Welcome Back, Booklovers! I'm back with an interview by another great author and I'm so happy that I was able to link up with Hear Our Voices Book Tours to make this possible. Kara Lee Corthron not only writes YA books, she's also a playwright and television writer. You can check out my review of her latest release Daughters of Jubilation which I truly enjoyed after you get to know a little bit about the woman behind the book.
People may not know but you’re on the writer’s staff of the popular series You. How has your TV writing affected your novel writing?
It goes both ways. Though I write in different categories, how I approach writing is pretty much the same: what’s the story? Who are the characters and what makes them compelling? I think the more I write in general, the better I get at storytelling.
You are also a playwright having written plays across different genres. What is that experience like and how does it differ?
Playwriting can be incredibly satisfying if your plays are being well produced and you’re not depending on playwriting for income. There is something unique about people gathered in a room to experience a story with live human beings on stage. I respect all the new virtual theatre experiments that have been happening, but without that special, electric connection between actors and a live audience, I’m not sure what the draw will be once the novelty wears off. But maybe the virtual performances will be satisfying in a different way.
Because there’s generally not much money in theatre, plays that have the best chance at being produced tend to have a small cast and one simple set—not something I ever have to think about when writing fiction and though we have to produce responsibly, it’s not an issue to the same degree in TV. I’m sure it comes as no surprise, but the vast majority of plays professionally produced in this country are written by white men. At some point, it became clear to me that I was not going to be a wildly produced playwright and once I figured that out, I felt freer and my work became richer. I wrote a play with talking dolls. I wrote a hip-hop play with a giant, talking rat. Playing with the fantastical in theatre felt natural to me and that experience definitely influenced my choice to try my hand at YA fantasy. And when I began to work in TV, I felt even freer as a playwright because I had an actual source of income. It probably sounds like I’m talking about money a lot, but the sad truth is I spent many years worrying far more about money than the quality of my work, which was unfortunate. Finding a way to unite all my interests into a career as a multi-genre writer took a long time, but it’s the best fit for me.
What was your experience studying at Julliard like?
Mostly great. I had some tough times there, too. Halfway through my first year, my mother passed away suddenly and I nearly dropped out. Because of a few fellow playwrights in the program and my mentors, I kept going. I learned the fundamentals of building a story there.
Plus, it’s Juilliard! I loved hanging out in Lincoln Center and there’s nothing quite like going into one of the lesser known bathrooms and hearing an exceptionally talented musician practicing the cello or viola—for some reason, it was always strings—in the lounge area near the sinks.
Do you have a favorite place you’ve gotten to travel to while working on a new play?
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve gotten to travel to many beautiful places to write. The Italian Riviera is stunning as is the coastal town of Cassis in the south of France. I’ve loved working in all those places, but my all-time favorite is MacDowell. For those who don’t know, MacDowell is the oldest artists’ residency in the U.S. It’s located in New Hampshire just outside of a tiny, charming town called Peterborough. (The town in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town is based on Peterborough. Why? Because Wilder wrote the play while in residence at MacDowell, of course.) At MacDowell, the artists decide how their days will be spent. The only rule is that residents follow the meal schedule. They deliver lunch to each studio in a cute basket, which I love. It’s nice to be treated so well, but I also love it because you’re fed without disrupting the rhythm of your day. I hope every writer gets the opportunity to work at MacDowell at least once in her life.
Side bar: the last time I was at MacDowell, I was writing the very first draft of Daughters of Jubilation in a lovely studio where James Baldwin once stayed. Now I think it may have been haunted, but that’s some cool history!