Today I get to expose Carol Lynch Williams to my blog readers. She's not shy--she'll bare it all! But we'll try to keep this nice for polite society. Carol is a fellow Utah writer (we breed writers out here on ranches). Her latest book completely took my breath away. I couldn't put it down, and I wasn't the only one. Not only is it gripping, it deals with an issue that has been in the news a lot the past couple of years. The Chosen One is about Kyra, a thirteen-year-old girl who was born into a religious community called the Chosen. Her father has three mothers, her family is large and loving. But the community's Prophet has chosen a husband for Kyra--she is to marry her 60-year-old uncle, who already has multiple wives. That's how the story begins.
Carol and I conversed via email.
SH: Hi Carol! You are looking gorgeous as usual. And you smelly so pretty. You must be one of those authors who actually shower. I hope that doesn't make you think you're better than the rest of us. But whether or not you think it, you probably are. I mean, The Chosen One. Wow. Knock my socks off. I could not put it down, and a full half hour after I finished, I suddenly started sobbing again. What was the experience of writing this story like for you?
CLW: I spent a lot of time wanting to cry while writing the book, Shannon. And the story starts out long before I sat down to write. You know how that goes. You get an idea--it's sloshes around in your brain for a number of years. Then one day (when you start your MFA at Vermont College in Writing for Children and Young Adults, you realize that you have to have a creative thesis done) you start writing.
Part of the sadness was all the research. That was hard. Lots of sad things happen in our world (well, not in your world, Shannon. Because you got the Newbery Honor. But in plain people's worlds--like mine-- icky things happen.). So I did this research and I just felt sick for a couple of years (much longer than a 9-month puking pregnancy).
But here's the serious part, Shannon. As I was writing, I realized abuse happens EVERYWHERE to kids. All over. And it made me sadder than ever.
As far as the smell, that's Shalimar--a great 'I-haven't-showered-in-four-days' cover up.
SH: It's weird, how after getting a Newbery Honor, there's this magical force field around you that protects you from anything bad ever again. The magical force field, more than the framed certificate even, is the real bonus.
You mentioned research. What kind did you do? Would you recommend any other books on either abuse or fundamentalism?
CLW: I researched a lot online, read newspaper articles and watching what was on TV, too. Not Big Love. I still haven't seen that. But it seemed every channel had something about polygamy. And I think about this time (or right before) Warren Jeffs became one of the Ten Most Wanted or something, so he was in the news quite a bit. I read accounts of people who had escaped the lifestyle. I talked to practicing polygamists and people who had left families when they decided to not follow their leaders. I spoke to families where a child left the religion taught at home and followed someone into polygamy.
One of the misconceptions I encountered (and am still encountering) is that some people think members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are polygamists--or that polygamists are somehow Latter-day Saints--like a branch or something. But what I found is that there are all kinds of people who have broken off from their churches and become polygamists.
I didn't read any non-fiction books (like Jessop's Escape or Jeff's Lost Boy, which has been recently released, or Stolen Innocence by Wall). I wanted to get my facts from reports and documentaries. So these may be books I'll read later--and they may be good but haunting books to recommend. Some of these cultures are not for the faint of heart.
SH: I'd say the same of your book--not for the faint of heart. Unflinching, brutal, but beautiful and loving. I've noticed that though the Chosen in your book have nothing to do with the Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormons), in reviews and articles, people will still mention that you are a Mormon. The New York Times did that. How do you feel about this? Being myself a practicing Latter-day Saint, I'm sure we get a lot of the same questions and confused opinions. The questions are great--but the assumptions can be hard. Not that I'm helping dispel myths very well. I wrote a book with my husband, Dean Hale. The illustrator, Nathan Hale, is not a relative, but at book appearances out of Utah, I've started to claim him as my second husband. 'Cause, you know, I'm a Mormon and all. And apparently I'm that kind of a woman--the kind of a woman with many needs.
CLW: You are a woman with many needs, Shannon. That's part of why you are so hysterically funny.
I don't mind that people know I'm a Latter-day Saint, Shannon. Religion is a part of who we are, don't you think?
At one point--when I knew I would write about polygamists but I didn't know it would be this book--I thought that having a middle grade novel where two little girls met (one LDS, one the daughter of a polygamist) would be a good way for people to see that Mormons do not practice polygamy because I would show the difference between the two groups. That turned out to be a book that I could not write. At all.
What is interesting is that I still keep getting the reviews for The Chosen One that say things like "This is a book about Mormons." Or " This book takes place in a Mormon-like setting . . ." I had one woman ask me, "What will the Mormons do when they read this book?" And I was like, "Ummm, I'm not so sure. I hope they like it."
Being a Latter-day Saint is a huge part of who I am. So is being a mom. And being a good friend. And a woman. And paranoid. And an over-eater. And a Miss Bossy-face. And a would-have-been Country and Western singer. And a reader. And on and on till your sick of my list. It all influences me as a writer.
SH: Well said. Now, you know, you are the hysterically funny one. Not only in person, but you've written some very funny books. A Mother to Embarrass me had me laughing out loud. And yet you can go to some very dark places. There's a scene in The Chosen One that I never could have written. I just couldn't live in that moment (maybe I could've when I was younger, but not since becoming a mother). What's that writing experience like for you?
CLW: If you're mad enough, Shannon, I bet you could write anything, don't you think? The more research I did on some of these communities (remember--many are NOT like this), the more sad and angry I became.
So--this leads me to another story. Once upon a time (this is NOT a fairy tale) I wrote a book called The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson which is about child abuse. This was a long time ago. The whole time I wrote that book, I wore my emotions not just on my sleeve, but all over my body. Some days my girls would come in, "Mommy?" and I'd burst into tears. Other days I would turn to them like Regan from The Exorcist--"Whaaat?"
What I'm trying to say is that it is hard to write icky, yucky stuff. Writing is so much who we are that we feel what we are writing--experience, sometimes, what our characters are feeling. Maybe I'm making too much of it, but that's why, I think, it's hard to put something tough down on paper.
Some people want a sequel to The Chosen One. Honestly, at this point in my life, I don't know that I could write one. [SH note: Spoilers in white follow--highlight to read, but only if you've read the book!] It was hard to see Kyra leave her family--and I'm not so sure she'd ever get back there. As an aside, one of the things people want to see is what happens with Josh and Kyra after they are out of the compound. The fact (or fiction) is Kyra is only 13!
SH: Thanks Carol! Is there anything else you'd want to add?
CLW: Just where they should send the money. 50/50 split, right?
Love that Carol. A fine lady and a fine writer, even if she is a Miss Bossy-face. And check her out putting spoilers for her own book! I just couldn't let it ride. I'm a spoiler freak, had to hide them. Go read the book. And keep some tissues handy