Author Interview: Carolyn MacCullough on Once a Witch and Always a Witch

As some of you already know, I have much love for Carolyn MacCullough and her amazing books. After meeting her a while back I knew she was an author worth talking to when I started doing interviews. Having been excited for Always a Witch since January I also knew its pending release made for a great time to discuss it and its predecessor Once a Witch with Carolyn who was kind enough to take the time to talk to me for a bit about both books.

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

Carolyn MacCullough (CM): I always wanted to be a writer, but a few other things got in the way first.  I attempted to be an actress–which meant waiting tables while going to a few auditions here and there before I realized that stage fright was just going to do me in anyway!  But, I was always telling stories, imagining stories, writing down snippets of stories until one day I applied to the MFA program in Creative Writing at The New School.  And that’s what got me to take writing more seriously…

MP: Always a Witch is your second novel about Tamsin and her Talented family. What was your inspiration for these books?

CM: Running.  Or my desire to be a runner (which I’m sadly not cut out for).  My then boyfriend (and now my husband) taught Kung Fu and in an effort to appear more athletic (because when you’re newly in love you want to impress the person you’re in love with) I decided to take up running.  I ran through brownstone Brooklyn–a truly beautiful place to go running (if you have to go running at all) and everyday I would pass this little stone gargoyle.  He seemed to be grinning at me–I think he understand I was just a poseur of a runner.  And I always wanted to know what stories he would tell if he could only talk.  Then  I started thinking about a character who had the power to make stone statues talk.  Then I started thinking about this character’s sister who didn’t have any power at all, but who had the misfortune to be born into a family of characters who all had some power or other.  And then I went home and started typing.  And I stopped running after that.

MP: Speaking of inspiration, Tamsin is a really unique name. How did you pick it? 

CM: I love picking character names!  The names (along with the characters themselves) just come to me and I think “of course.  That’s who you are,” when I hear them.

MP: Before Once a Witch (and now Always a Witch) you wrote three YA novels (Falling Through Darkness, Stealing Henry, and Drawing the Ocean) that are not fantasies. What was it like writing in a new genre? What was your favorite part of writing a fantasy?

CM: I loved reading fantasies when I was a kid (and still do) so I’m not sure why it took me so long to start writing in this genre.  I spent my whole childhood looking/wishing/hoping for magic in some way to happen to me so my favorite part of writing a fantasy is that you get to bend the rules of the ordinary.

MP: New York City plays an important role in both books with several real locations appearing in the story including Jefferson Market Library, Grand Central Terminal and Madison Square Park. How did you decide what locations to include?

CM: They were mostly the locations that I spent time in/around and know pretty well.  I also think they’re iconic and deserve places in as many books as possible.

MP: Tamsin spends a good part of Always a Witch back in 1887. Did you need to do a lot of research to get details right? 

CM: Yes and that was hard.  I agonized over what to include/not include/too much/too little.

MP: If you could have a Talent like the Greenes what would it be? (I’m partial to Gabriel’s Talent for finding things.) 

CM: I love Gabriel’s Talent, too since it seems really useful especially when you’re running late and can’t find your keys.  But I think I would choose the Talent of being able to control time–to freeze it and/or rewind it.  I need do-overs in life.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of Tamsin and her family?

CM: Sadly, no.  Not at the moment anyway.  I’m working on another YA paranormal set in an ocean village.  And yes, it’s a romance, too!

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

CM: Read.  Read, read, read everything you can.  It’s the best education out there.  And it’s free!

Thanks again to Carolyn for this great interview and remember Always a Witch will be released August 1st so watch for it! (While you’re waiting for the release date, why not read my review?)

Always a Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCulloughThe Greene family has always been very talented–magically Talented, that is. Except for Tamsin. Instead of a Talent she had a cryptic prophecy from her grandmother declaring that Tamsin would one day be a beacon for her entire family.

At least, that’s what she thought for the first seventeen years of her life.

Now she knows the truth about her Talent and her family’s past. Unfortunately so does Alistair Knight and he’s gone back to Victorian era New York to share what he knows with his ancestors and possibly destroy the Greene family forever.

With Alistair Traveling to the past, time is running out and Tamsin realizes she has no choice but to follow.  Alone in 1895 New York Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady’s maid in the Knight mansion. She still has a crucial role to play in her family’s struggle with the Knights even if she isn’t sure what that role is yet. All she knows for sure is that it will involve a terrible sacrifice and, in the end, she may not have any choice at all in Always a Witch (2011) by Carolyn MacCullough.

Always a Witch is the sequel to MacCullough’s delightful novel Once a Witch.

As some regular readers might already know, Carolyn MacCullough is one of my favorite authors of all time and also an author I was lucky enough to meet a while back which remains one of the high points of . . . my life. All sounds like tangential information unless you got to see a galley of Always a Witch.

On the covers of the advanced reader copies (and in the image attached to this post) part of my review of Once a Witch was quoted. There are a lot of reasons for any reader to love this book but for me a lot of that love is wrapped up in MacCullough being one of my favorite authors and also my excitement at being quoted on the galleys* and being so fond of these characters.

In other words, I’m delighted my words got to endorse this book, however briefly. (The quote didn’t make it to the final cover but I’ll always have the galleys.)

Once a Witch was a clever urban fantasy with an original take on magic as well as a fast-paced, funny and entertaining story. It was a delightful introduction to Tamsin and her world. Always a Witch is just as good as the first–maybe even better. Definitely good enough that I finished it in one day.

Family is still a central element of this book, as it should be when the family is as splendid as the Greenes, but there is a lot more to this story with the extended time travel and Tamsin’s choice looming throughout the narrative.

As a sequel there is always the risk of summarizing too little or explaining too much. MacCullough strikes a perfect balance of summary and new material here. The inimitable Gabriel also returns along with other favorite characters. Tamsin’s same fierce love for her family permeates these pages.

Always a Witch is a great fantasy with a well-realized look at old New York besides. Tamsin is one of my favorite heroines with her strength, resilience and general charm. Like Once a Witch before it, this book is a wonderful story about family and love and, yes, about magic too.

*I’ve had to sit on this information since December because the pub date was so far away. I also wasn’t sure if the cover was finalized yet–I first saw it on a galley when a colleague pointed it out–and it’s been absolute torture waiting to share this big news with you, dear readers. The news is slightly less big since the quote isn’t on the final cover but I decided to mention it anyway because the quote was such a big part of my experience with this book.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Carolyn MacCullough!

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, White Cat by Holly Black, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Exclusive Bonus Content: Let’s take a moment to consider the titles together. See where I’m going here?

Stealing Henry: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCulloughThe night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. It doesn’t matter that she has no money and her eight-year-old brother Henry to take care of. It doesn’t even matter that her stepfather will probably follow them. Savannah can stand a few obstacles as well as she can a slap or two. What she can’t stand is the idea of becoming like her mother Alice.

Alice used to be someone Savannah admired, someone she could look up to. But that was  another life when Alice was still looking for her own future and finding nothing she expected.

Savannah’s life wasn’t always about listening before entering a room and not making eye contact or talking back. Her childhood homes could fill a road atlas. Savannah and Alice traveled all across the country before the fateful day their car broke down and the party stopped for good.

Savannah and Henry are journeying to a house they’ve never seen. Eighteen years ago certain events conspired to drive Alice to leave that same house for good; events that would eventually determine the course of both Alice and Savannah’s lives in Stealing Henry (2005) by Carolyn MacCullough.

Stealing Henry draws readers in right from the beginning with a shocking opening line and a truly evocative cover (designed by Rodrigo Corral–the mastermind behind the US covers for the Uglies series). Nothing about Savannah’s life is easy and it’s simple to assume reading about her won’t be either. But the opposite is true. MacCullough’s lyrical prose pulls readers in, quickly making Savannah and her unreal life completely believable.

Even passing scenes of the local emergency room, Alice’s current place of employ, are skillfully written with a high degree of authenticity. Everything about this story is evocative and compelling.

I read Stealing Henry shortly after the van incident and a generally not peaceful time in my own life. Reading about Savannah and her own journey was somehow entirely appropriate for that situation and often comforting. Much like MacCullough’s later novels, this story is always optimistic. Even at her lowest, Savannah remains hopeful; the writing itself becoming both peaceful and reassuring.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, How to (un)Cage a Girl by Francesca Lia Block, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, Little Voice by Sara Bareilles (music album)

Falling Through Darkness: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCulloughSeventeen-year-old Ginny’s life feels like a waking dream. Or maybe a nightmare. It all seemed so different when Aidan first came crashing into her life.

Beautiful, vivid, reckless Aidan is nothing like Ginny–a quiet, good girl more comfortable blending in than standing out. But Aidan makes Ginny different. He makes her want more. Makes her feel more. In the end, he makes her feel too much.

There was a crash. Something everyone else is calling an accident. Aidan is gone. But Ginny is left behind to piece together the shattered moments of her life with–and now without–him in Falling Through Darkness (2003) by Carolyn MacCullough.

Falling Through Darkness is MacCullough’s haunting first novel.  This is a story about depression and falling apart, but it is also a story about grieving and acceptance. Ginny would be perfectly happy to stay in this fugue state, sleep walking through life. That is until a new tenant moves in forcing Ginny to confront all the things she knows about Aidan, and the accident, but never wanted to admit to anyone–especially herself.

Ginny’s depression after the accident is palpable in MacCullough’s writing. Equally compelling are her portrayals of Aidan’s frenetic energy. Even when Ginny falls into his dangerous habits it’s easy to understand how she would be sucked into his jet stream. The story shifts seamlessly between Ginny’s present and memories of meeting Aidan and their subsequent, whirlwind, relationship with writing that is evocative and beautiful.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, The After Girls by Leah Konen, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, Fracture by Megan Miranda, This Song Will Save Your Life by Lisa Ann Sandell, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, My Private Nation (album and single) by Train

“Are you Miss Print?”

What ensues is going to be an embarrassingly detailed account of the events leading up to Thursday night which was, by far, the highlight of my week:

On Wednesday one of my favorite authors, Carolyn MacCullough, tweeted about an event at Books of Wonder where she would be appearing. I almost never get to go to events like this because they inevitably conflict with my work/school schedule. But the stars aligned on Thursday and I was able to attend!

I had posted on my own twitter about the event and my plans to attend because, well, it seemed like something everyone should go to. Much to my surprise and excitement, Ms. MacCullough responded to my tweet saying she hoped to see me there. I was pleased, but didn’t think much of it because I imagine authors always get crazy amounts of replies on Twitter and just try to respond to what they can to be nice (because writers are inevitably the nicest people in the world after librarians).

The event was short, but so much fun. I always love visiting Books of Wonder because it reminds me of Meg Ryan’s store in You’ve Got Mail. And because they have a cupcake shop. I always feel like the employees are watching me, but that might be my own paranoia from bringing in my own books to be signed–it feels wrong somehow.

Anyway, after Ms. MacCullough and the two other authors (Philip Reeve and Mari Mancusi) finished talking about their books, people were encouraged to get their books signed. And I did not need to be told twice.

I went up to Carolyn MacCullough feeling very awkward with my three books to be signed (Once a Witch and Drawing the Ocean are two of my favorite books and I’m looking forward to reading my library-borrowed-copy of Falling Through Darkness and my newly signed copy of Stealing Henry). I felt really awkward because that’s a lot of books for one person to want signed, so I went up to her (first person to do so, also super awkward) and said that I didn’t know if she would want to sign all of them.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Carolyn MacCullough, one of my favorite authors in the world, asked me who I was because I looked familiar. I was so floored that only bad, tongue-tied explanations came from my mouth. I tried to explain that I had retweeted about the even and she had replied but I don’t think it came out right. But eventually it came across that I was on Twitter.

And then something else unthinkable happened.

I was recognized (by one of my favorite authors!) as a book blogger. Carolyn MacCullough said to me, “Are you Miss Print?” And, as my readers already know, of course I am! I became, if possible, even more tongue-tied and needed a moment to regroup, telling her that I couldn’t believe she knew who I was.*

And so Carolyn MacCullough signed my books (saying it was nice to meet me in one of them) and we had a really nice conversation. It turns out she had been reading my blog and even asked how my mom was doing.** I told her that Drawing the Ocean is one of my favorite books (it actually has been since I read it after seeing her read part of it at an author event at Jefferson Market Library several years ago). And she said, I had given her one of the best reviews on Amazon and that it brought tears to her eyes.

Then we parted. She said it was nice to meet me in person and I said of course that I was thrilled to meet her and to have made it to the event and confirmed her suspicion that she would see more of me on Twitter. And then I went home with some of the cupcake shop’s awesome cupcakes in tow.

The funniest thing about the whole thing was that I almost didn’t go. I felt weird about going alone. Especially to an event that featured young adult authors. No one is a bigger champion of YA books being for everyone (not just teens) but it felt strange, somehow, to be going to an event ideally targeting teens when I was not a teen. But I went anyway because my mom said I was being silly and the stars had aligned to allow me to go and because I really wanted to meet Carolyn MacCullough even if it was weird and I was nervous before talking to her (at which point I was so excited there was no room for anything else).

I’m so, so glad I did. Because it was worth it. So, I guess if you’re going to get anything besides my fangirl-y happiness from this just know that if you want to go somewhere, you should go. Even if it means going alone or feeling weird or silly, it’s worth it. Because you’ll be doing what you want to do. And maybe Carolyn MacCullough (or you know, whoever you might call your favorite ________) will recognize you too. And that will be an opportunity that you claimed for yourself and made into a really amazing moment***.

*I’ve won scholarships and awards before. I’ve gotten good grades. But somehow this recognition was almost sweeter because it was for something I built from scratch on my own, simply because I wanted to.

**If even one of my favorite authors is wondering about my mom, it occurred to me that I should post something mentioning that she is, in fact, doing well.

***If anyone doubts me, Ms. MacCullough also tweeted me after the event saying it was nice to meet so I have incontrovertible proof that I wasn’t dreaming all of it.

Once a Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCulloughTamsin Greene comes from a very Talented family in Once a Witch (2009) by Carolyn MacCullough. You won’t find any math geniuses among the Greene family. And no one is exceptionally athletic. But if you ever break anything, be it bones or fine china, Uncle Chester can fix it. Her father can make your grass grow and the sun shine, while her mother can move almost faster than the eye can see. That’s because Tamsin comes from a long line of very Talented witches.

When she was born, it was predicted that Tamsin would be one of the most powerful witches ever, a beacon to the entire family. That was until her disastrous eighth birthday, where these lofty predictions were proven wrong. Now seventeen, Tamsin spends as much time as possible away from her family at boarding school in New York City. Summers, however, are spent at home working at her family’s magic/book shop feeling like an outcast.

But Tamsin has almost reconciled herself to always been less Talented than her glamorous and infuriating and very Talented older sister. She has even almost come to terms with knowing that she is less than her family expected. Almost . . .

When a dashing professor comes to the store and mistakes her for her older sister, she knows she should set the man straight. Except that for once it’s Tamsin who is being looked at with admiration instead of Rowena. And before she can think better of it, Tamsin has agreed to help the man find a family heirloom that has been lost for more than a century.

Following the missing heirloom through time, Tamsin realizes too late that there is more to this stranger and his artifact than meets the eye. As she struggles to complete the search and set things right, Tamsin will unearth secrets about her own lack of Talent as well as long forgotten secrets from her family’s past that could change everything.

Once a Witch was basically fantastic. As she did in Drawing the Ocean, MacCullough has created a group of vivid characters who will quickly capture the hearts and imaginations of readers. Tamsin and Gabriel in particular are incredibly well-realized and a joy to read about. The writing is understated and elegant as Tamsin narrates a story filled with action, suspense, romance and, of course, family. Once a Witch is a great addition to the world of urban fantasy and a title that is sure to beguile. It is also hopefully not the last book MacCullough will write featuring Tamsin and her wonderfully Talented family.

You can learn more about the book at its web site

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, White Cat by Holly Black, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, A Room with a View by E. M. Forster, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Drawing the Ocean: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCulloughDrawing the Ocean (2006) is Carolyn MacCullough‘s third novel. Like her others it is geared toward a teen audience. But, like most of the books I review here, I can argue confidently that the writing has enough depth to entertain even snobs who refuse to pick up a YA or Children’s novel under any circumstances.On to the actual review:

After moving to a new town with her parents, Sadie is desperate to fit in. Even if certain aspects of her personality seem determined to keep Sadie from calling herself normal with any degree of honesty.

Sixteen-year-old Sadie is a gifted painter. She spends part of every day at the beach, trying to draw the ocean for her twin brother, Ollie. Sometimes Ollie will pop up to keep her company and offer advice. The problem: Ollie died four years ago.

Soon enough, Sadie makes friends Lila, a girl with her own problems to deal with. She also catches the eye of Travis Hartshorn, the popular boy everyone loves. But, in midst of all this, Sadie continually finds herself reaching out to a loner known to the rest of the school as Fryin’ Ryan, begging the question is being normal more important than being a friend?

At its core, Drawing the Ocean is a story about choices. About how certain choices can change everything in an instant. And how the right choice isn’t always the easy one. MacCullough writes about all of these dilemmas masterfully. In addition, she also tackles the issue of dealing with a death in the family. As the story progresses, she shows how Sadie and her family are trying to move on. This becomes an underlying theme throughout the rest of the novel.

MacCullough manages to creates a compelling story without making it melodramatic. In fact, the prose is surprisingly understated. The writing style is what I’d usually call a quiet book; the kind that would be read in a hushed voice instead of a booming one. The novel is also written in the present tense, which gives the narrative a unique quality (even though more and more authors are adopting this stylistic device lately).

More important than the actual plot, though, are the characters that MacCullough has created here. This novel is sparsely populated so that each character matters and is able to become unique. In addition to the storyline, this is a novel that takes a close look at character interactions. She evokes the high school experience in a way that is subtle enough to resonate with everyone.

The characters that MacCullough has created are real, there’s no other way to say it. They’re not the caricatures or cartoon-like characters that are common in comedic novels. They’re not flat. These character are simply authentic, real. That is partly due to MacCullough’s writing style. She focuses on the essential details, the little things people notice themselves in the real world, instead of trying to describe everything. In this way, the novel comes to life not necessarily as it would be in real life, but as a reader would see it in real life. (No review of this novel should stop before saying that Sadie and Ryan might be two of the best characters ever written.)

In summary, this is a great book with beautiful prose, a compelling story, and amazing characters. And it’s one of my all-time favorites. Ever.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford