Carolyn Lee Adams is originally from the Seattle area, breeding ground of serial killers and those who write about them. She attended USC Film School and graduated with a BFA in screenwriting. RUTHLESS (Simon Pulse, Summer 2015) is her first novel. When she isn’t exploring the dark side of human nature in her writing, you’ll find her on stage as a stand-up comedian. Because those things go together.
A book trailer for Ruthless, a YA thriller, is below. I also reviewed the book here.
What inspired you to write Ruthless?
I dreamt the first three chapters. When I woke up I knew I had to write the book. I'd been watching a lot of the Bio Channel's very awesome show, I Survived, which undoubtedly fed the dream. I was also in a dying marriage, which was extremely stressful. About 2/3 of the way through writing the rough draft I realized I was writing an allegory. Ruth's fight for survival was my fight to save my marriage. When my ex-husband left I realized what I was doing. From that point forward, I remained conscious of this fact, and it was at that juncture that I wrote about Ruth facing mortality. I'd been with my ex for 18 years, so the death of my marriage was a profoundly traumatic life experience for me and I'd fought so, so hard to save my marriage. But I was the only one fighting.
Who was harder for you to write -- Ruth or the Wolfman? Why?
Wolfman. The thing is, there is a lot of me in Wolfman. I tell people he is amalgamation of various serial killers, which is true. I grew up in the Green River Killer's hunting grounds and it made a huge impact on me. But the fact is, when I wrote Ruthless, I thought I was over my own misogyny. Turns out I was not. I wrote Wolfman's scenes very slowly. I'd write a couple of lines, walk in circles in my living room, feel sick to my stomach, then write a couple more lines. It was ultimately a cathartic experience--writing is great therapy, I've found. I'd been bullied severely growing up, always by girls, and I had a lot of anger to work through. Writing Ruth was difficult for the opposite reason--there wasn't as much grist for the mill there and I had to dig deep to find it.
Did you outline the book?
*throws head back and laughs* No. I am a confirmed pantser, although successful efforts require that I know the ending. I always know the beginning, and if I know the end, I can work my way through the dark middle.
How long did it take to write?
Not long at all. I wrote from May 2012 to about July. I took a break as my marriage fell apart. My ex left in mid-November. I finished the rough draft in December. It's why "O Holy Night" is in there, because I was writing during Christmas time. In January, I added the flashback scenes. I then kinda sorta not really revised it (but mostly not really) and sent it out to agents in May and June. , Mandy Hubbard called me and offered representation. She had a couple of small suggestions, but I took a week to read it a few times over. It went out and we had an offer the following week. It sold for six figures. Meanwhile, I have been working on it's follow up since 2010.
Ruth is a very unique, yet very realistic main character. Did you base her on anyone you know in real life?
Ruth, more than any other character I've ever written, is just me. There are some differences, of course. My mother is very different from Ruth's mother and would never have tolerated me bullying other equestrians, for example. But if I'd had Ruth's mom I'm sure I would have been just like her. Our cores are the same, but we've been shaped by different experiences. I feel like horsewomen are a breed apart, and it was important to me to capture what I feel to be the hallmarks of our kind. We are tough people, no doubt about it.
Do you think your future works will be in a similar genre, or do you plan on foraying into something completely different?
Unfortunately, I do a lot of genre-hopping, which makes it hard for my lit agent to sell my stuff. For example, I wrote a rom com as a follow up and Simon and Schuster was like, "This is really funny...how do you propose we market this as a follow up to Ruthless?" They didn't buy it. I still think it's really funny, though. One day maybe someone will buy it. My big epic saga, The Book of Ezra, is a horror set in 1894 in a poor house/insane asylum.
You're also a stand-up comedian. Do your two jobs influence each other at all, and if so, how?
My jobs actually get in the way of one another. Comedy Carrie is an intense extrovert with a very short attention span. Being on stage is just a whole different part of the creative self than the long, slow, hermit-like introversion required for writing novels. Because of this, I've taken an extended hiatus from comedy, during which time I've been writing a lot of short stories for Amazon (check out their app "Rapids" - it's designed to get kids reading) and I've started a couple of novels. Novelist Carrie is a very different beast. I like a lot of silence and alone time when I am writing a book. Also, I go by Carrie. I just realized that might need some explanation. Fun fact - I was born on Halloween the year the movie Carrie came out - on Halloween weekend. When people ask me how I spell it I either say, "Stephen King Carrie" or "Pig's Blood Carrie." Once I asked my parents if they thought people would forget about the character Carrie when they were naming me that, and they said, "Nope." No other explanation, just "Nope." Perhaps also worth noting, my mom started reading me Edgar Allan Poe when I was 5, so my future was pretty much set at that point.
What was it like when you got published?
It was a relief. I graduated from USC Film School in 1999. My very small graduating class (there were about 16 of us) turned into the most successful class in USC history. Watching my friends turn into entertainment industry writing moguls was an interesting life experience. I learned very early on that jealousy is a waste of emotion--it's so much better to root people on and be happy for them when they succeed. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, "Comparison is the thief of joy." That said, there is something very difficult about it as well. I have an analogy that is probably pretty alienating, but I still think it works. You know how there are terrorist sleeper cells out there? How an organization such as Al Quaeda will train terrorists then send them to the USA and they'll take up a completely normal life. They'll live that normal life for years and years. You'd never know that they have this mission burned deep into their soul and that they won't consider their time on earth complete until they've, you know, blown up a bunch of people. It's the same way with USC Film grads, only the mission isn't to blow up people (thankfully), it's to sell something. A screenplay, book, etc. So for me, selling Ruthless was a relief. I finally got to complete my mission. It took me fourteen years of writing to get there, so it was a long, long haul.
What was the hardest part of the writing process?
Ruthless was really pretty easy. I mean, I spent more time than I'd like to admit crying hysterically while I wrote it (and I am not a crier), but it wasn't a hard book to figure out. Writing Wolfman was hard, for the aforementioned reason, but once I figured it out I knew what I had to do, it just wasn't easy. To me, hard writing is when you can't figure out what is supposed to happen. A lot of The Book of Ezra is that way. I'm not sure exactly how the villain is supposed to be. Being adrift in your writing is what makes writing hard. If you know where you're going it may be unpleasant, or emotionally charged, but that's only fuel for the fire. Big emotions while writing is a good thing. When I write a rough draft, I feel everything my characters are feeling. I know I look like an absolute crazy person, because I'll laugh and get choked up and the whole nine yards, even if I am writing in public.
If it was 100% up to you -- who would play Ruth and the Wolfman in a movie?
I'd like it if Ruth was played by an unknown. Much the same way Jennifer Lawrence was an unknown when she was in Winter's Bone. Also, I see Ruth clearly in my mind's eye and I've never seen an actress that made me think, "She's Ruth!" The film rights have been optioned, so if it does get made I hope they cast someone who is 18 and looks younger. Ruth's size and age put her at a disadvantage and I want the audience to feel the full brunt of that. As far as Wolfman goes, I'd say Viggo Mortensen (although I wish he was physically bigger).
If you could have lunch with any three writers in history, who would you choose, and why?
First and foremost, Oscar Wilde. I love Oscar so much! What a wonderful wit! He is such a wise and entertaining soul. I have read everything he ever wrote. I am a huge, huge fan. C.S. Lewis would be next. About 98% of my own personal theology and philosophy is based off The Chronicles of Narnia. I understand it is for children, but it speaks to my soul and has hugely informed my understanding of what is good. Finally, I'd like to meet Albert Payson Terhune, but only if the lunch was at The Place, and only if the collies were there. Terhune is not as famous as the other two, obviously, but he made a big impact on me. He wrote in the early 20th century about his collies. Lad: A Dog is his most famous book. The Place was his family home in New Jersey. The site still exists, as does the graveyard for the collies. Terhune was not nearly as good of a man as Lewis, not as smart, or wise, or loving. His outlook was confined by the times and his class, but even so these books also gave me a sense of what is good. His books also defined for me what is beautiful. His descriptions of The Place and its environs still live in my imagination. I think in many ways I would have been happier in the past. As a child I looked through my parents' library and checked the publishing dates, always looking to read the oldest books they had. If it was old, I was bound to love it. Luckily, they had a good number of old books.
What advice would you give to new writers?
If you don't have to write, don't. There are much - MUCH - easier ways to make a living or spend your time. Only write if you can't avoid writing. It's a lot like St. Paul's advice on marriage. If you do choose to become a writer, be prepared to work. Just like marriage, it is a commitment and it is hard. But there are great rewards in store if you choose it and keep on choosing it, even when the going gets hard.
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