Monday, June 22, 2009

The Chosen One - Carol Lynch Williams

Carol Lynch Williams has been known and loved in both the Utah writing community and among readers across the nation since her first book, Kelly and Me, was released in 1995. A multiple-time winner of the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition, Nebraska’s Golden Sower Award, and this year’s PEN/Phyllis Naylor Award, Carol has just hit the big-time with her new book, The Chosen One, making last week’s New York Times Editor’s Choice list.

The Chosen One is the story of a 13-year-old girl, Kyra, who has been raised in a polygamist community her whole life, and has just been told by the prophet that she will marry her 60-year-old uncle. Because of her secret visits to the county bookmobile, Kyra knows a little about the outside world and desperately wants to make her own choices in life. Her pleas to her father and the prophet himself go unheeded, so Kyra is faced with choices—does she stay and do as she is told, or does she run away from the only life she has ever known?

I had a chance to interview Carol for my upcoming column in the Spanish Fork Press, but the interview itself was so good, and I could only use a small part of it in the column, so I’m posting the entire interview here so everyone could know the rest of the story.

Lu Ann: I supposed the most obvious question, and one you’ve likely been asked many times before, what brought a “good Mormon girl” to write the story of a girl raised in a polygamous community?

Carol: Oh thank you for thinking I’m a good Mormon girl! I do try to be. I love the Gospel and truly feel like it saved my life. I wrote this story, Lu Ann, because I wanted people to know that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not polygamists. Upstanding Latter-day Saints do not have more than one spouse. People still think weird things about our religion as a whole. My intention, when I started this book, was that a little LDS girls would meet a polygamous girl and people would see the contrast of the two as the story unfolded. But, as I have said, no Mormons were harmed in the writing of this story! Characters in books have a way of leading the tale. As soon as I penned the first line I realized every thought I had before for this book would have to be thrown out.

Lu Ann: How did your vision or understanding of that community grow or change as you wrote the book?

Carol: I realized that in every community—no matter what kind—religious or not—there can be good, loving people. And people who will try to seize control of others. It doesn’t matter who, what, or where. You see it around the world—and as close as next door. People act the way they are going to—whether they blame God for their choices—or themselves—or their victims.

Lu Ann: I’ve heard that you have a friend, a young man, who left a polygamous community at one time. How did he help you see the inside of the group you intended to portray?

Carol: Chris spoke very little of the community that he lived in. I had just started working on the book when he came to my home that first evening. He was so shy! I told him I was going to write a book about polygamy and asked if I could question him. He said yes. But when I would ask him something, he remained pretty tight-lipped at the time. Things have changed over the years. Now he and I speak openly about his experience. We’re pretty good friends. He’s a great person. Kind and loving and generous.

Lu Ann: Where do you see Kyra’s story going next? Will she meet up with Joshua, regret leaving her family, or learn to survive in the new version of her world? Why or why not? And what do you supposed happened back home with the other children after she is gone?

Carol: Argh! What do you think happened, Lu Ann? That’s a hard question. As far as Joshua—she is only thirteen! And of course she misses her family. I think she will for a long time. Forever, actually. I think she will learn to cope in her new world. She got away from the old one and that took tremendous courage. I know she’ll have help, too. And back home? I can’t even think what’s happening back home.

Lu Ann: Do you anticipate writing another book about Kyra at any time, or about any of the other characters we met in this novel?

Carol: Probably not. But who knows what the future brings? What I have seen from many other writers is that they have a terrific first book and a not-so-good sequel. I don’t want to do that.

Lu Ann: This book seems to be a breakout novel for you. Blurbs from many well-known authors and voices in the YA literature world have given you glowing endorsements. Other than the fact that you are a brilliant writer, as those of us among your longtime fans and friends have known, to what do you attribute this sudden notoriety?

Carol: First, thank you for your sweet comments, Lu Ann. I love you, too! I once asked several different authors what they did to write a successful book. Barbara Williams said, “Write a book about the Titanic before the movie Titanic comes out!” She was kidding—sort of. This book was purchased by St. Martin’s Press two days before the incident in Texas. Just two days. The timing, that I had no control over, has helped to fuel interest in this book, I’m sure. And also, St. Martin’s Press has gotten behind the book. They have wanted to see it succeed. How exciting is that, Lu Ann? You’re a writer. You know how important it is for the publisher to like what you have done. I’ve received this marvelous gift from my publishing house. And I have an editor there, Hope Dellon, whom I adore.

Lu Ann: Have you heard any inkling of nominations or awards pending for The Chosen One? What can you tell us about the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Award you recently won?

Carol: My sweet daughter Kyra is praying that I win every award possible! But, no, I haven’t heard anything except from friends. This is a crazy business. And there are a lot of good titles coming out from a lot of good houses. Kyra has tracked down what she thinks are my biggest competitors and is reading them. “This one, Mom,” she says, holding the book out for me to see, “this one is pretty good. You better read it.” I have a long list of books to read (growing ever longer because of Kyra, thank you very much!). I can’t say I wouldn’t love to win awards. But for sure, I want people to read this book and love it themselves. And the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Award! Wow! That was sooooo cool! I met Phyllis Reynolds Naylor again (I had once many years ago) and sat next to her at dinner. She is wonderful. And I had the chance to meet Lucy Frank (Oy, Joy! and The Homeschool Liberation League—both terrific novels. Really!) who is now a good friend. She was one of the judges and Lucy and I (and two of my girls) spent several hours together when we were in New York for the ceremony. Being with Lucy was like meeting a friend you haven’t seen for a bit. She is beautiful inside and out. My daughters still talk of how generous she was and how they liked her. Anyway, the whole experience was amazing. A real honor.

Lu Ann: You’ve had two books come out in recent months. What new projects are you currently working on? Do you have titles and release dates on future projects or are you still writing them?

Carol: At this point I know I have another book being published with St Martin’s Press. It’s tentatively called Lost in Peace. I have no idea when it will be out. The title will be changed—to what, I’m not sure. It’s the story of a girl who’s caring for her mom—and all the while her mother insists the girl’s dead grandfather is living with them. I also have a book coming out with Paula Wiseman Books called Glimpse. That will be out next summer. It’s the story of a girl whose older sister tries to kill herself. The main character wants to find out why.

Lu Ann: Now that you are seriously giving Stephenie Meyers a run for the money in popularity, what do you most want your readers to know and remember about you and your books?

Carol: Huh?! I don’t think that’s happening. You are so funny, Lu Ann! This is a good question. I want people to remember my character and think she was real. I want my readers to be compassionate to what they don’t understand. I hope they would be willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I hope they have questions, that they look at the world in a new way, that they love Kyra and her heart. Gosh, I hope I can do those things.

Lu Ann: I’d like to thank Carol for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answers my questions. She just finished a hectic week as one of the organizers for the BYU Symposium on Writing for Young Readers last week, and is now hard at work on her next projects, although she did take some time off this weekend to help her youngest daughter with a cross-stitch project—a butterfly.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meet the Dragon Lady: Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

As an avid reader, it’s exciting to me when I discover a new author whose books I absolutely loved. That’s what happened not long ago when I read Dragon Flight and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow both by Utah author Jessica Day George. I had the opportunity to interview Jessica several weeks ago, but because I was a judge in her category for the Whitney Awards I had to wait to even read what I learned about her from the online interview. Since then, Jessica has released a new book in the Dragon series, Dragon Spear, and a retold fairy tale, Princess of the Midnight Ball, both books I’m excited to read.

I met Jessica at the Whitney Award Gala and I discovered, she’s not really a dragon lady, but she loves to write about them. Dragon Slippers was the first children's book she had ever written, and it ended up being the first book she had published. “My first six books are still languishing on my hard drive!” she says.

She says her publication story is a matter of being in the “right place at the right time. I went to BYU's Writing For Young Readers Conference, and during the Saturday morning pitch session I just happened to sit next to a girl who was setting up a small, by invitation only, workshop with Melanie Cecka of Bloomsbury as the guest of honor. I got to spend fifteen minutes talking to Melanie one-on-one, and she loved not only Dragon Slippers, but other ideas I threw at her as well.”

About her newest book, Dragon Spear, she says, it “will be the last adventure with Creel and Shardas, but I will definitely be going back to Feravel some day.”

Although Dragon Slippers, and the resulting series which included Dragon Flight, got her career off the ground, it’s her Norse folktale that makes her stand out from the crowd, ending up as a Whitney finalist in both Youth Fiction and for Novel of the Year. A longtime fan of Norse folk tales, regarding another book along those lines in the future, Jessica says, “I'm toying with several ideas, actually. I love writing about Norway! I might do a historical fiction with Vikings, I might take on another folk tale. We shall see. . . .”

Since I spend most of my time with seventh grade students, a perfect audience for her books, I asked Jessica why readers should pick up one of her books to read. “Because I try to write books that I would enjoy reading,” she says. “I like to have lots of humor, but also lots of fun characters and some good action thrown in as well.”

An avid reader herself as a teen, Jessica says her favorite books were “ANYTHING by Robin McKinley! With Diana Wynne Jones as a close second!” She has continued to write for this audience herself because “the ideas just kept coming! I've always been a huge fan of YA fantasy, and after writing six adult books, I suddenly (or should I say: finally) started getting idea after idea for YA and middle grade books.”

For those who might want to become writers themselves, Jessica says, “Never give up, never surrender! Just keep writing, and keep looking for opportunities to meet with editors, and it will happen.” But even once you’ve sold your book, the job of writing isn’t over. “No matter how much she says she loves your book,” Jessica adds, “your editor will find bajillions of things that need ‘work.’ Don't give up, and don't hyperventilate, just do it.”

Good advice for us all, but if you’ll excuse me now, I have two brand new books from one of my new favorite authors waiting for me on my bookshelf.