Saturday, February 20, 2016

1 Laura Williams McCaffrey, author of MARKED, on learning to write each specific novel

MARKED is the latest novel by Laura Williams McCaffrey, and we're excited she stopped by to chat about writing.

Laura, what did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I learned about the power of the double bind as I wrote this novel. A double bind is an incredible tension engine — it keeps us reading. I first realized this when I read Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races. There's much I admire about that story: the characters; the sense of this very mundane, yet very mystical world; the love, irritation, devotion, and betrayal among siblings. Yet I also found myself transfixed by the double bind. I wanted Puck to win the race and I wanted Sean to win the race. Yet if one won, the other couldn't. So I had to keep reading.

I also learned to pick myself back up when I fell. I've always been a rewriter, but I had to do quite a bit more this time around than I have in the past. I joke that Marked is my third and my fourth novel. I've learned I can face a major rewrite down and continue on.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

This is my third novel, so I knew I could finish one. Though the process of writing each has been very different. I remember I was once at a conference and someone who hadn't yet written a novel said to me, as I was working on this third one, "Well, you've finished two, so now you know how to write a novel." I said, "I don't think I actually know. Apparently, each time I have to learn how to write that specific novel." The person to whom I was speaking looked upset, and I felt bad. Yet with three projects complete and three other projects on my desk, I still think I was telling the truth.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I have a little office in my house. I get up at 5:30am and I'm at my desk at 6am. I like silence, and darkness. I try, not always successfully, to stay away from social media. I write until 10 or 11am. Then the day starts creeping in, with the phone jangling and teaching commitments demanding my attention. I used to go away for a writing retreat three times a year, and I hope to return to that ritual soon.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Read and write. This seems a simple thing to say, but we waste a lot of time talking about writing, worrying over whether we should or shouldn’t write, worrying about whether or not we'll ever be good enough. Why waste this time? Read what you love. Think about what authors you love have created and how they created it. Take what you learn from them and try to apply it as you write. Find friends who'll tell you to keep going when you feel disheartened, and for whom you'll do the same. I can't promise that you'll write a bestseller, or even that you'll end up publishing what you write, but you'll definitely grow to become a better reader, writer, observer, and friend.


Marked by Laura Williams McCaffrey
Clarion Books
Released 2/16/2016

Sixteen-year-old Lyla lives in a bleak, controlling society where only the brightest and most favored students succeed. When she is caught buying cheats in an underground shadow market, she is tattooed—marked—as a criminal. Then she is offered redemption and she jumps at the chance . . . but it comes at a cost. Doing what is right means betraying the boy she has come to love, and, perhaps, losing even more than she thought possible. Graphic novel–style vignettes revealing the history of this world provide Lyla with guidance and clues to a possible way out of the double bind she finds herself in.

Purchase Marked at Amazon
Purchase Marked at IndieBound
View Marked on Goodreads


Laura Williams McCaffrey - photo credit Magdalene McCaffrey 2013Laura Williams McCaffrey was born and raised in Vermont. She attended Barnard College of Columbia University, then returned to Vermont and eventually became a school librarian, answering to the names "Ms. Librarian," "Library Lady," and sometimes simply "Ms. Library." She now writes and teaches writing full-time. Her short stories have been published by Cicada, YA Review Network, Solstice Literary Magazine, and Soundings Review. "Into the Vast," published by YA Review Network, won the SCBWI 2014 Magazine Merit Award for fiction. Kirkus Reviews called Marked, a dystopian fantasy for teens, "an original, textured page-turner." She's the author of two children's fantasy novels, Water Shaper (Clarion Books, 2006) and Alia Waking (Clarion Books, 2003). Water Shaper was selected for the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age 2007 list. Alia Waking was named an International Reading Association Notable Book. It was also a nominee for the annual Teens' Top Ten Books list and for Vermont's Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award. Laura is on faculty at Solstice, the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. She lives in a small house in the woods with her husband, regionally acclaimed musician Colin McCaffrey, and their daughters. For more information about her or her work, visit her website at:


Have you had a chance to read MARKED yet? Have you used the double bind technique to increase tension in your novel? Do you feel like you have to learn how to write each specific novel? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Shelly, Martina, Erin, Susan, Sam, Lindsey, Sarah, Sandra, Kristin, and Anisaa

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice and I do agree. Each book wants to be written in a different way. There is no end to learning about how to write.


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