Caroline Carlson is the author of many books for young readers, including The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, The World’s Greatest Detective, and The Door at the End of the World, coming in April 2019. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found taking a long walk, baking cookies, or attempting to get lost in a good book.
Can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Door at the End of the World?
Sure! It’s about a girl named Lucy who lives at the end of the world—the place where her world is connected by a magical door to the next world over. Lucy works as the Gatekeeper’s assistant, helping people who want to travel between the worlds by stamping their passports and making sure their paperwork is in order. It’s not a particularly exciting job, but Lucy knows she’s not the sort of person who’s meant to lead a particularly exciting life.
Then the Gatekeeper goes missing in another world, the door at the end of the world breaks, and Lucy is sure it’s all her fault. She sets out to fix the door and set things right. Without quite meaning to, she collects traveling companions along the way: a boy who might be a prince, a girl who might be a criminal, and a whole bunch of magical bees. And together, they discover that they’ve stumbled onto a dangerous plot that could put all eight of the connected worlds at risk. With the fabric of space and time falling down around their ears, they race through the worlds to stop the plot, find the villain, and rescue the Gatekeeper. Truthfully, it’s a lot more excitement than Lucy bargained for. She’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.
There are eight worlds in The Door at the End of the World. Did you plan out each world before you started writing or did they come to you as you wrote?
I’m normally a meticulous planner, but nothing much about The Door at the End of the World was planned—especially not the other worlds! I was racing to get a draft down on paper, and I didn’t even have time to put together my usual outline; I had to sit down each morning in front of a blank page knowing very little about what would happen next. But that mix of excitement and sheer terror made the writing process a lot of fun.
When I first came up with the idea for the book, I didn’t actually intend to send the characters on a journey through lots of different worlds. (At one point there were twelve worlds, but I had to whittle the number down to keep it more manageable.) Creating one imaginary world for the story seemed like a lot of work as it was, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull off building seven more. But I realized pretty quickly that you can’t write a book about other worlds without actually sending your characters to explore those worlds for themselves! So I decided to take a bit of a worldbuilding shortcut by giving each world a particular characteristic it was famous for: its advanced technology, for example, or its maritime culture, or its vast number of cows. My characters do visit all eight worlds, but they only spend a lot of time in four of them—and one of those four is our own. It’s the first time any book of mine has been set even partially in the real world. Actually, I found that part of the book really tricky to write. When I’m writing about places I make up from scratch, I don’t have to worry about real-world inconveniences like the distance from New Zealand to Colorado, or how a group of otherworld travelers would be able to make it past TSA security screening at the airport.
You have four novels published and one coming out in 2019. How are your books similar? How are they different?
My first three books—the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy—are fantasy adventures, my book The World’s Greatest Detective is a murder mystery for kids, and with The Door at the End of the World I’ve come back to fantasy, or at least to speculative fiction. It’s got a different sort of magical flavor from the Pirates trilogy. It’s also the first book I’ve written that’s not a riff on a well-known genre. My Pirates books play with the conventions of stories like Treasure Island, and The World’s Greatest Detective is a sendup of classic mysteries like the Sherlock Holmes stories, but The Door at the End of the World doesn’t play with the tropes of existing stories in that way. It’s something that’s entirely my own, and I’m really excited about that.
But I think all of my books are similar in lots of ways, too. All of them are adventure stories. All of them are mysteries in one way or another—I can’t resist a good plot twist or a revelation of a character’s secret identity. I try to give each one of my books a good dollop of humor. And I’m usually drawn to characters who are searching for their place in the world, trying to figure out where they belong, who they belong with, and what kind of person they want to be. I think a lot of my readers are grappling with those issues as well, so I hope they’re able to find a few kindred spirits in my books.
Are you as adventurous as the characters in your books?
Not at all! I’ve never been a pirate on the high seas (I get seasick). I’ve never solved a murder (that sounds kind of dangerous). And I’ve never had to race through eight different worlds or repair the fabric of space and time, though I think I’d like to try that if I had the opportunity. But I’m generally a pretty cautious, rule-following sort of person. I’d make a terrible protagonist in an adventure story. I do like traveling, though, and trying new foods, and going on small everyday adventures in my neighborhood. I will occasionally get lost-on-purpose in the park near my house, as long as I’m reasonably sure I’ll be able to get myself found again.
What was your favorite book when you were ten?
I loved The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I still do. It’s got a brilliant mix of mythology, magic, adventure, and a sense of place so strong it will sweep you right out of your reading chair.
How can your fans find you?
I love hearing from readers! On the internet, you can find me on Facebook (facebook.com/carolinecarlsonbooks), Twitter (@carolinetc), Instagram (@carolinecarlsonbooks), and through my website, carolinecarlsonbooks.com. I love visiting schools and talking to readers, either in person or through a video chat service like Skype. If you’re a teacher or librarian, you can find out more about that on my website.