In early 2020, I featured Dallas Woodburn’s YA novel, The Best Week that Never Happened. Her newest title, THANKS, CARISSA, FOR RUINING MY LIFE, has a really great narrative tone. It officially debuted on February 8, 2022:
Brad is ready for a perfect senior year: he has a seat at the popular lunch table, a gig co-hosting the school’s morning announcements, and a gorgeous girlfriend. But when Carissa breaks up with Brad, his carefully constructed life comes crashing down. Convinced everything would be perfect if only Carissa would take him back, Brad creates a “self-improvement plan” and vows to re-win her heart.
Rose wishes she were having a normal senior year like everyone else, but leave it to her twin sister Carissa to butt in and ruin her life. Carissa secretly nominated Rose for the reality TV show Help Me Lose Weight and Live Again—and now Rose is on her way to Texas for three months of calorie-counting, marathon-exercising hell. Rose already felt overshadowed by her “perfect” sister, and collapsing on a treadmill on national TV is not making things any better. Plus, Rose can’t squash feelings for her sister’s boyfriend Brad (even though she knows he would never see her as anything but a friend.)
In our last interview, you said, “Sharing stories helps us understand each other on a deeper level, and also reminds us that we are not alone.” What kinds of stories make you feel most understood and why?
Such a thoughtful question, thank you! I feel most understood by stories that present a wide range of emotional experiences. Both as a reader and as a writer, I am most drawn to character over plot. When I can fully step inside a character’s mind and feel their emotions as my own—that is, to me, the magic of storytelling! I gravitate most to stories that show the nuance of everyday life and the multilayered identities we all carry.
I love those kinds of stories too! Your new YA book, THANKS, CARISSA, FOR RUINING MY LIFE explores identity within our image-obsessed culture. Without giving away spoilers, what about the story surprised you most as you wrote it?
I first got the spark for this novel more than ten years ago, and kept returning to the story again and again over those many years. I think one surprise has been that, when I originally envisioned the book, I saw it as a story mainly about romantic love. And yes, I would still describe the genre as contemporary romance—but on a deeper level, I think it is actually a novel about falling in love with yourself. Family love, sibling love, and friend love are also big themes that emerged as I was writing.
And the theme of falling in love with yourself is so important in YA literature. You also still do interviews on your podcast, Overflowing Bookshelves. What are some of your favorite interview questions to ask authors, and which recent interviews, if any, stand out in your mind?
Chatting with authors on my podcast is one of my favorite things! It has been such a gift to have this vehicle for connection, especially during Covid times. I love to ask all of my guests about how they first became interested in writing and what their writing process is like. It is fascinating to hear how each of us is unique, and yet also we all share so much in common on this writing journey. I also like to ask about advice for overcoming self-doubt and discouragement, because I think every writer struggles with those emotions at times. I have enjoyed all of my conversations, but two recent interviews that stand out are Ethel Rohan and J.D. Spero—I had such an instantaneous connection with them both, and could have talked on and on for hours. It was also really interesting to converse with my audiobook narrator Elise Arsenault about the world of voice acting for a recent episode.
Conversing with authors (and narrators!) is the best. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
Oooh, I love this question! I would look my younger writer self straight in the eyes and tell her to trust herself and trust the process. She can write and explore many different genres, and not only is that okay—it is something to celebrate and take pride in! We should never feel pressured to box in our creativity. I wish my younger self could see that her “secret fun project” that she worked on late at night purely for herself is now a published novel resonating with readers around the world. I would give my younger self a big hug and we would probably cry happy tears together!