Today is the release day for the wonderful middle grade novel MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, a story of piracy, gargoyles and the healing power of friendship and good manners. Ari Goelman recently sat down with the author, Caroline Carlson, to discuss the release of her novel. (Okay, this is kind of a lie. Actually, Ari e-mailed Caroline his questions, and she e-mailed him her answers. But metaphorically they sat down. She laughed at his questions; he laughed at her answers, although not necessarily at the same time.)
Ari: A lot of your novel takes place on and around boats -- was there any particular reason that you were drawn to tell a story with such a maritime theme?
Caroline: I'm laughing right now because in my college poetry workshop, I developed something of a reputation as that person who always wrote poems about the ocean. And I guess I haven't been able to kick the habit in my fiction, either! I grew up in New England and spent a lot of summers near oceans and lakes, and I love pretty much everything about being near the ocean--the salty air, the swimming, the fresh seafood, the proximity of great ice cream cones that drip all over your toes. Now, though, I'm no longer living near the coast, and I think I'm a little bit homesick for it. Bodies of water pop up in everything I write, even when I don't intend them to--though, of course, it's hard to avoid any mention of the ocean when you're writing a pirate story.
Ari: What were you like as a middle grader? What were your favorite books?
Caroline: I was really shy and really nerdy, and I devoured books with a speed I've never been able to match since. Growing up, I had myself halfway convinced that eventually, although I wasn't very brave or strong, someone would come along from a magical land and tell me that it was my destiny to save that land from the forces of evil--and, naturally, I'd go off and do it, earning a loyal band of friends and finding True Love in the process. It's probably no surprise, then, that my favorite books were fantasy novels by writers like Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, and Edward Eager. I also loved funny books; Lois Lowry's ANASTASIA series was one of my favorites. Somewhere along the way, it became increasingly clear that no one from a magical land was going to show up and ask me to enter the world of my favorite stories, so I decided I would simply have to write my own stories instead. And, gradually, I got a little less shy and a little less nerdy. I even earned a loyal band of friends and found True Love--and I didn't have to defeat a dragon or anything in order to do it, which is fortunate 'cause I'm still not very strong.
Ari: I loved the spider-eating, magic gargoyle sidekick in MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. For some reason, I imagined it as a pig-headed bat-winged gargoyle. Am I right? You deliberately leave some of the specifics of its appearance to your readers' imagination, but I'm curious how you imagine it.
Caroline: I love your description of the gargoyle! You're right that I tried to leave a lot of details to readers' imaginations, so I don't think there's any one "right" way to imagine the gargoyle--or any of the other characters, for that matter. I've been thrilled to see how the illustrators of the US and UK editions have envisioned the gargoyle; he's so handsome in both of his incarnations! I imagine him as a sort of roundish, dragon-like creature about the size of a soccer ball (but much heavier and more talkative).
Ari: When is book 2 coming out?
Caroline: The sequel to MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT should be out in the US and Canada sometime in the fall of 2014, about a year after book 1. (In the UK, it'll most likely be out in early 2015, though I don't know that for sure.) The second book follows Hilary on another adventure on the High Seas, with lots of the characters from the first book reprising their roles, and a bunch of fun new heroes and villains as well.
Ari: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
Caroline: I love music, but I hardly ever listen to it while I write--it's too distracting. I will occasionally listen to a piece of music immediately before I start writing, though, to get myself in the mood of the story. Instrumental music usually works best for that purpose, since there are no lyrics to distract me from the words I need to be coming up with. Before sitting down to write MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT and its sequel, for example, I listened to a lot of Handel.
Ari: What part of the writing process is your favorite part? Drafting, revising, polishing, going for a walk afterwards…?
I tend to feel that whatever I'm working on at any given moment is the hardest and most painful step of the process, and that whatever comes next must be a thousand times easier! So I'm tempted to say that my favorite part of the writing process is taking a nap. But really, there's a lot that I love about each step of the process. I love the amazing, synergistic moments of creation that happen during the first draft. I love feeling victorious when I've revised a scene for the second or seventh or tenth time, and I've finally gotten it right. And I love examining each word carefully as I polish the manuscript, making sure every sound and every beat is in just the right place. Writing a book is not easy and not always fun, but there is a lot to love about the work.
Ari: Where do you write?
Caroline: I wrote the first draft of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT in our old apartment in Baltimore, on a very uncomfortable IKEA sofa. Now, though, I have my very own tiny office in our house in Pennsylvania. My desk is our old kitchen table (thanks again, IKEA!), and it's right up against a window that looks out onto our neighbors' yard, where I can see trees and rabbits and flowers and people taking out the trash. (This makes me feel a little bit like Harriet the Spy.)
Ari: I heard a rumor that there are a few sequels in the works. How many? What has it been like to write the sequels? (e.g. more fun, knowing you have an editor ready for them? Less fun, given the pressure?)
Caroline: Yes, there will be three books in the VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES series. Writing the second book was both fun (because I knew it'd be published someday) and terrifying (because I knew it'd be published someday). I felt like I had to make sure the second book lived up to the first one, and it was difficult to compare my messy early drafts to the final draft of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. For a while, I didn't know if I was even capable of making the second book as strong as the first, and that was pretty nerve-wracking. But now that I've finally finished writing book 2, I'm really proud of it, and I feel a lot more confident that I'll be able to write a third book that can stand side by side with the first two.
Ari: Thanks Caroline! Good luck - can’t wait to read book two!
Find more about Caroline and MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT at http://carolinecarlsonbooks.com/