Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interview with Stephanie Carroll

Yesterday I reviewed Stephanie Carroll's A White Room, a deliciously creepy novel set in early 20th century Missouri.  A little bit Shirley Jackson, a little bit 'The Yellow Wallpaper', it's a book I won't easily forget.  I'm thrilled to share my interview with the author, so read on to learn more about Stephanie's writing process, her book, and what she does when she's not writing.  (It's pretty amazing.)  Be sure to enter the international giveaway to win a copy of A White Room!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

Oh wow – that’s a great question, but I’m not sure if I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I remember being praised for writing a six page story that had something to do with a river. It was the first time I was really praised for my writing.

I also remember setting out to write my first novel when I was 13 or 14 and that was going to be about a hiking trip gone wrong. A group of teenagers were going to be kidnapped by their guide who turns out to be a criminal. I never finished it and for a long time thought I couldn’t write novel-length fiction because of it. What’s funny is now I’m the type of writer that can only write long fiction and struggles with short stories.

I’ve always been writing, but I don’t have many fully fledged works from childhood because a long time ago someone told me I couldn’t make a living from writing fiction, so I set it aside in my mind as a hobby. All throughout high school and college, I went after academic and journalism courses thinking it was how to pursue writing as a career. I considered the creative writing classes something that would be a lot of fun but wouldn’t prepare me for the future.

Then I got out of college and was so excited to finally have the time to write a novel for fun. I came up with the idea for A White Room almost right away and realized this had always been what I wanted to do. It all turned out for the best because I earned a history degree in college, which was huge for writing a historical novel, and I learned so much about writing, publishing, marketing, and networking from my years working as a reporter.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Sort of. When I’m really entrenched in my writing, I seem to go through mini-writer’s block cycles that usually last a week or so. They make me moody. My husband has a routine to help me get through the blocks. He forces me to take a day off, and he insists on my relaxing and taking in other forms of art to recharge my creativity. It actually works really well, but whenever I’m that into my work, I won’t take a day off willingly.

I do have a system for when I have a novel idea. I like to research a whole lot first and take notes by hand, and then I outline and figure out the plot based on the history and research. Next, I write everything I can as quickly as I can without worrying about grammar or even writing well. Then, I go back and read through and start fixing things. It’s kind of like a process to create the framework then I can go back in and make other layers shine.

Making the rest of the layers, really known as the editing process, is where things get crazy. I don’t have a system for it because it’s kind of a journey of discovery. I’ll know things are wrong, but I won’t always know how to fix them. When I discover the solution, it might take the story to a place I never would have guessed.

That happened a lot for A White Room. In the beginning I only had the idea for the first half of the story and just the story of Emeline – none of the subplots or stories of the other characters were there yet. Not even John’s story. It was just Emeline up until the point of her escape. I didn’t even know the second half. That all developed over several years through research, feedback, and discovery.

Was A White Room the original title of your book?

It was, and I was insistent upon it even though it has its pitfalls. For example, it’s a pretty general word combination so a million other search items pop up when you type it into Google. Plus a lot of people miss the “A” and call it “The White Room,” which is unfortunate because there is a different book called “The White Room.”

I insisted on keeping the title because the original inspiration for the story is this metaphor about a woman trapped in a white room. It’s referenced throughout the story.
“Sometimes while sitting there staring out the window, I imagined
a place in my mind, a white room. A simple space coated
in white paint. The white represented responsibility, obligation. It
didn’t require what responsibility and obligation required, but it
had the same effect. It maintained the person in the room; it kept
the person alive and well, along with everything and everyone that
person cared for, but nothing the person held dear existed in the
room. The person was alone. The person experienced no joy from
bearing the weight of responsibility, earned no prize.

I imagined a particular person in the room—a woman, also
clothed in white. This woman constantly faced a dilemma. She
longed for freedom. She longed to be the bird.

Her open palms grazed the rutted expanse of the wall. She
knew that something lay beyond—beyond the white. She could
burst out into the world of grass, sky, and lavender, but she knew
that if she broke through the barricade, everything she protected
would crumble, suffocate, and wither behind her. Her own freedom
would last only moments because she, too, couldn’t survive
without the white. Earth and water would smother her, and radiant
light would slice through her like a blade.

I imagined her pressing with both hands, weighing freedom
against existence and all that depended on her, but in the end she
lightened her stance and stepped away. She always chose to stay, to
fulfill her obligation.

I thought of the woman in the white room—she chose to
sacrifice her freedom for the people who relied on her to survive,
but how long could she possibly survive without freedom? How long
could she last before choosing the alternative?”

—Quoted from A White Room with the permission of the author.

I wrote this when I was going through a difficult time in my life, and I felt like the woman in the room. I didn’t know I was going to write a novel or a historical. I just wanted to get my emotions out, but once I thought of it, I had to write it down, and after I wrote it down, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to pursue it and turn this metaphor into a story.

It had to be “A” and not “The” because “The” suggests it’s the only one whereas “A” suggests it’s one of many, and the way I felt about it was that everyone has a white room of their own.

As you were writing A White Room, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

There are several scenes that surprised me but most of them are at the end, and I can’t say without saying too much. Many of the ending scenes were not a part of the original plan, so when I look at them now, I’m kind of surprised by how things developed.

The character that surprised me the most was James, Emeline’s brother. He wasn’t in any of the original versions and when I created him, he instantly became one of my favorite characters and an important part of the story.

Read any good books recently?

Many! Although not as many as I would like. I have to admit, launching my novel has taken up much of my world right now, and I’ve been spending a lot of my reading time on books related to that. Most recently I finished Chuck Sambuchino’s Create Your Writer Platform, which is a really great resource for writers whether just starting out or already years into building their online presence.

I also just finished listening to the audio edition of The Host by Stephenie Meyer for the second time. If I want to read a book more than once, that means it’s really good. The only other novels I’ve read twice are Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and Janet Fitch’s White Oleander. Now I need to finally see the movie version of The Host, but I’m afraid because I usually hate the movie if I’ve read the book first.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Believe it or not, I’m a fire dancer. I perform fire fans and fire poi as Ravyn with the group Twisted Embers in the Central Valley of California. You can see photos on Facebook.

I also write two blogs although technically that’s writing huh? Still, it feels different than my novel writing, and I spend a lot of time on them. I write The Unhinged Historian, which explores the dark side of the Victorian Era and Gilded Age, and I write Unhinged & Empowered Navy Wives, which is about conquering those little moments that make Navy Wives feel crazy! My husband is in the Navy, so I have first-hand experience.

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My thanks to Ms. Carroll for her time and thoughtful responses! You can learn more about her at her website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The White Room to two (2) lucky readers: a paperback copy for US readers and an ebook copy for international readers! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 8/9.


  1. Pretty impressive in terms of how young she started writing! :--) Thanks for posting the fun interview!

  2. Great interview :)
    These always makes me wanna start writing again

  3. Thank you so much Audra for having me again. I really enjoyed your questions and I hope your readers enjoy my answers. =)

    Stephanie Carroll