We recently interviewed Carmen Capuano, author of Split Decision. Here’s what she had to say about that novel, about her writing, and about herself.
Firstly, would you like to you tell us a little about yourself?
I think I surprise people when they get to know me. I am very open and love to chat but I can also be reserved and quiet at times. Being an author who conducts lots of book signings and talks, you do build up a certain amount of narcissistic qualities. After all I spend much of my time talking about my books, my writing and myself but I try to temper this with humour and honestly.
For example I often tell my blog readers about the stupid things I have done and I sometimes write these into my books as well. I have a tendency to do things without completely thinking them through and I guess this is what has provided me with the range of anecdotes I store in my head. It makes for interesting dinner party conversations but you really would not want to be there when I commit one of my inevitable faux pas.
For example one of the scenes in a book I am currently working on involves a character injuring another woman by accidentally scraping her stiletto heel across the other dancer’s calf, ruining her dress and making her bleed profusely. And yes I actually did that! Perhaps not on such a dramatic level but it is based on my reality!
When did you begin writing?
I began to write seriously about ten years ago but only became published in 2012. I can’t imagine ever not writing now…I think my soul might just wither away and die if that were the case!
What is your primary goal as an author?
To be fabulously rich and live in Malibu! No I am joking of course.
I want people to love my writing. It’s as simple as that. I know my characters have important things to say and I know that anyone who reads their tales will come away with an altered soul. For example I would challenge anyone who reads Split Decision to not feel for Natalie or to be thoughtful by the end of the book.
However I would dearly love to make enough money from the sale of the books to be able to donate substantially to worthy causes. I have already donated some profits to a few charities and would like to do more of that in the future. Here’s hoping!
Would you tell us a little about Split Decision?
It is a book about a choice the main character has to make, one which will alter the course of her life and one which ultimately she may not survive.
I wrote that book from my very soul and from my knowledge of human nature. I think that’s probably what comes across most in the reading of it, the blacks, whites and greys of people’s characters, how things can be so different to how we perceive them or alternatively exactly meet our expectations.
Humans frighten me to some extent…they can be cruel, intolerant and downright evil and even the best of us can sometimes be taken in by an attractive exterior. In a way, that’s what Split Decision is all about – peeling back the layers to see what really lies underneath…
What inspired you to write it? How did the idea for the plot occur to you?
I was inspired in the same way that I am inspired for most of my books…the main character appeared more or less fully fleshed out in my head and told me her story. The reason that particular book got written over all the other ideas and/or characters that were vying for my attention at the time was that Natalie was more demanding of me, her ‘voice’ was louder, more urgent and the more I listened to her, the more I knew that here was something which was unique and bold and captivating.
What do you think makes it stand out?
Apart from the above? It’s a book about teenagers but its readership is not restricted to that age group. It’s one of those rare stories that adults and older adults will also enjoy. Not only were we all teenagers once but the story is so finely crafted that there are depths of layers that will appeal across the ages.
As with all of my books there are unexpected twists and turns and character reveals which are both unexpected and thought-provoking.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript of Split Decision?
I write in a sort of ‘continuous flow of consciousness’ style so only a few months but it was gruelling work and I spent most of it being emotionally drained by the situations the characters found themselves in.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?
Making sure that it reflected teenagers today and not how the world was when I was a teenager [ahem a few years ago now!]
It’s often said that every author writes herself into the story at some point. Is there a character with whom you associate in the book, and why is that?
Yes I think I am a mix of two of the main characters. I have Natalie’s insecurities and I also have one of the boy characters’ insight into human nature.
In general, do you feel you empathise with your characters or do you keep their personalities and situations distinct from your own?
No I empathise with them, even the bad ones to some extent. Mostly I have tried to show what it was in their earlier life that made them turn out the way they did. Although that said, I do think that some people are just plain ‘born bad’.
For example in Split Decision, the ‘baddie’ wasn’t always that way. Time, life and circumstance moulded him into what he finally became, whereas in The Owners, one of my vilest characters was probably just born that way, although the conceited and self-absorbed lifestyle he led as an eminent plastic surgeon no doubt contributed to his eventual fall.
Authors don’t necessarily like bracketing their work with someone else’s, but for a moment imagine Spilt Decision on sale on a web site, and down below it says: “People who bought Spilt Decision also bought…” What other books do you think might appear there?
I think my writing has qualities of Stephenie Meyer about it somehow although I admit that my style is much grittier than hers. Perhaps The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
If someone ever made a movie of Split Decision, which actors would you choose to play your characters?
Oh I LIKE this question! They would be young actors so perhaps the girl from The Hunger Games because she’s pretty and feisty and that is exactly how Natalie is. The two main male characters would be more difficult. They would have to be actors who were capable of a lot of depth, able to portray themselves as having perhaps a hidden agenda but done with a real subtlety and finesse. Any suggestions?
Is there an essential difference between writing for adults and writing for young adults?
Some authors say that is it ‘point of view’ but I think the simple truth is about keeping it real and creating depth. I don’t subscribe to the view that young adult books are simplistic – some are and some most definitely are not. Likewise not all books solely designed to be read by adults are complex and /or thought provoking.
My books tend to appeal equally to adults and young adults and I think that is a wonderful compliment. It shows that there is a freshness to the writing showing contemporary situations or issues but within the complexities of a well written story with plots and sub-plots, using characters that are as flawed and ‘human’ as we all are.
Some questions of a more general nature now. Generally do you have to feel inspired to write something or does it come easily to you?
Let’s put it like this – I have to be inspired to clean the house! Writing…well that just flows!
How and when do you find time to write?
I write most week days except for the school summer holidays, when I can be found climbing the walls, desperate to get back to my writing!
What makes you keep going?
All the good, kind, bizarre, vile, nasty and downright comical things that happen on a daily basis. Sometimes real life is just too good, strange and/or inexplicable that you can’t not use it to illuminate some point or other.
What’s next for you? What projects are you currently working on?
I am just finishing a novel about a troubled boy who rescues pigeons and through that act manages to find himself and his place in the world. A lot of that book was based on my own personal experience and I really empathised with the main character, Lucas. But there were funny moments too, like when he managed to convince himself that his father was Hugh Grant!
Incidentally I had to write in to Mr Grant’s publicity department in case that landed me in hot water…
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
If you don’t absolutely LOVE writing then don’t do it. It’s not a career, it’s a vocation and I do believe that in most cases, writing choses you, not the other way round!
How do you unwind when you’re not writing?
I love to watch a good film but it is unusual for me not to have worked out the plot and ending well before the actual end of the film. I Ceroc dance twice a month and have also recently taken up badminton. I am quite dire but I love it. I also discovered that I am a grunter when I go for the ‘big’ shots so I am having to get over the embarrassment factor there!
I still enjoy days out with my kids and dogs but they are becoming less frequent as the children get older. I guess it’s not cool for my 14 year old son to be seen out with me in public now, although he is my greatest fan when it comes to writing.
When you read a piece of writing by another author, what stands out for you? What do you admire in another writer, what thrills and delights you? Equally, what features of literature today do you dislike?
I hate two-dimensional characters or when there seems to be no motivation for a character’s behaviour. I want to be entertained but I don’t want it to be mindless, therefore I enjoy well-rounded stories which make me think.
Do you think there will ever come a time when you will retire from writing?
I’m now going to ask you for a list of whos and whys. Who were the most fascinating literary and non-literary persons you have ever met, and what did you get from these encounters? Whom would you like the opportunity to meet, and why? Whom do you wish you could have met from the past, and why?
I met Henry Winkler about a year ago. Because I was very involved with World Reading Day in Sandwell District Council, I was invited to an event where he was conducting a talk. He was very warm and open and made everyone feel at ease. In fact he was so deep in conversation with me prior to the event that some of the other guests mistook me as being part of his entourage! There was such a professionalism about him that I couldn’t help but admire him. To be so forthcoming to everyone and so self-deprecating made me realise that not all big stars have big egos. There was a humility about him I really admired.
Similarly, when I was just starting to do author talks, I encountered the lovely Gary Longden who has in fact just been ‘crowned’ Staffordshire Poet Laureate for 2014-15. After I had finished my spot, Gary came up to me, told me he had really enjoyed my talk and reading and offered to provide an honest book review for The Owners. To think that someone so talented and dedicated had even deigned to talk to me was humbling.
There are many, many others who have similarly influenced my thoughts about the writing community, too many to mention but I hope they will all know who they are!
If I were able to talk to novelists from the past my first choice would be Dickens. As a young girl I loved Dickens and Shakespeare and Enid Blyton equally but it would be Dickens who I would want to chat to. He was a philanthropist and a true altruist and I chose to study him to some extent at University. At a time when the working classes were oppressed and even worked to death, he was one of the few who instigated and championed change. We all have a lot to thank him and men like him for.
Do you have any regrets about anything?
I wish I had started writing earlier as at this rate I will have to live to 120 to get all my stories written down!
Finally, what is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate and wine and then more chocolate and wine!