Interview with Author Carly Anne West: The Murmurings

I recently stumbled across a book on Goodreads. First the cover caught my eye, and then I read the summary. It was the first time I ever looked up the author and e-mailed her instantly. I need to do an interview, I said. Not want, you guys. Need. That's how excited I am about this book. And Carly Anne forever cemented a friendship with me by being obliging and even offering me a copy of the book. Which, rest assured, you will be hearing about sometime in the near future.

And onto the interview! Thank you so much for doing this, Carly!

Carly Anne West is a freelance writer with an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College. She lives with her husband and son in Seattle, Washington. Visit her at CarlyAnneWest.com.

So of course I have to ask you how you came up with the premise for THE MURMURINGS.

I'll just put it out there: I lived in a haunted apartment. It wasn't a possession/poltergeist type of thing, but yeah, I heard murmurings. I dismissed it the first time it happened, but then the same thing happened to my husband the next morning. We each thought we were imagining it, so when he told me what had happened to him, I shared my experience, too. 

It was this weird sort of indistinguishable muttering or mumbling, and it only happened in this particular place in the apartment. It was around that same place that my cats would sort of freak out. They wouldn't go near that area of the living room (near a closet), and if they did venture in that direction, often they would back away really slowly with their ears back, and then they'd dash off. I heard and felt various things over the three years we lived there, and when we finally moved away, the property manager confirmed that other tenants had reported the same thing. It might have been nice to have that info prior to signing the lease, but hey, I got a book out of it!

That is so... cool. Oh my gosh. Best inspiration story ever.

What was the most difficult part about writing it?

Besides scaring myself? Let's see. Well, anytime I've ever written a story that involved an element of mystery, it's required a significant amount of revision. Clues need to be planted like little seeds throughout the story, and continuity is critical. You don't want to reveal too much too soon, yet you need to be conscious of pacing throughout. It's a labor of love for sure! It helps that I really enjoy a good scare, so I try to make sure the reader gets the same experience.  

Oh, I know what you mean with revisions. I'm sure you did a fantastic job, and I can't wait to be terrified!

Along that vein, I'd love to know more about your writing process! How long it took you to finish the first draft, do you outline, any habits or quirks you have, etc. 

My process has varied depending upon the project. For THE MURMURINGS, I honestly can't count the number of revisions. I started writing it as an adult novel while I was in grad school, but after setting it aside for some time, I returned to the book and realized that it was screaming to be YA. Once I changed that direction and embraced the temptation I had all along to move in the horror direction, things started to come together. 

I've tried both outlining and writing by whatever scene seemed to be calling to me on that particular day. For me, I think it helps to start with a character - my protagonist - and let her/him tell me a little story. Once I understand that struggle, I can usually form at least a loose outline (or timeline, or sketch). By no means do I adhere to that outline. It usually changes a billion times before I've reached the end of the story. But it helps me to at least see the trajectory. 

As far as habits ... especially when I'm writing an intense or scary scene, I get up and pace around every twenty minutes or so. I'm sort of a fidgety writer. I also munch a lot, so it would be wise for me to keep more carrots handy.

Outlines. Sigh. And maybe I should try the pacing; it certainly wouldn't hurt the waistline, considering how many snacks I scarf down. Yes. Carrots. We should eat those. After I finish this chocolate bar.

Have you always been a writer?

I guess I have! I might have denied that until recently. I was over at my parents' house, and my niece asked me to read her a book. I told her to pull a book from the shelf behind us, and she brought me "Susan and the Old Johnson House." Construction paper and plastic binder-bound, it was a book I wrote in fifth grade as part of a semester-long writing project for English, complete with illustrations and an author's bio (and my fifth grade class picture, crimped hair and all). It was, of course, a haunted house story. I had completely forgotten about it, and obviously I was really into this story at the time of its authorship because that thing was long. I started going hoarse when I was reading it and tried to skip some pages, but my niece caught on. Apparently, she's familiar with the story. So yes, since at least the fifth grade, I have been a writer.

I used to do the same thing! So cute. Clearly you were meant to write something scary.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Do not, under any circumstances, give up. Ever ever ever. The writing industry is full of rejection, but that's the case with a lot of industries. If you want it, work hard at your craft, read a ton, follow the authors you admire, and keep putting yourself out there. Someone will say yes, and there's an agent/editor/reader out there for you.

Very true. Couldn't have said it better.

I'm always curious about the submission process. Care you share the experience of your sale?

The day I found out about it is a pretty great story. I was working at my office job in San Francisco, and I knew my agent was shopping the book. I have an awesome, awesome agent (Steven Chudney) who is really good about keeping his clients posted on the latest and greatest when it comes to their manuscripts during the submission process. Well, he was getting ready to head out of town for a book fair but emailed me to ask if he could touch base before he left. He made it sound like it would be a housekeeping type of call, tying up loose ends, etc. 

So when he called, I just grabbed an empty conference room on my floor and sat down for what I thought would be a pretty standard chat. He started the conversation by going over the feedback and responses he'd received, and then he got to Simon Pulse. I was still pretty lax about the conversation because I thought he was going to tell me we were still waiting. And then he says "And Carly, they loved it! They'd like to make an offer!" I think my first response was "Wait, what?" Then I told him I thought I was going to pass out, to which he kindly asked that I not because he had some important details yet to discuss with me. 

At the time, I was actually pregnant, but Steven didn't know (actually, nobody outside of my family knew), so I really did start to feel a little woozy. After I thanked him so much for the call, he told me I could make it up to him by naming my first-born after him. A few weeks later, I told him I was pregnant. Meanwhile, the day he told me, I was trying to keep my voice down while I was in the conference room, as it was right next to the offices of a couple of high ranking folks at the company. 

I'm pretty sure I didn't succeed there. I got some looks.

Love this. Your agent sounds like he was messing with you! So I assume your child's name is Steven? Haha.

I see you have a book coming out in 2014, as well. Can you tell us anything about it?

Ha! A girl has to keep some secrets! I promise to make it worth the wait. It's another spooky one, though.

Sigh. Well, I tried.

About the book

Everyone thinks Sophie’s sister, Nell, went crazy. After all, she heard strange voices that drove her to commit suicide. But Sophie doesn’t believe that Nell would take her own life, and she’s convinced that Nell’s doctor knows more than he’s letting on.

As Sophie starts to piece together Nell’s last days, every lead ends in a web of lies. And the deeper Sophie digs, the more danger she’s in—because now she’s hearing the same haunting whispers. Sophie’s starting to think she’s going crazy too. Or worse, that maybe she’s not…