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Author Interview: August 2007

August 2007

Carolyn Mackler is the award-winning author of LOVE AND OTHER FOUR-LETTER WORDS, THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS and VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE. Her latest novel, GUYAHOLIC, centers on Vivienne Valentine, a secondary character from her previous work, and V's own misadventures through life, love and a cross-country road trip. 

In this interview with’s Norah Piehl, Mackler explains why she chose to explore V’s story and sheds light on how the character’s past affects present relationships. She also shares some of her favorite YA novels, offers advice for aspiring writers and describes a road trip she took when she was 22. When I reviewed VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE, I noted that V “screams to be the star of her own novel.” Now she is, in GUYAHOLIC. Did you always intend to write another book focusing on V, or did your fans encourage you to take that direction?

Carolyn Mackler: That’s so funny because it was your review --- as well as several letters from teen fans --- that got me thinking about a novel all for V. When I wrote VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE, I was completely in Mara’s head. But soon after VEGAN’s publication, when so many readers and reviewers expressed curiosity about V, I began wondering who she is and how she got the way she got and how on earth will she find peace and happiness. I was heartbroken by how much she’d been through in her life, and I decided she needed a love story with a perfect fairytale ending.

TRC: In the book, V re-connects with a few figures from her and her mother’s past. Why did you choose to include these characters in the novel?

CM: As I was writing GUYAHOLIC, I was thinking so much about how V is scared to get close to Sam and how she’s lost so many people. In order for V to really understand that loss --- and maybe even to realize that she didn’t actually lose them --- she had to revisit those parts of her life. V’s mom moved her more than 20 times during her first 16 years, so meeting people and losing people is such a major part of her past identity. One of the things V is grappling with in this story is what she wants her future to be like and whether she can leave some of that baggage behind.

TRC: V’s on-and-off boyfriend, Sam, is definitely unlike any romantic attachments readers might have anticipated for V. What do you think attracts V to Sam?

CM: V is attracted to Sam’s solidness, to his devotion, to his good, calm energy. In some ways, it’s everything she’s running away from. But on another level, it’s what she wants in her life even though she’s terrified to admit it. Sam also happens to be a hunk, but in a smart and geeky way. Those types always turn out the best in the end!

TRC: There are some great metaphors for discussion in GUYAHOLIC about being lost, losing people and losing direction. And then there are other thoughts about V’s mother not waiting, but rather not showing up. When you set out to write the book, were you focusing on these ideas, or did they evolve as themes?

CM: I set out to write a story about a girl who won’t let herself love and be loved. And then as I started asking myself questions about the characters, the themes emerged along the way. It’s an organic process. Mostly it’s about me making time to write and then not standing in the way as the story and themes come out.

TRC: Were you more like Mara or more like V when you were a teenager? Was it easier to write about one than about the other?

CM: I’m a combination. I definitely went through a guyaholic stage in my late teens, boys on the brain and a touch of V-like promiscuity. Then again, I always felt a huge pressure to be the good girl, the responsible one, to always do the right thing and never screw up. That’s Mara for you. I thought it would be harder to write about V because her family experience was so different from mine, but once I got in her head she came naturally to me.

TRC: Readers probably will still have a lot of questions when they finish GUYAHOLIC. Is there any chance we’ll see another update on the Valentine family?

CM: I’ve recently become fascinated by V’s mom, Aimee Valentine. I’ve been wondering what her story is and why she keeps moving so much and why she can’t stop disappointing her daughter. Mostly, I’m intrigued about Aimee’s past and what really happened with V’s dad and what was going on in her life around the time she was 18 and got pregnant. Who knows? Maybe Aimee will have her own novel someday.

TRC: How did you get the idea to write GUYAHOLIC as a road-trip novel? What’s the most eventful road trip you’ve ever taken? Have you visited all the spots V goes to in the novel?

CM: There’s nothing like a solo road trip to figure out who you are. When I was 22 and vaguely lost in my life, I bought a used Toyota and drove from New York to Seattle by myself, blasting music and reading maps and camping the whole way across. It was an incredible experience. I felt so strong and independent. I remember that first morning, eating a bowl of cereal in a parking lot in Erie, Pennsylvania and thinking, “Well, Carolyn, you really are alone out here. Now what are you going to do?”

I’ve been to most of the locations in GUYAHOLIC, but not all of them. For the quirky details, like what an oil pump in Oklahoma sounds like or how Northern Indiana smells in July, I relied on trusty scouts across the country.

TRC: Have you considered revisiting any of your other characters from previous novels? 

CM: I’m not sure I’ll ever write a sequel because my goal when I’m done with a novel is to get my characters where I want them to be. However, I do have this tradition in each novel where I insert a tiny cameo of a character from my last book. It’s partially a wink to my dedicated readers, an inside thing for them and me. But also, I love the idea of six degrees of separation and how all of our parallel universes overlap from time to time.

TRC: Your books contain a lot of humor. Are you that funny in real life?

CM: Ha! Thanks. I have no idea whether I’m that funny. I know I make my husband laugh. I make our son laugh. I love to laugh myself and I tend to see humor everywhere. But if I were up at a podium and expected to rile a crowd, I would be clueless.

TRC: What other young adult and adult authors do you read? Which books would you recommend for readers who love your novels?

CM: Let’s see…some of my favorite YA novels are THIS LULLABY by Sarah Dessen, GINGERBREAD by Rachel Cohn, LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green, AMERICA by E.R. Frank, BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan, RATS SAW GOD by Rob Thomas, HARD LOVE by Ellen Wittlinger, STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli, ELSEWHERE by Gabrielle Zevin, LEAP DAY by Wendy Mass and ONE OF THOSE BOOKS WHERE THE MOTHER DIES by Sonya Sones. I’ll read anything by Judy Blume, Nick Hornby, Megan McCafferty, Curtis Sittenfeld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

TRC: What advice do you have for readers who would like to write a novel?

CM: For one, read. Read current books in the genre in which you want to write. For two, write. Write what you love. Write what makes you excited --- journal, stories, memoir, anything. Be honest. Don’t be shy about putting in whatever you want. You can always edit later. And then, once you’ve gotten some significant writing done, throw out, revise, start over. My agent always says that the strength of an author is in her/his ability to rewrite. That’s definitely true for me. I’ve thrown away thousands of pages --- and a few entire novels --- and while it’s painful in the moment, my books are always better for it.

TRC: Has your professional life changed since having a child?

CM: In every way under the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the planets, too. I used to write five or six days a week from early morning until mid-afternoon, then go on a long walk through Central Park and muse about my characters, then come home and take some notes in the evening. Now I can only write during these small pockets when my son is in preschool or with his babysitter. And I just don’t have the same mental space to think about novels all the time, not when I’m heating up tater tots and playing construction zone and coordinating childcare logistics. But I’ve learned to focus within small windows of time. And I get so excited to finish writing and snuggle with my son every afternoon.

TRC: Fans patiently waited three years for a new Carolyn Mackler novel. Will we have to wait that long for the next one? Do you have any ideas about your next book?

CM: I am working on a new novel. It’s about four teenagers, two boys and two girls. That’s all I’ll say for now. And you can read it…well…as soon as I can write it. But I definitely hope it doesn’t take me three years!