Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fearless Revision, Sucky Housekeeping, and The Walking Dead. Carrie Mesrobian Tells (Almost) All to Jody Casella

Some people have said that Carrie Mesrobian and I are the same person.

Okay. I am totally lying. No one has ever said that.

But, Consider the Evidence:

We are both writers who have written novels starring tormented male MCs.
We both used to be teachers.
We both have crazy curly brown hair.
We both have a dog.
We both live in the chilly gray-wintered Midwestern flyover country known as OhioMichiganWisconsinMinnesota
We both love The Walking Dead.

In the We Are Probably Not the Same Person column:

Carrie's way more prolific and successful (Her first novel Sex & Violence is brilliant and heart-wrenching and beautifully written. It was a Kirkus Best Book of the Year and a runner up for the Morris Award. Her second, Perfectly Good White Boy, was just released and is already earning high praise, and she's got two more books contracted and on the way.)

She is younger and cooler and hipper than I am, judging by her funny tweets and her jaunty-hatted author pic.

(Not the same person) 

Also, I just interviewed her, and it didn't really seem like I was talking to myself.

Ah well. You be the judge.

Jody: Where do you get your ideas?

Carrie: I don’t know. They usually come from questions: “Who would ever do…?” “What must it be like to be the kind of person who…?” It’s usually a situation I’m averse to, or don’t understand very well. Like being a promiscuous boy or wanting to join the military or having sex with people of both genders or wanting to keep secrets. I’m terrible about keeping my own secrets.

Jody: See. I was going to say all of that too!
So, once you've got your idea, do you plunge right in or do you plan things out first?

Carrie: I make it up as I go, to a certain point. Then there comes a time, usually after a couple hundred pages, where I realize what in the hell I’m actually trying to do with the story. Then I try to plan a little better.

Jody: Which is where revision probably comes in...

Carrie: My first editor was always encouraging something called “fearless revision” and I don’t know quite what he means, but what I ended up doing was akin to exploratory home surgery, a process that I wasn’t sure would help matters or kill the whole thing.

Jody: That's the scary part. Do you keep cutting or adding or changing stuff. When do you stop. Can you ruin a story beyond fixing. I get better at it--I hope--the more I do it. Is that what you've found? How many books did you write before you got your first book deal?

Carrie: I’m really great at writing unfinished novels. I probably have about five or six of them, some lost to floppy disks at this point. I wrote a couple of drafts of mystery novels that were total fails. Sex & Violence was my graduate school thesis and the first book I submitted.

Jody: Tell me no one rejected it.

Carrie: I got passed on by all five agents I queried and then Andrew Karre dug me out of his slush.

Jody: Lucky guy. Lucky you, too. I love the books that come out of Carolrhoda Lab. Now that you're pretty good at finishing books, have you stumbled on some kind of regular schedule that works for you?

Carrie: Ehhhh. During the school year, things are bit more regular, because then I have about six solid hours away from my daughter and husband. It’s not that I need total silence or anything, but I’m kind of distracted by the possibility of their needs. So maybe I write for a couple of hours, but usually never more than 4 hours. I’m usually writing while I’m on social media; I do both things at once, which maybe is terrible, but that’s how I’ve done all three books so far.  During that six hours, I also try to shower, exercise, and do various household tasks. I’m kind of the backstop for my family on the household front. By default, though, as I’m a pretty sucky housekeeper and cook.

Jody: Bad housekeeping. I've never heard of that. Ha. Just joking with you. Back to that schedule, do you keep it going year round?

Carrie: In the summer, I teach a lot more so I’m balancing entertaining my kid with beach trips and whatever along with prepping classes. I don’t write a lot in the summer. We have to get our sunlight when we can here in Minnesota so I try to get away from the computer then.

Jody: You mentioned your family and teaching. Do you have a hard time juggling all of that on top of writing?

Carrie: I have very few hobbies, really. I’m very fussy about socializing. I have a husband who is very understanding about how my writing is my work and how I get paid; he understood this better than I did back when I wasn’t getting paid much and didn’t have book contracts. I think this helps enormously, with balance. He’s very good on his feet, my husband, so he doesn’t flinch when I say, SORRY MUST WRITE NO DINNER TOO BAD. I also only have one kid. And she’s 11. I wrote a lot when she was a baby, but I don’t know how people with more than one little kid write. My kid never napped, for one thing.

Jody: I marvel at that too. I hear these stories about writers nursing and balancing a laptop on their baby's head. Not judging. I just know how I was when my kids were little. I got no sleep and had maybe two brain cells going at all times. Maybe there's an up side to having a book come out when you're a ways past that. I'm talking about writing and the attention that takes. And then there's the promotional stuff. I see you on social media... a lot. What's your take on all of that? It seems like you're having fun...

Carrie: I use social media as a sort of journal, where I vent and rant and expel all my various opinions on things. This might not be a good way to conduct oneself, but I find it amusing. And I don’t so much promote my books as enter into the conversation of the day.

Jody: I like that "conversation of the day." I've never thought about it that way before, but that's what it feels like.

Carrie: Yeah. And this takes time, but I enjoy it, so I do it. I understand that social media can be a big downer for some people, but I don’t get bugged by it that much. Maybe because in-person socializing seems way more stressful to me? I also talk about what interests me in general, not just book stuff. My writing process is sort of boring, and not anything I like to share. I like Twitter the most, of all of the social media platforms. And then Tumblr. Because it’s full of idiocy and porn, really. I do love my Fake Boyfriends so much!

Jody: Oh, Fake Boyfriends!! That is my new favorite thing online.
Totally being nosy, but what are you working on now?

Carrie: I just finished my third book, which will come out from HarperCollins in fall of 2015. I’m starting on my fourth book, which has a girl main character. My first girl! I’m a little nervous about it, because all my books have had boy narrators so far, but so far it’s fun. It’s another book set in Minnesota, but this time in Southern Minnesota, near the region I grew up in, and I don’t quite know what it’s about yet, except it has these elements: a hotel with a water park, boot hockey, blowjobs, pregnancy scares, summer camp virginity loss, Russians attending ag school, and the intoxicating nature of desire.

Jody: Boot hockey and blowjobs. How can you miss with that stuff?
Okay, one final question, which has to do with The Walking Dead, because, really, did you think I could interview you and not ask? Why do you like Daryl?

Carrie: He is, to quote Lynyrd Skynyrd, a “simple kind of man.” He is nothing fancy, but goddamn, he will keep you safe. I have long described myself as a person who will not get voted into the lifeboat should disaster strike. So I have nothing but frank and desperate admiration for people who have skills and resilience and toughness and high pain thresholds who can protect and sustain people like me in times of crisis.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s played by the universe’s most perfect male creation, Norman Reedus.

Jody: There's probably no better way to end this interview than with that.

Wanna know more about Carrie? Itching to buy her books now? Curious about her "fake boyfriends"?

See here:
Carrie Mesrobian.com
Twittering
Fake Boyfriends
Buy Sex & Violence
Buy Perfectly Good White Boy

8 comments:

  1. Great interview!! We write the same way. I start a story and then at about page 50, I realize I have no clue what's coming next, so I start planning. Re Andrew Karre...OMG he's my dream editor! I always wanted to work with him. And re Russians...I came from Belarus in 1979 and can answer any Russian cultural stuff you want. :-)

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  2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who forgets to cook sometimes... Great interview!

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  3. Great interview! Love BOTH of you and your male protagonists!

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  4. Great interview Jody and Carrie!! I'd like to you to consider that all three of us are the same person -- I love The Walking Dead, also suck at cooking and cleaning, write while my 11-year-old is at school, and hardly at all during the summer. Course I'm from NJ and have all female protags, so that might blow that theory. Maybe Margie and I are the same person? :)

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    1. Jen, I just heard the Twilight Zone theme song. I'm not lying.

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  5. All authors who keep their houses immaculately clean: I think it's time you come forward and admit to the dark sorcery you've entered into.

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