According to Carrie Mesrobian, just about everything about her debut novel, Sex and Violence, (Carolrhoda Lab, Oct.) came about by accident, or perhaps a better word would be serendipity. First, she didn’t set out to write a YA book. She enrolled in a small MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University because, she says, “I wanted to read the classics, and be a real smarty pants, and do some analysis.” Professors there suggested that students avoid doing assigned reading in bed, the theory being that the kind of careful, analytical reading needed for school was best done when wide awake. Mesrobian teaches writing to teens at The Loft in Minneapolis, and their YA recommendations became “the fun stuff” she saved to read in bed.
The more she read, the more she added to her mental list of books she was tired of and books she wanted more of. Prominent on the latter list were books for and about teens who aren’t necessarily heading to college and don’t think of themselves as readers. When Mesrobian’s nighttime reading turned into daytime writing, this was an issue she set out to address.
Though book is the story of a teenage boy’s efforts to disentangle sex from violence, it was originally told from the point of view of the main female character. Only the hope of finding out more about what went on in Evan’s head prompted Mesrobian to write a few chapters from his perspective. At some point in this process, Mesrobian realized that she “liked being him better,” both because it helped her see what a boy who didn’t say much was thinking and because it was fun getting to “wear the pants of the patriarchy.”
Things continued to shift once she started getting feedback. The first—and only—person the publishing industry that she was in touch with was Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Lab, who eventually bought not only Sex and Violence but Mesrobian’s next book, due out in 2014. (A fellow YA author had recommended Karre’s blog, which is where Mesrobian saw his call for “doomed romances.”)
Karre liked the manuscript, but pointed out that since it begins with Evan and the girl he’s with being violently attacked, having it end with him falling in love and solving all his problems felt incongruous. Mesrobian remembers Karre saying, “You don’t triumph over adolescence,” an idea she says she’d like to stitch on a pillow. Adolescence is not tidy; and she also realized that she did not want her character to meet the love of his life in high school. Asked about working with Karre, Mesrobian says that though they are very different, they have a shared sensibility about writing: “We’re kind of like peas and carrots—we go along together well. He’s totally unflappable; nothing shocks him, he’s not afraid of risks, and he’s not grossed out by anything.”
Mesrobian, her engineer husband (whom she met in high school, but, as she’s quick to note, didn’t date till later), and their eight-year-old daughter live outside Minneapolis; she experienced the Minnesota lake cabin culture of the book at her grandparents’ house, and says she can’t imagine living anywhere else. After a stint as a high school Spanish teacher, she worked as a freelance writer until she went back to school and began focusing wholly on fiction.
Now she writes, teaches writing to teens, and claims to be a “really bad housewife.” Her next book, Perfectly Good White Boy, comes out in October 2014, also from Carolrhoda Lab, but this time she has an agent, Michael Bourret of Dystel and Goderich. The book is about a teenager on his way to boot camp, and, like her first, which was recently nominated by YALSA for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, it’s a “meditation on masculinity” that Mesrobian hopes will offer a “mirror” for readers who don’t often see themselves represented in books. She is already working on a third book, also narrated by a boy. Asked why, she says, “The girl thing is too close to me. I’m not ready to go there yet. I’m very passionate about girls in YA; I have a million ideas about them, but I can’t seem to make one a narrator. I’m hoping to do that at some point.”