Please welcome Sarah McCarry to the blog! Her new book, DIRTY WINGS, just came out last week, and she stopped by to answer a few of my questions! Also, courtesy of the author, I’ve got 2 Audible.com promo codes for a free download of the audiobook of DIRTY WINGS for 2 lucky winners (international)!
You’re the author of the much lauded All Our Pretty Songs, and your new book, Dirty Wings, just came out. Will you tell us more about it and your protagonists, Maia and Cass?
Sure! Dirty Wings is a standalone prequel to All Our Pretty Songs that focuses on the story of Cass and Maia—the mothers of the two main characters in All Our Pretty Songs—as teenagers. Cass is a runaway street kid who’s squatting an abandoned house with a handful of punks; Maia is a sheltered piano prodigy who knows nothing of the world outside of her lessons and her strict, claustrophobic household. The two girls strike up an unlikely friendship that turns out to transform them both: for Cass, Maia is the stability she’s always craved, and for Maia, Cass is the key to her freedom. But when Maia falls in love with Jason, a boy who’s no good for her, everything heads south in a hurry, and the stakes get even higher when a music producer who may or may not be literally from Hell takes an interest in Jason—and Maia.
I love books that celebrate female friendship (also a theme in All Our Pretty Songs), and I imagine that will be a big draw for readers, but why do you think readers will connect with them?
Cass and Maia are characters with particular stories, but they both struggle with questions that I think are pretty universal: they’re trying to figure out who they are in the world, and who they want to become, and if their dreams belong to them or if they’ve been shaped by other people. They both make quite a few mistakes along the way—I don’t write about perfect people, because I don’t think they’re interesting (or real, for that matter). They’re also both girls who are outsiders for different reasons, and who choose to define their own stories and their own experiences—I think readers, especially women, who don’t often see themselves reflected in stories about growing up and making your own way in the world will connect with Maia and Cass. I tend to write for people who like bad decisions.
In addition to All Our Pretty Songs and Dirty Wings, you also have written for many publications and published nonfiction work. You’re an author of many hats! That said, what do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, fantasy and speculative fiction?
That’s a fun question! I grew up on mythology and fairytales—I had all the D’Aulaire’s books of myths when I was five or six, and the complete Grimm’s fairytales when I wasn’t much older—and so those stories took hold of me young, and always seemed a lot more interesting to me than stories about ordinary people doing ordinary things. (As most people know, the original Grimm’s stories are really disturbing, as are the original Greek myths, so I think that’s probably where I got my love of the sinister.) I read a ton of fantasy as a kid, and while I don’t read much epic fantasy anymore, I still love stories that use the unreal to tell us more about the real. It’s always better with monsters.
What is your writing process like? Did you do any specific research for Dirty Wings?
My writing process is inconsistent, to be honest—I don’t write every day or anything like that. I tend to think about something for a long time, do a lot of work at once, and then focus on other things for a while. I’m a regular runner, and I do a lot of my best thinking when I run. So many people will try and tell you there’s only one way to be a writer, but whenever I’m beating myself up for not getting up at 4am and writing two thousand words every day like a Real Writer I remember what my friend Nathan Bransford says—the only thing people who wrote a book have in common is that they finished the book. That’s the part that counts, not how you got there.
I did do quite a bit of research for Dirty Wings—I played the piano as a kid, but nothing near Maia’s level, and so I had a lot to learn about the world of classical music. I read everything I could get my hands on and talked to musicians who were classically trained—professional classical musicians live in a world of their own, which I found fascinating—and I also watched a lot of different performances of the pieces Maia plays in the book. It was a fun challenge to write a character who’s an expert in something I didn’t know much about when I started working.
What are a few of your favorite authors or novels? Is there a book or author that you can point to that made you want to be a writer?
I’m a huge, huge fan of Elizabeth Hand, whose work is just consistently brilliant and groundbreaking and totally gorgeous; I’ve been reading her since her first book came out in 1997, and I don’t think there was any single book that made me want to be a writer, but she’s definitely been a big influence for me. All-time favorites—it’s hard to pick just a few, but I’d say Weetzie Bat, Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. le Guin, Jamaica Kincaid—I could keep going forever!
More recently, I read a huge stack of books about astronomy and cosmology while I was writing the third book in the trilogy—I especially loved Amanda Gefter’s book Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn and Timothy Ferris’s (NOT the four-hour workweek guy!) Coming of Age in the Milky Way. I thought Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria was incredible. I’m really excited for Emily St. John Mandel’s next book, Station Eleven, which comes out this fall, and Courtney Summers’s new book All the Rage, which I have to wait until 2015 for.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
I wrote a mystery novel about a band of cat detectives when I was ten or eleven and sent it out to publishers. I remember being quite affronted when it was rejected.
You’re a busy lady, but when you get some downtime, how to you like to spend it?
What’s next for you?
I just finished the final book in the trilogy, About a Girl, which will be out next spring. It’s about the daughter of one of the main characters in All Our Pretty Songs, an aspiring astronomer who runs away to the Pacific Northwest to find a man she thinks is her father and ends up falling in love with Medea. I’m a little superstitious about talking too much about what I’m working on next, but let’s just say some very scary monsters will likely be involved.
**I’ve got 2 Audible audiobook versions of DIRTY WINGS to give away to 2 lucky winners, and of course it’s international. Enter to win using the widget below, and I’ll pick 2 winners on the 31st (promo codes for Audible.com will be sent to the winners to download the audiobook version of DIRTY WINGS.)**
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About DIRTY WINGS:
In Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry, Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game.