Author Interview: Lauren Karcz

Gallery of Unfinished GirlsHi friends! Sorry I haven’t been blogging as much. This is pretty much how well I’m balancing teaching, plus writing, plus trying to exercise, and have some kind of life. But I’m completely thrilled to have an interview with Lauren Karcz for you today. Her debut YA The Gallery of Unfinished Girls comes out tomorrow, and I can’t wait to read it.

When developing the story, did you begin with plot, character, or setting?

Characters, for sure. Three of the main characters in Gallery — protagonist Mercedes, her sister Angela, and her best friend Victoria — go way, way back with me. I started writing about them when I was in middle school, and they featured in all kinds of stories, from contemporary romances to mysteries to adventure stories. I carried those girls with me as I grew up, as I became their ages and then surpassed them. I think Mercedes and Victoria were aspirational characters for me at the beginning, but they’ve necessarily evolved over the years. I could always identify with parts of them, and aspire to parts of their personalities, while also acknowledging their flaws. And so I returned to them again and again.

But. They were so often supporting characters, Mercedes especially. She was Victoria’s sidekick, her unconventional best friend. It bugged me that I had cast her that way so many times. I wanted to tell her story. So from the beginning of Gallery, that’s what I knew — I was giving Mercedes her own story, and I knew Victoria and Angela would be major supporting characters. Oh, and I knew it would start with a magical piano on a front lawn. And I went from there.

What has surprised you the most about the publishing process?

I mean, I’d been warned about the number of times you have to read your own book, or be able to summarize your own book, or think up new angles for publicizing your own book (favorite quotes, songs that relate to it, that kind of thing), but wow, the reality of it is more than I expected. You really are living with that book for several years, some times more intensely than others, so you’d better really love it. I’m also realizing that as long as I continue to publish and do interviews and appearances, people will ask me questions about my first book. So I want to be sure that anything I try to publish, I really, really love, because I’ll be hanging out with it, and talking about it, for a long time.

Do you have favorite methods for dealing with rejection and/or celebrating your success as a writer? 

When I finally started sending out my work, I thought that rejection would hurt more than it did. I think I was just so relieved that I’d actually sent! something! out! that no single rejection could bring me down from that high. (Well — there was one that stung. It was one of those proverbial close calls.) So I suppose my method was just to hold close my own accomplishments of finishing, revising, and querying a novel. Any one of those things is huge.

That said, I wish I was better about celebrating successes. I’d love to have a journal or scrapbook dedicated to all the good experiences I had writing and publishing Gallery. We make baby books and scrapbooks for kids — why not a book-scrapbook for myself?

If you were back in high school, do you think you’d be friends with your main character Mercedes?

I’d like to think so, but I was so quiet and unassuming in high school that I doubt she’d know I even existed. Mercedes at 17 is far more comfortable commanding attention than I was at 17.

What are some of the best books you’ve read lately? 

I really enjoyed The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash, by Candace Ganger, which is a YA contemporary debut that releases the same day as mine. It’s an intense book about family, grief, healing, and romance — I love how well Candace balanced all of these huge feelings and life-changing events throughout the narrative.

I also read and loved Darcy Miller’s Roll, a middle grade contemporary that came out a few months ago. I can confidently say that it’s the only middle-grade novel in recent years about training pigeons. It’s also a poignant, funny story about outgrowing friends and making new ones, and about being eleven years old and trying to own your interests and your geeky identity for the first time.

I often use poetry collections as palate cleansers — they help me get away from narrative so I can take a deep dive into language. I recently read and liked Billy Collins’s Horoscopes for the Dead, and next I think I’ll revisit Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman, an old favorite.

Nine Life Lessons from Jane Eyre

160315_BOOKS_Charlotte-Brontë.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge21. Maintain your freedom: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

2. How you feel is more important than looking respectable: “I would always rather be happy than dignified.”  

3. Ugly people have feelings too: “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.

4. Loving yourself is important: “If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

5. Like it’s really really really important: care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

6. You don’t have to listen to people because they are older: “I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”

7. Something isn’t right just because everyone else is doing it: “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.”

8. Try not to hold grudges: “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

9. When it comes to flirting, use it or lose it: “Flirting is a woman’s trade, one must keep in practice.”