Are you into creepy reads? Books that make you squirm and get goosebumps? Well, Carly Anne West is into writing them! And she does a terrific job at that. Finding out an author’s inspiration behind novels is always a fun fact to know, and Carly’s is no different. Read on to know more about the lovely Carly and how she heard a murmur that ignited the fire to her first young adult novel, The Murmurings. The Murmurings hits shelves March 5, 2013.
Hmmm, let’s see. I always struggle with this sort of question for some reason. Okay, Fun Fact #1: I’m left-handed, but I do nearly everything but write right-handed. I even cut with scissors right-handed because there were never any left-handed scissors available in school. Fun Fact #2: I DJed for my college radio station, which might make me sound extremely cool except that I had a horrible shyness about talking on-air. So aside from the obligatory station promos and public service announcements we had to read periodically, I mostly just played tons of music. It was an alternative radio station (naturally), so walls and walls of these great, obscure albums yawned before me, and I would just pull a CD and play random song after random song. I had two very loyal listeners who would call in and make requests. It’s distinctly possible they were my only two listeners.
The Murmurings sounds like an eerie and creepy read; just the kind we like! What inspired the idea behind The Murmurings?
Thanks! I started writing THE MURMURINGS when I was in grad school at Mills College. My now-husband and I were living in this great little apartment from the 1920s. It had all those fun features like a buzzer to the front stoop and a tiny window in the closet that no human could possibly fit through. It also had a ghost, or at least something that murmured in my ear one night while I was unpacking a box of books. At first I thought it was my husband sneaking up behind me, but I found him asleep in the bedroom. Besides, the voice sounded too high to be his. The next morning I’d almost forgotten about it until my husband was unpacking in the exact same place in the apartment and asked me what I’d just said. I hadn’t said anything; I was unpacking in the kitchen around the corner. He said he was sure I’d said something, but he couldn’t hear me because I was mumbling. It was the same exact experience – like all sound had left his ear, and the only thing in it’s place was a low murmuring of some kind. A woman’s voice, we were both pretty sure by then. Strange things happened in that apartment over the three years we lived in it. A particular closet was basically off limits to our cats. They refused to go in it. When we moved out, our property manager confirmed that other residents had told her stories of hearing a woman’s voice in that room.
Can you tell us a little about the main character Sophie, and the problems she faces?
Sophie hasn’t had an easy year. She lost her sister, Nell, but in truth, she’d lost her a long time before that. Nell had been suffering for some years, her mind constantly in turmoil over doubts about her sanity, and her body tired from the constant presence of terrifying visions and a steady murmuring in her ear. And though she’s tried denying it, it’s becoming clearer that Sophie has begun experiencing the same phenomena that Nell did before her death. Already isolated by this knowledge, Sophie faces the additional loss of her mother, at least in the ways that matter most. A long-suffering alcoholic, Sophie’s mom has taken Nell’s death particularly hard, and has been little more than a phantom in the house with her only remaining daughter, forcing Sophie to not only take on the role of the only adult in the house but also mourn the loss of her sister on her own.
What was your greatest challenge in writing The Murmurings? Was there one scene that was more difficult to write than any others?
I guess that answer could change at each junction of the writing process. On the whole, though, I think my greatest challenge was in the crafting of the mystery. I knew the general direction in which I was headed, and I had various stages of the arc in mind as I was writing, but piecing a mystery together – then pulling it apart, then piecing it back together about a million times over – is seriously difficult. I frankly had no idea just how difficult that would be. I compare it to pulling the thread on a sweater. Tug the wrong thread and the entire sweater can unravel in your hands. That’s how writing a mystery can feel, and that makes the revision process particularly difficult.
The Young Adult book market is very competitive. What do you think sets The Murmurings apart from the rest?
Yes it is competitive! There are SO MANY great novels out there for young adults and so many authors writing amazing stories. For THE MURMURINGS, I tried really hard to write the story that my characters seemed to want to tell. I didn’t set out to write a “type” of novel. In that sense, my hope is that I’ve created a story that has multiple layers. I love scary stories, so of course I hope I’ve succeeded in scaring people! I also feel strongly that a scare is felt even deeper when a true connection with a character has been made. And because I felt deeply connected to these characters, my hope is that I’ve written them in a way that readers will as well. I seem to gravitate toward writing both horror and literary/contemporary fiction for both teens and adults. I hope that readers get a satisfying mix of the horror and the contemporary when they read THE MURMURINGS.
Tough question. I feel like nearly everything in life shapes a writer. But I’ll share something pretty personal; I suppose after you’ve shared your novel, everything else is fair game. When I was younger – approaching my teen years – I had a pretty tough time emotionally. I know I’m not alone in that, and perhaps that’s why I feel comfortable sharing. I have a really loving and supportive family (I’m extremely fortunate in that sense), so these experiences were mostly internal. I was a highly sensitive kid and suffered from some pretty crippling anxiety that kept me home-bound a lot of the time. There was lots of therapy involved. There was journaling. There were countless breathing exercises. There were frustrated counselors. But I do think those feelings (still my constant companions, though I’ve found better ways of dealing with them over the years) helped to shape my writing. The journals were a good start, but more than that, I hope, those episodes of heightened sensitivity allowed me to experience, then store away and channel, those feelings into scenes and internal dialogues. I know I wasn’t alone when I was having a particularly severe panic attack, but at the time, I felt like I was sinking to the bottom of a hole. Knowing how that felt, and knowing later in life that so many kids (and adults!) experience that same feeling, and think they’re equally alone, made me realize that perhaps a character who felt things to that same degree might just be a character to whom others could relate.
Are there any hobbies or interests you have other than writing?
Ah! This one’s easier. Well, reading is of course a hobby, but also (luckily for me) a career requirement! I also love movies, pretty much all kinds. I’m not picky. I just love the movie-going experience. But you can rope me in any day with a really good scare. And I love to travel, though I don’t do a ton of it. I have the wanderlust, though.
Were you a big reader as a teenager? If so, what were your favorite books or authors and what book do you wish you had read as a teen?
I know a lot of avid adult readers say they’ve always been big on reading, but I don’t know that I can say the same thing. My parents certainly encouraged it, and there were those summer reading challenges at the library every summer in early childhood. But it seemed like whatever I read in grade school or junior high that was considered a “good” or “important” book involved a dog dying or someone getting permanently disfigured. And because of the aforementioned anxiety, I began to associate reading with the inevitable loss of someone. I suppose I wasn’t yet ready to conceptualize and process that sort of complex emotion. I’m not sure I really read for the love of reading until I hit high school. By then, I’d discovered – with the help of a handful of inspired English teachers – the satisfaction and excitement in delving into classics like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and more contemporary classics written by Faulkner. I think it was beginning with those works that opened my world up to the vast variety of reading out there. There really is something for everyone, and so many talented authors ready to offer you a story. I will say, though, I was a massive BABY-SITTERS CLUB fan. I totally wanted to be Claudia. Who didn’t?? I also adored MATILDA. For some inexplicable reason, I never got in on the SWEET VALLEY HIGH trend, and I feel like I missed out on something big.
What do you need to start writing? i.e. coffee, tea, music, candy, etc.
I would love to tell you that I need something healthy: a fruit smoothie, a vigorous workout, maybe a carrot. But coffee has become a must. I don’t even particularly like it, but I seem to need it, sadly. I am also definitely inspired by music. I can’t listen to it while I write, but listening right before does really help to get me going.
And finally, can you share a sentence or two from your current work with us? (A teaser)
Okay, just a teaser, and then I can say no more (and yup, it’s another spooky one)! Here goes: “Dear Malorie, The woods are done with me now. It’s someone else’s turn. Love, A”
Carly Anne West is a freelance writer with an MFA in English and Writing from Mills College. She lives with her husband and son in Seattle, Washington. Visit her at carlyannewest.com, and follow her on Twitter: @CarlyAnneWest1.