Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Interview with Nora Shalaway Carpenter for The Edge of Anything

The Edge of Anything

by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Publisher: Running Press Teen
Release Date: 24th March, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction, Mental Health
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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.

Can you briefly describe THE EDGE OF ANYTHING and its characters?

THE EDGE OF ANYTHING tells the dual narrative of Len, an outcast teen photographer who believes she's slowly losing her mind, and Sage, a popular volleyball star with a devastating secret, and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

This is really tough, but if I had to choose, I’d probably say Len. Because I went through a similar mental health ordeal, in order to write her authentically, I had to dive deeply into painful memories and experiences. I definitely cried at the coffee shop where I wrote the book! At the same time, the process of writing her was cathartic, and I’m so grateful for that. Len is incredibly special to me because she shows that a person can experience immense pain and grief, but come through it, hopeful when she once thought she could never hope again. 

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

As I mentioned, Len’s story was inspired by my own experiences with grief and a devastating, trauma-induced mental health issue. I talk more about this in the book’s Author’s Note, but essentially, The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. Unfortunately, there is so much stigma around mental health and a lot of stereotyping (in books as well as real life) of the people who suffer. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len (like all real people struggling with mental health) is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

Sage’s volleyball identity is inspired by my own teenage athlete identity (though to be clear, Sage is on a totally different level than I was!) Her illness was inspired, unfortunately, by the real-life cause of death of my friend’s teenage brother. 

Additionally, I really wanted to examine the transformative and life-saving power of friendship, and how much we all need such connections. The Edge of Anything arose from the combination of those themes. 

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

I’m gonna cheat a little and give one song for each of the main characters. Sage’s would be “The Best” by AWOLNation. Len’s would be “Don’t Look Down” by Ivan B.

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

For coffee lovers: Chai latte at your favourite local coffee shop. 

If coffee’s not your thing, try an ice-cold lemonade while reading on a park bench or a blanket in the grass.

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish THE EDGE OF ANYTHING?

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

I usually feel like whatever part I’m working on at the moment is the hardest. [laughs] But really, I’d say the most difficult part is writing an entire first draft. Even if you have an outline, it’s still a bit of a murky process. Books evolve and change as you write, as you notice connections your unconscious has put into the text and tease those out into themes and metaphors. Sometimes you end up having to write chapters over and over. Sometimes you have to write the whole dang book over. But you can’t think about that in the moment of drafting. You have to keep going, even while knowing that what you’re writing isn’t “good” or “polished.” It’s simply you telling the story to yourself. You’ll make it great later, during the many rounds of revision. I tend to be a perfectionist, so letting myself have that freedom to just write poorly in the beginning can be really tough, even though it is essential. 

As a reader, what is the “one thing” that a mind-blowing story must have, in your opinion?

I LOVE this question. For me, it’s definitely fully-developed characters who feel so real I almost feel like they’re going to step out of the pages. They also have to have a deep, unfulfilled need that I want to see them fulfil, despite the many obstacles in their way. That keeps me turning pages. 

What’s next for you?

I’ve got another book coming out Oct 13, 2020 from Candlewick: RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE STEREOTYPES OF SMALL-TOWN AMERICA. It’s a mixed genre anthology and I’m the contributing editor. I’m also working on my next novel, another contemporary YA, this one set in rural West Virginia.

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. Learn more at www.noracarpenterwrites.com or follow her on Instagram @noracarpenterwrites and Twitter @norawritesbooks.