I recently interviewed suspense-thriller author Emily Carpenter, the writer of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, The Weight of Lies, Every Single Secret, and Until the Day I Die.
Emily talks about her works, her writing process, and writing advice down below:
On Your Works
1. How did the publication of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls influence your future works? My first publication influenced me in two ways. The first was creatively: with my first book I could write on my own time, at my own speed, without any external pressures. That makes me want to write a book that’s different from what I’m contracted to do—the leisure of my creativity was so luxurious that I sometimes really miss it. But now I know my own process: I know how long it takes me to write a first draft, that I need to set word counts, etc. Second, I now understand that people expect a certain type of book from me. It’s not a bad thing, it just puts a lot of constraints on what I write. Sometimes, though, the constraints narrow my focus and help me find my own way.
2. When you wrote your first novel, what was your main goal when you published it? How has that message or goal changed over the course of your career? Every book has a different theme—even if the same theme might occur in two different books. I didn’t realize that all my books had a bad mother, but that’s just what the books needed. In my first book, I didn’t realize how much I wrote about the patriarchy and women. The second was more about fame, celebrities, and culture. The third had themes about how delving into your past can be helpful or not. My themes are always changing as I write.
3. If you had to compare your works to any source of suspenseful entertainment, what would it be? This is a great question because I do listen to a lot of music—specifically the Civil Wars, a band-duo that has a little folk, a little southern Gothic, and a little spooky. The book I always go back to is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier—the atmosphere and setting of the old house really click with my book. I’m influenced by movies and TV a lot, too. Sharp Objects, especially, was right up my alley.
On Writing and Publishing
1. First off, a lot has changed in the book industry, even since you first published Honeysuckle. Do you think that the values of the industry—such as darker and more complex works—changed the way that you write? Something I definitely changed is very simple: shorter chapters. The shorter chapters are generally more appealing to an audience. In terms of characters and the book itself, the industry changed a lot in their expectations of a heroine—or rather, an anti-heroine. Now, it’s all about unexpected characters. I’m fascinated by this, but I’ve never been able to write a main character who is mainly seeking revenge or something dark. I want my characters to be more relatable. There’s always been the male antihero, the bad boy, but now there’s a female version, but I can’t seem to write these types of characters.
2. My personal favorite question to ask: Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m learning to be a plotter. Actually, I am a plotter, but I’m also a pantser—my friend calls it a plantser. I’ve got to know the midpoint and the ending to know what to work towards. I can’t plot every single chapter or scene because then I’ll lose my creativity. Any time I try to outline my way through the whole thing I just end up chucking it in the trash.
3. What works of entertainment, specifically crime, mystery, and thrillers (could be movies, books, TV shows, etc.), helped inspire you to write what you do? Do you have any current favorites to recommend? When I read Gillian Flynn’s books all at the same time—not Gone Girl, just Sharp Objects—I was in shock. I loved the style. I knew that I wanted characters that weren’t detectives but still had to solve something, especially involving revenge or murder. Then Gone Girl came out and I was totally blown away. I don’t write that kind of character, but the type of book, especially the twist, was so stunning and I knew that was what I wanted.
1. How did you use your favorite works to influence your writing? It’s a process of understanding what I like and what I do well. I asked a friend what she was tired of when she was reading, and I didn’t realize that I was actually asking what I did well. She told me I’m good at southern Gothic, spooky atmosphere, etc. Sometimes it takes external advice and help to help you understand what you need. Since that conversation, I’ve been much more purposeful about making sure that I bring those elements.
2. What is your advice for someone struggling to get through their first draft? Don’t stop, write every single day, and set a word count for the day. Mine is generally 2k words a day, but if you’re not used to writing that much, just write something every day to hit a goal that you set. By that process you will get to the end. It’s like running—you dread it, it’s hard, but once you get it started then it feels incredibly worthwhile and satisfying afterwards.
3. Generally, how has writing your books changed your life? What is your advice for someone looking for your same path but struggling with doubt or self-confidence in their writing? I have this career that I didn’t have before, which is so fun. I’ve also met some incredible people—the writing community is extremely supportive. It’s been so much fun to hang with other people who live with other characters in their heads! It’s such a relief to talk to other people who know what you’re going through.
The most important thing, though: Finish a first draft. To write the words The End is an instant boost. There’s no shame in an unfinished book, but finishing one is so rewarding. I would also say that it can be easy to feel doubt if you feel your story isn’t unique enough, but I think what makes a story compelling is that you are writing a new story because we’re all unique and we all have our own spin. Your story uniquely belongs to you and no one can tell you otherwise.
Thank you for an awesome interview, Emily! It was so wonderful to see you and I hope you enjoyed it! :)
To read Emily’s books, you can visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble! I recommend all of them—I don’t have a favorite because they’re all so well crafted! You can find the summary of her first novel, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, below.
Althea Bell is still heartbroken by her mother’s tragic, premature death—and tormented by the last, frantic words she whispered into young Althea’s ear: Wait for her. For the honeysuckle girl. She’ll find you, I think, but if she doesn’t, you find her.
Adrift ever since, Althea is now fresh out of rehab and returning to her family home in Mobile, Alabama, determined to reconnect with her estranged, ailing father. While Althea doesn’t expect him, or her politically ambitious brother, to welcome her with open arms, she’s not prepared for the chilling revelation of a grim, long-buried family secret. Fragile and desperate, Althea escapes with an old flame to uncover the truth about her lineage. Drawn deeper into her ancestors’ lives, Althea begins to unearth their disturbing history…and the part she’s meant to play in it.
Gripping and visceral, this unforgettable debut delves straight into the heart of dark family secrets and into one woman’s emotional journey to save herself from a sinister inheritance.