We chat affairs, the magic that is Stevie Nicks
and the power of vulnerability!
First, thank you again so much for taking the time to connect with my Morgan Marie readers and me!
Congratulations on the success of your debut novel, Tell Me Lies! It came out in 2018 and was quickly named a “Best Book of Summer” by countless publications from Vogue to Town & Country and everywhere in between! The story is told through the two main characters (Lucy & Stephen’s) alternating perspectives and has been described as, “A thrilling, sexy coming-of-age story exploring toxic love, ruthless ambition, and shocking betrayal...” Can you share a little bit about the inspiration behind the book?
Carola: I was inspired to write Tell Me Lies in the wake of a toxic relationship I experienced in college. I had friends who’d also been in similar toxic situations with men, and I sensed it was something many women had been through but that wasn’t prevalently talked about. I just felt this incredibly powerful pull to tell a fictional story resembling the dynamic that I’d experienced. I wanted the novel to be relatable for anyone who’d endured a similar blend of pain and stress and shame.
Morgan: Sex, drugs and rock & roll are a theme throughout Tell Me Lies! I am the biggest Stevie Nicks/ Fleetwood Mac fan so I was pleasantly surprised to find so many Stevie/Fleetwood references throughout the book. Plus, in your title! Do we have this in common?! If not, where did the inspiration for the references come from?
Carola: Yes! I’m a huge Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac fan. Like they do for Lucy in the novel, Fleetwood Mac songs have gotten me through some tough times. Stevie’s music has special healing powers.
Morgan: In Sept of 2020, it was announced that Tell Me Lies would be adapted into an original series for Hulu by Emma Roberts via her Belletrist TV production company. You’re signed on as a consulting producer! Is there anything you can tell us about it or any updates/ behind the scenes info you can share? When can we expect to see it?
Carola: The possibility of Tell Me Lies being brought to life on television is an absolute dream come true, and I am so grateful to Emma and everyone at Belletrist. Unfortunately I don’t have updates on whether or not the show will be greenlit to series, but I hope to know more this spring and will share any news/timing as soon as I am able!
Morgan: It has to be so reaffirming to have your very first book be adapted into a tv show! What did your journey to becoming a published author look like? Did you ever struggle with believing it would happen? If so, any advice for how to keep persevering or advice for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Carola: My journey to becoming a published author was not a smooth road. When I began pitching Tell Me Lies, I faced a ton of rejection (I can’t count the number of rejection emails I got from literary agents because there were so many). I almost gave up. As a last effort, I decided to attend the New York Pitch Conference in Manhattan in December 2015. I basically had no money saved at that point so my parents helped me pay for it—I will always be so grateful to them for that. At the conference, industry professionals helped me revise my pitch letter (I actually learned that I had previously been pitching Tell Me Lies as the wrong genre). Shortly after, I reached out to an editor at Atria Books with whom I’d had an informational interview five years earlier during my senior year of college, when I was considering a career in publishing (this editor had recently taken over my cousin’s job at Atria). I sent her my revised pitch and asked if she’d take a look—this was a long shot because editors usually won’t read your manuscript if you don’t have an agent. She kindly offered to read my book, ended up devouring it, and referred me to several agents. I got offers from two of them, and signed on with the one I felt in my gut was the right fit. After an in-depth revision, we sold the book to the same editor at Atria, who is still my editor today! My advice to aspiring writers: be persistent—my dad always says "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" and it’s true. Pull out all the stops. Develop a thick skin because rejection is almost always inevitable, and publishing is wildly subjective. Find a small but trusted group of readers/friends who you can count on to give you honest, constructive feedback. Read as much as you can. Lastly: write. Make space for writing in your life, carve out the time in your schedule and get the words on the page. First drafts are supposed to be messy and flawed. You can always go back and edit later.
Morgan: Previously, you’ve been a yoga teacher and have written several articles for Yoga Journal (as well as New York Magazine, W Magazine, National Geographic & Outside). A few things that resonated with me from your articles were phrases like practicing awareness, spiritual awakening & the human experience. My two life credo’s, if you will, have been “to be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” and “practicing perspective”. They’ve been so helpful not only in my personal life but throughout my career as well. How have these practices/beliefs (yoga or otherwise) helped shape/ inspire your creativity or you as a writer?
Do they ever carry over into your books?
PS - Have you ever done reiki?? Just had my first experience and loved it!
Carola: Yoga has been incredibly helpful in keeping me calm and grounded through the writing and publication processes. I have also found yoga to be a powerful vehicle for creativity, in that centering and emptying my mind allows the creative juices to flow. My yoga practice has been terribly inconsistent this past year (partly due to Covid, partly due to having had a baby in August), so thanks for the reminder to get back into it! And no, I have not done reiki but I would love to try it!
Morgan: I found Tell Me Lies in a Barnes & Noble and the jacket description had me running for the check-out line. It reads, “Everyone remembers the one. No, not that one. The other one. The one you couldn’t let go of. The one you’ll never forget.” Needless to say, it resonated...in the best and worst ways haha. I brought it on a recent trip to Florida and devoured it in a couple of days. What do you think it is about Stephen and/or his relationship with Lucy that makes him so identifiable to your readers in their own lives?
Carola: I think a lot of people have, at some point in their lives, lowered themselves for a romantic interest. And these are often the relationships we don’t talk about—save for maybe a few close friends—because we’re embarrassed and ashamed and feel pathetic. I also think many readers recognize those overwhelming feelings of infatuation or “being in lust” that Lucy experiences with Stephen—feelings that obliterate common sense and prompt us to pursue situations we know are toxic.
Morgan: Prepping for our interview, I read an article you wrote for The Cut. You reveal that while “Stephen” is a fictional character, he was in fact inspired by a real life affair you had. Initially, you chose to not publicly confirm it. In part because of your own personal feelings associated with the relationship. You share, “...I’m tired of skirting around the truth. I’m tired of pretending I don’t know the specific pain that comes from giving your heart to someone who was never really yours, someone who never actually asked for it in the first place. It’s a pain that cuts deep, resurfacing in intense feelings of shame and worthlessness, and I’m done acting like it’s something I’m not intimately familiar with. I’m done pretending that I don’t have a Stephen DeMarco of my own.” I found the whole article so complexly beautiful and profoundly relatable! I must have read it 5x. There is so much power in your vulnerability, purpose in the pain and in a poetic twist, you go on to say how it was your readers sharing their own “Stephen” stories with you that ultimately helped you to confirm your own. It reminded me of this great Carrie Fisher quote, “Talking about private things creates community.” In writing your book, you created community for women to show themselves grace for the typically private but very human experience of having an affair or simply just toxic relationships. In turn, I wondered if in your sharing, it changed your perspective about your relationship or what the response from people post reveal was like for you?
Carola: I used to feel a ton of shame around the toxic relationship that I experienced, but through the process of sharing my story and hearing similar stories from readers, this shame has turned to acceptance, and even gratitude for getting me to where I am today. Brené Brown talks a lot about the direct relationship between vulnerability and connection (similar to the Carrie Fisher quote you shared), and what she says resonates. I’ve learned not to be as hard on myself. We all make mistakes, and the important thing is that we learn from them. That’s life.
Morgan: In that same article, you quote Joan Didion’s, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Didion is another favorite writer of mine. Who are a few authors that have inspired you—personally or professionally? Or any book in particular that stand out as impactful?
Carola: I get this question a lot, and truthfully, I feel more inspired by individual books than I do single authors. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott hugely motivated me to start (and keep) writing—I always recommend that book to anyone who wants to write. The Catcher in the Rye is a novel that has meant a lot to me for a very long time, as a person and a writer. A few books I adore that inspired Tell Me Lies (and that I can’t recommend enough) are: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, You by Caroline Kepnes, and The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman.
Morgan: Your second novel, Too Good To Be True, is getting ready to launch tomorrow (3/2/21). On your website, it’s been described as, “an emotionally nuanced psychological suspense, and obsessive, addictive love story...”. Can you share your inspiration behind the book and what readers can expect/look forward to? Carola: Too Good to Be True is a "twistier” novel than Tell Me Lies, and more of a true thriller! I was initially inspired to write it after coming up with the big central twist (which I won’t say more about so as not to give anything away!), and the rest of the book kind of formed around this plot point. Like Tell Me Lies, Too Good to Be True features multiple perspectives and toxic relationships.
Morgan: Thank you so much for sharing your time, books and talent with us! I am a forever fan of both your work and you! So looking forward to starting Too Good To Be True ♥️