Clay Carmichael grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is the author-illustrator of the award-winning novel Wild Things and the picture book Bear at the Beach, as well as others, which have been translated into many languages. Here, she shares more on her unique coming-of-age YA road story, Brother, Brother.
After his grandmother’s death, seventeen-year-old Brother sets out, with the abandoned son of a friend, on a 200-mile trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks to find his twin brother, of whose existence he just learned.
Part coming-of-age story, part love story, this is a book about finding out that who you are and where you come from aren’t necessarily the same thing.
YOUNG ADULT: What is your earliest memory involving writing?
Clay Carmichael: Gosh, so many I’m not sure which comes first. My grandfather’s library, maybe, the favorite room of my grandparents’ house, where all the important family discussions were held or decisions made. Or my father’s double-crostic puzzle books strewn around my parents’ house. Or the lead type letters littering the composing room floor of the local newspaper, where my dad typed his pre-computer-age sports stories (his hobby). My sister and I pocketed those little letters as if they were gold.
YA: Tell us a little bit about your latest work. What is different about Brother, Brother?
CC: Brother, Brother explores customary young adult issues: coming-of-age, romance, independence; but what sets my seventeen-year-old main character, Brother, apart is that his story is also a political coming-of-age story. He starts out as a sweet, passive guy, someone who’s just getting by from one day to the next, eking one out. It’s all he can do to take care of Mem, his sick grandmother, and pay the bills. But when she dies on page one, he discovers he’s got a twin and a rich, powerful family he never knew he had. He can’t spectate and sleepwalk through life anymore; he’s got to think and act.
YA: How did the idea for this book arise? What were your major influences?
CC: Like all of my books, Brother, Brother arose organically. I sit down at the keyboard each day and see what adventure unfolds. If events are a surprise for me they’re usually a surprise for the reader too. My grandfather, both loving and ruthless, much influenced the character of Senator. I’ve missed the dogs I grew up with, so I put two in the book. And my home state very much influenced the setting and many other characters in the story.
YA: Take us through a typical writing day for you.
CC: Lately, I start my work day still in my nightgown, answering emails from my German translator, Birgitt Kollman, who also translated my last book, Wild Things, and is now translating Brother, Brother. It’s rare for a translator to seek the writer’s assistance, but Birgitt likes being able to consult me about the text and we’ve become friends. Germany’s six hours ahead, so she’s well into her day by my own dawn. After answering her emails and any others that are pressing, I go for a work out, and then sit down at the computer or the drawing board–I’m also an illustrator–and pick up where I left off the day before. I’m a great believer in daily practice and work every day, even Sundays.
YA: Besides the classic ‘never give up’, what advice would you give to aspiring young writers today?
CC: Write/draw for a certain amount of time every day. Once you’ve got something on paper, revise it, and then revise it some more. I once knew a man who told me he’d always wanted to be a writer. I said, “So what have you written?” He said, “I haven’t written anything, I just want to be a writer.” He liked the idea of being a writer, the image, but he didn’t want to do the work. But if you want to be a writer–surprise–you’ve got to actually write and revise. I revise and erase a lot. Usually, I revise until a piece strikes a satisfying emotional chord for me or until I feel I’ve made the illustration or chapter as best I can. I delete at least as much as I keep. Dedicated revision, over time, much deepens and refines the work in progress. Also, read, read, read.
YA: What’s next for you?
CC: My sculptor-husband, Mike Roig, and I have open studios every November, so right now I’m at the drawing board or painting each day, as well as trying to find my way into a new novel. So far I’m not on firm footing with the latter, but as long as I keep showing up every day, I keep the faith that something will take shape.
YA: What other authors, YA or otherwise, do you idolize? Or, what YA books are on a pedestal for you?
CC: I admire individual books rather than authors, as some of an author’s books speak to me more than others. Recently, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and her upcoming Rose Under Fire, which I’ve just read in galley, really impressed me. I love Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (published as adult, but it’s a superb YA). Iain Lawrence’s Lord of the Nutcracker Men. Dana Reinhardt’s A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life. Anne-Laure Bondoux’s A Time of Miracles. Roddy Doyle’s A Greyhound of a Girl. Sarah Zarr’s How to Save a Life. Ibtisam Barakat’s Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. I’ve run out of room here, but see any of the dozens of books I’ve loved on Goodreads.
Thank you,Young Adult Magazine!