Carolyn Mackler has had us hooked for years with Virginia’s adventures in ‘The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things’. Now, she’s back with another dose of Virginia’s life, including a new love interest and even more hilarious real-life moments. Find out what happened when we sat down with Carolyn below and if you haven’t already, make sure you pick up a copy of ‘The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I’.
For those who haven’t picked up a copy of ‘The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I’ yet, how would you entice them to go grab one?
Let’s see….there’s love and romance and also really meaningful personal growth. Also, major family drama and body positivity and a criminal subplot. And it’s funny! And fast-paced!
‘The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I’ is the follow up to ‘The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things’. What made you decide to delve back into Virginia’s world now?
I was starting another novel – a book that was under contract that I was supposed to be writing – and all of a sudden I started picturing Virginia driving. It was wild because I hadn’t thought about her in more than ten years, other than as someone I used to know. But I saw her driving, and hating being in the driver’s seat – both literally and metaphorically. I needed to know more so I put down the other novel and began writing ‘The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I’.
Did you encounter any difficulties updating the book to present day given technology has moved on a lot since the first release?
I was so lucky that Bloomsbury wanted to republish ‘The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things’ along with ‘The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I’. The first thing I did was I wrote The Universe… exactly the way I wanted to. I didn’t worry about the lack of phones and Netflix in the first book. Once the draft was done, then I went back into The Earth, My Butt… manuscript and I updated it all to make the technology current. I turned emails into texts, and I turned magazines into blogs, and I even updated the snacks to make them contemporary.
‘The Universe Is Expanding’ includes an overweight, LGBTQ character and a rape storyline, how was it difficult intertwining all the characters stories?
That was how the story arrived in my head, and I was thrilled to find out that Virginia’s sister was in love with another woman because it makes the family question their picture-perfect expectations for all their kids. The difficult part was finding time to sit at my computer every day and write the story. I wish I could just download it from my brain but unfortunately, there’s not an app for that. Yet.
Can you describe what your typical writing day looks like?
I wake up with the kids and dog around six. Thank goodness my husband is the coffee guy in the house so there’s always hot coffee ready when we stumble out of bed. He does breakfast and takes our younger son to school while I wander around in a daze until the caffeine hits me enough that I can walk the dog. After a little fresh air and exercise, I settle at the kitchen table or at my desk and write for a few hours. I try hard not to check my phone while I’m writing and sometimes I succeed. If I can avoid being sucked into my phone, I always have a better writing day. By early afternoon, I close my laptop, get my son from school, greet my high schooler, and shift into mom mode until I crash at nine or ten. Rinse and repeat.
What is the best response you’ve gotten from a reader about your books? How about the strangest?
I’ve gotten so many amazing messages from readers of ‘The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things’ and ‘The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I’. Hundreds of readers over the years—maybe even thousands—have written to me to say that Virginia has saved their life, encouraged them to get help for depression, for body issues, for cutting. Virginia has inspired them to feel good about themselves as they are, dye their hair purple, and tell their mom what they really think of her. The strangest? Maybe that on and off over the past decade and a half, ‘The Earth, My Butt’, and ‘Other Big Round Things’ has been one of the most banned books in America. I always want to show those letters from my readers to the book challengers and say, “You don’t want kids to have access to a book that might save their life?”
Virginia and Sebastian visit loads of spots to eat in Manhattan, where would you recommend us to go?
An Everything bagel with butter from Absolute! There’s nothing like it. Though the line, especially on weekends, is crazy long. It would definitely give you plenty of time to meet the love of your life, like Virginia and Sebastian.
What advice would you give to others starting to write their own novels?
Write. Just write. Try not to compare your writing to others, or get too discouraged, or worry about publication. That’s for later drafts. For the first draft, the most important thing is to let the story pour out and try not to be miserable in the process.
What one book could you read over and over again and not get bored?
When I was a teenager I read ‘Smart Women’ by Judy Blume every summer. I felt like it was a private window into the lives of adult women and I desperately wanted a glimpse. It’s been a while since I’ve re-read it…maybe decades? Now that I’ve caught up to the age of the characters, I’d be curious to look into that window again.