What do I like more than reading a book that I really enjoy? Interviewing the author after reading a book I really enjoy. If you missed my review of Mechanica, have a look.
Zen: First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. Mechanica has gotten a bit of flak for its similarities to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, even though you signed your contract with Clarion a year before Cinder was published. How frustrating is that for you?
Betsy Cornwell: I think it was most frustrating the first time I saw Cinder in a bookstore, because I knew just that would happen! However, it’s been a relief to see that every reviewer who’s mentioned Cinder when reviewing Mechanica has said they’re nothing alike. I know that my work is my own, as much as any fairy tale retelling is, but it has been vindicating to see reviewers start to affirm that.
Zen: Writing a book usually turns out to be a journey all by itself. What’s been most surprising to you during your journey with Mechanica?
Betsy Cornwell: Mechanica is my second novel, and what really surprised me most was how different it felt from writing my first. This one started as a short story, whereas my first novel began as a wildly rough draft for NaNoWriMo. The process of writing them was so different: appropriately enough, Mechanica felt like building a machine, carefully expanding and elaborating and constructing one part at a time, then going back in and tinkering and reforming and trying to make the damn thing run better. It’s definitely true that you have to learn how to write all over again with each book!
Zen: Your cover art is gorgeous, and was the first thing that attracted me to the book. Did you have any input on it, or were you just blown away, along with the rest of us?
Betsy Cornwell: I didn’t, but I adore it too! Just like with my first book, I got an email one day that basically said “This is the cover, so we hope you like it.” That’s always a terrifying moment, of course, but I feel like I’ve been incredibly lucky both times! My publisher, Clarion Books, tends to use gorgeous cover art in general, though–you should see the cover for Ronald L. Smith’s lovely debut novel, Hoodoo.
Zen: I was surprised by how many people objected to how Mechanica ends, when I found it so enjoyable. Were you also surprised by some of the reactions to the ending?
Betsy Cornwell:I knew it would be controversial, but–hmm, trying to answer this without spoilers–I hoped that the book makes a good argument for that ending by the time it actually happens. You can’t please everyone, but I’m glad the ending is sparking some debate. The definition of Happily Ever After needs some shaking up!
Zen: Both of your books have had a bit of a feminist slant to them. Not in a get-in-your-face-about-it way, but in a way that’s refreshing. Will all of your books have this quality, or has that just been coincidence so far?
Betsy Cornwell: I am definitely a feminist, so I hope that all my future work will have a feminist slant. I try to be inclusive and intersectional in my approach to feminism, but I know that I’ll never be perfect, and I always try to be open to people who point out things about my books that might be problematic.
But even though my feminism is part of everything I do, sometimes my Feminist Theorist self becomes one of the inner editors I have to silence while I get writing done. Creative writing is ultimately about building something, and any kind of critique is about breaking it down. I try my best to be a feminist writer, while also giving myself permission not to be perfect–because I know I never will be anyway!
I’m glad you said it’s not too unsubtle, though, because I think that (with a few notable and cool exceptions) novels and academic arguments should be their own separate things. I’m not writing books to push a platform, but to tell a story and connect with my readers.
Zen: What movies have you seen lately?
Betsy Cornwell: I don’t get to go to the movie theater very often, tragically, so the last one I saw in theaters was Mad Max: Fury Road, almost two months ago. I went with friends and was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it was awesome! I’m a convert and a big fan.
At home, the last movie I watched was the 1998 adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd. It was the best version of that novel I’ve seen, and I especially loved the actress who played Bathsheba Everdene. I even cast her as Nick in my imaginary Mechanica movie!
Zen: Who are your favorite movie heroines?
Betsy Cornwell: Oh my gosh, I’m going to have a hard time choosing. Off the top of my head: my favorite movie is Away We Go, so I have to include Maya Rudolph’s character, Verona. She’s not a sword-wielding badass or anything like that, but she’s acerbic yet loving, takes no shit, and travels the country while heavily pregnant. That says heroine to me.
I also adore Danielle from Ever After, one of the very best Cinderella retellings in existence. I think I’ve wanted to be her since I was ten years old.
Other beloved contenders: Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, the titular ‘sister’ from Two Mules for Sister Sara, Baby from Dirty Dancing, Amalthea from The Last Unicorn, Amelie from . . . yeah.
Zen: What’s your ideal scenario for a long, productive writing binge?
Betsy Cornwell: I don’t entirely know! I’m still trying to figure out that whole ‘productivity’ thing, to be honest. However, the main components are my project-specific background music, some form of caffeine, and a lack of interruptions. Getting out of the house seems to be crucial a lot of the time, too, as much as I love my home office.
Zen: What projects are coming up next for you?
Betsy Cornwell: I finished drafting a companion novel to Tides in the spring, and the manucript is with my editor now (gulp). I’m hoping to finish drafting a New Adult travel/comedy/romance manuscript I’ve been fiddling with before National Novel Writing Month starts. I’m an ML for Galway this year, so I want to be able to start something fresh! I have dreams of a Mechanica sequel too . . .