2020 Debut Author Interview: Nora Shalaway Carpenter!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun this year as well! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2020 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!
At the end of 2019, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Nora Shalaway Carpenter and her novel THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, and we have been interested in it ever since. We are so excited to have Nora on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

Nora Shalaway  Carpenter

Nora Shalaway Carpenter holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Before she wrote books, she served as associate editor of Wonderful West Virginia magazine and has been a Certified Yoga Teacher since 2012. Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and one not-so-young dog.

Keep up with Nora: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Instagram

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Nora: Thank you! It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. I’ve dreamed of becoming a traditionally published author since I was a little kid, so to see that dream realized is a bit wild. 
The Book Bratz: In your opinion, what's the best part of the writing process? What's the hardest?
Nora: For me, the hardest part is definitely getting started from a blank page. You have this spark of an idea and you know how great it could be, but you also realize you have a lot of thinking and planning to do (in addition to writing!) to flesh that idea out into something substantial, something that provides meaning to you (and hopefully others, of course). There’s going to be missteps and frustration, and that’s all part of the writing process, but even once you know that, it doesn’t make it much easier. For me, the best part of writing is revision, which is totally the opposite of what 17-year-old Nora would have said. But now, I love having a full draft in front of me. Even if it is terrible, as first drafts always are, you at least have something to work with. I love Brendan Kiely’s quote, “you can work with a mess. You can’t work with a dream.” I hold on to that as I force myself to “write badly” in my first draft, which means not letting my inner critic hold me up from getting ideas down on the page. If I write a terrible sentence, so what? I know I’m going to fix it later. I love the transformation a story goes through during revision, as themes become clearer and you can really play up story connections that your unconscious brain put into your book without you even realizing! There’s something magical about that. 

The Book Bratz: Where did you get the inspiration for THE EDGE OF ANYTHING?
Nora: There are two answers, really, because THE EDGE OF ANYTHING is a dual narrative that tells the stories of two very different young women. Sage is a teenage volleyball superstar. While I wasn’t near Sage’s Division 1 recruitment level, I did live and breathe volleyball for most of my pre-teen and teenage life. But shortly before college, I tore my ACL playing basketball, and decided to accept an academic scholarship at a large university instead of pursing volleyball at a smaller one. So I went from my life revolving around this sport to not playing it competitively at all, which was a hard shift, I confess. It stayed with me for such a long time that I knew I wanted to write a story examining that aspect of identity—if what defines you is irrevocably stripped away, how do you find yourself and your place in the world again? (I am also a firm believer that more YA stories need to star female athletes, so there was that part of it, too!) Okay, the second answer is harder for me, personally. Although the reader doesn’t find out exactly what’s going on with Len until about midway through the book, it’s clear even from the first page that something isn’t quite right with Len’s mental health. The inspiration for her character came from my own horrific experiences with undiagnosed mental health issues and trauma. I talk a bit more about it in the book’s Author’s Note, but basically I wrote Len’s character because I wish I’d had an #ownvoices mental health story like hers to grasp onto when I was going through the darkest point of my life. I also wanted to give readers who didn’t suffer like Len a glimpse into the kind of pain she was carrying and hiding away. It really saddens me that there are still some people who don’t believe that mental health issues are real and just as serious as physical illnesses. That has to change. So I had these two ideas in my head for years, percolating, when one day I realized that Sage and Len lived in the same place. They knew each other. That’s when The Edge of Anything started to materialize.

The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?
Nora: Sage and Len were both my favorite to write. Len, though, was the most difficult, because I was essentially reprocessing a bunch of traumatic emotions that I’d gone through years ago. That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t write the book until years after my own trauma. I needed that distance. Even though it was challenging at times, though, it was also deeply cathartic. 

The Book Bratz: How do you go about covering such sensitive topics, such as grief and mental health? What kind of planning and research goes into a story like this?
Nora: In Len’s case, I relied on my previous own experiences and emotions. Certainly mental health disorders present differently in different people, but I had firsthand knowledge of what it was like for me, and I used that in creating Len’s emotional experience. As for Sage’s medical condition, I definitely did a lot of research. One of my good friends is a pediatric cardiologist, and he let me interview him and come into his office to undergo the same testing that Sage endures. My favorite part of this was when he let me pretend to be Sage and bombard him with questions. He answered as he would have to a real patient, and some of that conversation shows up verbatim in the book.

The Book Bratz: What do you hope that readers will take away from THE EDGE OF ANYTHING?
Nora:Any time I write something, my biggest wish is that it makes readers think. That it pushes them perhaps out of their comfort zone a bit and forces them to confront ideas they might not have wanted to think about before. For this book in particular, I also hope that readers take away admiration for the astounding power of human connection. More than anything, I want readers to see that, even in the most desperate of times, there is always a sliver of light, and it is usually found in the connections we have with other people. 
The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING in the future, or do you have other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Nora: I don’t have any plans for a sequel, but I am currently writing another contemporary YA novel, this one set in West Virginia. Although I can’t reveal the details about that book yet, I can tell you that I have another book, a mixed-genre anthology, coming out October 13 from Candlewick called RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA. I both edit it and have a story in it, and I’m super excited that this book will help smash the rural monolith. The pitch is as follows: 
For most of America's history, rural people and culture have been casually mocked, stereotyped, and, in general, deeply misunderstood. Now an array of short stories, poetry, graphic short stories, and personal essays, along with anecdotes from the authors' real lives, dives deep into the complexity and diversity of rural America and the people who call it home. Fifteen extraordinary authors - diverse in ethnic background, sexual orientation, geographic location, and socioeconomic status - explore the challenges, beauty, and nuances of growing up in rural America. From a mountain town in New Mexico to the gorges of New York to the arctic tundra of Alaska, you'll find yourself visiting parts of this country you might not know existed - and meet characters whose lives might be surprisingly similar to your own. 
Goodreads link here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46196016-rural-voices

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Jessica! It was great to chat.

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Title: The Edge of Anything
Author: Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Publication Date: March 24th, 2020

Summary: Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons. But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives. Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Thank you so much to Nora for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about THE EDGE OF ANYTHING and can't wait for it to be out in the world on March 24th! If you're interested, you can PREORDER HERE! We're also running a pre-order giveaway with Nora on our Twitter, so check it out!

Celebrate So Excited GIF by Hey Violet

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