Interviewed for Bookshop Talk by Laura Madsen
Carol Lynch Williams is the author of twelve young adult (YA) novels in the national market, one nonfiction book, and a number of novels in the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) market. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and teaches Creative Writing at Brigham Young University. She is the mother of five daughters, who are the best parts of her life.
Carol’s most recent titles are:
On to the interview.
Laura Madsen: I read that your mom was an English professor, so I expect you grew up in a house full of books. What were your favorite books as a child?
Carol Lynch Williams: We did have a lot of books when I was growing up. And I loved the way they looked and smelled. We didn't have a lot of kids books in the home, though. In fact, I remember getting a kid's book in the mail and being surprised about there being such a thing (this was when I was way young). However, the library (my grandmother took me all the time) had plenty for me to choose from and I read The Borrowers, The Boxcar Children and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz books. At home, though, I was reading Twain, Faulkner and Steinbeck. Those were my great loves, and my first writing teachers. Maybe that's where my dark side arose? Hello, Grapes of Wrath and Light in August, not to mention Wise Blood.
LM: You write the “Throwing Up Words” blog (great name!) with author Ann Dee Ellis (THIS IS WHAT I DID), and your daughter Kyra. Has blogging helped your fiction writing?
CLW: No, not really. That probably means that I'm doing the blogging wrong or something. It doesn't even rev me up to want to write. Sheesh!!! AND I notice my life ticks away much faster because I have to have something new written every Monday morning. Do you know how often that is? Weekly. And then some!
However, it's lovely to hear from people. And I love to read what Ann Dee and Kyra have to say in their posts.
LM: You have five daughters, yet some of your books have quite disturbing mother-daughter relationships. How have your relationships with your daughters informed your writing?
CLW: My girls are my best friends. Each one will say to me, "Mommy, you're my best friend," and then I say, "You're my best friend, too." One of them (I can't remember who) said to me, "I love the way you make us each feel like we're your favorite even though you're telling us all the same thing." I swear, these girls have helped me get through some hard times.
The strong parts of my girl characters many times come from my daughters. For example, in The Chosen One, my Kyra plays the piano and loves to read and actually was the first one in the home to read The Harry Potter series. My other daughter Laura, is a girl I think who would have run away from a polygamist community, guns a-blazing. In True Colors, Caitlynne is a tomboy and so was Elise growing up.
Mostly, I think--after the book is finished (I don't worry about this when I'm writing)--I hope to have written a book for one of my girls. Cait (who's 18) feels like the two books I'm working on now were written for her--especially the novel coming out with Simon and Schuster. That's important to me. We're not that different. If my girls like what I've done, maybe another girl will like what I've done. Maybe another girl will connect to the words.
LM: I understand that you started writing GLIMPSE right after 9/11.
CLW: Yes, that night I couldn't sleep and I went in and sent an email to a friend and realized that I had the beginning of a novel.
LM: The plot centers on a girl trying to discover the reasons behind her sister’s attempted suicide. Even though the book isn’t related to the terrorist attacks, did writing it help you deal with 9/11?
CLW: No, but Celexa did-- a bit. And I'm still dealing with September 11. I'm still angry about it. Still heartbroken. I still email my New York friends and tell them I'm thinking of them on that day every year.
LM: You have published one nonfiction book, 24 GAMES YOU CAN PLAY ON A CHECKERBOARD. Do you have plans to write/publish other books outside of the YA genre?
CLW: I kind of fell into young adult writing as I pushed my characters into more difficult situations. Some of my first published books were upper middle grade--I'd say about six were true middle grade novels, and ten or so were younger middle grade novels.
Since, I have written two picture books that I hope get pubbed someday, and I have a pretty funny novel I started that's a true mid grade. We'll see what happens with that--not sure when I'll get to it. An editor is looking at another middle grade that I sent her a few months ago.
I have an early reader series that I hope will be picked up some day (it's sitting on an editor's desk right now and I heard we'll be hearing back about that soon). I've just queried two editors about some nonfiction and I have an upper mid grade (possible) series going on in my head. Plus a friend has asked me to think about writing a book for adults with her.
I always have ideas, all kinds, in my head.
LM: You live in a conservative state and teach at a conservative university but your novels deal with some pretty intense subjects: polygamy, forced marriage, child prostitution, death, abandonment, etc. Do people criticize you for the tough subjects?
CLW: Yes, I get some criticism, but not here in my conservative state or at my conservative school. I have gotten more unhappy letters from people who feel like my being Mormon is the reason why I allowed Kyra to live the way she did in The Chosen One. They think Kyra would have thought differently if I weren't a Mormon, but any writer knows change comes to a character in baby steps, not just leaping off a cliff and becoming a feminist as you fall.
LM: Have you felt pressure to make your novels “happier”?
CLW: Again, not from my community. There are nay-sayers everywhere, but I have been honored at LDS Storymakers, and from the Association of Mormon Letters and Tim Wynne-Jones once spoke about my novel at BYU making me--as a writer-- sound much smarter than I am!
I have to tell you, those awards from the LDS writing community were so touching. I had worried writing about modern-day polygamy would make some people uncomfortable. But the book was accepted with open arms. It was a true honor to receive awards.
LM: You are co-organizer of the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference, a week-long workshop for authors and illustrators of children’s books, from picture books to young adult. How did you get started with the conference?
CLW: A good friend of mine, Chris Crowe, came to me and said, "If you could attend any kind of writing conference, what would it be like?" He, John Bennion (another wonderful friend) and I developed the conference that has now been in existence for 12 years. Yahoo!
LM: Who are your favorite authors to read? The ones you say to yourself, “Jane Doe’s new book comes out next week and I can’t wait to read it!”
CLW: I've started this answer over and over. The fact is, the list is too long for me to name every writer I love. I have so many writer friends and most all of them are fantastic writers and I'm always, ALWAYS excited to see their books come out. I can tell you what I'm reading right now: Fractions=Trouble by Claudia Mills and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld.
A big, BIG thank you to Carol Lynch Williams for spending some time with us on Bookshop Talk!