Q and A with Madeleine George and Carley Moore

I sat down last week with Madeleine George and Carley Moore to pick over some wilted greens and sprouts (see photo) and talk about their new Young Adult fiction (YA) books and their upcoming book party on Wednesday, April 11 at Greenlight Bookstore.  Madeleine’s book, her second, is The Difference Between You and Me and Carley’s, her first, is The Stalker Chronicles.

I have known both of them for many years, as friends and members of my Tuesday night Fort Greene writing workshop.  Madeleine has also led writing workshops for both young people and adults with NY Writers Coalition.  They are brilliant, funny and very talented writers!

 Me.  How long have you been friends?

Madeleine:  We met each other in 1997, in Carley’s second year of teaching at NYU, and my first.

Carley:  We were graduate students and had teaching fellowships in the Expository Writing program and were learning how to teach writing.  We knew each other and had mutual friends but didn’t become super-close until a couple of years later.

Me:  That’s a long time to know each other and then have books coming out together at the same time, in the same genre.  What is that like for you?

Madeleine:  I find it delightful.  I felt like I was sort of flailing around in a lonely and ungraceful fashion in the YA world when my first book came out in 2008 and I yearned for Carley to join me.

Carley:  It’s because of Madeleine and also our mutual friend P.G. Kain (whose book Famous for Thirty Seconds just came out) that I decided to write YA, and also because of the NYWC workshop with you, Aaron, which gave me the courage to write.  But it really was when I read Looks, Madeleine’s first novel that I thought that I really admired the genre, and I so admired what Madeleine did with the genre that I really wanted to be  a part of it.  When I saw Looks, I saw something extraordinary that I wanted to emulate.

Me:  So, Madeleine, you were lonely in the YA world, and Carley, you wanted to be a part of it, and now here you are.

Madeleine:  It’s so much better to have friends.  I know a lot of writers that won’t tour unless they can go with their friends.  And it is also common in YA to write collaboratively, which is very rare in adult literature.  People team up to write books in YA all the time and it’s such a cool practice.

Carley:  What I have found so far is that it is a really hospitable genre and writers are so generous with each other and part of that generosity extends to collaborations.  But I don’t know what it would be like to collaboratively write a novel and it kind of terrifies me.

Madeleine: Apparently it’s amazing and pushes you to do things you never would have otherwise done.  Also, of course, the solitariness of writing is mitigated.  And also the problem of having to figure out what is going to happen next.

Carley:  Maybe we should collaboratively write your third one?

Madeleine: How about the one after that?  I’m still maintaining micro-managerial control over the third one.

Me: A deal may have just been brokered during this interview.

Madeleine: I think we should definitely do it.  And I have some ideas of some anthologies I’d like to edit.  And going back to how hospitable the genre is, it is very analogous to NYWC.  It makes a lot of sense that these books would get born in this context, and that you guys would support these books on their way into the world, because there’s no more radically hospitable writing organization in the world than NY Writers Coalition.  A writing community based on generosity and radical democracy is met in some way in the publishing industry by YA.

Carley:  For me, the thing about your workshop and the NYWC model is the difference between a believing reader and being a doubting reader.

Madeleine: For the non-Elbowians in the crowd, what does that mean?

Carley:   I’m talking about composition theory guru Peter Elbow who coined those two terms.  I feel like the marketplace and trying to get an agent and get published will give you plenty of doubts about what you’re up to.  even though it’s gone really smoothly for this first book, there’s also rejection out there, and the great thing about NYWC  is that you get to have a dedicated space in which people give you feedback that is believing and that they believe you are working on a project that matters.  And that you have ideas that people listen to and help you figure out what you’re up to in your writing, because you may not really know.  That’s the thing that I love–careful listening and feedback allows you to figure out what you’re doing.

Madeleine:  There is a way in which the whole world of YA publishing is a believing field, because everyone involved just agrees that books are good and reading is good and that teenagers should read books.  And that’s not true for adults, at least in this country in particular, the arts are so embattled, people don’t believe in them and are always trying to excise them from the world or from funding or from the public arena.

Me.  On another note, this is something I have been thinking of asking you about, because every writer I know talks about it.  Carley, you’re a mom, you are a teacher, you have a very busy life.  Madeleine, you have an incredibly busy job and life, and write plays and other things.  How did you finish a book, and in Madeleine’s case two books now?  I think those are obstacles that a lot of people face and legitimately cite: time and other responsibilities can really get in the way of completing a project.  Why do you think you were able to not only come up with your books, but finish them?

Carley:  Being in the workshop really helped, because no matter what I had a dedicated 2.5 hours for my writing, and that kept me going.  My husband is really committed to my writing career and makes sure I have a lot of time and takes over parenting whenever I need writing time, so I am really grateful for that. Madeleine actually babysits for me often, so that helps.

Madeleine: So that she can write books so that we can tour together and so I won’t be lonely.  And also because her child is amazing.

Carley: I do feel like it is a constant struggle that Madeleine and I talk about a lot, and often feel that my writing gets short shrift because of all the other things we’re doing.

Madeleine:  It’s true, because we have to spend a lot of time talking about our time management problems, and there’s a huge time commitment involved in all that discussing.

Me:  That’s actually a good point, which is about support.  You’re being funny, but having another person that believes in your work and supports you, that is also a writer, is an amazing thing.

Carley:  I feel really lucky to have that. It’s huge.

Madeleine:  Substantial portions of my book were written in the TGI Friday’s in the Pittsburgh airport as I was going back and forth working on a production of a play and coming back to my job, and I think sometimes when you have less time, you make more time creatively out of the little nooks and crannies.  But I have been thinking a lot lately about mastery and how at a certain point if you’re multi-tasking writing into your life, you start to crave single minded focus.  Everyone can attest to this, all writers with jobs feel this way.  There’s a way in which you can hit a ceiling.  You can’t make symphonic pieces of work; in other words, complicated pieces of scope and scale in which all the parts inside speak to one another meaningfully, unless you have big big pieces of time so that in the quiet spaces around your head you can start to hear the parts of the thing resonate off each other.  Otherwise, you can only write forward.  You can only write the thing that’s ahead of you.  You can’t laterally listen to the piece.  I feel thats the thing that writers who have jobs are always shooting for.  It’s figuring how to make little places to have enough space around you so you can hear it in stereo.

Me.  So did you make chunks of time like that for yourself?

Madeleine:  Little pockets of it.  It’s the goal of my whole life and I am sure many people in this situation to make more and more of it.

Carley: I agree with Madeleine wholeheartedly  and second what she is saying.  writers who have many jobs, as most writers do, especially if you live in a city that is challenging.  You find yourself craving large chunks of time where you could really figure something out or can work on an arc that is invisible to you.  I think in a really practical way, the way I have been able to get manuscripts done, and i realized this when my daughter was born, is that i would never again have an 8 hour day anymore where I lay around in bed and wake up slowly and have coffee.  I really would have at most 2 hour increments and I just got very disciplined and would sit down and make myself type whatever crap came out of me.  I tend to make really bad drafts but I try to complete them and just go from there.

Madeleine: Form is going to be a product of you and your life. Tillie Olsen, who was a short story master, said that she wrote short stories because she had short amounts of time. She was raising a family.  But she became a master of the short form.

Me: One last question.  On Wednesday, what kind of wine and cheese will there be?

Carley:  I don’t know, Greenlight is making those arrangements with The Greene Grape.

Madeleine: What should we supplement that with?  Goldfish crackers?  Reese’s pieces?

Carley: Yeah, what sort of things should we bring?

Me.  What’s most fitting from your books?  What does Cammie find in the garbage of the boys she stalks?

Carley: Grapefruit peels, pepsi cans, empty Chinese food containers.  Nothing we’d want to serve anyone.  She does eat a lot of yogurt.

Madeleine: Hmm.  I wonder what that symbolizes, Jungian-ly.  I think there’s only one food description in my book,  which is weird because I always trade off food descriptions.  But in this book, her mother drops her off at alternative suspension and her mother gives her a lunch that’s bulgur wheat in a stained Tupperware and 3 dried apricots that look like shriveled human ears.

Carley: Cammie doesn’t eat a lot in the book, but she does make fun of her brother’s sort of anorexic cheerleader girlfriend who eats a stick of gum for lunch.

Madeleine: Gum and ears!

Me:  I think we better stick to whatevr the Greene Grape Provisions provides instead of things from your books because we want people to come to the reading.

Madeleine: I’ll bake!

Me. I’ll bake too!  No, wait, we want people to come.