Author Interview: Corey Ann Haydu on The Careful Undressing of Love

coreyannhayduCorey Ann Haydu is one of the smartest, most thoughtful authors I’ve had the pleasure to get to know through both her books and her online persona (by which I mean Twitter). Life By Committee remains one of the most personally important books I’ve read so I was, of course, pretty excited when I heard Corey had a new YA novel coming out. The Careful Undressing of Love is a haunting story about self-preservation, magic, and the dangerous bonds of friendship and love. I read this book in early January and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I’m delighted to have Corey here today to answer some questions about her latest YA novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Corey Ann Haydu (CAH): I was always a big journaler and someone who loved writing, but for a long time it was my secondary passion. I was originally an actress and about five years out of college realized I was on the wrong path. I quit acting and took an internship with a literary agency that happened to represent children’s literature. It had never occurred to me to write YA and MG, but I fell in love while working that job. I eventually went to grad school for writing for children and was lucky to sell my first book, OCD LOVE STORY, at that time. It’s been an interesting journey since then, with a LOT of ups and downs, but I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to work with people who support me growing and taking on new challenges in my work. THE CAREFUL UNDRESSING OF LOVE is really representative of that– it is a project that pushed me and I learned from and I’m so pleased that even though publishing can be very rocky, I’ve been able to explore new, complicated ideas like this one.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Careful Undressing of Love?

CAH: When I was younger, a woman working at a bakery took one look at me and told me I’d be a “heartbreaker”. She sounded angry when she said it, and I really internalized the moment. I carried that feeling with me and I wondered what it would be like if a proclamation like that was taken very literally. As I got further into the idea, it became clear it was a place where I could really explore the roles girls play and the impossible expectations we put on them. I was also influenced by 9/11 and the experience of living in New York City during the terrible period of time. I wasn’t interested in writing about that experience in particular, but I felt I could draw on some of those memories and some of the feelings that time brought up for me.

MP: Unlike your previous YA novels, this one is not a straight contemporary. Instead, The Careful Undressing of Love includes elements of (possible) magic on the shortest street in Brooklyn and an eerie alternate history for New York City–both of which work to create a very distinct sense of place. Which came first during your drafting: the setting or the story?

CAH: They actually really happened in tandem. When I started working on this story I had just moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and after nine years in Manhattan that was a HUGE change for me. I was really inspired by that move, so it was natural for me to use that inspiration for this story. I can’t start writing anything at all without a setting, so the story didn’t come into focus until I decided where it would be set.

MP: A lot of Lorna’s development as a character centers on the growing rift between Lorna and her friends. There’s a question of belief as Lorna moves between doubt and fear about the curse. How did you go about integrating these threads into the novel while keeping the story focused on your plot and characters rather than any specific answers (for Lorna or for readers)?

CAH: I think this book was really written in layers. I wrote SO many drafts of it  over the years that I was able to uncover many different elements through all those drafts. I had to play with how much belief or lack of belief was in the story, and honestly different drafts had different choices. Lorna’s journey with belief was one of the hardest things to pin down, and I had to get to know her very intimately before figuring out what made sense for her as a character. With so much of this book, it was only through making mistakes that I learned what would actually work for the story I wanted to tell. Sometimes you have to enter the story from a lot of different angles before you find the right starting point.

MP: The Careful Undressing of Love features the poem “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy at the beginning of the book (and the title also references a line in the poem of course). At what point did you connect this poem to your novel? How did the title come about?

CAH: I have to give credit to my amazing editor, Andrew Karre, for so much of this novel, and that includes the title. I had written Lorna’s father as a poetry-loving man and at one point Andrew asked me what poems he might have had in his collection. I loved the question and built a list that included “Valentine” as one of his favorite poems. As soon as we both read the poem a few times, we knew the title was in there. It’s got so many beautiful, unusual lines that really speak to what I wanted to explore.

MP: Were any of the locations you mention in The Careful Undressing of Love inspired by actual places? (I ask this after doing some online searches to confirm that Devonairre Street isn’t a real feature of Brooklyn because it felt so real!)

CAH: I’m so glad Devonairre felt real! It feels real to me at this point too. The neighborhood in general was inspired a little bit by South Slope. Bistro is based a little bit on a bistro I love in the East Village, Jules. the bakery is based a little on a coffee place I used to go every single morning for the most incredible chocolate croissants I’d ever eaten. It was called Parco. And Julia’s was loosely based on a coffee house turned bar in Cobble Hill that I wrote a lot of the book in.

MP: The Careful Undressing of Love is very focused on characters. Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? What about one you most resemble (or wish you did)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

CAH: I tend to write main characters who feel somewhat close to me, so I would say Lorna is the closest to me. But there’s a bit of me in every character. Delilah was probably my favorite to write because she goes on a huge journey and that’s always exciting to tackle. I love her playfulness with language and I think her experience of grief is unique. I also really loved writing Angelika, because you so rarely get to write an older character in YA. It took me a long time to get a handle on her, but when I did– after watching a documentary about someone who cultivated a real devotion and belief from his followers– it was thrilling.

MP: I can’t say too much because it’s near the end, but one of my absolute favorite scenes in your book includes the line “When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.” Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

CAH: There’s a scene with a male teacher at school that I’m really proud of. In many of my books there are scenes where I let the main characters really experience the flawed humanity of the adults around them. I enjoy writing those scenes, because they feel real to me. I’m not interested in perfect characters or perfect authority figures or perfect love or anything perfect really. And I think the scene with the male teacher at school encompasses a lot of what the book is about– fear and grief and gender roles and sexuality and the unfairness of being a girl in the world.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

CAH: My next book THE SOMEDAY SUITCASE comes out in June. It’s a MG project that I’m very excited about. It’s about a girl named Clover and her best friend Danny. When Danny gets a mysterious illness, Clover takes it on herself to figure out how to fix him. It’s also a book that straddles the line between realism and magic.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

CAH: The best advice is always to keep going. There will be rejections. I never got a piece published in my high school literary magazine. I got rejected the first time I applied to my college’s creative writing workshop. I get rejected still, we all do! So you have to find the love and the joy in the midst of that, and not give up, Keep going, keep challenging yourself, and try to locate the joy as best you can.

Thanks again to Corey for this great interview!

You can see more about Corey and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of The Careful Undressing of Love.