Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Caroline Starr Rose

Today I'm so excited to be interviewing someone who is not only a fabulous author, but an agent-mate as well. Caroline Starr Rose has had more than her share of ups and downs on the road to publication. (Read this post, When Things Don't Go as Planned, to learn about just one of the bumps.) 

But the end is in sight for her debut novel, May B. It's set to hit shelves in January and best of all -- I get to be there for her launch party in Albuquerque! Woo-hoo!!


YES!!! It worked out perfectly!
That is so cool!!

I know, but I have to stop dancing around the house, and do a proper interview so tell me: how long have you been writing?
Fourteen years this December.

Has it always been historical fiction?
No, though my first attempt at a novel was a horrendous historical about the Oregon Trail. I still shudder to think of it!

Ha! My first novel causes way more than a shudder. Ugh! What sparked the idea for May B.’s story?
A couple of ideas came together for me as I worked on May. I started by researching the frontier -- an era that fascinated me -- and trusted something would catch my interest as I read. I was curious about the challenge of writing about a character alone for much of the story.  And I’ve always wondered how children with learning disabilities would have coped in an era before their challenges were understood.

How did you research the setting and period?
I started reading about mail order brides, actually!

Mail order brides could make a good story :P  And actually, Mrs. Oblinger sounded kind of like she could have been a mail order bride.
She wasn't, but I thought it would be fun to throw in a little ode to my beginning research :)

From there I read about the frontier in general and was especially drawn to first-hand accounts of families moving west and to journals and letters kept by pioneer women. I decided May’s story would be a great fit for Kansas: the geography was right for a sod house (with which I was enamored) and the weather extremes worked with the blizzard I needed to help tell her story.

Well her story is amazing. I enjoyed it tremendously and I'm not the only one. You’ve been getting some amazing blurbs, including the awesome one from Karen Cushman. Are you just delirious?
Absolutely, crazily delirious. I’m not sure if I still believe it!

I first found Karen Cushman’s books in college and used CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY, THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE, and THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE in my classroom. To realize she not only read my work but loved it -- it’s an incredible honor.

You've had a wilder ride than most in your quest for publication. How did you keep your spirits up when you heard your first publisher was shutting down?
Agent Michelle let me vent when I needed to. She reminded me from the start there were other editors who had loved May before and would probably be interested in her again. I was a part of the Class of 2k11 at the time, and they along with the Elevensies really bolstered me. My first editor, Nicole Geiger, let me call and cry. Really, people were wonderful.

How hard was it to go through another revision with a second editor once your book found a new publishing home?
I’ll be honest; I was a pill at first. I’m generally very open to others’ suggestions, especially ones from the publishing world. But it was really hard for me to hear my book, which had been weeks from an ARC printing, needed more edits. As in three more rounds. That said, editor Emily Seife so clearly loved my character and wanted what was best for the story, she won me over pretty quickly.

I’m so grateful things ended up this way. The book is much stronger; I have two marvelous editors to thank for that.

And you wound up with an AWESOME cover!!

You were a teacher for a number of years. How do you think that influences your writing?
I’ve taught all over the place -- five schools in four states. Being with kids from all over and from all walks of life showed me despite incredible differences, kids are pretty much the same: they need to feel accepted and they need to know there are adults who believe in them. I’d like to think I’m respectful of my young characters and honestly portray their experiences, hoping one day my young readers will, through the magic that is fiction, see their own big and small moments as important and valid.

You’ve been looking at unconventional ways to market this novel. Can you share some of those ideas?
You mean those 2000 postcards sitting in my office? ;)

Uh, yeah. 2,000? 
That's a lot of stamps!
I spent months collecting addresses of frontier and historical museums in the plains states. I also have the addresses of every elementary and middle school in Kansas. May comes out two weeks before Kansas Day, the anniversary of Kansas’s statehood and a day set aside in Kansas schools to study state history. I’ve used Kansas Day as a draw in the postcards I’m sending to schools. As for the museums, it’s a long shot. Still, I think of the number of times I’ve left museums with a book or trinket related to the exhibit I’d seen. I also plan to send postcards to all Kansas public libraries and all the elementary and middle schools in my city.

I created a huge giveaway called the May B. book club kit open to any school, library, or reading circle. Included were 10 copies of the book, discussion questions, lesson tie-ins, bookmarks and stickers, a copy of the May B. book trailer, and a Skype visit with the winners after they’ve read.

Then there’s Take Five! Pick Two! where I sent five bookmarks to interested blog readers and asked them to share two of them with librarians, teachers, young readers, book bloggers, or booksellers.

I also applied for SCBWI's new grant for authors with books coming out in 2012, where two winners receive $2000 to put toward book promotion. Though I didn't win, it was an opportunity I refused to let slip by and gave me a chance to intentionally think through promotion ideas.

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?
Not sure yet! Champagne, definitely.

Well, when I'm there we're celebrating at Sadie's with some sopapillas! If they have champagne, too, all the better!
Sadie's, here we come!

What are you working on now?
A picture book about the Louisiana wetlands and another historical verse novel.

Thanks so much, Sherrie. This was a delight!

Absolutely! See you in January!!

To learn more about Caroline, you can find her in these online spots:
Blog: Caroline by Line
Facebook May B. Page
The Apocalypsies -- Class of 2K12
The (Teen) Book Scene


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thanks for hosting me, Sherrie! I can't wait to finally meet you and share some sopapillas...and maybe some enchiladas or carne adovada.

And thanks for your amazing support. Next time I'll be my turn to do the same for you.

I seem to be really fond of exclamation points in this interview.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Ha! Well, I'm fond of them myself!!

I can't wait to meet you at the launch and get my hard cover copy of May B. signed in person. I'll have to be careful not to spill any green chile sauce on that gorgeous cover :)

storyqueen said...

Seriously?? Sadies!!!! OMG! My favorite place!

The papita burrito is awesome. My husband and I used to go there on our early dates when it was still a in a bowling alley.

Best of luck on your launch! I like how diverse your plan is.



Christina Lee said...

Well I want to share some sopapillas too, darn-it! :--)))

Love this interview and wow some challenges to overcome! Looking forward to reading this book!!!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Shelley: I LOVE that you've eaten at Sadie's, too!! Isn't it the best? Maybe I can come home via San Diego and drop off some sopapillas for you :)

I think Caroline has done a great job looking for unique ways to get the word out about her book. She's good at thinking outside the box (or the sopapilla basket!)

Christina: It would be fabulous to have you there sharing sopapillas, too!!

I've been so impressed with how Caroline responded, even when things didn't always turn out the way she wanted. She's one classy lady.

And May B. is a great book. My daughter's reading my digital ARC right now!

Laura Pauling said...

Really looking forward to this one! What a great library and school market book! Love the cover too!

Kristan said...

Eep, what a bump in the road! I'm so glad she and May B got another home. It sounds like they're in good hands. (That cover, for example, is gorgeous.)

Barbara Watson said...

I adore historical fiction (and am writing it myself), so I'm SUPER excited to read this!! If I could get my hands on an ARC, I would love to review it for an MMGM!!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love Caroline and can't wait for May B. to hit bookshelves. I was lucky enough to get an eGalley!! YAY! :-)

Caroline, thanks for sharing so much with us. I can't wait to host you on my blog soon.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thanks for all the love, guys. Shelley, I didn't know you had an ABQ connection! Sad to say when my parents come to town, they stop at Sadie's FIRST before coming to our house.

Barbara, the ARC is on eGalley, if you'd like a sneak peek.

Tere Kirkland said...

Mmmm, sopapillas...

Caro, I don't know if I would have been able to stand being so close to publication, only to have to start over again. AND do more revisions. Even though I know you're right when you said it just made your work stronger. Still, I would've been more than a pill...

So glad things are looking up, and let me know if you need any help researching for your wetlands book. We have lots of maps, etc., at the Historic New Orleans Collection. I'd love to help!

Caroline Starr Rose said...


Thanks! I'm linked in to a Loyola prof's wetlands e-newseltter (he was kind enough to read a early version). I'm coming to Houma the end of March to visit schools and talk at the Jambalaya Writing Conference.

Meet you for beignets (which are pretty much sopapillas covered in powdered sugar)?

Marcia said...

I love historical fiction, and am soi glad to see some getting published despite the opinion that "historical doesn't sell." I'll definitely read this.

Krispy said...

Thanks for sharing this! I've seen that lovely cover around and was curious. Looking forward to the book!

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Great interview, Sherrie! I'm planning a MAY B post next Monday for MMGM.

Caroline already knows how much I love her book. :)

Stina said...

It sounds to me like the best thing to happen was the shutting down of the first publisher. Now the book is more awesome.

Great interview!!!!

Anonymous said...

It was great reading the story behind May B. Yikes about the revisions, but yay on publication. I read May B. awhile back and loved it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing your journey! I am so looking forward to reading this one...and know a kid or two and more I want to book talk it to!

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