I just finished a question and answer session with author Carrie Dalby and I’m excited to share it with you in today’s blog.
Carrie’s two young adult novels, Fortitude (historical) and Corroded (contemporary), were published by Anaiah Press’s Surge imprint. Fortitude is listed as a “Best Books” for kids with Grateful American Foundation for its historical accuracy and being an engaging read for fifth through tenth graders. Corroded has the honor of being one of my family’s favorite novels (which is why I asked Carrie to do this Q&A).
Though the settings for your stories and the topics they cover by themselves are interesting enough to make most people want to read your books, it’s the strong/believable characters you create that really make your novels so compelling. Can you share a little on how you create your characters and how you work them into your stories?
All my stories are character driven. I begin my pre-writing process with vague time/place and character ideas. Once I know the basics (age, location) I physically search for the main characters, and also setting images. Nowadays that consists of online image searches—I love Pinterest for this. Back in my teens, I collected people from magazines, catalogs, store ads, etc. that I sorted into people and location folders in my file cabinet. I’d dig through those to find my needed characters and places. When I see the perfect fit, that person tells me, “Hey, it’s me! Tell my story!” or something like that. (No, I’m not crazy, just creative.) I’m a visual learner and having the people, locations, and key items in a story to look at helps me better write and understand them. (I still have my paper folders and if I happen to see someone in print that “speaks to me”, I file them.)
You do a lot of research when you prepare a story. Did anything ever surprise you? Anything really interesting you found you’d like to share?
I love research! I can spend hours at the local history library digging through old maps, books, articles, and newspapers. There is always surprising tidbits, but the most profound thing came to me when reading for “fun.” A small section within a chapter of a biography I read about Juliette Gordon Low (the founder of Girl Scouts) mentioned “Daisy’s” family’s involvement in the Spanish-American War. The descriptions of the inadequate camp conditions in Florida and the suffering the soldiers endured—more soldiers died from disease in the Florida camps than in battle—horrified me. I remembered nothing of the Spanish-American War from school or personal reading and I thought those things needed to be brought out of obscurity. I already had Claire and her family chosen from a short story I’d written, “Of Goats and Gators”, which is included in the new release Pieces: A Mobile Writers Guild Anthology, but I’d been pondering what year to place them in for a novel. (The short originally was undated, though set during the turn-of-the-century.) When I read about the camps, I knew Claire would end up there and try to relieve the suffering.
You’re a traditionally published author. What was your reaction when the publisher first decided to publish your work? And when the first book was published?
I wrote Corroded first, but after two years of rejections and having finished Fortitude, I decided to shelf Corroded for the time being and query agents, and then publishers, for Fortitude. It took about fifty “Nos” to get the one yes. And it was glorious! From signing the contract, it took a year before the e-book released in December 2015, and the print version of Fortitude in January 2016. Once I got in the door with Anaiah Press, I submitted Corroded to them and signed a contract for that book as well. It published in April 2016. That year before publication was a lot of edits, three or four rounds with my editor for each book. I learned to love the editing process as much as the actual writing. (Shout out to Sean Connell for appreciating my odd humor and walking me through freak-outs.)
You’ve given us an historical fiction that dealt with the Jim Crow laws during the Spanish-American War and a modern day relationship with a girl and an autistic boy. Can you tell us what’s coming next? Anything you’re simply entertaining writing about or would really like to write about?
Many of my favorite authors write across genres and age levels so I don’t see myself confined to young adult just because my first two books are for teens. My reading interests are as varied as my musical preferences.
I have a middle grade contemporary family novel, The Unraveling Threads of Kyndra Fields, I wrote after signing my two novels. It’s still in the editing process on my end for a Revise and Resubmit with Anaiah Press.
My current project—dare I call it epic—I began after finishing the professional edits for the books in November 2015, on the suggestion of my editor, Sean. Based on my descriptions in Corroded, he told me I had “serious horror chops” and encourage me to try writing horror. I researched the sub-genres of horror and settled on Gothic Horror, weaving in my love of historical fiction. The result is an eight book adult Southern Gothic Family Saga with horror and romance elements titled The Possession Chronicles set during the years 1904-1929 in the Mobile Bay area, which I hope to have news to share about soon. Keep an eye on my website and social media for the latest. (I’m currently first drafting the eighth/final book in that series and loving it.)
You’ve pursued a career in writing since you were in your teens. How has your writing changed as you’ve gotten older and developed better skills?
I’ve learned the first draft isn’t perfect. Yes, at eighteen I queried an agent with my first draft of a young adult sci-fi novel and was sorely disappointed to be rejected. I have a file cabinet drawer (the one below my character files) with those four “perfect” first draft manuscripts I wrote as a teen and will pull them out from time to time and laugh.
Besides the digital strides (querying by email is lots better than trekking to the post office), my writing has definitely improved: from a narrative to grammar (still my weakest point) to story elements. Since working with a critique group and professional editor, I’m improving my skills at self-editing as well. I’m able to catch more things on my own though it takes multiple passes to do so. Yes, I still catch typos on the twelfth draft!
Carrie, thank you very much for spending some time with us today.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Q&A. If you’d like to know more about Carrie and her writing, check out her site at carriedalby.com.