Arr, mateys! We be happier'n a new peg leg to be jabberin' with Caroline Carlson, whose new middle grade novel, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: The Terror of the Southlands (HarperCollins), makes land today! Here be the details:
More pirates, more magic, and more adventure in the second book of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series! Caroline Carlson brings the unceasing wit, humor, and fun of the first book in the series, Magic Marks the Spot, to this epic sequel. Fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society will love this quirky tween series and hope to join the VNHLP just like Hilary!
Hilary Westfield is now a bona fide pirate, but when her daring, her magical know-how, and even her gargoyle don’t convince the VNHLP that she’s worthy of her title, the Terror of the Southlands, she sets off with her crew on a High Seas adventure. But then Miss Pimm disappears and Hilary decides to find the missing Enchantress and protect the magic of Augusta.
Caroline Carlson wrote her first published novel, Magic Marks the Spot, while she was a student at VCFA. The Terror of the Southlands is the second book in that series.
Welcome aboard, Caroline! So, tell us . . .
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Because The Terror of the Southlands is the second book in a series, one of my biggest challenges was to remind readers what had happened in the first book without simultaneously boring them to tears. Chapter 2, in particular, was my nemesis. I experimented with lots of different scenes as I tried (often in vain) to introduce characters and backstory and to explain the details of the book’s magical world. At various points in its lifespan, Chapter 2 contained timid country farmers, flying musical instruments, wheelbarrows full of magic coins, explosions blasting holes in walls, Mozart’s Sonata in C, and dozens of chickens. None of those elements ever made it into the final book (though the chickens do make a cameo in book three). Finally, during revisions with my editor, I ended up writing the chapter completely from scratch, and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out.
What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
Some of my favorite sentences were written by James Thurber, who is an expert when it comes to both sound and sense. Re-reading books like The Thirteen Clocks encourages me to play around with the rhythms of language in my own writing. As far as plotting is concerned, I hugely admire Jaclyn Moriarty, who always manages to pull hundreds of disparate elements into huge, twisty, brilliant plots that surprise me at every turn. My favorite literary character, Cassandra Mortmain, was created by Dodie Smith in her classic, wonderful book I Capture the Castle.
Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?
I usually prefer to write in silence, and I can’t listen to any sort of music with lyrics while I write. For this book, I got myself into the story-writing zone by turning on Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” It might seem like a strange choice to set the mood for a pirate yarn, but there’s a grand High Society ball at the end of the book, and the overture sounds like something my characters might be listening to as they attempt to avoid dancing.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I worked with four insightful and whip-smart writers: Sharon Darrow, Julie Larios, Franny Billingsley, and Martine Leavitt.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
It scared me to hear this when I was just starting out at VCFA, but it turned out to be intensely true: Don’t be afraid to abandon projects and try new things. I think a lot of us start out in the program with a novel we’d like to polish to perfection—the book we dream will be our first published work. And a lot of us spend most of our time in the program working on that book, but more often than not, that book isn’t the one that leads us to publication. It’s the book we learn on, the book that teaches us to write the stories we’ve always been meant to tell. Until the second packet of my last semester, I thought my creative thesis would be the book I’d spent most of my grad school career working on—but then I wrote Magic Marks the Spot, and everything I’d learned over the previous two years finally came together.
Thanks for dropping by, Caroline! And a big, hearty salute to The Terror of the Southlands!
Caroline Carlson was a member of the VCFA class of July 2011 -- The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches. Visit her online at www.carolinecarlsonbooks.com!