Bookish People--Emily Carpenter

It's been a while, guys! I'll update on life and books very soon, but today is the next installment of the Bookish People interviews. I'm excited to feature Emily Carpenter, author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls (available here!), a Southern Gothic romp full of suspense, secrets, and mysteries. Much of the book takes place in the Mobile area and Birmingham, my two homes, so it was especially fun for me!

1.     Give us a quick overview of the book(s) you’ve written.
Burying the Honeysuckle Girls is a southern gothic suspense novel set in Alabama and The Weight of Lies is…a southern gothic suspense novel set in Georgia. They don’t sound different but I promise they actually are!

2.     What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your book was published or as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback.
Somebody called Honeysuckle Girls misogynistic and said I must hate men, because the villains happened to be men. That stung because I was trying to tell a very particular story that did involve abuse—and trying to be unflinching about it. I never thought someone would think I approved of the abuse, so that was disappointing. But it’s part of being an author. Sometimes you’re misunderstood.

3.     Funniest (or best or worst) thing that happened during a book signing or book tour?
This isn’t funny really, but it is the best. For my launch party, my sister made all the food. And she did this incredible centerpiece modeled after something from the book—an old cigar box with all these clues passed down from generations that Althea uses to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. It was fabulous. Made me cry.

4.     Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
It’s generally pretty orderly. I’m a creature of routine, and I typically like to write while my kids are in school, after I’ve done some sort of exercise. But I do love those moments at home, over the weekend, when I happen to have some time and everybody is otherwise occupied, and I can just hang out on the sofa and pound out some words. Those have ended up being some of my most productive times.

5.     Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
I’d really love to do a ghost story one day. Really, really, really. Set in a spooky house. I’m obsessed with spooky houses.

6.     What’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
I think I probably smuggled a book into church a time or two when I was a kid.

7.     Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.
Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year and Becky Albertalli’s forthcoming The Upside of Unrequited. Two books that are vastly different but both fantastic.

8.     Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would? Maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.
I had no idea I was going to love the Twilight books the way I did. I mean, I don’t consider myself a literary snob or anything, but a YA vampire book? I thought I was going to be hate-reading it or something, you know, like oh, this silly book that everybody likes…. As it turned out, I was ridiculously into every one of them. I cried on a plane reading one of them because apparently obsessive love really speaks to me. Also, gorgeous, self-sacrificing vampires.

9.     What are your pet peeves as a reader—something you read in books that really bugs you?
In his craft book Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy calls it “feckless pondering.” In his words, “momentum killing emotional fuss.” Readers absolutely need to understand adequate backstory and some of the main character’s inner thoughts, but it has to be employed strategically. If there’s too much stopping so the main character can ponder, I can’t get into the swing of the story, and I’ll put the book down. I’m getting more conscious of it in my own writing too. I think it takes a lot of skill to boil down the necessary information that a reader needs to just the right amount. It’s much easier to go on for paragraphs, explaining how everybody thinks and feels. But it’s deadly.

10.  Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
I prefer print book, but I do read a lot of e-books. They’re just so convenient, easy to access in a pinch. I’m back to a paper calendar and I love it.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate all the way.

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?
Grande two-pump mocha no-whip from Starbucks. Dark roast Community coffee on my Keurig at home.

13.  Tell us what you’re working on now.
Another southern gothic suspense novel, this one set at a couples’ therapy retreat up in the north Georgia mountains where nothing is as it seems. 

You can find Emily on all the usual social media spots and on her website here

Thanks Emily for playing and thank YOU for reading!

Update on THE HIDEAWAY and a few notes about home

THE HIDEAWAY (no longer working title--this one has stuck) is rocking along. I'm now in my third fiction workshop and the experience has been so valuable. Through discussion with this class several months ago, I decided to make a pretty big overhaul in the manuscript. I didn't change the story or characters, but I am telling it in a different way now. It works much better, and the story is stronger. I've finished reordering the MS and I've given the revised MS to my husband and my mom (I know, I know, you're not supposed to trust family members to give you an honest opinion, but I do trust them!) I've also sent it to three beta readers, two of whom are also writers. My hope is to finish going through the printed copy myself and compile the beta readers' comments by the end of May. In June, I plan to hand off the MS (hopefully in as polished form as I can possibly make it) to another friend who is a published author. I figure she's a good last set of eye to see it before I start querying agents. At some point, I'll need to start gathering agent info...but I suppose I need to write a darn good query letter and synopsis first. Yikes. On another note (but related to THE HIDEAWAY), I was thinking the other day about the old adage "there's nothing new under the sun." If you think too much about all the books that have already been written--all the themes authors have covered, all the story lines that have been fleshed out--it can be overwhelming to the point of tossing the pen (or computer) aside and giving up. I think the key is to remember that yes, all the stories have basically been written, all the themes have been covered inside and out--but what I can do is come up with a new, fresh way to tell my story. So it's a theme that's been done before--at least no one has done it my exact way. That's what makes mine unique.

I remember telling my mom a while back that there seemed to be so many books about women who, for one reason or another, leave their hometown, only to return to it years later with a new perspective. The theme seemed overdone and annoying. And what did I do? I wrote a book with that theme! That's just what came out as I fleshed out my characters. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the idea of home and of a sense of belonging to a place is familiar to a lot of people--that's probably why the theme has been covered in so many books and movies. It's definitely common in Southern fiction--and that's what I write--and I think that's because the idea of home and place is so important to people from the South. However, I'm sure it's a universal theme, not just a regional one.

Maybe the only way to come up with something totally unique and never-before-seen is to write scifi/fantasy where you are making up a whole new world and characters that don't exist in real life. That way, it's totally out of your imagination. But even then, these characters (or beings or what have you) will likely deal with the same themes and issues, whether it's love, loyalty, revenge, betrayal, or a host of other commonalities. I guess even vampires and the dauntless ones have hearts that can be bruised and ties that can be broken.

My point is, if you look hard enough, you'll find that every theme under the sun has already been written, but that shouldn't stop you from writing your story, whatever it is. Just make sure your spin on it is fresh and new.