Thursday, May 5, 2016

Interview With Carolyn Baugh, Author of Quicksand (Tor/Forge)

1.      What inspired you to write this book? Oh, abject disappointment!  I had just failed to get my dream job that I had prepped and prepped for like a madwoman—reading all the work of the people on the search committee, and practicing my “job talk” over and over like some fanatic until I’d practically memorized it; I’d traveled at my own expense all the way to San Francisco from Philly for the preliminary interview at an academic conference, and then I had to travel again to the interview at the university itself, and I was so upset when I didn’t get it after all that work.  So not only was I feeling TIRED, but poor, and then just intellectually wrung out—It was almost a year since I’d defended my dissertation and I was questioning all seven years of graduate school and worrying it was all a waste.  So I figured my only other skill set was the ability to string sentences together and tell a story.  So I sat down to do it.  But I was very deliberate about naming my characters after orientalist scholars in my field—completely incongruously, of course, and I mixed and matched sometimes.  But an Islamic Studies grad student reading it might understand I was getting my revenge on the brilliant John Wansbrough, may he rest in peace, for producing scholarship that made me bang my head against the wall while trying to decipher it.   So now he’s a wisecracking crime-fighter.  I win.

2.      What is it about? I wanted a heroine that no one had ever met.  Nora Khalil was born here to Egyptian parents and lived a very sheltered life.  But certain events only possible in post-9/11 America (no spoilers!) made her enter law enforcement.  She’s also a fierce runner who could probably have been an Olympian if she’d had the right support at home.  She is working on a joint task force with the FBI when she gets pulled into a sex trafficking case.  To sort out the crime, she uses her fluent Arabic and cultural skills to work with part of the community that might otherwise have been inaccessible.

3.      Why should someone read it vs competing titles? Because people reading it will learn a little about immigrant culture in the United States, about alternative worldviews, about human trafficking, and about Nora who is a genuinely good and ethical person who, like so many other Americans, copes with racism outside the home and traditional expectations inside the home but still manages to flourish. 

4.      What challenges did you overcome to write it? Time.  I was working full time as a research associate for an Islamic Studies scholar and raising two girls and applying for academic jobs—and also doing random work like writing book reviews for works in my field.  So, time is and always has been my biggest problem.  I still fantasize about “time” the way other people fantasize about Channing Tatum.

5.      What do you enjoy about writing and bring s published author? Oh, I love getting words to work together.  English is so incredible; its possibilities still feel infinite to me.  So getting to play with combinations of words and coaxing them into meaning is just, I don’t know, my nerdy high I guess.  Being a published author is most fun when someone comes up to me and tells me that something I’ve written has caused her to see things a different way or consider something in a new light or worry about something.  I think part of the human project is to help each other reflect and adjust and recalibrate, and I’m always so grateful when someone does that for me. 

6.      Any advice to struggling writers? It’s doable.  My first book really didn’t sell, you know, so I was pretty down about that.  For this second book, I decided to be really methodical and just humble about it.  It’s a craft as much as anything.  I bought a book on plot and structure and one on conflict and suspense—I’d never studied creative writing, so I thought I needed to play catch up on that.  I read these things, I applied them, and I made just a little time to write every single day.  Every day.  No excuses.  I mapped where I was going and let myself deviate (and rewrite over and over and over and over) but I had pretty clear end goals and I tried to honor them.

7.      Where do you see book publishing to be heading? I think as long as there are people who like to hold books in their hands it will survive as an industry.  As long as we keep reading to our kids and making that special, safe, no-screen time, books will survive. 
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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