Nov. 2, 2020
Caroline B. Cooney
Caroline Cooney has written more than a hundred books for children, teenagers, young adults, and adult readers, selling tens of millions of copies internationally. From her debut, The Face on the Milk Carton, to her most recent, Before She Was Helen, she’s continued to study what readers want in order to deliver the best possible suspense.
Finally, she wants readers to know that she has cool bookplates for Before She Was Helen. “Anybody who writes to me c/o my website giving me a mailing address will get a signed bookplate.”
Q. Before She Was Helen is your latest domestic thriller, and has gotten terrific reception. What “What If” question did you ask yourself before you started writing this one?
Caroline: What if you decided when you were young – maybe 20 – that you had to live under another identity? And what if you have pulled this off for fifty years? What if nobody caught you and in fact, nobody even noticed? But the reasons for which you did this remain, even after all this time. You however have gotten tired and a little bit careless. And what if you accidentally leave your fingerprints at what becomes a crime scene? And what if these prints will tell the world who you were before you were Helen?
Q. How do you approach writing teen/YA thrillers compared to those you write for an adult audience?
Caroline: I’m 73, so I’m way, way out of the age group for which I used to write. In fact, my children are way, way out of that age group! Writing for adults was easier in every aspect. One of the ways in which I enjoyed writing this was that grownups are all too well acquainted with the idea that some situations don’t have resolutions, or have only poor resolutions, or can be resolved on with less than moral methods. Plus, I could talk about senior moments. Although I’m now up to senior hours.
Q. Is there a book you didn’t write, but you think is just excellent?
Caroline: Sam, I ‘m one of the lucky ones. I’ve written over 100 books (if we count the books not good enough to be published) so I have written anything I ever thought of! Basically, I get up in the morning with a ton of new ideas and I just fling myself at them.
Q. Your first book, The Face On The Milk Carton, was a runaway success. In the time since that one came out, how have you changed as a writer? Do you approach readers the same way?
Caroline: I just counted up. Face was my 37th book! I started out in paperback originals and at the time, such books (Scholastic’s Cheerleader series for example – I wrote 4 of those) were not reviewed or even noticed by librarians and reviewers. It wasn’t until my books went into hardcover that the literary world mentioned them. Face was a runaway success, but I loved all my books, as writers do, and I did not view this book as different from the rest. Buy now it’s practically historical fiction (the kids use a phone booth!) but my readers still can’t get enough of it.
Q. You’ve described yourself as a lifelong learner. Where, besides the classroom, do you go out to learn?
Caroline: A reader on my Facebook author site suggested that I read Tiger by John Vaillant. This astonishing nonfiction is about Siberian tigers and the men who fear, track, study or hunt them. I was so fascinated by Siberia itself that I went on to read Owls of the Eastern Ice, by Jonathan Slaght, the most exciting naturalist book I’ve ever come across, written by a young American who will go anywhere in any weather and suffer any privation. This led me to a Siberia kick, and I am reading anything I can find. The closure of libraries in my area has made this an internet quest, but I have managed to order plenty of titles. Anybody with recommendations – I haven’t found much mystery or fiction – this is mainly nonfiction – please tell me!
Q. What are you working on now?
Caroline: My next mystery will come out in spring 2021. The Grandmother Plot is about a young man who makes glass pipes – drug paraphernalia – who suddenly finds himself responsible for his much-loved 93-year-old grandmother, who’s in dementia care. But if there’s a bad choice out there, Freddy is all over it. He makes a series of mistakes and hardly notices, because he does that all the time. But he jeopardizes this person he loves: this person who isn’t herself any more – she’s the fading placeholder of his wonderful Grandma, and she is utterly and completely dependent on the least reliable person out there, with the sketchiest friends.