Each year, YALSA awards one debut novelist with the prestigious William C. Morris YA Debut Award. The winner will be announced on January 23, but the finalists are in right now: Rae Carson, with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Jenny Hubbard with Paper Covers Rock, Guadalupe Garcia McCall with Under the Mesquite, Ruta Sepetys with Between Shades of Gray, and John Corey Whaley with Where Things Come Back. We’ll be running Q&A’s with all these talented writers in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!
Today we’re chatting with Rae Carson, whose debut stars awkward, overweight Elisa–the reluctant chosen one, whose country’s fate rests in her hands. As Elisa journeys toward marriage through a war-torn nation, she’ll discover the true meaning of prophecy, as well as her own voice.
Congrats on being nominated for such a prestigious award! How does to feel to be a William C. Morris finalist?
It’s amazing! I was completely blown away when I got the news from my editor. My husband and I celebrated by buying our first bottle ever of not-cheap champagne.
What do you like about writing for teens?
Teens have a bad rap. You hear about bullying and drugs and shootings, etc. all the time. And while I acknowledge that these problems need to be dealt with, on the whole I find that teens are the least judgmental, most idealistic people in the world. What this means for me as an author is that I can take risks. I can present, for instance, an overweight character with a terrible self-esteem and naturally occurring belly button bling, and teens accept her with their whole hearts–whereas adults can sometimes have trouble overcoming their inner squick. So it’s exciting to be an artist of any kind with a teen audience.
What advice can you give to aspiring young writers?
Learn to absorb and apply constructive criticism. It’s the greatest weapon in your writerly arsenal.
Your sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns is set to come out in fall 2012. Any hints you can give our readers as to what lies in store for Elisa and her kingdom?
Elisa is queen now, but her place is less secure than ever. Enemies come at her from all sides. To hold her kingdom together—and to preserve her own life—Elisa embarks on a quest to discover the source of the Godstone’s power once and for all. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that she is falling deeply in love.
My goal was to explore certain questions, like: What does it mean to have so much responsibility so young? We’ve all seen political leaders make terrible compromises—what leads them to do that? And how does a young woman truly take charge of her own life and love?
While most teens aren’t facing the daunting task of fulfilling a prophecy, they can still relate to Elisa as a young girl facing adversity and discovering her true self. What would you say to your teen readers trying to form their own identities?
It’s so cliché to say “be yourself.” But, really, try it. Identify quirks that are uniquely you and never apologize for them. Celebrate them instead! For instance, when I was in high school, I sometimes pretended to be not-smart. This made me more approachable to guys and kept me from being mocked for using big words. But when I finally decided to embrace my own intelligence, it was so freeing. And I subsequently made friends who loved me for who I was. Other things I’ve learned to embrace: My geeky love of science fiction and fantasy, my huge Greek nose, my deadpan humor than can a leave a roomful of people going, “HUH?”, my compulsion to rescue every stray animal in the neighborhood.
What are your quirks? Write them down. Draw shiny hearts all around them. Remember that they make you exceptional.