Caroline Carlson

New Digs, and an Interview

If you’ve found me here, you’ve already noticed that I’m moving into my new home, (Sort of a mouthful, I know. But will get you here, too, if you prefer it.) I’ll be sprucing things up and putting together a new look for the site as the release date for Magic Marks the Spot approaches, but for now, I hope you’ll enjoy my circa-2001 web design skills.

Many years ago (like about 5), when I worked as an editor at a textbook development company, I was overcome with jealousy when my coworker Shoshana Flax left the company to pursue an MFA in writing for children at Simmons College. When Shoshana left, I realized how desperately I wanted to do exactly the same thing, and a few years later, I earned an MFA of my own. In addition to being an amazingly talented poet, writer, editor, and bookseller, Shoshana is also a blogger, and I’m interviewed today on her blog. Please visit Walk the Ridgepole to learn a little bit more about my path to publication, and stick around for her excellent book reviews, interviews, and thoughts about the world of children’s lit.

Six Stupendous Series

(Originally published at The Lucky 13s.)

Today I’m revealing a not-so-secret truth about myself: I love books in series. I also love books that stand alone, of course, but isn’t it great when you reach the last page of a wonderful book, only to discover that there’s another wonderful book where that came from? Another book set in the same world, possibly featuring the same characters, possibly even picking up where that first book left off? Some books don’t demand sequels or companion novels—they’re strongest on their own—but other stories pull us into their worlds and refuse to let us go, compelling us to stand in line at our local bookstore at midnight to get our desperate little hands on the next book in the series.

It’s true that I’m a little bit biased when it comes to series: My 2013 debut is the first novel in a planned trilogy. But my love of series books began long before my book deal. In my elementary school library, I checked out all of James Marshall’s Fox easy readers and read every Bobbsey Twins mystery I could find. After that, I found the Little House books, and the Alice books, and the Wayside School books, and (much later, not in my elementary school library) the Millennium Trilogy…. I could keep listing favorite series, but my hands would cramp up before I came anywhere close to telling you abou t all the books I love. Instead, though it kills me to be so selective, I’ll share with you three ongoing series I can’t wait to finish and three classic series you shouldn’t miss.

Three Ongoing Series I Can’t Wait to Finish:

1. The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper
This historical YA trilogy by Australian writer Michelle Cooper follows the FitzOsborne family—royal teenagers from the imaginary island kingdom of Montmaray—as they cope with adventure, politics, and romance at the outset of World War II. The first two books, A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile, are out now in the US, and the final book,The FitzOsbornes at War, comes out here in October. Fans of I Capture the Castle will love the main character, Sophie, and her friendly narrative style.

2. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
I’m cheating a little here, because this brilliant and sweet middle grade series about a family of four sisters is partially a homage to another favorite series of mine, the magical adventures by Edward Eager. The three books about the Penderwicks don’t  have magic, but they do have spunky characters, humor, and plenty of good old-fashioned coziness. According to Jeanne Birdsall’s website, there will be 5 Penderwicks books in all.

3. The Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood
We interviewed Apocalypsie Jessica Spotswood a few months ago when her debut novel, Born Wicked, came out, and I’m already dying for the next book in the series. I’m guessing that, like their predecessor, the sequels will involve witchcraft, fancy dresses, and True Love. Hurry up and get here, 2013, so I can find out what happens next!

Three Classic Series You Shouldn’t Miss:

1. The Hall Family Chronicles by Jane Langton
How is this series out of print? The Diamond in the Window and its sequels are fun fantasy adventures that were some of my favorites growing up. I hope you’ll be able to find them in your library or at used bookstores if you haven’t read them yet.

2. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
The Anastasia books are some of the funniest I’ve read, and I wish I lived next door to the Krupnik family. Anastasia pretends to own a sloop, color-codes her gerbils’ heads, accidentally signs up for tap-dancing lessons, dyes herself purple… you get the idea. Lots of people love Lois Lowry for The Giver and Number the Stars—and rightfully so—but her Anastasia series will always be my favorite.

3. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
Patricia C. Wrede has written many series, and all of them are fantastic, but if I absolutely had to pick a favorite, I think I’d pick this one. The first book, Dealing with Dragons, introduces us to Princess Cimorene, who runs away from her boring kingdom and horrible suitors to become assistant and chef to the dragon Kazul. The four books in the series are perfect for anyone who likes to laugh, or for anyone who likes to eat Cherries Jubilee.

If you’ve read any of these series, or if you have a favorite series of your own to recommend, please let me know in the comments.

April News & Updates

Here’s how I know it’s really spring:

  1. The sun is out. In Pittsburgh, that’s a big deal.
  2. Yesterday, I bought a 3-month supply of allergy medicine.
  3. My yard is basically paved with robins. They must be having some sort of convention. (That would explain the nametags around their necks and the little drink vouchers tucked under their wings.)
  4. I finally sent my pirate book revisions back to my editor. And then I slept for 13 hours straight.

So! Now that I’m no longer buried under a pile of manuscript pages, I have a bunch of things to catch up on. First off, I wanted to let you guys know that I’ll be participating in Crits for Water this year. Organized by author Kat Brauer, Crits for Water raises money for charity:water by auctioning off manuscript critiques with authors, agents, and other publishing professionals. The auctions have already started, so check out the list of guest critiquers and bid on a critique of your own work if you feel so inclined. I’ll be offering a guest critique of a middle grade or YA fiction excerpt on June 17th, along with fellow debut authors Peggy Eddleman and Stephanie Kuehn, so please keep an eye on the Crits for Water site if you’re interested.

Second, I have a couple of blog post mini-series planned. Over the next few weeks, I’ll tell you a bit about the books that inspired me to write Magic Marks the Spot. Then, in what will probably be a longer-running series, I’d like to share the love for classic and new middle grade fiction by recommending my favorite middle grade reads and asking for yours. If you have a favorite middle grade book that you think I should read, please let me know in the comments!

Happy spring, and remember to watch your step when you go outside. It would be a pity to squash the robins.

The Revision Process

(Originally published at The Lucky 13s.)

This week on the Lucky 13s blog, we’re talking about revision—a topic I’ve become awfully familiar with over the past few months. I’m just finishing up a round of revisions to my middle grade pirate fantasy novel, Magic Marks the Spot, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to show you what revision looks like from a writer’s perspective.

From a non-writer’s perspective, I imagine revision must look sort of alarming. Over the past few months, I have not paid much attention to what I think of as “normal person behavior”: eating at regular times, cleaning the house, cleaning myself, getting dressed, brushing my hair, talking to other human beings, etc. Instead, I have been staring into space and then saying to my husband, “You know, the admiral really does love his daughter in his own warped way, even if she is a pirate.”

And thank goodness, my husband nods and agrees with me, because he knows that revision has eaten my brain, and he is hopeful that despite this, I will someday be able to carry on a conversation that’s not about my book. (Ha!)

From my perspective, though, my revision process is (mostly) orderly and (almost completely) sane. It starts when I receive a letter from my brilliant editor at HarperCollins, letting me know what she loves about the book already and what still needs to be changed. I read that letter many, many times; I take notes on it; I figure out how I’ll address each of my editor’s concerns—and then I put the letter away.

Next, I print out a copy of the existing manuscript. I like to get this done at the FedEx Office down the street. It’s a little pricey, but I get it spiral-bound so it feels more like a real book, which helps me get a better idea of how the manuscript will read in its final form. I take a few days to read through it, taking notes with my red pen along the way. I mark places my editor has questions about, places where I have questions of my own, and places that I particularly love (because it’s always nice to come across an encouraging smiley face on a rough day of revising). Sometimes my comments are marginally helpful: “Add the scene about Philomena and the fish sticks here.” Sometimes they are less so: “Change this!!!” Sometimes I just draw a big red X over an entire paragraph, or page, or scene.

Once the hard copy of the manuscript is all marked up, I start to make changes. When I’m working on a big revision like the one I’m wrapping up now, I actually prefer to type the whole book from scratch, rather than editing an existing version or copying and pasting. When I copy and paste, my brain feels like it’s making a big patchwork quilt, and while the individual squares may be pretty, they don’t really fit together seamlessly. When I type everything onto a new, fresh page, editing as I go, old and new scenes come together more easily. I feel less like a quilter and more like a writer. Which is good, because I know nothing about quilting.

Some writers like to tackle the smaller edits first and then work on the major changes; some do it the other way around. I, however, work chronologically: I start at page 1 and go straight ahead until I reach the end, making each change when I get to it. I set a goal for myself; for this revision, it was 5 pages a day. Sometimes these 5 pages are ridiculously easy because all I have to do is tweak a few words here and there. Sometimes these 5 pages are a completely new scene that takes hours to write. Usually, though, my 5 pages are a mix of small tweaks and medium-sized changes that look simple but aren’t. (It turns out that adding a character to a scene is slightly more complicated than saying, “Oh, and Charlie was there, too.”)

Once I’ve finally reached the end of the draft, I go back through the manuscript and tidy up loose ends. In this current revision, I made a decision about one of my characters but changed my mind about him halfway through; now I have to go back to Chapter 1 and rewrite a few paragraphs to make the character consistent. Then I’ll print the whole thing out again and read through it once more with my red pen, just to see how the whole book flows in its newly revised form. I’ll also dig out my editorial letter again and make sure I’ve addressed each of my editor’s concerns.

And finally, when the book is safely in my editor’s hands once more, I will take a few minutes to brush my hair.

The Story of the Penguin Hat

I am still revising the pirate book. I think it gets longer every day: No matter how much I write, I never seem to get much closer to the end. Leave it to me to have a magically expanding novel. That’s the sort of thing that’s lots of fun to read about, but less fun to deal with when it pops up in your actual life.

In case you’d like to read something new from me while I’m locked away in my office, though, my agency has just posted an interview with me on their website. You can read the whole thing here, but to thank you for being so patient while I utterly neglect my blog, here’s a small excerpt, along with an extremely embarrassing photo just for you:

When the most exciting moment of my writing career arrived, I was dressed as a penguin.

It was Halloween, and because I’m a fan of penguins, I’d decided to dress as one. I have a crocheted penguin hat, complete with eyes and a beak, and I was feeling very sophisticated and professional in my costume as I sat in my living room in front of a giant bowl of candy, waiting for trick-or-treaters to arrive.

Then the phone rang. It was Sarah, calling to tell me that HarperCollins wanted to buy my first book. At least, I think that’s what she said—it was a little hard to hear through the penguin hat’s earflaps. I clasped my hands to my beak, said a few incomprehensible things (like, ‘I’m dressed as a penguin!’), hung up, and danced around a little in the living room. Then I ate several fun-sized Butterfingers from the trick-or-treat bowl to celebrate.

Are you ready for the extremely embarrassing photo? Are you ready to see the first picture taken of me as a Serious, Professional Author? Here I am, moments after I sold my first book:

I have to say, this is not exactly how I imagined life as a Serious, Professional Author. It is, however, a fairly accurate representation of my life, so I have no one to blame but myself. (I also blame my lovely and talented agents, Sarah and Julia, for allegedly circulating this photo among the UK editors who read my manuscript. Now everyone in London thinks I am a penguin. Oh, misery.)

All right. Now that I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of the entire internet for no good reason, I will lock myself back in my office and return–hopefully in a couple of weeks–when I’ve wrangled this book into shape. Please don’t make too much fun of me while I’m away; I would hate to miss that.