Karol writes all genres of children’s literature and screenplays. She currently serves on the board of SCBWI-Los Angeles and is a member of the Writers Guild of America West. Originally from Philadelphia, Karol moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to attend The American Film Institute. She worked in film and TV production briefly before turning to writing full time. Karol’s debut young adult novel Cursed is loosely drawn from her experiences following a juvenile rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at age 13. She currently lives in West Hollywood with her exceptionally fluffy cats, Ninja and Boo.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Cursed.
Years ago, I had a screenwriting mentor, Holly Goldberg Sloan, who suggested I write about my experience of getting sick as a teen. I was reluctant at the time for a myriad of reasons. I knew if I were to take it on, I’d have to write the story in a way that was authentic to my experience—which wasn’t really the traditional uplifting, inspirational sick kid narrative. Once I discovered the voice of my main character Erica (or Ricky for short) in a writing exercise years later, I realized I had my way in.
The more I worked on Cursed, the more I knew I was creating a book that kids like me would not only really appreciate but that would help them feel seen in a way they maybe hadn’t been before. I was also aware that my book would give an insider’s look at what living with chronic pain was like, moment by moment. That’s a difficult thing to explain to people who don’t deal with consistent pain, and I loved the idea that Cursed could help others understand and empathize with what people with chronic pain go through.
Let’s talk about your main character, Erica. What are some of the biggest challenges facing her?
Erica’s not only newly diagnosed with a painful (and somewhat embarrassing) chronic illness, but she’s still adjusting to her parents’ divorce. My own story wasn’t like—things were great…and then this awful thing happened. For me, it was more like—everything was basically a mess…and then this additional horrible thing happened. I wanted to start with Erica up a tree…that was on fire. So at the beginning of the story, Ricky’s living with her dentist dad in his ill-equipped one-bedroom bachelor pad and has—unbeknown to anyone—been cutting school for six weeks. She knows she’ll be caught at some point and the anxiety and dread around that weighs heavily on her. She can’t bear the thought of returning to a school where she was bullied and not given any accommodations. Plus, she’s not even sure she’ll still be able to pass ninth grade if/when she does return. She feels completely alone in all of this since she’s too angry at her parents to confide in them, virtually all of her friends from her old neighborhood/school “dumped” her when she got sick, and her sister, who she’s really close to, is very busy at college.
What did you find most relatable about Erica?
Cursed is an #ownvoices book—which means that my main character and I are both part of the same underrepresented group. And, as mentioned, the story is loosely drawn from my own experiences. So personally I find Ricky completely relatable! In many ways, she’s basically mebut in her own adventure. The set up of the book (detailed in the previous question) adheres very closely to my life. I, too, was sent to live with my dentist dad in his ill-equipped bachelor pad shortly after my diagnosis and promptly cut six weeks of school right under his nose.
In addition to her somewhat extraordinary circumstances, she’s also a typical fourteen year-old—crushing on a boy, juggling school challenges, butting heads with her parents—all while feeling awkward and self-conscious. At that age a lot of kids are still adjusting to their changing bodies, so I felt like that theme would be somewhat universal.
Ricky’s attitude (snarky and self-deprecating, a touch self-pitying, hella determined, guardedly optimistic) mirrors my own pretty closely. I definitely believe that she and I are not alone in this personality type and expect a lot of readers, with or without chronic illnesses, to see themselves in her character too.
What surprised you the most about Erica?
Her honesty. I guess, somewhere along the way, I decided to let her speak her mind regardless of what readers might think of her. There’s definitely some internal ableism in this book, which was slightly uncomfortable for me to put out there and for which a couple of reviewers have called me out. But when I was newly diagnosed, that’s how I felt—like I’d been dealt this awful blow. I felt gross and unlovable and didn’t want to be seen or lumped into groups with other sick or disabled people. Ricky gains a lot of acceptance and agency during the book. She realizes the error of her thinking, gets over her self-pity and learns better ways to advocate for herself. To me, that’s a very honest trajectory.
Do you experience books differently now that you’ve written one?
Not really—not yet anyway! I guess I do have a deeper understanding of how much work goes into getting a manuscript ready for publication. All of the rumors about endless revisions are true! Personally, I love to revise, so I mostly had a great time working with my editor Monica Perez to make Cursed the absolute best it could be. I’ve always been a voracious reader and for the past year or so, I’ve been reading ARCs from the authors in my Novel 19s debut group exclusively. There are so many amazing debut young adult and middle grade novels being published in 2019! (Check out #Novel19s on Twitter and join us for our monthly chats at 8 p.m. eastern on the 19thof each month.)
What projects are you working on now?
I’m the kind of writer who’s always working on several things simultaneously, so my answer is—a bunch of different stuff. That includes a couple middle grade novels, a new YA in the early percolating stages and a screenplay adaptation of Cursed.
Which books would you recommend for our YA readers?
SUCH a hard question because there are SO many amazing books out there! Faced with this impossible challenge, here are a few recommendations (which definitely include shout-outs to some of my fellow Novel 19s):
Ziggy, Stardust and Me (out August 6) by James Brandon
Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson
All of Me by Chris Baron (technically middle grade but a young teen main character)
What They Don’t Know by Nicole Maggi (an abortion rights story that reads like a thriller)
We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett (I’m not a big reader of fantasy but this book blew me away!)
The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones (or virtually any book by Sonya Sones)
I’ll Be There and Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan
INTERVIEW : YA SH3LF