Carpinello's Writing Pages welcome MG/YA author Marie Collins.
First, a bit about Marie:
I wrote my first work of fiction in 6th grade. It was a monologue, spoken by a tomato as it sat on the conveyer belt of a ketchup factory. Hint: It didn’t turn out well for the tomato!
In other words, I was not writing precociously at a young age. For me writing has simply always been the thing I enjoy most about doing anything. For instance, in high school, I made up for a slacker-performance on an ecology lab by writing a comic tutorial on how not to do science.
Yet, up until the beginning of my junior year in college, I was a bio major. I thought it was somehow a “cheat” to make a career out of doing what came easily to me. I don’t remember what turned me around, but I changed majors. I squeezed the requirements for two new ones—journalism and English lit—into the last two years of school, which meant taking five writing courses a semester. I cried a lot—no really, I sobbed. I had a mountain to climb every term. It was writing boot camp. But it taught me I could write (and edit) for 40 hours a week and be a happy clam, which I then did for 30 years.
Why did you pick to write MG/YA books?
That’s a really good question. I suspect a few things pointed me in that direction. I felt very misunderstood as a child. Around age 8, I made a fists-clenched-at-sides vow never to forget how it feels to be a kid. Perhaps that stuck? I have always enjoyed coming-of-age fiction and children’s literature. But also, I see this as a very hopeful and optimistic age—an age that is freer to think about the world in grand, wishful terms, as if it were just waiting for us to mold it. It’s a time when, for a moment, all things are possible—even as mysterious forces conspire to narrow those options into more finite realities. The idealistic side of me is still this age and is constantly nagging more-realistic-me to doing her bidding.
What types of books do you like to read?
Otherwise, I cut my reading teeth on the Brontes and am still a big fan of gothic fiction. I am also a crime junkie. While that’s not unusual, I think the obsession is personal for me, as my family has an unsolved mystery. My grandfather disappeared when my father was only 9 months old. No trace of him was ever found, even when the Veterans Administration conducted an official investigation to determine whether he should be declared dead for life insurance purposes. One and two generations later, his story is still a quiet centerpiece in our family.
When you are not writing, what do you like to do?
I am quite a homebody. I live someplace very beautiful and simply enjoy being here. As readers of A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp may guess, I also enjoy exploring different cuisines. I am a 40-year proponent of buying organic and local; I shape-shift into a farm wife every August, then preserve everything in sight. I love hiking, talking, and other ways of spending time with family and friends, especially my daughter. I love my dogs, science, wilderness, and wildlife—and vacations that take me to wild places. And I read every night, even if I’m so tired I only last a handful of pages.
Tell us about A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp and how the story came to be.
I raised my daughter as a single mother, and one of the things I put off during those years was writing fiction. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day. But I put it at the top of a to-do list for when she went off to college. A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp came out of my determination to transition to a new level of writing at this stage of my life.
I started by developing the main characters and how they lived; then I developed a world that would challenge them at every step. A driving idea, as I say in the dedication to the book, was my daughter’s fear when she was young that a robot might somehow take my place without her knowing it.
A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp introduces my main characters, Anne and Atticus, to Earth human society (and to their own alien “talents”) by way of sleepaway camp. The world I created slowly encroaches on them there, but is more of a force in the next book of the series.
Here's a peek at A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp:
Once you find out your mother is an alien, what ISN’T possible?
That’s what 12-year-old Anne and 10-year-old Atticus Reade want to know. Minutes after learning that their mother is from the planet Farbookonia and that their parents’ secret project has put them all in danger, the children are wrenched from their sheltered existence in the Midwest and whisked off to a safe sleep-away camp in New Jersey—each with a tiny, protective “Globot” on one shoulder.
Painfully aware they’re not like the others at camp, Anne and Atticus do their best to fit in while concealing their alien background and the “special talents” that go with it. But everything is so new to them, they have a hard time sorting reality from fiction. Quirky campers, campfire ghost stories, a bizarre camp director, Anne’s mysterious dreams, and Atticus’s unusual animal encounters are all equally disturbing.
Just as they start getting the hang of life among young Earth humans, a broadcast on the Rec Hall TV shakes things up, and things that are truly strange emerge from normal newness. It turns out Anne and Atticus—and their new friends—may not be safe at camp after all. A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp thrusts them into a reality they wish was fiction.
Have you written other books? If so, tell us a bit about them.
I have written nonfiction books and other materials for others for 30 years, but A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp is my only completed work of fiction to date. I refer to the work I did for hire because it helped me develop some of the tools I used to write my first novel.
What’s next for your writing? Are you working on a new story?
While planning A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp, I wrote the backstory and trajectory for the entire Secrets of Farbookonia series, and I am determined to finish book two by the end of this year. It’s called The Quest for Normal, and it takes my formerly sheltered characters Anne and Atticus, as well as the beleaguered boy Max they met at camp, to a small town in Maine, where we begin to see what’s going on in the world around them.
What advice do you have for other authors?
I guess I would try to demystify novel-writing as 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. There are many good ideas for books, but authors are people who develop ideas into books. Sure, I’ve heard the stories of authors sitting down, starting to type, and hammering out their novels from beginning to end (with a slap-dash pull of the last page from what in my mind is the cartridge of a typewriter). But that’s uncommon, in my opinion. I use many practical tools to maintain control over my writing—outlining, charting, diagramming, deep questioning—and I revise, revise, and revise, then revise some more.
Anything else you want readers to know?
I recently added an online store to my website where readers can buy signed books and my handmade classic-book-charm necklaces. Also, I really enjoy reader contact!
Where can readers find you and your books?
A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp