Anna McMerchy: When did you realize that you wanted to be an author?
Cori McCarthy: That’s a bit of a difficult question because I knew that I wanted to be a writer from eighth grade on. I studied writing for the next fifteen years without actually believing that I could be an author. It wasn’t until I enrolled in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts that I truly decided to try my hand at publishing.
AM: Do you see aspects of yourself within the characters that you create?
CM: Yes. I write myself into every story, although I’m usually writing different epochs of my personality. For example, the brash, headstrong main character in Breaking Sky is very much the girl that I was in high school, and the protagonist for my debut novel, The Color of Rain, who was cautious and determined (and oh so wrong about everything) was me in college. I not only use myself for material, but I also use my writing as catharsis—to embrace and fully understand the mistakes I’ve made along my way to adulthood.
AM: Which part of the writing process is most difficult for you? When you first start out, when you’re powering through the middle, when you’re on your first or fifth revision, or some other aspect of it entirely?
CM: I love, love, love first draft writing. I do it so fast, in fact, that I end up having to do five plus more revision drafts to fix the mess that is that first draft. I have to admit that I loathe revising, and I throw out whole chapters all the time just so I can write them from scratch.
AM: What kind of advice would you give people who would like to become authors themselves?
CM: Learn to take criticism, and equally important, learn how to revise your own work. Anyone can write a whole draft of a book, but it takes a special sort of determination and confidence to fix that book over and over until it’s good enough to be ready for publishing. I work as a writing coach through Yellow Bird Editors, and the number one thing that I tell the writers I’m working with is that they have to let go of perfection. Getting one page perfectly written won’t mean anything in the long run; you’ve got to write to the end and then add layer and layer of revision until the story grows strong enough for other people to read and enjoy. If you spend too much time getting things perfectly written, you won’t be able to make yourself change necessary elements later on, which is key to helping a story evolve.
AM: How did you learn so much about pilots and aircraft for Breaking Sky?
CM: I did a lot of research, read many books and watched many documentaries. The best source that I found was autobiographical accounts from pilots as far back as World War I. It was very interesting to me that jets and planes continue to evolve, but the basics of dogfighting and aerial combat are exactly the same as they were when we first started strapping guns onto planes.
AM: Based on your preferences alone, who would be your number one pick to play Chase in the movie adaptation of Breaking Sky?
CM: I would love for Hailee Steinfeld to play Chase in the Sony Pics adaptation! She was dynamite in the updated version of True Grit, and I think she was wonderful in Ender’s Game. I wonder if she’d be interested in cutting her hair into a faux hawk?!
AM: In Breaking Sky, you manage to incorporate many vastly different teen personalities in a way that makes the reader respect and admire the strength of each character. Do you feel that this kind of “social variety” is important for young people to see and appreciate? What did you do as a writer to ensure that you pulled off these character traits successfully?
CM: Thank you! I had a lot of fun imagining the core characters in Breaking Sky, and most of them are an amalgamation of the people I knew while growing up. As far as social variety goes, I find that although cliques are popular in movies and on sitcoms, I don’t believe that they actually exist in today’s high schools. I was a teenager a little over a decade ago, and I can tell you that even then we were breaking down the John Hughes-styled stereotypical groupings. Did we have certain circles that we hung out with? Yes, certainly. But they weren’t based on any sort of restrictions like “gamers” or “cheerleaders.” We hung out with the people who we liked, and that became a sort of friend family—very similar to the flyboy family in Breaking Sky.
AM: If The NerdBait Guide met up with John Green’s NerdFighter series, what would you guys make a video about?
CM: Well, The NerdBait Guide and my more recent adventures through Rainbow Boxes, focuses on diversity in books. I would love to team up with the NerdFighters to get more books about LGBTQIA characters out there as well as young adult books that take place around the world and in all kinds of countries and cultures. The number one thing that American teens need to be learning right now is that there is a wide world out there full of very different, equally amazing people. We should all be reading more stories about people like us and people who are not like us. It can only make us better humans.
AM: Which Hogwarts house do you belong to?
CM: Gryffindor! I am brave and honest to a fault! I always warn the classrooms of high schoolers that I’m going to talk with that I am cursed with honesty.
AM: Do you remember the first time you were asked to give a talk about your writing? How did you feel in that moment?
CM: Yes! I gave a talk about my road to publication for a group of elderly library patrons back before my debut novel, The Color of Rain, came out. I was SO nervous, but they were a wonderful audience. Like most people who come to hear me talk, they mostly wanted to know how someone goes from being a writer to being published, which is a fascinating and inexact art form, if you ask me.
AM: And finally, who are some classic and contemporary authors that inspire you?
CM: Walt Whitman inspires me every day. In fact, I have some of his words tattooed on my arm. I also love The Lord of the Rings and Jane Eyre. As far as contemporary authors, I simply adore Melina Marchetta. She has a fantasy series and several contemporary novels that are stunning and important and gorgeous. I highly suggest reading them all!