How often we are drawn to those who struggle, love and persevere?
Carol Fragale Brill, author of Piece by Piece, and the upcoming release of Cape Maybe, offers You Read It Here First a candid look at what inspires her to bring readers emotionally complex stories that take us to the worlds of first love, family and individual issues that readers can relate to, and also tug our heartstrings along the way.
Interviewer: Christy Campbell
I love the titles of your two books. What are they about?
Peace By Piece is about unshakable first love and complicated second chances, while Cape Maybe is about love and loss—the memories, addictions, and secrets that haunt mothers and daughters, and the power of hard-earned hope.
In addition to holding an MFA in creative writing, your list of publishing credits to date includes short stories, essays and a variety articles on how today’s aspiring authors can hone their craft. Looking back, what first ignited your passion for writing?
I have loved stories ever since my parents read me Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Black Beauty at bedtime when I was five or six. I know Grimm’s may not seem like the stuff sweet dreams are made of, but mostly they read the ones about princesses being rescued by the prince. I started dreaming about writing a book when I was 20-something. It took me another 20 years to join a creative writing critique group and get started. And, I’m still a sucker for love stories and happily-ever-after.
Do you have any interesting writing quirks? Fill us in on them.
I keep a box of 96 crayons—a gift from my husband—on my desk. There’s a line in Peace By Piece where the main character, Maggie, says, “I never had a box of 64 crayons.” After reading that line in a very early draft, Jim bought me my box of 96—complete with the built-in sharpener. That green and yellow box is a constant reminder of his support, and I often skim through the box reciting the color names when I need creative inspiration.
What was the hardest part about writing your books?
Like many writers, I have to fit my writing life in around a demanding day job. Add to that, living in Cape May, an enchanting seaside town where we get lots of weekend visitors.
Lucky for me, I’m an early riser, and you will often find me at my computer in the gray light before dawn. I treat my writing time as sacred—as if it is a part time job and I have to show up. My guests know on weekend mornings, I will close myself off in my sunroom/office for several hours and unless the house is on fire—or Oprah calls with a Book Club offer—do not disturb.
Where did you get the ideas for your novels?
I’m an avid reader of mostly women’s fiction and rarely see realistically portrayed characters with eating disorders. I thought women were ready for such a character. In Peace By Piece, Maggie is a contemporary woman dealing with issues that resonate with women—unshakable first love, friendships, family, step-parenting, career choices—all overshadowed by anorexia and bulimia.
My experience developing Cape Maybe was different. I was finishing Peace By Piece, toying with starting another novel, but no real plot or plan. Cape Maybe’s main character, Katie, literally showed up in my head demanding to tell her story. It was like she was pushing out the Peace By Piece characters saying, “Your time is up, now it’s time for my story.” That may sound a little crazy, unless you are a writer who has been possessed by a character.
Are your characters based on yourself or people you know?
Years ago, I heard a writer say in an interview—sorry, can’t remember who it was—that every character and scene must be part of me somehow, since it all comes out of my head. I have had pieces of Maggie’s and Katie’s experiences, or felt their feelings, but not always for the same reasons they feel them. Neither of them is me.
I’ve often been told I’m a good listener. I’m also a people watcher and pick up character traits, actions, and quirks by observing those around me. No one character is based on just one person I know. Many of them are composites, blending the best and worse traits I’ve experienced in myself and others.
Explain your method for writing a book. Are you a character/story builder or a plotter/outliner or some other method?
I am a blend of both panster and plotter. Usually before starting a new piece, I spend a lot of time in my head, envisioning the beginning and end of the story. For longer pieces, I write character bibles and what I call a lifeline with important plot points. Once I start writing, the characters reveal the middle to me, sometimes scene by scene. Other times, huge chucks of the character’s motivation emerge and it takes many pages for me and the writing to catch up.
What suggestions do you have to help new authors become better writers?
When I started writing creatively, I had no idea there were so many elements to writing craft. Put in the time to study craft—characterization, plotting, show don’t tell, creating a sense of time and place. Once you start to understand craft, grab a few books in your genre and read them like a writer, dissecting how the author uses craft to create emotion and drama. Also, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. Find critique partners, join a writing group, and open yourself up to feedback. Perhaps the most important lesson is learning that writing is just the beginning, rewriting and editing is where the story becomes what it is meant to be.
Tell us who are your favorite authors and what are you reading now?
Adriana Trigiani is one of my favorite authors and I’m currently reading, The Shoemaker’s Wife, the final book in her Valentine series. She has a talent for creating strong, believable characters and a wonderful sense of place. Her love for the locations she writes about comes through in her books, bringing her settings to life, like another character.
I’m also a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd, Alice Sebold, Sue Miller, Marisa De Los Santos, Michele Richmond, Lisa Genova (Still Alice is a remarkable book), and Matthew Quick. My diverse list of all-time favorite books includes, The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Still Alice, and Ellen Foster and too many more to list.
Readers can learn more about Ms. Brill at Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6924892.Carol_Fragale_Brill) as well as her author page at Amazon.