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Writers on Writing: My Interview with YA Author Carolyn Mackler

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn Mackler, an accomplished young adult author, at Books of Wonder in New York City. Alongside other YA authors including Jennifer E. Smith, Maggie Lehrman, and Amanda Maciel, Mackler spoke honestly and frankly about writing and about her new book, Infinite in Between.




Here’s a description of the book from Mackler’s website:

It was the day before the first day of high school. They wrote those letters to their future selves, hid them in a secret place, and vowed to unearth them at graduation.

As if any of them had a clue what the next four years had in store.

Gregor is quietly, desperately in love with Whitney until a tragedy transforms his world. Zoe is running from everything: her celebrity mom, a public scandal, a long-held family secret and, ultimately, herself. Jake knows what it means that he has a crush on his best friend, Ted; it’s everything else that’s so confusing. Beautiful Whitney seems to have it together, but looks can be deceiving. And then there’s Mia. She watches them all, but doesn’t say a word until it’s almost too late.

Five teens. Fours years. An unforgettable journey.

Impressed with the entire panel of authors, I was particularly inspired by Mackler. She had no qualms about sharing the fact that this latest work took a lot of time and many, many drafts to complete. In the book’s acknowledgments, Macker says that while she initially thought she could write the book that was then in her head in five weeks, it took 200 weeks for it to be born. “They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, this novel took a metropolis,” she says.

Infinite in Between is quite ambitious. Written in third person present tense, it spans the entire high school career of five teens. When Mackler mentioned that she was inspired by The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer—one of my all-time favorite books that takes you through the life of several characters from their teen years through middle age—I knew I had to read her book. So I did! I found Infinite in Between to be very well written. The characters are unique, flawed, and diverse and I think teens will really enjoy the book and relate to and identify with the characters and situations they confront both at home and in the walls of high school.

I had the wonderful opportunity to chat by phone with Carolyn Mackler (pictured below). Here are the highlights:




EZ: Was Infinite in Between the most challenging book you’ve written?

CM: In some ways, yes. It took so many years. Many times I found myself saying, “Here I go again…still working on it.” Sometimes I’d take a break for a few months. It took me a long time to find the right voice. I wrote the book in first person, third person past tense, more omniscient third person… I wrote longer stories and then short, snappier stories. It took me a long time to find a voice, tense, and perspective that worked. My editor, agent, and husband ultimately helped me find what worked. It was a real team effort.

EZ: Have you always been a writer?

CM: Through my teen years and my twenties, I’d write in my journal, mostly about personal frustrations—anything from crushes to whatever was bothering me in that moment. But once I started writing fiction, I found a great outlet for all these stories that were in my head. And when a story keeps coming back to me, I think about ways I can tell it until finally I say this is one that I’ll try to write.

EZ: How has your writing life changed since you’ve had kids?

CM: It’s changed in a lot of ways. I was a lot more prolific before I had kids. I had written 3 novels in 4 years before I had kids, and in the 11 years since I had kids I’ve written 5 novels. I used to write for longer hours—7 to 9 hours each day. Now, I have fewer days to write and maybe 2-3 hours a day to write. I love being a hands- on parent—it’s so important to me. But the sacrifice is I can’t write as long or as quickly. On the flip side I feel like I can write more complex novels—like Infinite in Between with more points of view over many years. I’m still excited to be a novelist and feel like I can tackle more and challenge myself by trying new things. But it does take me longer.

EZ: Where and how do you love to write?

CM: I write at my desk in the corner of our beautiful, sunny bedroom that overlooks the Manhattan skyline. I like total quiet when I write, so mostly I write when my kids (11 and 6) are in school. I also turn off the Wifi on my computer. If I’m on deadline and find that my house is too noisy, I’ll go to a café or the library.

EZ: What are your favorite things to eat or snack on when you write?

CM: I love having a bowl of soup, nuts, or an apple when I write. If I’m writing and I’m really into it, I’ll prepare the food and bring it with me to my desk so I don’t have to break my flow.

EZ: How, as a writer, do you stay fit?

CM: My biggest challenge is to sit to write. I never stop moving—I’m always straightening things up, putting things away, taking out the recycling. For exercise, I love to ride my bike in Central Park or in Riverside Park. I also walk a few miles around the reservoir almost daily, walk my kids back and forth to school, and do Pilates. 

EZ: How do you divide your reading and writing time?

CM: I don’t read fiction when I’m trying to write. When I’m drafting a novel, I won’t read many books at all. I’ll read The New York Times and the New Yorker if I’m in a highbrow mood and People for my lowbrow gossip. I never want to love the book I’m reading more than I love the book I’m writing, but I’ll binge read while I’m touring or in between novels.

EZ: Some authors say they write for themselves while others say they write with only teens in mind. Who do you write for?

CM: I write books for myself. I hope that people like my books and I hope they relate to and are excited by them. But I write the story that I want to tell. I know what I like to read and what excites me about a book and I try to write those sorts of books.

EZ: What is the last book you read and enjoyed?

CM: I just finished The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I couldn’t put it down. It took me to this other time period and painted a vivid picture of the depression and Hitler’s rise to power and crew. Who knew that crew could be so nail-bitingly suspenseful?

To learn more about the very talented Carolyn Mackler, a NYC-based mother of two and author of several popular YA novels including The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (A Michael L. Printz Honor Book) and The Future of Us, co-written with bestselling author Jay Asher, visit her website.

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

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