Summer Blog Blast Tour: Carolyn Mackler
Carolyn Mackler is the acclaimed author of Love and Other Four-Letter Words, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (which won a Printz Honor), Vegan Virgin Valentine, and Guyaholic, which will be published August 14 by Candlewick. You can visit her website here, or, if you’ll be attending the American Library Association’s annual conference this weekend, see her at the LIVE! @ Your Library Reading Stage on Monday.
It’s been three years since your last book was published. There are so many prolific YA authors, are you worried about what effect, if any, this wait may have on Guyaholic?
I’m actually not. If anything, I think the wait has made my readers even more excited about a new Carolyn Mackler novel. I was recently scanning a list someone made on Amazon – the teen books they’re most excited about this summer. Under Guyaholic, she wrote: “I have been waiting two years for a new Mackler book. And from the looks of it, this one should be good.” So I’m hoping all the adages apply here – absence makes the heart grow fonder, good things come to those who wait, etc, etc.
Your second novel, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, was a Printz Honor Book. What was your reaction when you heard the news? Do you feel any pressure with “Printz Honor winner” attached to your name?
When I got the call about The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, I did all the typical freaking out things. I screamed and began hyperventilating and running circles around my apartment and calling everyone I knew. I was excited beyond belief – and I still am. As far as being a Printz Honor winner, I suppose I felt some pressure at first to write books that reflected…I’m not sure what. But that fall, I had a baby boy. So after that I was much more consumed with figuring out how to be a mom and still be a writer. And somehow, between sleep-deprivation and struggling to carve out writing time, I forgot the Printz pressure and just focused on telling good stories.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is on the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom’s list of most challenged books of 2006. Are you surprised? How do you feel about being on this list?
Yes and no. No, I’m not surprised to be on the list of most challenged books because I know that The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things has had many instances of banning around the country, most notably one in a school district in Carroll County, MD, where 350 teenagers signed a petition demanding the book’s placement back in their high school. Then again, yes, I’m incredibly surprised that The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things has been the subject of so much controversy. I wrote a book about a plus-sized girl who learns to feel happy in her own skin without having to lose weight or do damaging things to her body. Ever since this book’s publication, I’ve received hundreds of letters from teen girls telling me that The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things has helped them feel good about themselves, be more confident, and stand up to people who treat them badly. With a message like that, who would want to keep this book from teen girls? I find book-banning very frustrating because, even if a parent decides a book is not right for their child, they should not be allowed to keep it from every other teenager in town.
You’re known for your clever titles, and on your website you say that you love coming up with titles. Talk about the process of coming up with titles—do you have a title first, then come up with the story? Other way around?
Thank you! I do love coming up with titles. Sometimes they come easily, like when I’m walking through Central Park and contemplating the story I’ve just begun and then – boom! – the perfect title pops into my head. Other times, when I know I want a catchy name but I can’t seem to come up with one, I become obsessed by the brainstorming process. Seriously, it’s all I can think about. For Guyaholic, I have an immense list of almost-but-not-quite titles. Every day, I’d email my husband a new list of titles and say, “Is this it? Or what about this one?”
Do you listen to music while you write? Can you share a playlist with us?
I don’t listen to music when I write because my brain, basically, can only do one thing at once. When I write, I prefer total silence. One time, I was working on Vegan Virgin Valentine at my family’s lake house in Central New York and this teenage guy was on his jet ski, doing hours and hours of vrooming circles right in front of our house. It was driving me insane. I tracked him down later that day and asked if he could please, please take his circles a few houses down. Either that, or I was going to write him into my story!
Your books have had a number of different covers. How involved are you in the planning process? Does Candlewick ask for your input whenever they reissue a book with a new cover? What are some of your favorite YA book covers?
Candlewick is wonderful about involving me in every step of the cover design process, taking my input, showing me all sorts of mock-ups. I love the cover for Guyaholic, and especially how it matches the new covers for Vegan Virgin Valentine and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Favorite YA covers? I love This Lullaby. I love Megan McCafferty’s covers. I love Boy Meets Boy and Stargirl and Looking for Alaska. I love Gingerbread and Rachel Cohn’s other Cyd Charisse covers. These also happen to be some of my favorite novels.
If you weren’t an author, what do you think you’d be?
I have a hard time coming up with a good answer because being an author is a dream job for me, and it’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do. But, hard-pressed to answer, I’d say a singer-songwriter, except I don’t have the voice for it and I have no idea how to write a song. Or maybe a film director. Or sometimes I like the idea of being a dentist. It seems so satisfying to repair people’s teeth.
Any predictions regarding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Like, Snape: redeemed or reprehensible?
I can’t wait for Harry Potter 7! Predictions…hmmm…my husband thinks that every deceased person who was ever a member of the Order of the Phoenix will come back and help Harry conquer Voldemort. I’m, of course, terrified for Harry’s life, but I can’t imagine J.K. Rowling would kill him after all these years. Snape? Oh, God, I can’t even think about Snape. I was SO SHOCKED at the end of Book 6. I really did believe he was on Dumbledore’s side.
Now let’s talk a bit about Guyaholic. Here’s the book description:
Sometimes it takes getting hit with a hockey puck to help you see what’s good for you! Carolyn Mackler is back – and V is off on a solo road trip – in this funny, poignant follow-up to VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE.
V Valentine is the queen of meaningless hookups. Ever since her mom dumped her with her grandparents, she has bounced from guy to guy. But in the spring of senior year, a fateful hockey puck lands her in the lap of Sam Almond. Right from the start, things with Sam are different. V is terrified to admit it, but this might be meaningful after all. On the afternoon of graduation, V receives some shocking news. Later, at a party, she makes an irreversible mistake and risks losing Sam forever. When her mom invites her to Texas, V embarks on a cross-country road trip with the hopes of putting two thousand miles between herself, Sam, and the wreckage of that night. With her trademark blend of humor and compassion, Carolyn Mackler takes readers on an unforgettable ride of missed exits, misadventures, and the kind of epiphanies that come only when you’re on a route you’ve never taken before.
Guyaholic is about V Valentine! Your other books have all introduced new protagonists, so why did you decide to write about a character who played a significant role in Vegan Virgin Valentine?
After I finished Vegan Virgin Valentine, I still wondered about V and her story. What happened to her? How was she going to find peace in her life? She was left with so many unresolved issues. Also, in some reviews of Vegan Virgin Valentine, people described her as a “hedonistic wild child” and “slutty” and “stoner.” I almost felt like I had to write a book in her defense, a story that showed that even though V didn’t have a pristine track record, she was a real person, with fears and vulnerabilities we all could relate to.
Guyaholic is quite different from your previous books, not in tone or theme, but in its protagonist and setting. Unlike Mara, Virginia, and Sammie, V drinks and smokes, is not particularly studious, doesn’t have body-image issues, and is sexually experienced. Another, well, departure is that the book doesn’t take place solely in New York.
It was fun to get out of New York for a change! But it was also a challenge to write a road-trip novel because I like to get all my geographic facts correct and, at the time I was writing Guyaholic, I had a baby at home, so I couldn’t exactly hop in the car and drive to Texas. Also, it was an interesting challenge to get inside V’s head because she is so different from my past characters. I did a lot of thinking – and writing – about her before I really felt like I knew her voice and what makes her tick. Also, I’m not much of a drinker, so I had to ask people how it feels to swallow a shot of Jack Daniel’s. Not bad for a day’s work.
Although Sam is in many ways the catalyst behind V’s story, V’s mother is just as important.
Guyaholic is a story about both Sam and Aimee. Actually, it’s a story about V and her relationship to love and how her mom’s absence has affected that. I’ve recently become fascinated by Aimee, wondering what her story is and who V’s dad was and why Aimee keeps moving so much. Who knows? Maybe someday Aimee will have her own novel.
What’s the furthest you’ve driven? And do you have any funny cross-country stories? Have you visited all the cities and towns you mention in Guyaholic?
When I was twenty-two and just graduated from college, I bought a used Toyota and drove from New York to Seattle all by myself, camping and staying in youth hostels the whole way across. It was an incredible experience – beautiful and empowering and I felt so strong and independent. I suppose the funniest story is that, as I was driving through rural Minnesota in the middle of a thunderstorm, I tried to call my mom collect from a pay phone. I told the automated operator my name and then it went through to my mom’s voice mail, saying that I was trying to call her collect. But just as the message was recording, lightning struck and I guess some phone lines got crossed. When my mom got home, she got a message that I was trying to call her collect from a Minnesota jail. She went ballistic and called my dad, who started contacting police stations in Minnesota, attempting to locate me. I didn’t have a cell phone in the car so all this time, I was driving along, completely oblivious, singing to the music and munching on snacks. Hilarious in retrospect, of course.
I’ve been to most of the locations in Guyaholic, but not all of them. For all the quirky facts and details, like what an oil pump in Oklahoma sounds like, I relied on trusty scouts across the country.
Love is a major theme in all of your books. When the protagonist learns to love herself, her life seems to shape up. What advice do you have for women in regard to learning to love themselves?
I don’t know what to say other than the sooner, the better. The more you love yourself – and the more you believe in your right to be loved – the more people will treat you the right way, especially in romantic relationships. Set your expectations high and, generally, people will respond accordingly. If they don’t, they’re not the people to be around.
Each of your protagonists hide their feelings behind certain preoccupations: Mara in academia, V in pursuing guys, and Virginia in eating. Do you have any preoccupations you’d like to share with your readers?
My biggest preoccupation is that I’m a world-class worrier. Give me something to worry about and I’ll run with it. Tell me about a rare disease and I’m Googling it, diagnosing myself or someone I love. I’m actually trying hard to be less of a worrier now, but I’m sure I’ll find another preoccupation to fill my days – like my next novel!
Thanks for letting us interview you, Carolyn!
Today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour interviews:
Mitali Perkins at Hip Writer Mama
Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland
Dana Reinhardt at Interactive Reader
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production (Part One, Part Two)
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating