Getting to Know Caroline Starr Rose

I’m excited to welcome one of my favorite authors Caroline Starr Rose to the blog today to answer some questions about herself and her writing process. Come back for part two of the interview, where she’ll explain her “historical fiction authenticity scale” and share about her newest book, Ride On, Will Cody!, which releases October 1.

Caroline Starr Rose
Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a former teacher, a mother to two teenage boys, a pastor’s wife, and a children’s author. We’ve lived all over the country but have spent the last seven years in Albuquerque, NM, where my husband and I grew up. It’s been so special to share this place we love with our sons.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I run, read, work crosswords, walk the dog, go to my boys’ sporting events. I love to cook when I have the time. Otherwise, not so much. My life is pretty uneventful, and I love it that way.

What’s your favorite picture book from childhood?

The Littlest Rabbit by Robert Kraus. Revisiting it as an adult, it’s a little weird (Rabbits throwing punches!), but I loved it as a girl.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel, whether for adults or children?

Undoubtedly it would be Long Night Dance by Betsy James (YA speculative fiction). Betsy spoke to my adolescent literature class at the University of New Mexico over twenty years ago. I picked up Long Night Dance soon after and was entranced. Every few years, I’d search to see if she’d continued the story. When we lived in Florida, I found the second book. In Virginia I found the third and wrote Betsy gushy fan mail. When we moved back to Albuquerque, I found out Betsy was offering a writing workshop and immediately signed up. We’re now friends and — this was huge for me — she let me read the fourth book in the series, Roadsouls, when it was still in manuscript form.

Has being a writer changed you as a reader?

Oh, yes. I used to be quite the reading snob (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). But the longer I’ve written, the more I’ve learned to appreciate books that I might not have picked up fifteen or twenty years ago. I think knowing the hard work that goes into writing has both broadened my taste and shown me plenty to admire in the books I’ve read. I’m constantly impressed with the way other authors tell a story through their choices with plot, structure, form, and point of view.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you growing up, or influences your writing today?

I would have to say of all the authors I admire, Beverly Cleary has had the biggest impact on my writing. Ramona Quimby is hands down the best middle-grade character ever written. (This is my humble opinion, but it feels like absolute fact.)

The thing that has really struck me as an adult re-visiting the Ramona books is the compassion Beverly Cleary has for her character (and by extension, her young readers). Though she doesn’t shy away from awkward moments, there is a tenderness in the way Cleary deals with Ramona when she throws up in class, when she kicks her bedroom walls in anger, when she names her doll the most beautiful name she can think of — Chevrolet.

These books have reminded me what it was like to be a child. They nudged me to be more patient with the young people in my life. They’ve encouraged me to treat my characters with respect and love.

What’s the most difficult part of the writing process?

Well, all of it! But seriously, drafting is the part I like least. Everything is so wide open, it can be paralyzing. I don’t yet know my characters and their world (even if I’ve spent extensive time researching a setting and the history surrounding it). There’s a lot of stumbling around and wrong turns involved.

What do you love most about the writing process?

I love revision work with my editor. It can be incredibly hard (see above) but is so rich. At this point, the story is really underway. Major changes are still possible (twice over with Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine I tossed two-thirds of the manuscript and started again), but usually the focus is on digging deeper, making connections, really bringing the book to life.

I love, love, love returning to the world that’s under construction, spending time with the characters who become more real and complex and human as each day passes. It’s utterly absorbing. After reading the same (altered) manuscript for years, I’ve not once found myself bored. It’s fresh and exciting every time.

You’ve written 2 picture books, 2 novels in verse, and 1 prose novel. How do you decide what format fits which story? Is that planned in advance, or have you ever changed it after beginning a story?

I’ve never debated if an idea is a picture book or a novel. Knowing if a novel is meant to be written as verse or prose is another thing entirely.

The conventional wisdom is to read one hundred books in your genre (or form) before attempting to write in that style. I’d read all of two verse novels before writing my frontier story, May B., but that was because I had no intention of writing this way. My early attempts at the story fell flat. The ideas in my head were far from the words on the page. When I returned to my research I realized the voices of pioneer women were careful and spare, a reflection of their stark environment. I knew if I could mirror their voices I would be able to tell May’s story most truthfully.

I knew my Klondike Gold Rush story, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, was going to be prose, but I was convinced at first it would be an epistolary novel. It didn’t take long for me to realize this form did not suit my boy — a kid who didn’t take to schooling was hardly going to express himself with the written word.

Of my published novels, it’s only been my Lost Colony story, Blue Birds, that started as verse and stayed that way.

Form must absolutely serve the story and not the other way around.

Have you written a book you love that you haven’t published?

Several…and many more I’m so glad have never seen the light of day. I would suspect most of us who write fiction have experienced the same. There are a couple still making the rounds that — fingers crossed — will someday find a home. Hope springs eternal.

What’s been the best compliment you’ve received as an author?

I’ve received messages from both dyslexic children and adults who have read May B. and connected with the story. Here’s a beautiful example:

“At the end of May B., I am crying. I am crying at the ways she is so strong and capable. It was as if you were writing right into the places of my heart where those accusations of being careless and not good enough had settled. And you whispered that like May, I could overcome. I could hope for the good things even when they are hard. Thank you, Caroline. Thank you, May.”

How has releasing a book changed now that you’ve done this 5 times?

When May B. was a week from release, I wanted to climb under my bed and hide. After months of excitement, I suddenly felt dread. I couldn’t take back what I’d written. Soon everyone could see it and would have an opinion. That was kind of terrifying.

Generally, I’m a little more mellow than that first time around, but I’ve also learned to acknowledge patterns that come with the release of a book (and to treat myself gently in the midst of them). The nerves start a few months out as trade reviews roll in. (I always take a deep breath before opening an email from my editor that begins A review from Kirkus / Publisher’s Weekly / Booklist / School Library Journal). I am entirely too involved with stats those first months after a release. Penguin Random House has an author portal which uses Neilsen BookScan numbers (never a good representation of books like mine, generally marketed to schools and libraries, let me tell you!) and also tracks the number of books shipped (a better glimpse of sales). After the third-month mark, bookstores start to return unsold copies. It can be depressing. Honestly, it’s more information that is beneficial for any author to have.

I try to remember if my editor is proud of the book and I am proud of the book, that’s enough. I’m getting really, really close to believing this is true.

Want more information about Caroline or Ride On, Will Cody!? Come back Friday, and also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (but I’ve bought my own copies of some of her previous works). This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Comments

  1. This was such a fun conversation. Thank you for hosting me today!

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