An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Carrie Mesrobian
As one of the posts highlighting the 2014 Morris Award finalists, we are very excited to share an interview with Carrie Mesrobian. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, is about a boy who has moved from school to school and never really developed close relationships with people, though he’s very good at identifying the girls who will say yes to sex without the burden of an emotional attachment he doesn’t have the time or inclination to form. After a brutal attack that leaves him physically and emotionally broken, he spends the the summer on a Minnesota lake getting to know his family, a girl he comes to see as a person and not just a conquest, and ultimately, himself.
First off, congratulations on Sex & Violence being named a William C. Morris Debut YA Award Finalist! Sex & Violence is a novel that I’ve continued to think about months after first reading it. I read that Sex & Violence was a working title that ended up sticking. Do you think the bold title has affected the way the book has been received?
I think so. And this is a credit to my editor, Andrew Karre, because the title was his idea and, because I couldn’t think of anything better, I just stuck with it until I became accustomed to it. Recently, he and I were on a panel discussing sex in YA lit and someone asked a question about the title. Andrew explained that he feels that good titles set up expectations and reverberations in the minds of readers. While there are sexual and violent scenes in the book, the book is more about sex and violence as topics, not literal portrayals. And so that provides a kind of surprise to readers going in thinking one thing and getting another.
I think certainly some readers were probably turned-off or hesitant about picking up the book because of the title. And some readers felt the opposite. And still other readers thought it was a YA version of 50 Shades of Grey. Credit to Andrew Karre, again, because no matter what you did, the title made you contend with the book, right away.
Evan’s dealing with some heavy issues during the book, like coping with PTSD, but he’s still got quite a sense of humor. How did you find that balance?
Well, I like to think that we all can take a lesson from Ron Weasley and understand that life cannot be entirely serious. I think so much humor is dark at its roots, anyway. The books I like the best are dark and funny; I think when a character is funny, this creates a strong sense of trust in readers. At least it does for me as a reader. Books like Eireann Corrigan’s Ordinary Ghosts, Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast & Adam Rapp’s Under The Wolf, Under The Dog were certainly influential to me in this, as all those books deal with difficult subjects, yet they all made me laugh a lot.
One of my favorite parts of the book were when Baker and Evan explore the island in the center of Pearl Lake. Was that inspired by a real place?
Not just one place! Where I live in Minnesota, by my house there are several parks with ponds or lakes that have lake islands in them. And growing up, we’d visit my grandparents’ lake cabin up in Northern Minnesota and I remember being out on the boat and going past these wild, uninhabited lake islands and thinking if only the grown-ups I was with had any sense of adventure, they’d let us go explore. The Archardt House is completely fictional – I’ve never been on a lake or pond island that had an old ruined house on it. Unfortunately for me.
What have you found most surprising about being a debut author?
It’s more emotional than I would have guessed. I mean, I knew it would be emotional, but not to this degree. There is a kind of embarrassment I had at first in the revision process, talking to Andrew about this fake world I’d made up, analyzing it in such serious ways, as if it were real! I’d sit there during our lunch conversations and think, “THIS IS ALL FAKE! I CAN’T BELIEVE HE’S GETTING SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS THING I MADE UP!” It took me a while to get over this embarrassment. It was really me feeling uncovered, I think, because nothing tells people more about what you think personally than your stories, than what your constructed version of the world looks like. And so even when people love your book, it’s still strange; it’s like they are meeting your family and know all your family secrets and meanwhile, I’m just here at my house, being my same old self, as if I hadn’t just shared all this really big information about how I think the world really is. On top of that, I’m sharing all this minutiae about my life, my kid or my dog or how much I love Norman Reedus, and previously, I assumed I was talking to the void. Now people will be like, Oh, I know, I read your Tumblr! And I get all cringe-y, because this had been just my personal dorky space for my blabbering and I lived like it was being subsumed by all the other blabbering noise out there online. But some people actually read it now! That’s a little weird, too.
I’m very gratified to learn how many people blog about books and feel passionately about stories. I’m in awe of librarians and book bloggers and how much they read and think and talk about books. It just makes me feel so good to know this firsthand, of their generosity and enthusiasm about books and reading both.
Also, I have to say that getting to know people in the kidlit community has been so much fun. Here in Minnesota, we have such a great group of people who write kidlit and they are excellent people to hang out with and have been so welcoming and nice to me. I’ve also ‘met’ so many great people via Twitter that I cannot wait to meet in real life. Having these people in my life is such a privilege and a perk of this life.
What are you reading now?
While I’m waiting for the other Morris finalist books to come in the mail – just ordered Belle Epoque, In The Shadow of Blackbirds and Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets a couple days back; I’ve read Stephanie Kuehn’s beautiful Charm & Strange already—I’m enjoying Sarah Waters’ The Little Friend. So juicy and mysterious and dark and gothic!
– Molly Wetta, currently reading Dr. Birds Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos