INTERVIEW WITH CORINA VACCO:
How did you get started writing?
Writing and storytelling have always been an inextricable part of me. I was born into a family of readers, grew up haunting libraries and indie bookstores, and wrote my first novel at age seven. My mother is an artist, and when I was very young, she used to cut pictures out of art magazines and make strange collages for me to contemplate. I still remember many of them—metallic snails, broken machines, vivid flowers, dead trees—and I remember coming up with elaborate stories to explain why certain images were grouped together. It was an exercise in imagination. When I was a bit older, I wrote stories to terrify and amuse my friends, and it was a bonus if I could shock my mother in the process (she’s not easy to shock). But now I write because it’s my way of processing the world, and because my characters’ stories are urgent and must be told, and above all else, I write for the joy of it.
Who influenced you?
Oooh, that’s a tough one. There have been so many influences. Stephen King taught me to write on the edge. Roald Dahl told me that it’s okay to unleash my weird, wild imagination. Philip Pullman trained me to create fully-imagined worlds. Anita Shreve and Laurie Halse Anderson showed me how to write lyrical prose. S.E. Hinton taught me about characterization. Tim Tharp taught me about the ever-elusive voice. Jacquelyn Mitchard compelled me to write books that have a soul. Chuck Palahniuk challenged me to always be original. I could go on and on. Every book I’ve ever read has taught me something. That’s one of the things I love most about books!
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
I really love settings that are so powerful they can also be considered an actual character in the book, settings that will become a part of the readers’ consciousness forever. Willy Wonka’s factory in Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is a great example. The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s THE SHINING is another. In MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, three boys rule over the industrial yards of a heavily-polluted blue collar town, and they seek revenge against a chemical company that has negatively impacted their lives. The details of their world—a trail of green puddles that never dry up; a rusty railcar full of weird, smelly rocks; and a perfect square of earth where you can dig for hours without seeing a single insect—disturb and haunt. The boys swim in creek water the color of antifreeze and push each other closer and closer to the brink of self-destruction, while also trying to hold on to their one last summer together, the innocence of home, and the fabric of family. It was interesting to watch how the tentacles of a polluted town and the characters’ corresponding anger crept into every aspect of their lives, their friendships, their decisions, just as it was interesting to see how redemption and hope could emerge in such darkness. I love these kinds of strange, memorable settings, no matter what the genre.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
Believe it will happen. Believe it with every ounce of your being. Live as though it will happen. Live with every bit of magic you’ve got. Allow rejection to make you better, stronger. Keep writing and writing. Wage war against self-doubt. Enjoy each stepping stone on your road to publication, because it all matters. Every word you write matters.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I’m weird about this. I wrote portions of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN while parked in my car at the foot of a radioactive landfill in an industrial area of Western New York. I did this because the book has a very toxic, industrial setting, and I needed to experience it first-hand. I needed to feel the fear. I won’t ever do anything like that again; it was too scary! My upcoming middle grade books aren’t set in the real world, so my imagination does all the work, and I don’t have to do any “on location” writing sessions anymore. I generally prefer to write at home, in complete and total silence, without any interruptions. I find I’m most productive at night, but more creative early in the morning, so my writing time slots vary a lot. I tried writing in a café once—I find the image of a writer pecking away at their laptop at a secluded table in some obscure coffee shop very romantic—but it turned out to be too loud for my liking. Plus at cafés, you can’t wear your pj’s, so there’s that.
What else would you like to tell us?
I am fascinated by robots, gypsies, sea creatures, and strange roadside attractions. I’m also in the process of relocating from San Francisco to New Orleans. Once I get settled in the Big Easy, I’ll be unveiling a new blog format at www.corinavacco.com called STRANGE ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, which will involve a bi-weekly post about all things weird—you can expect to see curiosities, news stories, tourist destinations, and intoxicating reviews of weird restaurants, films, and books. To find out when these posts go live, or to make suggestions for weird content, or even just to say hello, follow me on Twitter @corinavacco. Also, it was recently announced that MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN is a Bank Street Best Book of the Year for 2014 and is coming out in paperback this December—I’m so excited!
Much love to you all, and thanks so much for reading this interview!