Sunday, March 15, 2009

Author Q&A with Carolyn Turgeon, author of "Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story"

Carolyn Turgeon was born in Michigan and grew up in Illinois, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania. After graduating from Penn State, she earned a Master's in Comparative Literature from UCLA, and spent several years in New York working as a writer and editor. Her first novel, Rain Village, was published in 2006 by Unbridled Books (320pp). Her second, Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story, was published in March 2009 by Three Rivers/Crown in the US and Headline in the UK (288pp), and has been optioned for film by Random House Films/Focus Features. She's currently working on her third novel, a retelling of the the original little mermaid story.

Where is home for you?
I was living in New York City and working full-time at a non-profit until last spring, when I quit my job and began my career as a full-time gallivanting authoress. Now I go between State College, Pennsylvania, and New York City and Cornwall, New York, and I’m probably heading to Berlin this fall.

Where can we find your work?
You can buy my first novel, Rain Village, online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and Powell’s, etc., and my second novel, Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story, which just came out two weeks ago, online and in almost any bookstore.

How did you get your start in writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I was always a dreamy, bookish kid, and wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first book when I was 8, “Mystery at the Dallas Zoo,” about a group of kid sleuths searching for a stolen tapir.
As for how I got my start officially, I took writing workshops in college, I spent many years turning a story from one of them into my first novel, I started sending out query letters to agents and I also contacted my old writing professor Paul West, who passed me onto his agent Elaine Markson, who offered me representation, and then, eventually, I got a publisher. I didn’t publish short stories first the way a lot of writers do. Rain Village was my first fiction publication.

What does your writing routine look like?
I would like to have a more disciplined routine, but for the most part I’ve written in fits and starts and up against deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed. But lately I’ve been better about getting up early in the morning, heading to a coffee shop, and writing until lunchtime.
Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
I admire so, so many writers, but here are a few:
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because he’s the perfect storyteller and writes the most wonderful tales.
- Patricia Highsmith, because she’s clean and elegant and precise and there’s this perfect sense of creeping dread in everything she does.
- Daniel Woodrell and Francesca Lia Block, two totally different writers with insanely unique, wonderful voices.
- Michael Cunningham, because his sentences are so gorgeous, and there’s a weightiness and profundity to his descriptions of even the most mundane things.
- Mary Gaitskill, because of the way she deals with pain and sex and desire.
- Jennifer Belle, for the flat, dry humor that infuses everything she writes.
- Jeffrey Eugenides, for the crazy, jam-packed mastery of Middlesex and the hushed elegant weirdness of The Virgin Suicides.
- Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende, for their lush prose, their magic realism, and their ability to be both hugely commercial and literary at the same time.

What are you working on next?
For my third novel, I’m working on a retelling of the original Hans Christian Andersen little mermaid story. I’m telling the story of the princess—the one the prince falls in love with and marries instead of the mermaid, and who only appears briefly in the original story—as well as the mermaid. It’s set in the middle ages and it’s all gloom and ice and castles and convents. Sort of The Other Boleyn Girl-ish, but glittery and sad and with mermaids. It’s called The Sea Queen.

What made you decide to write this novel?
I wanted to work with an established story, a gorgeous old fairytale, and play with it, I guess. Cinderella is about as lovely and well known a story as I can imagine, and I liked the idea of telling the fairy godmother’s story—the one whose task is to swoop in and get this sad, abused, orphaned girl ready for the grand ball. I mean, once you really look at what she had to do, it seems a pretty impossible task, doesn’t it?

What challenges did you face with this book?
I was living in New York and working full time when I wrote Godmother, and that is certainly a challenge—making the time for it, finding the discipline, saying no to friends and turning off Law and Order. Plus it took me a long time to really figure out what story I wanted to tell. I wrote at least 100 good pages that I ended up not using, maybe more.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
Two of the most important things are this, I think: 1) Don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of writing a novel, just break it down and tackle it bit by bit, scene by scene, page by page. And: 2) Have absolute confidence and faith in your vision and work. I have no idea how anyone could get through writing a whole novel without that. You have to have an unshakable belief that it will be worth it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

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