Interview: Cara Lockwood
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This is the fifth of six interviews with authors of MTV Books for teens. Please check back every day this week for another interview with another author!
Cara Lockwood's romantic comedies have tickled the hearts of many readers, especially twenty- and thirtysomethings. Now her newest book, Wuthering High, will extend her readership to include teenagers. Published by MTV Books, Wuthering High is the first in a new series. When Miranda is sent off to Bard Academy, an extremely private school, she thinks her family just wants her out of the way. Little does she know what's in store for her - and how famous (or infamous) her classmates and teachers will be!
How did it take you to write the actual book?
It took me about six months to write.
Was your book written before or after you landed the book deal? Did you or your agent approach MTV Books or vice versa?
I actually didn't have the book written first. I'd been writing chick lit for Downtown Press, an imprint of Pocket Books, which works closely with MTV Books, and my editor and agent approached me with the idea of writing for a younger audience. I pitched them the idea for the Bard Academy series, and landed a two-book deal with only about three chapters written of Wuthering High.
Why write for teens? Did you write your book specifically for the teen fiction shelves?
I did write my book specifically for the teen shelf. The idea for writing for teens originally came from my agent, who thought it would be a natural step for me given that I'd been successful writing for 20-somethings. At first, I wasn't sure if this was true, but the more I began writing in a teen voice, the more I really enjoyed it.
What age range or grade levels do you feel your book is suitable for - or not?
When I was ten, I was reading teen books, so I think it depends on the reading level and interest of the reader. But in terms of subject matter, I think the book works for most tweens and teens. I'd say anyone age 10 and up.
What inspired the title of your book?
The title was completely mine. It came about naturally after I decided I wanted to write about a boarding school haunted by Emily Bronte's Heathcliff. I have to admit, though, that Wuthering High's sequel (The Scarlet Letterman) was named by my good friend Elizabeth Kinsella.
Do you watch MTV?
I did and do watch MTV. My husband jokes that I'm the only 33-year-old watching "My Super Sweet Sixteen" but I know there are others out there.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many! This is hard. I read everything, so I'll take this question by genre. In terms of YA, I really like Megan McCafferty and Rachel Cohn. For adult books, some of my favorite authors are primarily humor writers. David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Nick Hornby, Laurie Notaro, Mil Milington, and Merrill Markoe. For chick lit, you can't beat Marian Keyes. For mysteries, I really like Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. And for fantasty/historical fiction, I can't get enough of Judith Merkle Riley.
Some of the MTV Books are packed with brand names and Top 40 songs. Yours has less to do with music and TV than the others, but it does have Death Cab for Cutie and confiscated electronics.
I use pop culture references in Wuthering High, even though most of the students aren't allowed access to music, TV or the internet. I think pop culture, and especially music and TV, are a big part of most people's lives - whether they're 15 or 35. We define ourselves by our taste - what we like to listen to, watch on TV or read. Our likes and dislikes help us tell other people who we are, and that's true of any age.
How many more books are due in the series?
There's a sequel due out in January (The Scarlet Letterman). After that, I'm not sure. It depends on how Wuthering High is received. I had only a two-book contract, so I'll be renegotiating for more books in the series probably this fall.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
This is so hard! And my mind changes every week. Let's see. If I have to narrow it down right at this moment, I'd say: Pride and Prejudce by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Naked by David Sedaris, Watermelon by Marian Keyes, The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley, Rose by Martin Cruz Smith, About a Boy by Nick Hornby.
Though the series is entitled Bard Academy, William Shakespeare did not appear in Wuthering High. Dorms are named after his famous characters, however, and his Complete Works come into play. Can we expect Shakey (or Puck, or Juliet, or Hamlet) to appear in future volumes?
I do want to include some Shakespeare references in future books, and in fact, there are some characters that come into play a bit in the sequel to Wuthering High. Generally speaking, however, I thought that it made sense to call the school Bard Academy namely because Bard has a double meaning (both in reference to Shakespeare, but also generally as a word for poet and/or writer). Also, it made sense to me that the literary figures there (as ghosts) would likely have respect for Shakespeare, as he's considered in many respects the grandfather of classic literature. Nearly every major author has in some way or another been influenced by Shakespeare.
Tell us about The Lockwoodettes.
The Lockwoodettes are my posse! Okay, well, I'm not nearly hip enough to have a posse, but they are friends and family who've been kind enough to promote my books. And by promote, I mean move them from the back of the store to the front tables and other guerilla acts of marketing.
What was the first book you sold?
"I Do (But I Don't)" was the first book I sold. It was published as one of the first offerings of Downtown Press, an imprint of Pocket Books and Simon and Schuster.
How involved were you with the movie version of I Do (But I Don't)?
I wasn't, actually, which was fine by me since I don't know very much about screenplay writing! When Lifetime bought the rights to the book, I was thrilled. I got to visit the movie set in Montreal, where they filmed, and met the stars, Denise Richards and Dean Cain. It was a very surreal but fun weekend.
I Did (But I Wouldn't Now) puts the spotlight on the youngest sister of the main character of I Do (But I Don't). Do you prefer writing series or companions, like this, taking up with another character?
They both have their advantages. Writing a series feels like slipping into a pair of old shoes. You know the characters, and you're simply picking up the story where you left off. A companion novel is also fun, though, because you can take a once-minor character and explore his or her life. In that way, it's a completely new story, which is fun but also challenging, as you have to create what amounts to a whole new world. I'm someone who thrives on change, so I definitely like to alternate between the two.
What's the biggest challenge of writing a series versus a "one-shot" novel?
I think both series and one-shot novels offer their own unique sets of challenges. With a series, you have to look for ways to keep yourself and your readers interested in the characters, as well as making sure that they still have lessons and/or adventures that seem consistent with who they are. In other words, you have to continue their story in an interesting way. One-shot novels are also difficult because these are new characters and, frankly, I never know if I can finish a novel until it's actually finished. A one-shot novel always offers that moment of panic (usually halfway in)when I start asking myself just what in the world I've gotten into! But in large part, I think series can be more challenging, if only because you have to think of new adventures for your old characters.
You encourage writers to be tenacious and rise above the rejection letters. Have you ever received an outlandish rejection letter? Has such a letter been devastating at the time but hilarious in retrospect?
I once got a rejection letter that made it clear the person hadn't even read my query letter or sample chapters. The letter referred to my "mystery novel" which clearly wasn't what I'd written (this was one of the rejections I'd gotten for "I Do (But I Don't)" - a romantic comedy). That's probably the worst. Although, I have to say that even worse than bad rejection letters is just being ignored. Having your letters and manuscript go into a black hole and never come out is a kind of neglect that can speak louder than a short rejection note.
Do you find it more or less difficult to write teen fiction than adult fiction? What are the differences, in your mind, between the two?
In some ways, teen fiction is more fun to write, because I feel like teens are open to more different kinds of stories and characters than adults are. Adults are a bit more cynical, and are also pre-set in their ways (they've decided they like certain kinds of mysteries or romances, for example). But I think both teen and adult fiction is challenging to write. Honestly, there's really no easy writing. I've been trying to find the novel that writes itself, and haven't been able to find one. Most people don't realize that even bad books took a lot of effort. If you've managed to write a novel, no matter if it's published or not, that's an accomplishment in and of itself.
In terms of differences between the two, I definitely felt aware of my audience when I thought about things like romantic content and language in Wuthering High. I wanted to make sure to present things in a way that was responsible, and not gratuitous.
And finally, out of all the classic characters and wonderful writers that you employ in Wuthering High, who is your favorite and why?
I have to admit that Heathcliff is my favorite. He's such an interesting mix of traits. On the one hand, he's capable of great cruelty and meanness. But on the other, he's completely and totally in love with Catherine Earnshaw. It's probably the teen girl in me that's attracted to his bad boy with a heart persona. I suppose like many others, I wanted to try to redeem him. Now, Emily Bronte would probably say Heathcliff is not redeemable. And in the second half of Wuthering Heights, he turns into a black-hearted man obsessed with revenge and makes many people unhappy. But I wondered what would happen if he had a second chance. If, in between the time he ran away to make his fortune and returned to find Catherine Earnshaw had married someone else, if things would've unfolded differently. I also like the uncertainty inherent in his character. Is he someone who's ultimately going to do the right thing? Or is he going to just look after his self-interests? And, more importantly, can Miranda trust him? It's a story I find compelling.