Interviewed by Jill Mackenzie
JM: Hey there all you WRN’ers! Guess which FABULOUS debut author, I’ve got with me right now, to talk about her inspiring new YA novel, Me, Him, Them, and It….you got it! Caela Carter! Whooo! Let’s dive right in, Caela! You know the first thing I’m going to ask is…
Whatcha Reading Now?
CC: I have been reading a ton of awesome books lately! In the past week I finished ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King which I loved, cherished and adored! I also just finished RAPTURE PRACTICE by Aaron Hartzler, and I am still in awe at the way he captures the inner turmoil of being a kid/teen and disagreeing with the people who run your life, aka your parents.
JM: Whoa. I’m such a huge fan of BOTH those authors…looks like you and I have the same taste in good reads! :) But let’s talk about your debut novel now. As we both know, there really is no shortage of YA pregnancy books out there. So, when you were writing Me, Him, It and Them, what made you just know that this one would be different from all the rest? What was your driving force behind Evelyn’s very touching story?
CC: Thank God I didn’t know about this plethora of YA pregnancy books when I started writing! I started the project as a submission for my first workshop at my MFA program at The New School. I was not a “student of the industry” while I was drafting the book. During that time I was reading like crazy (thanks to a two-page single-space list of authors the amazing David Levithan had given us in our literature seminar and a part-time job at an awesomely-stocked school library). I was also writing two hours a day. But, because I didn’t think I’d ever actually get published, I wasn’t worried about how Evelyn’s story would fit into the grand scheme of YA lit. If I did think about that, I probably would have gotten so overwhelmed I’d never have finished the draft. It was only when the querying process began and the I-don’t-want-to-see-yet-another-pregnancy-story rejections letters started piling up that I realized my book would be considered a “Problem Novel,” “Another Pregnancy Story,” etc. I set out to write a story about family. I went for honest more than different. And I hope that’s what I got.
JM: You definitely got it. As a result, it might just be my most loved honest (albeit, problem novel) ever. :) And wow, what a cool story about your process! Looks like you really appreciated what you learned and who you learned it from along the way. That being said, in your acknowledgments, you thank your parents, stating, “the world would be a better place if everyone (Evelyn, for example) had parents like you.” In the story itself, Evelyn’s relationship with her parents is a key thread and provides for the basis for Evelyn’s shift in behavior in the beginning and, ultimately, her choice in the end. Do you think Evie might have reacted differently toward her pregnancy if she would have had parents more like yours?
CC: Well, first, let me say that my parents are awesome. I was sort of afraid they’d be offended that I chose to write parents who were not-so-awesome, so part of why I put that in the acknowledgements is so that they knew not to be. But, like I said, they’re awesome. So that was really me worrying about nothing.
To answer the question, one of the many differences between Evelyn’s parents and my own are that my parents face facts and Evelyn’s don’t. Other than pretending to believe in Santa Clause for a few extra years for the sake of my little brother, I can’t remember a time when they asked me to fake anything. And this is important because I guess I believe that if I had been a pregnant teenager, it would have been easier for me to come to terms with it and to talk to my parents about it. Denial was not modeled for me on a daily basis.
Evelyn’s parents have taught her to pretend. So she pretends she’s not in love with Todd. She pretends she’s a Bad Girl. And, when she gets pregnant, she pretends nothing has to change. Even then her parents keep up their pretending and join her in the denial.
But, everyone is the master of her own behavior. I’m not excusing Evelyn’s inability to deal with reality because she certainly chose her own fantasy land. Maybe that comes from her parents but maybe not?
So, I guess the most awesome thing about my parents is that they’ve said “I love you” to me every single day of my life. And, even if it wouldn’t have changed anything about how she reacted and felt and pretended, I think Evie could have used those words that often.
JM: Wow. That is such an important, powerful tool your parents gave you. It must have helped shaped you into the sensitive, thoughtful person you seem (to me) to be today. That being said, both Evelyn’s and her non-boyfriend Todd's feelings flip-flop between sympathetic and almost heartless throughout the book. How important to you was it for both characters emotions to fan between these extreme highs and lows? Did you find that their emotions often mirrored your own while you were writing it?
CC: Haha! This was definitely not based on my own emotions! Very little of the book can actually be traced to my own life or who I was as a teen. But I worked with teens for six years before I even started writing it. And they did change their minds a lot.
It was important to me that Todd be a confusing character because being in love for the first time is often quite complicated, even without the unplanned pregnancy. I wanted his rejection of Evelyn-and-bean to be painful and angry-making, but also to be understandable and very teenaged-boy. So it was important to me to show multiple sides of him.
And Evelyn is an angry, lost soul in the beginning of the book, which is just kind of how she came to me. So, of course anyone that lost is going to have some clashing emotions!
JM: Yep, and I totally get both of their muddled feelings toward the difficult situation at hand! Yet, admittedly, I was horrified and outraged when Evelyn’s parents came up with “the plan” (no spoilers here!) of what to do with Evie during the duration of her pregnancy. Yet Evie seemed to take it very well and almost in stride. Did you always know the book would take this turn, or did it just sort of happen that way as you were writing it? Didn’t you ever want to, like, punch them out on Evie’s behalf?
CC: That was actually a really hard scene to nail. I always knew that “the plan,” as you say, would happen. I also knew that Evelyn’s parents had created “the plan” out of love, but that Evelyn wouldn’t see it that way. It’s interesting because I’ve heard a lot of reactions to this scene ranging from “Why was Evelyn even upset at all?” to “Why didn’t she throw her ginger ale in her mother’s face?” Haha.
But in answer to your question, I love all of the characters, even the very misguided parents. I don’t think I ever wanted to punch them. But I’m glad you did!
JM: Oh, I definitely did. Lol, I think I even threw the book against the wall at one point (also done, by the way, out of love for the writing.) But the concept of family plays an important theme in this book, in terms of what qualities actually make a family “good” and “supportive.” While reading, I felt surprised when the types of families one might think would never work, or never be the kind of people that would be great parents, actually turned out better than the stereotypical definition of a nuclear family. How important was it for you to refute these stereotypes to show how families that come in all shapes, colors and sizes can be just as (if not more) loving?
CC: I definitely set out to write about family. In my years working in schools I saw a lot of different kinds of families. I love the idea that your family is a combination of the people you’re stuck with and the people to whom you choose to stick. So my original idea was simply to write about a family in crisis (Evelyn, Mom, Dad and Aunt Linda) from the perspective of an angry teen who is caught in the mix. Then I thought about the worst thing that could happen to a family in that kind of crises and decided it was probably a new, totally helpless family member. So, that’s really how Evie got pregnant, haha.
But I also really believe in family and so I wanted to portray functional families as well. I didn’t set out to refute any stereotypes; that’s just kind of how it happened. I did really want a diverse cast of characters and a book in which most teens could recognize themselves. I suppose the diverse kinds of family were the result of that effort.
JM: Well, however it happened….it definitely worked for you! So, through the book, Evelyn learns a lot about the type of person she wants to become and, in turn, the kind of person she doesn’t want to become. Did you base this on a personal experience of change you had while in your teens? Do you think most kids go through this monumental moment that just makes them change?
CC: Man, I feel like I’m always doing this, aren’t you? There are certain attributes I really want to possess: I want to be a good friend, a good listener, a deep thinker, etc. And I do feel like I’m constantly honing these skills. So I’m not sure if that’s based on a personal experience of being in my teens or just a constant personal process.
However! I do remember that in my teen years I kind of marveled at this ability to control my own personhood. I remember marveling at the fact that I could develop my own athletic ability or listening skills or self-confidence. That not all personal attributes are static ya-either-got-it-or-ya-don’t type things. It is during my teen years that I first remember trying to craft my best self, and so maybe some of that did leak into Evelyn.
JM: Yep, I remember having those same kinds of thoughts, starting about then too. But listen, I HAVE to talk about end of your novel… I pretty much cried through the entire last fifty pages of it! How did you ever get through WRITING Evelyn’s heart wrenching story without falling into a fit of sobs?
I guess this is one way it’s totally different to read a book than it is to write a book! (At least for me.) I cry at everything. Almost every book makes me cry when I reach the last page. I’ve cried at literally ever episode of Parenthood they’ve made...and even most episodes of Modern Family. I’ve been known to cry at particularly touching commercials.
But I didn’t cry with Evelyn. I didn’t even consider the fact that anyone would cry until two of my beta readers told me that they did. I was actually shocked. Now a whole lotta people have told me that they cried and I take it as a HUGE compliment. But, for some reason I didn’t.
JM: Wow. That is soooo fascinating. But I get it, I definitely cry more when I read other people’s work then when I read my own. And your book definitely made me cry more than usual. So, are you working on anything new at the moment? Can you give our readers (and your fans, as you will surely have once they read this book!) a little hint as to what might be next for you?
CC: Yes! I have another project coming from Bloomsbury in Spring 2014. It doesn’t have a title quite yet, but it’s full of friends and ex-friends, boyfriends and ex-boyfriends, families and pseudo-families, and sexy, exotic Greek Islands...and I don’t think it’ll make anybody cry. But who knows? Maybe I’m wrong again.
JM: Lol. If your debut is any indication, I think you might be surprised! Okay, last question! Can you tell us one random thing about yourself?
CC: It’s not something I’m proud of, but I can be pretty superstitious. Since you mentioned the acknowledgements, I’ll tell you that I had to write them a month before I got married. I went back and forth on whether to use the word “husband” in the acknowledgements! I was so nervous that putting that word in print before the wedding would curse us! But my logic won out. (And my husband is awesome. There was no curse!)
I love that! Probably because… I’m SUPER superstitious too! Awesome, Caela, and thanks again. I so loved doing this interview with you! :) And don’t forget to check out Caela’s awesome webpage at www.caelacarter.com.