Carrie Mesrobian, author of The Whitsun Daughters
Young Adult Literature category, sponsored by United Educators Credit Union
Each week leading up to the 33rd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.
In a year defined by a pandemic and its fallout, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. How has COVID-19 impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past year influenced your writing output in any ways that you can pinpoint?
I haven’t been able to focus that much on fiction-writing this year, to be honest. It has been difficult to dream and imagine in order to do that type of narrative and I’m not completely sure why. It might be that my brain is fairly consumed with imagining what the future will bring, what the world will look like, how it will change, how I will change. That’s a pretty heavy imaginative load.
Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why? (Sure, it may feel a bit un-Minnesotan to say so, but it’s not boasting if we ask!)
I am proud of its setting, which is Minnesota, the setting of my previous four books. I have lived in Minnesota all my life and I can’t imagine I’ll ever leave. I did quite a bit of research on our state’s history, particularly regarding Irish immigrants, agriculture and mental asylums. I am also proud of writing about abortion and pregnancy. These are topics that are not easy to discuss or depict. I feel really good about how The Whitsun Daughters handles these complex issues.
What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?
I hope readers will consider how much has changed for girls and women in the last century, as well as how much has remained, unfortunately, the same.
Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conductive place for writers?
I think our four seasons offer a lot for the imagination. I also think that winter is a time when we’re forced to leave our fields fallow and contemplate while we stay warm. This has affected my interior life for sure and I think the library infrastructure of our state reflects this need. I’m continually astonished by the choices and services our public libraries offer us and the outstanding staff that make all this possible. I visit my library to pick up and drop off books a couple of times a week; I don’t know what I’d do without it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category?
Follow your nose and read what compels you. That’s usually a signal toward what you’re hoping to express. Read across genres. If you don’t like a book, examine why that is; let it be your teacher. And remember that writing should feel mostly good. That good feeling, the one you get when you lose time and fall into your imaginary world? That’s the thing to chase. You can’t depend on publishing trends or reader whimsy. But if you can spend a good chunk of your finite time you have, doing what feels good, what you love? No one can argue with those choices.
Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known! (It doesn’t have to be about your writing.)
I’m a fairly ardent thrift-shopper. Years ago, I worked for a thrift shop where I had to process donations all day long. Sorting, cleaning, tagging and pricing the avalanche of random weird things that people had given us. My area of specialty was the book department. My sister and I both worked at the same store and were in charge of the books. This was the most enjoyable job I have ever had in my life.
Carrie Mesrobian teaches writing to teens in Minneapolis. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was a Minnesota Book Award-winner and a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. She is also the author of Just a Girl, Perfectly Good White Boy, and Cut Both Ways.