Friday, November 15, 2013

Guest Post: Author Cori McCarthy

If there is one thing that seventeen-year-old Rain knows and knows well, it is survival. Caring for her little brother, Walker, who is "Touched," and losing the rest of her family to the same disease, Rain has long had to fend for herself on the bleak, dangerous streets of Earth City. When she looks to the stars, Rain sees escape and the only possible cure for Walker. And when a darkly handsome and mysterious captain named Johnny offers her passage to the Edge, Rain immediately boards his spaceship. Her only price: her "willingness."

The Void cloaks many secrets, and Rain quickly discovers that Johnny's ship serves as host for an underground slave trade for the Touched . . . and a prostitution ring for Johnny's girls. With hair as red as the bracelet that indicates her status on the ship, the feeling of being a marked target is not helpful in Rain's quest to escape. Even worse, Rain is unsure if she will be able to pay the costs of love, family, hope, and self-preservation.

With intergalactic twists and turns, Cori McCarthy's debut space thriller exists in an orbit of its own.

Why I Love to Kill Characters
At my grad school, Vermont College of Fine Arts, we loved to throw around the phrase, Murder your darlings! This writing advice gem comes from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and is one of those things you can say when you want to get people debating loudly. Is it necessary to kill off important characters? Does it make the reader feel more invested because they’re emotionally wounded? And most importantly, when is a character’s death really warranted?

I don’t know! All I can say is that when a character dies in a story that I’m reading, I either fall in love with the book or throw it across the room. 

As a writer, I like to dance upon this line. I’m a big fan of the idea that (in thrillers like my The Color of Rain) everything that can go wrong, should go wrong. When I’m assessing the emotional journey of my main character, the notion that they might lose someone close to them comes up over and over again. This isn’t to say that I take people away from my main character willy-nilly (I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon!) But I do like to take a step back and evaluate what kind of deaths make a story stronger.

I’d like to use Katherine Paterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia as an example. (If you haven’t read it, please stop reading now as I don’t want to spoil it for you—plus you really should read it!). Leslie and Jesse’s story is magical and timeless. It talks about friendship and a reveals a quiet yet memorable coming of age. But then, just when you think you’re reading about the universal power of the imagination, Leslie dies.

That fast.

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t see Leslie’s death coming. It is a shock to the reader that cleverly parallels Jesse’s stunned experience. For me, Leslie’s death is the moment where the story transformed from entertaining to important. Reading Jesse’s grief is an experience like no other. And as a young reader, this book broke my heart and then put it back together in a way that prepared me for some of the real deaths in my life.

To date, I can admit that my books are full of loss, both The Color of Rain and my upcoming book Breaking Sky. Though this might be a punch to readers, I hope that the stories work on cathartic levels, and that the main character’s journeys—whether it be in space or at a junior Air Force academy in the arctic—ring with true emotional stakes.

About the Author:
Cori McCarthy is the author of the space thriller The Color of Rain, out now from Running Press Teens. Her second book, Breaking Sky, will be out at the end of 2014 from Sourcebooks. Cori is the cohost of the short-n-funny vlog series, The NerdBait Guide, which discusses YA stories as well as fangirl subjects and all things nerdlore. She lives in Michigan with her family and beloved jade trees. Follow her @CoriMcCarthy

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