Today's guest at the Launchpad is 2010 grad Cori McCarthy, whose debut young adult novel, THE COLOR OF RAIN, was released in 2013. BREAKING SKY, another young adult novel, releases today from Sourcebooks Fire, and it's already gotten a rave review from Kirkus AND has been optioned as a movie!
Showoff. Reckless. Maverick. Chase Harcourt, call sign "Nyx", isn't one to play it safe. In the year 2048, America is locked in a cold war – and the country's best hope is the elite teen fighter pilots of the United Star Academy. Chase is one of only two daredevil pilots chosen to fly an experimental "Streaker" jet. But few know the pain and loneliness of her past. All anyone cares about is that Chase aces the upcoming Streaker trials, proving the prototype jet can knock the enemy out of the sky.
But as the world tilts toward war, Chase cracks open a military secret. There's a third Streaker, whose young hotshot pilot, Tristan, can match her on the ground and in the clouds. And Chase doesn't play well with others. But to save her country, she may just have to put her life in the hands of the competition.
Cori McCarthy's taut, romantic, action adventure will shoot your pulse straight into overdrive with her brilliantly imagined and frighteningly possible future. “Smart, exciting, confident—and quite possibly the next Big Thing.” – Kirkus Reviews
So, Cori: What was the spark that ignited this book?
So a lot of people think that this story sprung solely from my love of Top Gun, but that’s not really true. In fact, I would give the revamped Battlestar Galactica more credit for igniting this story than Top Gun. And I guess that’s all to do with the main character, Chase “Nyx” Harcourt. While watching BSG, I was totally, one hundred percent, crazy in love with Kara “Starbuck” Thrace. She was such a badass fighter pilot with loads of personal and emotional issues (God, I love characters with issues!). My YA brain kept wondering, “Now what would Kara be like if she were a teenager?!” So when I sat down to write Chase, I had Kara Thrace in my head. Chase evolved throughout the epically long drafting process and became much more nuanced, but I have to giggle when people bring up Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” persona in relation to Chase. In my mind, Nyx will always be a teenage Starbuck in a near-futuristic America.
What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
To answer all three? Melina Marchetta, Melina Marchetta, Melina Marchetta. Sorry to intone so dramatically, it’s just that she’s my favorite writer and her stories have the sort of lasting boom that I long to one day write. Her sentences are stunning. (I give you: “From this distance everything is so bloody perfect.” And: “There are worse things than a lie and there are better things than the truth.”) Her plots are always trekking, sprinting, evolving. And there’s this scene that happens in the first hundred pages of Jellicoe Road with a cat that makes me sob. Now, I’m not easily brought to tears and any writer who can do it that early in a story is my hero. And finally: character. I dare anyone to crack open Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock and not fall head over heals for Evangeline and Finnikin. Go on. I double dog dare you. :)
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
I write weekly with Amy Rose Capetta and current-VCFA student, Tirzah Price. We keep each other going as much as Panera’s coffee, and we talk out our stories in this constant stream of fragmented inquiries. For example, it’s pretty normal for me to jerk my head up in the middle of a quiet session and ask, “What’s worse: getting punched in the eye or kicked in the shin with steel-toed boots?” Then we debate and go back to our writing. Having a writing community/group is rather new to me, and it has made me love writing so much more. While writing on my own, there was always an element of segregation that was so very hard for me. Now I have my best writery friends at my side to provide literary checkpoints, grammar advice, and vigilant support—without which I might have given up publishing years ago.
Cori (left) and Amy Rose
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Before VCFA, I wrote from the gut. Not that I don’t still write from the gut, but now I remember to double check the resonance of my stories with the rest of the world. In short, VCFA taught me how to share my work with others. I have always been terrified of letting someone else read my work, and although I studied writing for nearly a decade before entering the MFA program at Vermont, I never learned to trust critiques and praise. I still can’t really take a compliment, but I know so many other writers with that similar issue that we really should have t-shirts made. Something like: CALL ME BRILLIANT & I'LL SCOWL AT YOU
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
There are a hundred goofy, wonderful, shining answers to this question, but I have a rather melancholy one. There. You’ve been warned.
I read a poem once. A very sad poem about my dearest cousin’s baby who didn’t make it. I was still going through the grieving process myself, still struggling to understand the loss I felt and the incredible agony over my cousin’s grief. I’m not sure why I decided to share the poem until I’d finished reading it and looked up and saw Martine crying. Although I hadn’t thought of the poem as cathartic when I wrote it, in reading it aloud, it unveiled something in me that just wanted to be openly sad about what had happened. Two minutes before a crowd in Noble made me feel better than six months of feeling all torn up inside. That’s why it’s my favorite moment. VCFA is place where you can learn how to write, how to laugh at your mistakes and grow, but it’s also a safe place where you can be unabashedly raw and honest. I’ll treasure the feeling of acceptance and home that residency gave me for the rest of my life.
That encapsulates so much of what I love about VCFA as well. Thank you, Cori!
Cori McCarthy worked with Alan Cumyn, Marion Dane Bauer, Uma Krishnaswami, and Shelley Tanaka while earning her MFA. She lives in Michigan, loves her small-but-mighty publisher, and dreams of one day finishing the novel in verse that was her graduate reading.