When packing up books to bring to the beach this summer (or the isthmus, if you're vacationing at the isthmuses) bring along Spellbound, the new novel by Cara Lynn Shultz. This romance novel with hints of magic has elements I thought were illegal in Young Adult fiction: creativity, wit, and likeable characters. The story focuses on Emma, a brassy teen with a tragic past who falls in love amidst curses and strange happenings in New York City.
The wonderful Cara Lynn Shultz sat down with me to talk about her new book.
DAN: Thank you for making a lead female character who is not a whining perfect brat with the logic and humor of a boot. After spending years blogging my way through a certain popular book series, it was so strange to read a book where a character is funny and sarcastic.
CARA: Thank you so much! I wanted Emma to be funny. The humor was really important. Teen girls like to laugh. People tend to forget that. If you consider pop culture in general, teen girls are the ones who went to see Superbad.
But Emma's not all laughs. She's been through some crap.
Yeah. Exactly. She's coming form a place where she has nothing to lose. She has to be tough. She has to be a survivor. She's not a depressing character, or a character who is too introspective. I wanted her to be a normal teenager.
How much of you went into the character?
She's a little bit of who I was in high school and college, but she's more mature than I was as a teen. She might be more mature than me now. [laughs]
Before all the magic stuff happens, Emma falls for Brendan and digs his hair quite a bit. Hair seems to be important not just to your characters, but to many teenage girl characters. It makes me think I didn't worry enough about my hair in high school. Is that why I never mouthed kissed the girls?
How a guy wears his hair is kind of indicative of who he is. Does he part it to the side? Does he use a lot of gel? You can tell a lot about a guy from his hair.
I wore mine in a front ponytail.
Ooh! Did you wear it in a French braid?
No. I'm not weird, Cara. Just a regular front ponytail.
Braid it next time.
How did you start writing the book?
Years ago, my friend Vanessa had a long commute into Manhattan, so I would write her stories and she would print them out and read them on the train. The two characters I was writing about would eventually become the main characters of Emma and Brendan.
Fast forward to three years ago. My friend Vanessa was moving and was like, "Guess what I found?!"
What did she find? Rubies?! Sorry. I wasn't paying attention.
She found the stories. I read them and started writing again. It didn't hurt that I had just come back from my honeymoon. That's probably the best time to write a romance novel.
From reading the book, I get the sense that music is a big part of your life.
Yeah. There's a playlist in the back of the book. Music was so important to me in high school. You can find comfort in music. You can find yourself in music. So it made sense for the characters to have that relationship with music.
Your characters talk and act like real teenagers, and they do real teenager things. That’s very refreshing. Why do so many books treat teens like dolls? Are most books written by robots or sea hags who have never met a real teen?
Thank you. I'm also fairly immature. That helps. Not all books treat teens like dolls, but I know what you're saying. Some authors turn teens into 30-year-olds trapped in the body of 17-year-olds. I don't know why.
You have a full-time job as an entertainment journalist. With a busy day job, do you have a writing routine or did you write the entire book during elevator rides?
I write at night and always have. I'm better at night. I come home. I eat dinner. I sit on the couch, headphones on, cat next to me, and I write from 10 until 2 in the morning. A few times I've written through the night and my husband finds me still writing on the couch the next morning.
Why aren't any of the characters named Awesome Dan? Or Dan-tasy the Dan-imal of Dan-merica?
There was an Uncle Dan! He was in the story more but some of the family stuff got axed.
Liar. You just hate me because I'm taller. How long have you been working on the book?
I think it was four or five months for the first draft.
But most of that was in the month of January. No one goes out during January. It's too cold. So I had some time.
I've started writing books, but I always get bored or I get side-tracked with a bigger, better idea. I'll start working on my book about dinosaur ghosts and then have a brilliant idea for a book about a centaur and a mermaid who have a completely normal, 100% human daughter named Heather the Human. Or a non-fiction book about dinosaur ghosts or the history of ceilings. The list goes on. How do you stay focused?
You should write a book of short stories! You have to!
You sound like my dentist. All right. Fine. I will. Stop badgering me. It's my life! You're not the boss of me!
I think a book of Dan short stories would be an awesome idea. You have to do that. I would buy it! I would be so excited. I would make you sign it.
I have the signature ready: "To Cara: You think you're better than me because you were published first. But I'm taller. Best wishes, Dan…who is taller than you."
Can I pre-order that?
Where do you find the energy to keep working after you come home from a day job? I don't even have a day job, and at night all I want to do is play online Uno.
It's hard to find the energy. It's all about scheduling. I had all the time I wanted to write this book, but now I'm working on the sequel. Now there's a very real deadline. I have to stay focused. I only allow myself two days a week to do non-book related things.
Like hang gliding…
Exactly. I can go hang gliding on Monday, but that means I'm working Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Pff. Hang gliding is so much better on Wednesdays. How excited were you when Harlequin Teen bought the book? I need to know how many E's to put on the end of the letters S-Q-U….
All of them! All of the E's. I was really excited, but it was actually a sad story, Dan. I don't know if you want to hear this. I found out I got the book deal the day of my grandmother's funeral.
I'm so sorry. That's rough.
My agent called me and I was standing in my kitchen in my black clothes and I was like, "Uh…OK?" It didn't feel real. We had just come back from the church. You don't know how to feel. You feel like your brain was hit by a truck. It didn't sink in until a while a later.
Was it difficult working with an editor on you own book?
Not really. I'm used to being edited as a journalist, so it wasn't hard for me. The changes always made sense and no one said anything crazy like, "Brendan should be a drug addict."
"Let's make him a dinosaur!"
"Or a panda!" No…it wasn't like that. And it's great to have another pair of eyes on the work. Before I got to the official editing stage, I had close friends read it and I made changes based on what they said.
Was your husband ever one of those readers?
No, because…he's a guy. He's not into romance novels. He's into metal. His critiques would be like, "What's the deal with this chick?" He's reading it now, of course. And he's telling me he likes it.
What advice would you give young writers out there?
Write. If you want to be a writer, write a blog. Pick something that you love and blog about it. It doesn't have to be the world's most introspective blog. Maybe you love sneakers…
Ceilings! I like ceilings!
You like ceilings. Write about ceilings!
They're like shy roofs.
Exactly! Write about anything you like. Writing is not like riding a bike. You can get rusty. You need to be writing all the time.
You're very social media savvy with Twitter and Facebook. I think that's great. I wonder if old authors should have done that. Poor Hemingway never had the chance to…
He could have live-blogged the MTV Awards. That would have been intense.
Last month the Wall Street Journal slammed YA books for being too grim and dark. It caused quit a stir in the YA community. What was your reaction?
The article wasn't accurate. I went into a bookstore the other day, and while there are dark books, not every book is about death. What's the hottest trend in fiction right now?
It's vampires. And if a genre is successful, then of course bookstores are going to promote and place those books out on their own table and shelves. People see that dark table and think all YA fiction is dark. The article was wrong. Sure, YA can be a little dark. But you know what? Being a teenager can be a little dark.
Wait until my book about ceilings comes out. It's going to be a game changer.
Yes! They'll put those books on the ceiling! The special ceiling.
It's going to be called Artificial Sky: One Man's Journey.
That's a great title.
Just came up with it. Mine! Copyright Dan Bergstein Industries! Patented! I even licked it so now you can't have it. Ha!
Cara Lynn Shultz was such a great sport for dealing with me and my stupidity. She's even giving away a free signed copy of her book. And that means…CONTEST TIME! The book is about love and magic, so we'll give away one copy of the book to the Sparkler who writes the best haiku you can write about love and magic. The haiku MUST include the word "trolley" because I said so. Write your haiku in the comments section and we'll pick a winner by midnight tomorrow. We can only ship the book in the United States, so if you live in India or inside a dream, tough luck.
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