Sunday, March 28, 2021

Carrie Seim

Carrie Seim is the creator of the best-selling adventure series The Flying Flamingo Sisters and author of Horse Girl, her new middle-grade novel for Penguin Workshop. She served as a staff writer for several Nickelodeon comedy variety shows and has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, McSweeney’s and Architectural Digest. Her essays in awkwardness are featured in the book Mortified: Love is a Battlefield.

My Q&A with Seim about Horse Girl:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I conjured the title Horse Girl (in the middle of a canoe on the Long Island Sound, in fact) long before I sorted out any inkling of a plot — the title conveys so much in just two brief words. They crackle with so many pop-culture references. Is the main character a misunderstood misfit? A young woman harnessing new power over her changing life? Before even flipping to the first page, I hope readers will eagerly anticipate a story that’s deeply funny and also brave, about a girl who’s definitively awkward yet unsinkable. All from the title alone.

What's in a name?

My protagonist, Willa — aka Wills — is named after Willa Cather, the most famous author from Nebraska, where I’m from and where the novel is set. The horse-tagonist, Clyde Lee, is named for a real Clydesdale-Thoroughbred lesson horse my sister used to ride at a stable in Omaha. He was a gentle giant who was wonderful with kids, but also extremely stubborn. Many of the funny horse antics in the book — including him trying to toss his rider when he was ready to eat dinner — are inspired by Clyde.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not surprised at all! The older sister in Horse Girl, Kay, is completely informed by my teenage self. Like Kay, I also loved trivia, show choir, Spanish verbs, piano, snowflake fractals, the history of Norse gods — and I was deathly allergic to horses. (Even though I loved them dearly, I sneezed my way through horse camp.) It was such fun to cast myself as the villain (or at least pseudo-villain) in this story. Wills, meanwhile, is completely inspired by my younger sister Lindsay. One of my favorite scenes in the book, where the two sisters are arguing through opposite ends of a laundry chute, is completely lifted from real life. My teenage self would circle this novel at the top of her book-order form!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Yes! [see above]

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings — no question! I come from the improv comedy world, where you dive headlong into an empty stage with absolute trust that you and your scene partners will create a captivating story — out of thin air — that will delight your audience. It’s that whole “leap and the net will appear” mentality. So I have a lot of practice coming up with fearless beginnings on the spot. I wrote the first chapter of Horse Girl like a fever dream — it poured out of me, almost like a comedy sketch. The ending however — let’s just say it almost made me quit writing altogether! I was desperate for it to be surprising yet satisfying, and true to the humor and angst in the rest of the story. A tall order, indeed. It was a daunting task, but I think (hope?) I pulled it off.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Horse Girl was inspired most directly by my sister — the O.G. horse girl in my life. The novel is really a love letter to her. Beyond that, the horse-girl pop-culture canon is so fertile. I turned to everything from National Velvet to My Little Pony and the cult-favorite film Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. As children, my sister and I would record Olympic show jumping events on our VCR and play them over and over again until the VHS tape practically melted. I also drew comedic inspiration from the genius animated characters Tina Belcher in Bob’s Burgers and Missy from Big Mouth, both of whom have rich interior lives centered around imaginary horses. And of course Mean Girls was a huge inspiration for the intricate web of female friendships (or frenemy-ships) in the stable.
Visit Carrie Seim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue