The more connections I make in the writing world, the more I have the opportunity to read early copies of novels (which I love). This week I finished reading my ARC of Carrie Mesrobian’s debut Young Adult novel Sex & Violence, and I wanted to talk about it with someone. Actually, I really really really wanted to ask Carrie questions about the book, so…
I contacted Carrie, proposed the idea of me interviewing her, and was thrilled when she agreed to let me conduct the interview (though I didn’t actually use the word “conduct”). Anyway, deep thanks to Carrie for being willing to answer my questions as my first real interviewee.
INTERVIEW WITH CARRIE MESROBIAN
Sex & Violence will be available October 2013 and is about a messed-up loner kid named Evan. The book does contain sex and violence (and drugs), but they aren’t the story. Similar to real life, sex and violence (and drugs) happen—as in, they are present in Evan’s experiences—but the book is about Evan. It’s about a person facing his fears. Evan must reckon with his past if he is ever going to make real connections in his life.
MM: Andrew Smith, author of The Marbury Lens, commented on Goodreads that, “There is nothing like this book at all. One of the best books I’ve read all year.” What do you think he means when he says there’s nothing like this book?
CM: I think he’s being very nice. I don’t know. There’s a lot of popular YA out there that features the girl in a prom dress. That’s not a bad thing, but mine is not one of those books. Sex & Violence will never be on an end cap at Barnes and Noble. Maybe that’s what he means. You should ask him.
MM: Your main character, Evan, is a total dude. Why’d you choose to write from a guy’s perspective? What drew you to Evan?
CM: Because I don’t understand men in a million different ways. What men think has always been inscrutable to me. They can be so silent about what they’re feeling. I wanted to imagine. Pretend to be one. Writing from Evan’s perspective allowed me to see things in a different way.
Originally, I started writing from the point of view of Baker, one of the book’s female characters. Then I read Lauren Barnholdt’s book Two-Way Street in which she uses dual alternating perspectives. I liked that and thought I would write one chapter from Baker’s point of view and the next from Evan’s. But Baker was like being in my own head. Boring. I liked Evan better. I had to figure him out. What was his problem? He was more enjoyable to write.
Writing doesn’t have to be all hard and painful. I had a writing mentor once tell me “easy isn’t bad” – if something feels right, don’t distrust it. So I stayed with Evan because I liked writing his perspective. I never sat down and said, “Boy narrator, here I go…” I never sit down with intentions like that.
MM: What’s important for people to know about your book?
CM: I’m not sure I can answer that. It’s not mine anymore when someone starts reading it. I don’t give you a picnic basket of author intentions before you get on the road—I put it all in the book. You get to experience it for yourself. It’s not steamy or erotic. You won’t get a big case of the swoons. But it’s a story worth telling.
Beyond that, I don’t like to get all reductive about my stories or characters. You can see Evan as a monster or likable or whatever. Yeah, I have my opinions, but that’s boring. The great thing about getting your book published is seeing how everyone else responds.
MM: How different was your first draft from the published version?
CM: Very. The first draft was about other things that are embarrassing. Mystery, paranormal stuff. I love reading it, but that’s not what I should be writing.
MM: Let’s talk about the title. Was Sex & Violence your idea?
CM: No. It was my editor’s placeholder title. My original title was The Cupcake Lady of Tacoma, but my editor, Andrew Karre, didn’t want that title. My guess is he didn’t want to sell a book narrated by a boy that featured a cupcake on the cover. Then I sorta ran out of gas about the title. Throughout the revision process, we kept referring to it as Sex and Violence. I kept thinking no school will allow it, my parents can’t brag about it, this is a disaster. But I got used to it.
There’s always some terrible article about sex and violence in the media. I saw that the themes in the story are connected to sexuality and acts of violence—how people respond violence, how sexuality can be a coping mechanism.
I told Andrew one day in an email that I was getting used to the title. Maybe from his end they went around and talked about it in committees or something, but from my perspective, that’s how it happened.
MM: You’re writing another book – another male protagonist?
CM: Yes. This new character is very different from Evan. Less abrasive. He’s not a self-professed dick. The new guy is a virgin at the beginning of the story who gets his heart broken. But it’s easy to doubt yourself the second time. After spending so much time with Evan, it’s easy to slip into the snarky head space. I’m still getting used to New Guy.
MM: What’s this new story about?
It’s about a boy who decides to join the Marine Corps for complicated reasons. Growing up, girls tend to worry about being loved. Boys often worry about being strong. Brave. I never asked myself growing up if I was strong or brave. I wondered if I would be loved and beautiful. I’m sick of thinking about my own shit. That’s not to say I want to start doing push-ups every day and take up sport shooting, but I want to understand what drives this male character.
There are a lot of military stories out there, but we don’t always see why people make the decision to join. I can’t imagine turning the reins of my life over to the government, yet it happens all the time. A million reasons for a million different people. I’m fascinated by the choice and why someone would make it.