A few weeks ago, I read this excellent book. The first couple of chapters, though, were pure torture, and not for the reasons you might think. The eerie coincidences between the first chapter of this book, Birthmarked, and the first chapter of my own manuscript were so similar it was sickening. (To read my review, click here.)
After I got over my nausea, I really got into the story. Caragh O’Brien has crafted an excellent tale, and in the interview below, she’ll tell us a little about it, and a little about her writing in general.
Interview with Caragh M. O’Brien March 3, 2011
BH: We have a really exciting sequel to look forward to in November, but in the meantime, can you tell us a little bit about Birthmarked here (for those in our audience who haven’t already read my review)?
COB: Sure. Let me first say thanks, Beth, for inviting me by. Your review made me laugh so much when I first read it. I was completely drawn to your honesty and the awful coincidences between our books. Birthmarked is the story of Gaia, a teen midwife who is compelled to “advance” babies into a privileged society within a walled city. In a dystopian future after climate change, Gaia’s society is divided by the wall into haves and have-nots. Justice is uncompromising, and Gaia spends much of the book trying to save her parents from the Enclave. It’s a pretty dark, twisted, fun book.
BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.
COB: Starting when? Ha. The short version is that I wrote a lot, quit to become a teacher, started writing again because I couldn’t help it, and then wrote Birthmarked while I was on a leave of absence from teaching. I sent out forty-five email queries to agents, received four offers of representation, and ended up with Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor. He sent out the book, and a month later we had three offers. The best was a three-book deal with Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook, and I was delighted.
BH: When you wrote Birthmarked, did you plan to create a series?
COB: No. I thought Birthmarked was a stand-alone. When Nan offered me a three-book deal, I discovered it was a trilogy.
BH: Your blog post about Birthmarked being translated and published in Spain is truly inspiring (click here to read it)—even more amazing is that you got to meet Eva Rubio, the woman whose blog and Facebook page started the fire. What can other writers learn from your experience here?
COB: It was such an unusual situation, and I was so fortunate to meet Eva and her friends in Salamanca. It isn’t the sort of thing I could have ever prepared for. I suppose it helped that I sometimes do a Google search for my book, and when reviews turn up in other languages, I’m willing to push that translate button to see what’s there. As you know, I’ll sometimes write to express my thanks to a blogger who posts an outstanding review, and that follows for overseas bloggers, too. I am genuinely grateful for the kind reviews Birthmarked has received.
BH: What other project ideas do you hope to pursue after the Birthmarked series is finished? (Um, not too many details please…although, what are the chances we’d have another duplicate Agnes birth scene?)
COB: We are doomed to write identical books no matter what we do, Beth. I’m pondering three different ideas, all YA, but they’re inchoate at this stage. I need to finish up a solid draft of Book 3 before I can let my mind go play in a new place.
BH: What does your workspace look like?
COB: I have a MacBook on my lap. Sometimes I sit on the plaid couch in the library where I can see the gerbils, and sometimes I sit on the brown couch in the living room where I can see the slope of the yard.
BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?
COB: I learned from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Other than that, I read a lot of fiction so really everything is a lesson in craft.
BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?
COB: I’ve been thinking about this lately, actually. The most important writing advice I received was from Ed Epping, an Art teacher at Williams college, when he told me “Paint only what is interesting to you.” It freed me. It redefined what art was supposed to be. I never again had to waste time on what I thought was unimportant, or if I did, I understood it was an assignment for someone else, not for me. I can still do boring work for others if I must, but there’s no room for it in my own writing, ever. On a practical writing level, this means I skip any sentence, paragraph, scene or book that doesn’t interest me.
Thanks again, Beth, for having me by, and good luck with your own writing.
BH: Caragh, thanks for visiting, and for laughing at the sad coincidences between our books. Now that I’m not throwing up about it anymore, I can laugh with you!