so happy. Isn’t it beautiful?
Now some questions from writers about your process in general.
How do you achieve the perfect balance of beautiful, descriptive writing and fast-paced plot? Do you write scenes quickly and fix the prose later? Or do you enjoy thoughtfully placing each word from the first draft?
I think, as writers, we need to get that first draft down as quickly as we can. I do not agonize over every word in a piece. I write what comes into my head. I get the emotion and the ideas down. I try to keep my writing as clean as possible in this draft, but I don’t sit pondering a word at this time. Rewrite is the writers’ gift, even when it’s hard. This gives the novel a chance to soar—become something even better than the author’s original idea. I have friends who suffer over the writing process from the very first moment, stewing over each word. That’s too painful for me. If I’m having that kind of a terrible time early on, I set the book aside. Like the one I’ve set aside about clones. But I’ll get it finished. Hopefully this year!
Are you an outliner or a discover-as-you-go writer?
Oh, a discover-as-I-go-kinda-girl. In fact, when that book mobile showed up I was as surprised as anyone!
I read in another interview that you write in the early mornings and can usually crank out a short chapter every day. Do you have any advice for writers who work at a considerably slower pace—are there ways beginning writers can learn to be more efficient with the little time they have?
My best advice is to write. Don’t wait for long periods of free time, because, mostly they don’t happen. We make time for what we love to do. So give yourself the time to write—even if you are slow. My good friend Laura Torres (she’s sold millions of copies of her how-to books) taught herself to write in ten-minute free periods when her children were little. It can be done.
How do you make time to write when you have a family? Or as Scott put it, “How do you work the effort of being a prolific writer into the busy schedule requirements of a goddess? Do your goddess special powers include the ability to warp time?”
Thank you, Scott, for the goddess comment. (Where is that ding dang tiara??? I need it for this interview.) Okay—as a goddess I never have to do anything that I don’t want to do. Someone eats for me, cleans for me, sleeps for me. You all know how it is. 🙂
Have you changed the way you write from your first novel to the way you write now?
I am way faster than I used to be. And I have tried so hard to learn from each of my editors. Most all of them have been amazing. My first editor, Mary Cash, told me to add more sense of place in my first book, and so I try to remember that when I write. If I keep the things I have learned from my critique groups or from my editors in the back of my head, my writing is cleaner.
For you, what is the hardest part about writing? Revision? Outlining? Or, as Erin asks, “Simply trying to keep the hordes of Goddess-loving men away at book signings?”
The first draft is always the hardest. And, yes, those pesky men. They are typically dancing, or singing. Bringing flowers and candy. How can I keep busy at writing when John Cusack-type men are serenading me? Well, I’ll tell ya how. I love writing more than all that other stuff. So there. Quit cher singing. Just leave the money, food and flowers on the front steps and get outta here. I got work to do.
Can you give advice to writers on how to overcome worries of inaccuracy or causing offense when writing about sensitive issues?
Whatever you do, don’t be inaccurate. As far as worrying about offending people? You’re always going to offend people. Accept that right now and then keep on going! Remember that you can’t make everyone happy. Also remember that whatever you write needs to be the “real thing.” What I mean by that is, there’s no need to throw in something just for a jolt or to raise an eyebrow. Be true to yourself. Be true to your characters.
How do you usually get ideas for stories and how can you tell when an idea is strong enough to become a novel?
My ideas usually come in the form of some emotional experience. Hearing about that young girl? Well, I felt pretty darn angry after that. So, if I laugh or shudder or weep at an idea, there may be a book in it for me.
How many times do you revise before you know the book is “done”?
Every book is different. And once the book is out I always find things I wish I could change.
And a few final random questions.
How many novels have you written? When was your first novel published?
I have more than 20 books published. The first came out in 1993. It’s called Kelly and Me.
Can you tell us about the award you received for a work in progress and where that work will take your readers? Will it be as “intense” as The Chosen One?
I received the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor PEN Fellowship for the beginning of a novel that Simon and Schuster just bought. The book is called A Glimpse is All I Can Stand. And yes, it’s a pretty intense story. It was a hard book to write. But it’s the story that got me Steve Fraser, my agent.
Tell us more about the classes and workshops you teach. Who are they for and what do you like most about teaching?
Cheri Pray Earl and I teach writing classes for the community. Our sessions are three hours long, usually on a weeknight. We talk about the craft of writing, focusing on one point, like: Story Ideas, Plot and Conflict, Character Development , Point of View, Building Tension, Description, Dialogue—just to name a few. But you can get the scoop by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org (please put classes in the subject line). Or go to our website www.thefirststory.org. Cheri has done all the work on that site. You’ll find lots of information there.
What did you learn from your MFA program that you didn’t know before?
That if I needed to I could write ten hours a day. I hope I never need to again.
You have a lot of experience not only writing and publishing but teaching and mentoring other aspiring writers. What encouragement can you give them when it comes to patience? Some of us can’t stop writing because we love it, even though sometimes it seems we’ll never break into publishing—especially in this economy.
A truly good book WILL be bought. I believe that. My most recent novel? I’ve written on it since 2001. When the editor bought it, I showed her yet another version of the book. Go to conferences and workshops, listen to critique, work hard, read all the time . . . If you have a good story, it’s gonna happen.
What is your advice for writers who don’t always feel confident about their writing skills yet or who feel intimidated when reading other authors’ excellent writing? (No, Kim did not think of this question.) (Okay, so she did.)
Ha! Everything I write? I think it’s a piece of crap. (Can I say crap on this blog?) That’s a bit of who we writers are. We’re never sure. In order to get past that, you must write your heart. If you’re writing something that means something to you, hopefully you’ll keep going. Also, writing your heart means you will probably connect with your readers. And that’s a good thing!
Who are some of the mentors or writers who have inspired you?
Louise Plummer, AE Cannon, Alane Ferguson, Richard Peck, Jerry Spinelli, Betsy Byars, MT Anderson, Cheri Pray Earl, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner—the list goes on and on.
Tell us a little more about yourself. What do you love? What do you love to hate?
Hmmmm, what do I love? Nice people, yummy food, excellent books, my family, being at home, hanging around with other writers, teaching, early mornings, laughing. That list is long, too.
And what do I love to hate. There are a few books out there that I love to say, in a crowd, that I hate them (the books, not the crowd). Why? It bothers half the people who hear me say it and the other half are like, “What?! You agree with me?”
Will you be wearing sequins to the BYU Writing for Young Readers workshop next month?
Rick Walton is the only fellow wearing sequins at the conference this year—and maybe little bells. It is, after all, our ten year reunion!
And seriously—where did you learn to sing and dance like that?
It’s all natural—I’m gifted . . . really!
Thank you, Carol, for answering all of our deep, dark questions. Best luck with The Chosen One winning the Printz and becoming a best-seller.
Readers, if you haven’t read this one yet, you’re NOT in good company. Have you seen the blurbs? An Na! Sara Zarr! Cynthia Kadohata! Meg Cabot! Gregory Maguire! You can pick up a copy this Friday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at The King’s English Bookshop. Carol will sign it for you there live and in person.
If you enjoyed this interview, take a moment to comment and thank Carol for her time. She’ll know you’re sincere . . . even though you also want to be entered into a second drawing for one of her other books. The contest deadline is Friday, the 22, at midnight. If you comment on this post, you can win a copy of either My Angelica or Pretty Like Us. If you’re super nice, it may even come autographed.