Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interview and Give Away with Carolyn Crane

Welcome, Carolyn, to Penelope's Romance Reviews! Readers, please leave a comment/question/salutation for Carolyn, and you'll be entered to win a copy of Mind Games. Thanks!

Penelope: Tell me a little bit about your writing background....when did you first get interested in writing? Is this your first completed novel? When did the "idea" for Mind Games first pop into your head?

Carolyn: First, thanks for having me! I love visiting with other writers. It’s fun, and it’s been fun getting to know you, Penny.

So, writing background…I’ve always loved books and reading, and I’ve been writing pretty seriously since college (and I’ve hit my 40’s now, so that’s a while). Early on, I was into writing funny essays by fake people. In fact, my husband and I used to put out a humor zine of silly essays called Gauzy Memento. Then I switched over the fiction, and Mind Games is my fourth novel. The others, gah! One novel had an agent and was ALMOST sold, but alas. I tend to write stuff that’s neither fish nor fowl.

I got the idea for Mind Games after reading Straw Dogs by John Gray, this unbelievably depressing sort of philosophical book that takes a super dismal view of humanity. It made me feel awful about life, and I thought, if I had an enemy, I would give them this book as a gift, so that they could feel as disillusioned as I did. Then I thought, what if there were people who disillusioned other people for money? Like a hit squad, except on a more emotional and philosophical level. Then I thought, that would make a fun plot!

I like how your twisted mind works! Hee hee hee.... Those first three books obviously got your writing polished, because you come across like a very experienced author.

I was really blown away by your prose. It's clean, descriptive in unexpected ways, modern and very, very honest. Are you a plotter/pantser? Do you write "clean" or go back and edit and revise until you want to rip your freaking hair out?

Oh, thanks SO much!! I’m a total plotter. Though I alter the plot along the way, I like to know what I’m writing towards. And, I HATE first drafts. I write a crap first draft, by hand. Then I type it up. I love editing and tinkering. I could edit forever.

You write by hand? Holy Macarena! I am speechless. It's good to know other authors are editing fiends, too!

Are you a hypochondriac? How the hell did you come up with a heroine who has severe hypochondria? It is the antithesis of a typical heroine, and yet it works so incredibly well in your book.

Well, I had the psychological hit squad idea, then I went to what I knew, hypochondria, because I used to be a hypochondriac. I trace my health fears back to a variety of things: the 70’s hit song Seasons in the Sun, that Willy Wonka movie where that poor girl eats something and puffs up, a specific Brady Bunch episode that is mentioned in the book, and the general 1970’s hysteria about cancer.

Actually, I can still slip into it even now. I specifically didn’t give Justine any of my pet health fears, because, you know how, when you write a book, you end up thinking about your subject so much? I thought that would be dangerous. Do you have a thing with Christmas from writing your books? Like you think about Christmas too much?

Oh, I LOVE Violet from Willy Wonka...she ate the "special" gum and turned into a giant blueberry. ("Violet, you're turning violet!"). So far, writing about the Klaus brothers has not completely ruined the Christmas season for me, but it's a touch and go thing!

Do your characters evolve as you write or are they fully formed in your brain before you start the story?

I start with an idea about them, but they evolve and gain complexity. For example Sterling Packard started life as a pretty two-dimensional character, and I uncovered him in a way.

Interesting. Packard is such a complex character. You must really layer it in as you go....

How did you come up with the amazingly cool paranormal scenario in MG? "Weaponizing your neuroses"??? Are you kidding me? This is such an original, fresh, offbeat concept. It's fantastic!!! (I'll bet Woody Allen would be totally on board with this whole thing! hee hee.....)

LOL. Woody Allen. He is a hypochondriac, isn’t he? Actually, though, in a way, Woody Allen is working with weaponized neuroses and emotions, on a small scale, in some of his movies. Do you remember Annie Hall’s brother, played by Christopher Walken? And he would infuse the people around him with a kind of dread.

In the book, my hit squad ‘zings’ targets with their darkness, and there’s a way where I think zinging’ already happens on a very minor scale. For example, have you ever spent time with somebody who’s intensely angry or depressed, or who is incredibly light and happy, and it affects you? Not that they do it on purpose, but emotional and psychological states can be ‘catching’ in their own ways.

As I created the whole scheme, I was also thinking about this old friend of mine who was slowly going insane—conspiracy theories, voices, the whole deal. It was really terrible, and sad. And whenever I’d hang out with him long enough, then afterwards, I’d feel a all crazy and wired, too, as if I’d soaked up his crazy energy.

I hadn't thought about it this way, but you're basically talking about "catching" negativity from toxic people. Cool. (In a disturbing way!)

First person POV is tricky business. Sometimes it works great (Fever series by KMM), sometimes it does a face plant, especially if the heroine is unlikable. You have done a remarkable job making Justine a real and appealing character--I love how she is struggling with doing the right thing vs. being selfish, and her very honest attraction to different men. How did you create such a colorful heroine? Are you totally into first person POV? Would you write a novel using third person POV? Do you have examples of both that you really dig?

Oh, these are such great writerly questions! You know, some have thought my heroine is sort of narcissistic, though I wasn’t trying to make her that way, but I think that’s a risk with first person, because you have a person talking about their experience for a whole book. Also, people in pain or distress are often narcissistic, because how can you not be self-focused?

You know what’s funny? Doing interviews, I totally feel narcissistic! You’ve done it, isn’t it sort of a weird kind of conversation? because, I’m like, going on about my process and not asking questions back.

I love first person POV, two of my favorite books are Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day and Nabakov’s Lolita, both masterpieces of first person POV which I’ve read repeatedly out of utter writerly love. But I like third, and I have the first book of a new series written that’s in a third person POV, rotating between three people. It’s a PNR with UFC fighters!

Yes, the interview thing is weird. I agree. A PNR with UFC fighters....Oh yeah, baby! I can't wait!

Justine's sense of humor is delicious. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is actually Carolyn Crane's wry sense of humor. (True or false?) Do you have a favorite quote from the book? Here's one of my favorites...

"We wait. I've always enjoyed those "downward spiral" tales of real-life corruption and dissipation you can see on cable TV--true crime stuff, rock stars gone bad. But as I stand there adding "bartering sexual favors for tips on how to be a more effective vigilante" to the list of things I now stoop to, those stories seem a whole lot less entertaining."

Oh, I love that you picked that one out! My favorite is this, about Aggie, a villain who killed her husband in a really gross way with ants:

Aggie is one of those women who never lost their baby cheeks. Hers are covered with a thick application of shimmer powder. It’s the kind of make-up choice that would cast her entire mental landscape into question if the business with the ants hadn’t already accomplished this.

As for your question on humor, Justine is far more clever than I am. If only I could have a writer slaving over my every utterance!

That scenario with the ants makes me think you should send a copy of your book to Quentin Tarantino. Something tells me he would love it!

Now onto the "sex fiend" portion of the interview. :) Your love scenes are fabulous...I would use the word "succulent"---are these easy or difficult to write? They flow seamlessly in your novel, which is really impressive to me as an author.

Oh, you run such a complimentary interview! Thank you! That means so much to me because, OMG, I work so hard on those scenes! You can’t even know - sex scenes and love declaration scenes are my real weak area. I study the scenes of other writers a lot. When I find a successful one, sometimes I copy it by hand, as a way of getting a visceral sense of how the really good ones are built, as far as pacing and so forth. It’s so hard to do those scenes. Actually, I am doing a hard love scene in edits right now, and I have sent it to my CP twice on a kind of emergency basis.

Wow! That makes me feel a lot better, because I also struggle with love scenes, but yours seem so effortless.

Did you already have the concepts in place for the entire trilogy when you were writing MG? I cannot wait for the next book, and to find out what happens with the love triangle between Justine and Packard and Otto. I love the humanity of J and P and O....they are a delicious mix of righteousness, confusion, vulnerability and strength--morality issues are blurred, and the characters are all about shades of grey, which is so honest and real. But at the same time, you infuse your book with optimism, which is what all true romance readers are looking for. I was so worried the ending was going to be depressing as hell, but instead it ended PERFECTLY, not wrapped up in a tidy bow, but with a feeling of accomplishment and hope for the future. Not a lot of UF books bother with this. Did you feel it was important for your story? I, for one, am thrilled that you ended your book this way!

I love that you bring out the optimism, and that being a key quality for romance. It’s important to me, too. I don’t need a book to tell me life is dismal, or hard, and that things turn out poorly. So, in a book, several story arcs tend to be in operation, but it’s important to me that things are looking up at least somewhere. Though, OMG I’M EDITING OUT THINGS I’M DYING TO SAY ABOUT BOOK TWO!

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that when a writer creates opposing characters or viewpoints etc. in a book, she should be able to fully argue for—and believe—either side. I take that to heart in a huge way. I like when there is something ideologically meaty to wrestle with, and I can see either side. That’s not to say I don’t come down somewhere in the end.

I didn’t have the entire concept in place for the trilogy. I had ideas. At one point, I imagined bringing Cubby back evil! Also, I thought about making Shelby and Justine nemeses, but I can say that is not happening. And early on, angry Carter was the romantic hero! In the earliest draft!

Cubby evil! I love it! I was actually really stressing out about Cubby (which I assume was your intention). Jiminy Cricket. I thought Justine was going to find his head in a refrigerator or something.

Are you working on any other projects? Non-UF?

Yes, that UFC fighter paranormal, and I also have an idea for a cozy mystery series.

I'm ready for the UFC paranormal, and I adore cozy mysteries. Can't wait!

Huge thanks to Carolyn for joining us today. Please leave a comment if you'd like the chance to win a copy of Mind Games.


p.s. check out Carolyn's website!

p.p.s. buy Mind Games!

p.p.p.s. check out Penelope's review for Mind Games!