Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Carolyn Turgeon talks about The Next Full Moon, writing middle grade novels, mermaids, noir,and so much more!

First, you have to know that Carolyn Turgeon is hilarious. I met her at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend Book Festival (that's us posing in the first pictures and yes, I do look like I have something radically wrong with my forehead, but honestly, it's just an illusion), and as soon as I saw her cowboy boots, I knew we were going to be fast friends. She's so smart, so funny, and so engaging--plus, she's a wonderful writer. I'm thrilled to have her on my blog again, this time talking about her wonderful new novel for middle grades, The Next Full Moon. Thank you, Carolyn. I hope to see you and your boots soon!

Why did you decide to write for this age group?

I’d had this idea that I wanted to write for younger readers for a while, but it wasn’t until my friend Julie Merberg asked me to write something for her new children’s book publishing company, Downtown Bookworks, that I got serious about it. I was actually in Germany Skyping with her husband David as their son Nathaneal hung from his shoulders and made faces at me (and a couple more of their four boys were darting in and out of the room) when Julie came over to the camera to say hi and tell me I had to write a book for her! I said of course, and I loved the idea, not only of doing a kids book but doing it with and for her and her family. I liked the idea of this being a warm, familial-type, not-corporate-publishing undertaking. The publishing company launched in fall 2010 with a bunch of cool, gorgeous picture books, and my book is its first middle-grade (ages 9 and up) novel. David (Bar Katz) is also writing a middle-grade novel for Downtown Bookworks, about two stepbrothers who unwittingly become representatives of warring alien species, which is going to be awesome and hilarious.  
What sparked the idea of this novel for you?

Actually, my original idea for a middle-grade novel was on the list of ideas that I handed to the British editor who bought the UK rights to my second novel, Godmother, in 2008, and wanted to do a two-book deal. I handed over a list of projects I was working on and near the end of that list was just a one-line idea for a book about a 12-year-old girl who starts growing scales and having other creepy things happen to her body and then discovers that her mother, whom she thought had died when she was infant, was in fact a mermaid. The editor kind of swooped in and bought that idea, but as an adult novel about mermaid, which eventually transformed into a retelling of the original little mermaid story by Hans Christian Andersen. That was my third novel, Mermaid.

When I was trying to figure out what to write for Julie, I came back to that original idea, which I still loved, but my agent said I couldn’t write another mermaid novel before Mermaid even came out, even if it was for a totally different age group, and so I put the idea aside. I was playing around with a bunch of others ideas, but none was exactly right. Then one day I was reading an old fairytale about swan maidens and realized that they would work for my story, even better than mermaids would! The girl would start growing feathers instead of scales, and feel freakish and strange and completely mortified, and then she would eventually discover that her mother was/is a swan maiden. I emailed Julie and she loved the idea right away.

The fairytale The Next Full Moon is based on is this: a hunter one day witnesses three swans landing by the side of a river. They take off their feathered robes, transform into beautiful maidens, and go swimming. After, they put the robes back on, turn back into swans, and fly away. The hunter has fallen madly in love with one of the maidens, and so waits for the swans to return. When they do, and when they’re again swimming in the river, he runs out and steals the feathered robe of the one he loves. When the maidens leave the water, two of them fly away but his beloved is stuck in her human form. He takes her home, marries her, and they have children. One day a few years later he confesses to her what he’d done. He shows her the robe and, to his shock, she puts it on and flies away. This is the version of the tale—there are many—that I first read, and basically my novel tells the story of the daughter the swan maiden left behind, as the girl approaches her thirteenth birthday and weird, horrible things start happening to her body.
What was it like writing your first middle-grade novel after three adult ones?

It was actually much, much easier than I thought it would be. I found that I could remember vividly—and painfully!—what the world was like for me as a twelve-year-old. I was unbelievably shy, and I was tall and overly developed and in a constant state of self-consciousness and embarrassment. We moved around a lot and at age 12 my family moved from Texas to Michigan and I was wearing blue eyeshadow (I blame Texas) and I was 5’8” and I’d walk into a classroom and people would think I was the teacher. I may not have been growing feathers at that age, but I might as well have been. The Next Full Moon is kind of my experience exaggerated, but with a lovely twist where the girl gets to discover that she’s not a freak, but powerful and magical. I had no idea, at that age, that the things happening to my body made me, and all girls turning into women, powerful, magical beings. 
What's obsessing you now?

Well, right now I’m finishing a draft of my next novel for adults, The Fairest of Them All, which will come out in 2013 and is about Rapunzel growing up to become Snow White’s stepmother. It occurred to me that for most of these beautiful damaged fairytale girls who end up riding off with the hot prince—Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, etc.—things can’t turn out that well. Especially when they start to age. Since the draft is due in three weeks, you could say I’m obsessed!

And then last year I told you about my mermaid obsession, which isn’t totally my own fault, and my mermaid blog iamamermaid.com. Now I’m the editor of a special-issue annual magazine called Mermaids, which will debut next month and is chock full of everything you want to know about mermaids. Okay, maybe you don’t know that you want to k​now this stuff, but you will soon. I wanted the magazine to include some great original fiction, and got all these amazing writers, like Alice Hoffman and Keith Donohue and Aimee Bender and Matthea Harvey and Francesca Lia Block, to contribute. And there’s all kinds of other stuff, interviews and articles and photos and art, just you wait. 

I’m also kind of obsessed with this noirish novel I started writing a long time ago and am maybe half done with, that I want to finish this year, too. I would like to show that I can write about people who aren’t swan maidens or mermaids (but are murderesses!). 

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Hmm, maybe what I am doing this weekend?

Well, I will be going to this science fiction and fantasy convention called Lunacon in Rye Brook, New York (http://2012.lunacon.org/), and, among other things, participating in a panel called “The Effects of Global Warming on Mermaids” that’s being held in a hot tub. 

Please do not be too jealous.


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