Interview: Carmen Rodrigues
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Song: Only Angels Have Wings score music
I recall standing in the library at a young age and reading a book jacket summary written in third person, then discovering that the book itself is written in first person. I furrowed my blow, feeling a little upset by the mismatch. (I like things that match. Always.) I am perhaps better able to express it now: If the story reveals what's on the character's mind, shouldn't the blurb follow suit? I also now understand why flaps and blurbs err on the side of third person, but I still prefer summaries that match the narrator in tone and style.
Therefore, the very fact that Not Anything's back cover blurb was written in first person made me happy. Shortly after reading the book, I was able to interview Carmen Rodrigues and find out what's on the author's mind.
You started writing this book after a personal loss. I salute you for being able to pick up that pen (or sit at that keyboard) and channel your grief into your writing. That must have been so difficult. How long did it take to write the first draft?
Not Anything took nearly two years to write and another year or so to revise. It was my first time writing a full-length manuscript, and I gave myself permission to take the necessary time to figure things out. By doing so, I created a story that feels organic, not contrived.
When in the writing process did your story get its title?
The title, Not Anything, came into play well after the novel was written. Of course, I brainstormed a few ideas along the way, but none seemed to fit Susie's struggle. Then, finally, after my twentieth conversation with a friend about the book, I heard myself saying, "This is a story about a girl who really feels like she's not anything." That's when I realized that Not Anything was the perfect title for Susie's story.
Each chapter has a title as well. Which chapters were the easiest to write? The hardest?
I don't really think one chapter was easier/harder to write than the other. Certainly, the writing of several passages made me feel more emotional, but my struggle over the placement of each word in each chapter felt the same. I will say that one of my favorite chapters to write was "A Definite Connection." The beginning of that chapter is filled with lighthearted humor, while the end is charged with sexual tension and confusion, a common side effect of falling in love for the first time. The delicate balance of these three energies makes that chapter feel exactly like adolescence, or at least like my adolescence. I love that chapter for that reason.
Your protagonist, Susie Shannon, got her last name from her Irish father but looks more like her Puerto Rican mother. There are so many common misconceptions about growing up in a biracial family, but luckily for Susie, it's pretty much a non-issue. I loved that that wasn't an issue, that it was just a fact. Thank you for that!
The families of Susie's best friend Marisol and her crush Danny are quite different from Susie's. Which character's family is the most like yours was, growing up?
Hmm... I might identify the most with Susie's family, although not entirely. I grew up eating traditional Puerto Rican food and hearing Spanish spoken at church and among the adults of my family, but never directly to me. In a way, my experiences mirror those of a child growing up in a biracial home, where neither heritage seems to dominate the landscape of childhood. There did seem to be a sharp divide between my parents' upbringing and my own. I guess you could say that I had a bi-cultural experience. That experience being a shifting world where language and culture begin to disappear as generations of a family attempt to assimilate into mainstream America. Thank God, we moved from Lorain, Ohio to Miami, Florida when I was ten! That move enabled me to reclaim my Latin American heritage.
A side note: Both Danny and Marisol are Cuban-American. Growing up in Miami, most of my boyfriends were Cuban-American. I drew a lot from those experiences in order to create Danny's and Marisol's families.
Susie sings and plays the guitar, but mostly for herself. Do you have any hidden talents?
I love to sing, dance, write song lyrics and think of oddball comic strips. My creativity tends to flow in a variety of directions, which is great but also distracting. A long time ago, I decided to focus my energy on writing, and so that's where I channel the majority of my creativity. Everything else has to wait.
Did you write Susie's lyrics for the story, or were they your own songs or poems from earlier times?
The lyrics to Susie's songs existed in snippets prior to the writing of the novel, but mostly as poems that I wrote as a teen. I wanted to make her lyrics as authentic as possible, so I consulted my own writings from my sophomore year in high school to begin the process.
Susie's story continues in A Little Something. How many books will be in the series?
There will only be two books in the series. The first, Not Anything, is really about Susie's journey to find herself. The second, A Little Something, is about Susie's journey to find love.
How did you land your book deal?
I think the same way that every other author has landed a book deal: lots of query letters to agents, lots of rejections, lots of revisions, etc. It's a waiting game, and what you're waiting for is someone to finally say, "I love your book." For me, that person was Rachel Vater, formerly of Lowenstein-Yost Associates. She loved my manuscript and passed it on to Zoe Fishman, an upcoming junior agent. Zoe signed me on as her client and sold my manuscript to Berkley Jam.
You set Not Anything in Miami, where you were raised. Now that you live in North Carolina, do you plan to set a future novel near your new home?
Not Anything was set in Miami because I am so comfortable with that city's terrain. I'm sure as I become more comfortable with my environment in North Carolina, the settings will become a part of my writing.
What are your ten favorite books?
Well, that's difficult a question to answer because I've read so many books over the last few decades. My most recent favorites are:
Looking for Alaska by John Green -- I cried for hours after reading this novel.
The Queen of Everything by Deb Caletti -- Beautifully written.
This is Graceanne's Book by P.L. Whitney -- Heartbreaking. The writing is exquisite.
Bad Girls by Alex McAulay -- I stayed up all night reading this book. His writing is like a triple shot of espresso injected into your veins hourly.
While I Was Gone by Sue Miller - The writing is so tender and thoughtful.
Violet on the Runway by Melissa Walker -- Such a well-balanced mix of good writing, humor and love. Melissa Walker is a young adult writer on the verge of great success.
My classic faves are:
My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews -- I think I read this book four times as a teen. This complex novel is V.C. Andrews' best book by far and her only stand-alone title.
Forever by Judy Blume -- Taught me so much about relationships and heartbreak.
Persuasion by Jane Austen -- One of Jane Austen's less popular titles, but the most memorable.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- This haunting novel is my favorite of all time. Bronte's talented writing deserves a lifetime of my admiration.
Visit Carmen's website and MySpace page.
Read my review of Not Anything.