Talking With Sarah McCarry, Author of "All Our Pretty Songs"

"There are a lot of fantastic writers of all genders sneaking groundbreaking and weird and subversive and gorgeous and brilliant stuff in under the label of YA."
Publish date:
August 22, 2013
shoppables, books, reading, read this!, author interviews

One of the best parts of my trip to New York last week was a chance to meet up with author Sarah McCarry (aka The Rejectionist) at Hanjan (which is a totally awesome restaurant --seriously, go, and order the ddukbokki, because, I mean, porkfat ricecake). We talked about grunge, publishing, writing, and, of course, her debut novel, "All Our Pretty Songs," which is totally awesome.

Rather than blathering about this book, I decided to put Sarah on the hot seat and pry some scoop out of her on "All Our Pretty Songs," what we can expect from the rest of this trilogy, her tastes in dessert, and more.

You worked in publishing before you became an author -- how was the transition from The Rejectionist to The Sarah McCarry?

To tell you the truth, the initial transition was the most difficult one. When I lived on the West Coast, I had basically no relationship with the Internet; I had to ride my bicycle to the library to check my email. I started the blog when I moved to New York mostly to keep myself from going batty at my day job as a literary agent's assistant, but that just happened to be at a time when people were eager for information about the publishing industry -- so literally within a week or two the blog was getting hundreds of hits a day. That was a huge, huge shock for me, the experience of catapulting abruptly from being a dirty anonymous hippie to being A Person On The Internet.

And it was also disorienting to be (very minorly) Internet famous for blogging about a job that was not in any way an important part of my actual life. I stopped writing about publishing as soon as I quit working in the industry, and focused on my favorite subjects (myself, my deep thoughts, and books, usually in that order). It was more of a relief than anything to get to go back to being The Sarah McCarry. The Internet is a strange and often challenging place, but it's also brought some amazing friends and opportunities into my life that I never would have found otherwise -- so, overall, I'm a fan.

Can we talk about how amazing this book is? I mean, it's amazing. One thing I obviously love about it is that it's literary fiction, putting paid to the idea that YA can't be literary -- do you feel like the genre is starting to get more respect these days?

What a lovely thing to say, thank you! That's an interesting -- and heated, for a lot of people -- question. I think ultimately that's a question about gender -- YA is predominantly (although certainly not exclusively) written and read by women, and I am sure I will not shock you when I say that work produced and/or consumed by women tends to be taken far less seriously critically and culturally. I mean, books by women don't get as much respect, period -- the VIDA statistics remain quite depressing every year, and those stats are for adult literary fiction.

But there are a lot of fantastic writers of all genders sneaking groundbreaking and weird and subversive and gorgeous and brilliant stuff in under the label of YA, and I do think readers and savvy reviewers are noticing. I'm not holding my breath for, like, the "Paris Review" to come courting me, though, no.

Switching up the Orpheus myth is definitely a fresh take on the folktale/fairytale/mythology retellings that are starting to crop up (something I'm very excited about generally). Do you think the myth just naturally lends itself to the subject matter, or did something else about it draw you?

I've loved that story since I was a wee nascent goth teething on D'Aulaires'. It's got everything a tortured young person could want: super-hot musician, doomed romance, going to hell and back for one's beloved, serpents, etc. I knew I wanted to write about 90s Seattle, and the myth of Orpheus meshed very nicely with the mythology of the Northwest. But I also knew I wanted to shake the story up a little. The original Ovid is basically a Christopher Nolan plot: the dead wife exists solely to further the narrative trajectory of the male hero. Super boring. So I gave Eurydice a few extracurricular activities.

This is the first in a trilogy…any chance of getting a sneak peek of what we might expect in books two and three? I hear things get pretty gay in book three...

Why yes indeed, they certainly do (the gay actually ratchets up in the second book, if you're keeping track). Book two, "Dirty Wings" (out next summer) moves back in time to tell the story of Cass and Maia, who are the moms in the first book. It is the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy, sans carbonite (but including surprise dad reveal): everything ends in quite a depressing manner, for everyone.

Book three is about the daughter of one of the main characters in the first book, who goes looking for her mom and ends up in a tiny seaside town on the Olympic Peninsula, where she has a hot affair with Medea. As one does. Most everybody will get a happy ending in that one.

So, "All Our Pretty Songs" has a whole lot of sex, drugs, and rock & roll (of which I wholly approve). Any pushback on explicit content in YA, or are you part of the "new adult" revolution? (Also, what the hell is "new adult"?)

Not yet! Maybe in the fall, when school starts up again. That seems to be the prime season for outraged Wall Street Journal editorials. I honestly have no idea what New Adult is; it sounds sort of like a diaper brand, if you ask me.

What are you reading right now/looking forward to reading? (And what are you listening to right now?)

I just read Bennett Madison's "September Girls," Stephanie Kuehn's "Charm & Strange," Susan Choi's "My Education," and Erica Lorraine Scheidt's "Uses for Boys" -- all brilliant. I'm really looking forward to reading Kiese Laymon's essay collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. And obviously I am foaming at the mouth for the new Donna Tartt HOW WILL I MAKE IT UNTIL OCTOBER I DON'T KNOW. I am listening to Fauré's Requiem, and a lot of Le1f and Mykki Blanco, and I am quite excited for Neil Halstead's new band Black Hearted Brother to put out its first album.

Hot tips on sexting dead grunge stars, getting a rock star into bed, and/or the finer points of seducing a bassist?

I found being underage helpful, personally. Which in retrospect does not reflect very well on the bassist.

What's a question you always wish people would ask when they interview you? (And do you care to answer it?)

"Sarah, would you like this trust fund I found lying about in the park?" (Sure.)

Finally, a critical question for our readers: cake, or pie?

I hope I do not alienate the entirety of the xoJane readership by telling you that I do not care for cake OR pie. Sorbet? SORRY. Told you I was a hippie.

So there you have it, folks. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@therejectionist) for updates on her life, her books, and her food adventures -- or to argue the finer points of a perfect slice of blackberry pie with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. And if you haven't already, hit up your local independent bookstore to demand a copy of "All Our Pretty Songs" and then talk about how amazing it is in comments.