Welcome back to Inside The Authors Studio. Today I’m talking to another writer and sharing our conversation with you! To find out who I’ve interviewed so far and what this series is all about, check out the original post by clicking here.
If you’re looking to get to know another fantastic author, you’ve come to the right place! Today on Inside The Authors Studio I’d like to introduce you to Cori McCarthy.
Cori graduated from Ohio University with her degree in Creative Writing and a concentration in memoir and poetry. She then went on to study stories for the screen by participating in UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting. Most recently, she earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she concentrated in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Needless to say, she has a substantial background in the craft of writing fiction.
When she was a teenager, Cori became enamored with the work of Walt Whitman. Since then, she still agrees with him that Washington D.C. is the best place to visit. When she isn’t taking pictures of her adorable son, she is involved in all things writing. In addition to being a young adult author, she currently contributes sometimes funny, sometimes raw, always intriguing posts to the blog, Through the Tollbooth.
In my talk with Cori, we discuss the role education has played in her development as a writer. We talk about her journey from novice to published author and explore the hopes she has for the future. We even get a look at her struggles and learn how she works to overcome them. I really hope you enjoy my conversation with Cori McCarthy!
Jamie: Hi Cori! I’m so happy to welcome you to my blog. Today we’re going to give my readers the chance to get to know you a little bit better. Let’s begin with an introduction. Tell me about yourself. How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
Cori: I’m Cori, a guitar-playing, poetry-writing, tattoo-loving young(ish) genderqueer author! Well, I don’t usually say all that because I’m REALLY shy, but online interviews can make you feel brave and forthright.
Let’s talk about travel. Born in Guam. Raised in the United States. Studied in Ireland. Traveled to Scotland, St. Petersburg, Albania, and even Montenegro. You certainly have seen a lot of the world! What does traveling mean to you? What draws you abroad? What inspires you to explore different cultures?
I think my imagination can only be as large as my experiences. That might sound a little weird, but I travel because other people are important. Other countries are important. Other cultures are important. There is a rather unfortunate trend in Americans to see themselves as the center of the universe, and it means a lot to me to step outside my comfort zone and be dumbfounded by how much MORE there is in this world. Traveling is the easiest, most fun way to do that!
How has traveling impacted your craft as a writer?
My first two books were sci-fi and contained brand new places. Traveling helped me imagine those places—and to capture what it’s like to look in on a culture as an outsider. In the new contemporary book I’m currently working on, Now A Major Motion Picture, I’m writing about Ireland—a place I once lived for a year. It’s been so exciting to go back there in my mind…
On your website, you say you started writing when you were thirteen years old. What did that time in your life look like? What things inspired you to write? How did you approach writing back then?
When I was thirteen, I dressed in all black and scribbled for hours on end. I didn’t talk much. I didn’t like people. My feelings were astoundingly large, and I suffered from intensity and depression. Writing—particularly poetry—was like discovering my own name. It gave me an outlet for my feelings and creativity, and it helped me discover what I really wanted to do with my life. I started out mostly with poems, but I branched into writing short stories as well. I wrote a first draft of a novel when I was seventeen.
At what age did you start reading? What was your relationship with books and stories in your youth? How has that relationship developed over time? What kind of things do you read now when you have free time?
My gateway drug to reading was The Lord of the Rings and The Catcher in the Rye. I loved fantasy because it made me feel like I was part of a new world, and I loved stark contemporary because it made me feel like this harsh world was also a beautiful mystery. I think I feel exactly that same way today. My favorite books are by Melina Marchetta, but I’m also a fan of Leigh Bardugo and A.S. King.
As a fellow Creative Writing major, I’m curious to hear what your outlook was like towards the end of your undergraduate career. What did you want to do with your degree? How did you plan to support yourself in the “real world” (dun dun duhh)? Did the thought of leaving college terrify you or excite you? How did you get through this turbulent time? For all the near or recent Creative Writing graduates out there, what advice can you offer?
Oh, I messed up BIG TIME at the end of my bachelor’s degree, and I hope people learn from my screw up. I wanted to go to grad school to study poetry, but guess what? I only applied to one program and I didn’t get in (because it’s really hard to get into grad school even if you have great grades!). I graduated completely lost and worked at a liquor store. But you know what? I never stopped writing. I went back to school for screenwriting—only to realize that I didn’t like it!—and then I discovered the AmeriCorps program which helped me get my feet under me, which then led me to the epiphany that I wanted to write for young readers.
My advice for creative writing majors is not to panic! What your degree has taught you is how to express yourself professionally. That is in demand in almost every job field and so many college graduates cannot do it. If you want to stay close to writing, I personally suggest getting involved with publishing. All elements of publishing are related, so if you want to become a book editor or author, feel free to start with graphic design or marketing or any job that’s hiring at a publisher. Once you’re in the door, there are so many directions you can go.
Talk to me about the time you spent volunteering in Appalachian Ohio with AmeriCorps. What made you want to get involved with national community service? What was your experience like in Ohio? What types of projects did you work on? How has this time impacted the rest of your life?
I really didn’t know what else to do with myself when I joined AmeriCorps, but it ended up being an immensely important experience. I became a reading tutor for elementary school kids, and I started writing personalized stories for them to read. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but my love of writing for young readers was a real revelation.
In 2011, you received your MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults. What did going back to school do for your craft as a writer? How has this period impacted your view of the literary world?
Vermont College of Fine Arts increased the strength of my writing tenfold. It built up my confidence and gave me a network in the publishing industry that helped me find my agent, etc. and so forth. I highly suggest getting an MFA for anyone who is really serious about publishing.
You’ve released three Young Adult books in the recent past. What do you like about the genre? What draws you to it? What do you hope young readers will get out of your stories?
I’m attracted to how raw and honest YA stories can be. The pages are scraped with feelings. The stories are bursting with experience. And the characters are at a moment in their life when they’re deciding who they will be as adults. I tend to write harsh emotional narratives, and I always hope that there are some readers out there who are relating and processing their lives through my stories.
Let’s take a look back at that very first book deal. After you finished writing The Color of Rain, how did you approach the query process? Did you find quick success, or was the road long and challenging?
I had my eye on one agent all along. I actually wrote a very different book that she read first and found to be too quiet. At the time, I was also working on a “human trafficking in space book” that snagged her attention as a follow up. I guess I’m one of those rare writers who only wrote one query letter, but for me, Sarah Davies was The Agent.
In the end, The Color of Rain was published by Running Press in 2013. What did it feel like to get your work out there for the first time? What was the initial reception of your book like? How did your friends and family react to your success?
Publishing a book is a very drawn out process. You have to celebrate every tiny milestone like finishing a draft, turning in copyedits, getting a good review. The Color of Rain happened over a year and my family was proud. I was proud too, but for me, it’s not about publishing; it’s about writing.
Two years later, you published your second YA novel, Breaking Sky. Since then, Sony Pictures has acquired the film rights to the project. How exciting! What does this mean for Breaking Sky? What does the future entail? How involved are you in the movie adaptation? How did you react to the news that Sony Pictures wanted to turn Breaking Sky into a movie in the first place?
I’m so excited that Breaking Sky is in development at Sony Pictures! The producer attached to the project is Barry Josephson, who produces the TV show BONES. The studio is very communicative with me and has an amazing vision for the film, but I admit that I don’t want to be involved with the adaptation too much. I want them to make a great movie, so I’ll just sit back and watch.
At the end of 2015, you launched a remarkable campaign called Rainbow Boxes with another author, Amy Rose Capetta. The charitable initiative aims to make LGBTQIA fiction more accessible to readers all across the country. The way you executed this project was absolutely inspired! For every $250 raised, you and Capetta sent a box of fifteen carefully selected brand new books featuring LGBTQIA protagonists to one community library and one shelter. Talk to me about Rainbow Boxes. What inspired you to start this campaign? What effect has it had on you as an author? How can people get involved with the push to make LGBTQIA fiction more accessible to young adult readers?
Amy Rose and I started Rainbow Boxes because we wanted to do something about the lack of LGBTQIA fiction being made available to young readers. A lot of community libraries don’t know about the titles that do come out (because LGBTQIA books DO NOT receive the same marketing pushes as other titles) or they cannot buy them because they are controlled by conservative, elderly groups that do not want young readers exposed to inclusive stories. That is the sad truth, and if you look too close, you might go a little mad. Amy Rose and I were so happy to do something, and hopefully other people are motivated to help out too. Remember that THE BEST thing you can do for an LGBTQIA book is to buy it and read it and tell others to read it as well!
Today you offer freelance editing and Skype classroom Q&A sessions with students. How do you hope to impact the young writing and reading community with your involvement?
I like to talk with students. They ask me all sorts of weird questions, but I kind of love it. I think a lot of people say, “You can’t be a writer. That’s not a career.” Well, I like to Skype with classrooms and say, “Yes, yes you can be a writer or a musician or an artist. It’s up to you. Sure you won’t have a 401k, but you’ll live happy because you’re doing what you love.”
So far, what has been the most difficult thing you’ve faced as a writer? What is your biggest struggle?
Finding readers. I keep publishing books but there are SO MANY great books that it’s hard to break out from the pack. Maybe one day I will…
How do you approach this challenge and attempt to work through it?
I talk to people. I make myself available and spend thousands of dollars traveling and appearing at events. It’s all about exposure and finding readers—which is particularly challenging considering I am serious introvert.
What would you say to other people out there confronted with the same challenge?
I’d give them a hug. It’s really hard to write a book. It’s even harder to find a publisher, and then that last step? Finding readers? Well, we do what we can, and we writers support each other in the meantime. It’s a truly great community.
What are you most proud of about your writing?
My honesty. I write characters who are self-centered and not particularly likable but also real. That being said, putting myself in all my stories is extremely emotionally expensive.
Do we need any context before we read the writing sample you’ve brought with you today? What would you like to say to set the piece up?
This is the beginning of my new book, YOU WERE HERE. It’s got five point of views told through prose, graphic novel chapters, and word art poetry. This is sort of the main character, Jaycee. She’s a messed up girl.
Here is an excerpt from Cori’s work:
I had been driving all afternoon, trying to get lost.
The road blurred. My foot was a stone on the gas pedal, and I took the turn too fast. Tires growled and spit gravel—almost sending my car sideways through the Saturday evening traffic.
I came to a slamming stop in the playground parking lot and pressed my head to the steering wheel, cursing. The pause was short-lived. I tightened my ponytail and got out.
Trudging toward the swing set, my face burned and my breath stung in my chest. That’s what regret does well and grief does better: rips out your energy and leaves you feeling each and every heartbeat. Plus, well, I’d failed once again. Getting lost in my hometown was turning out to be as easy as disapparating—something I’d once wasted an entire lightning bolt-foreheaded summer attempting.
I sat hard on the swing. My endeavors to get lost were getting extreme. Just last week I’d night-trekked into the woods where the cross-country team practices and chugged three inches of rum. I’d left the path behind, only to run into my equidrunk classmates, taking their idiotic dares to make out with a tree and underwear-roll through a patch of poison ivy. I emerged hours later on the road behind the middle school, the same spot where years earlier I used to pump my bike into dirt-sneezing speed, trying to spinout. In short, my earliest attempts at getting lost.
I itched the length of my arm. The poison ivy welts were starting to fade, even though a few hours earlier my mom complained about how blotchy I would look in all my graduation pictures. “Photoshop,” I had assured her following the ceremony. “I promise you won’t have to remember me as rashy every time you marvel at my monumentous achievement in surviving standard education.”
Surviving was the wrong word. My mom started to weep, and I ended up taking a three-hour drive on Easy Death Road. Which is Exit 13 off Guilt Highway, if you’re curious. And then after all that, I surrendered to autopilot and a seizure of loneliness, and came here to the oddly placed Richland Avenue Park.
I scuffed my Chucks on the stubbly turf, drawn to the spot beneath the swing set where Jake died. Of course, it wasn’t rubber back then. It had been good, old fashioned, unforgiving blacktop. My mind hummed, and something inside me screamed Run! as if my worst memories were zombies, and if I were quick enough, I could outstrip them. But I stayed where I was, kicking into gear on the swing instead.
The sunset was taking forever to get over itself, and I pumped my legs like a ten-year-old. I could have been at any number of graduation parties, sneaking beer into Sprite cans and cheersing the end of high school. But no, I was here. Killing time. Waiting for dark when I’d break into The Ridges and meet up with Mikivikious for our bizarro anniversary. It had been five years. That’s something special, right? What’s the traditional present for five years? Silverware? A couch? Flatscreen?
The sun’s blaring rays made me squeeze my eyes until the whole universe went orange-red. Killing time. What an expression. How does one kill time? Anesthesia? Forward time travel? Lobotomy?
The last one made me snicker as I stared up at The Ridges, the decrepit Victorian mansion on top of the hill. Until recently, it had been known as the Athens Insane Asylum, but the state had demanded a rebrand when they shut it down—as if a new name could erase a hundred years of inhumane abuse, death, and yes, copious amounts of lobotomies. I should know; I’d tried it once or twice. Not a lobotomy—changing my own name. Anything to escape being the infamous girl who’d had a front row seat in watching her big brother snap his neck.
I would rather be known for Frenching a tree.
What inspired you to write this piece?
My friend died suddenly during the last week of eighth grade. At the time, it was horrible and shocking, but it wasn’t until years later that I started to truly process his absence and the fact that he was being forgotten. I tried to capture that sense of latent grief with You Were Here.
What would you like to accomplish in the future? What upcoming projects are brewing in your head right now?
I’m working on a new book! It’ll be out in early spring 2018, and it’s called NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. It’s about a self-conscious teen song-writer who ends up in Ireland—in the middle of the movie adaptation for her grandmother’s famous Tolkien-styled high-fantasy trilogy—with a mind to sabotage the film. Instead, she falls for the story, her grandmother’s legacy of bravery, and an adorably stubborn Irish actor.
Do you have any final thoughts to share with my readers?
Nope, just to thank you for such a thorough interview!
I’d like to thank Cori again for stopping by and sharing a bit of her work with us all here today. If you enjoyed our conversation and want to hear more from Cori, check her out in the links below!
Where you can find Cori McCarthy: