I love your book The Vault of Dreamers. I was just wondering how you thought of such an incredible idea?

The idea for The Vault of Dreamers emerged from a combination of things, really. I’ve always been interested in dreams and wished we could tap them as a creative resource, so I was kicking that concept around. I also really enjoy reality TV shows, and I was teaching at a high school when security cameras were installed in it for the first time, so I was sensitive to issues of stardom and privacy. I imagined the Forge School which doubles as a reality show, and I started writing Rosie’s story without really knowing how I would pull my ideas together or how far they would take me. I felt like I was reaching for a book that was beyond my capabilities, the same way students in the novel are challenged to explore the far edges of their art.

Is there a sequel to The Vault of Dreamers, or is it a stand-alone novel?
The Vault of Dreamers is the first book of my latest trilogy. The second book, The Rule of Mirrors, is out now, and I’m currently working on the third, The Keep of Ages, which is due out in August, 2017.

Where can I find signed copies of your books?
The Barnes & Noble in Manchester, CT usually has a selection of my signed books.  You can contact the store and the manager will let you know what’s available.

Will you please turn Birthmarked into a movie?
I’d be happy to have a movie made of Gaia’s story, but so far, it hasn’t been optioned. The chances of a novel being turned into a film are very small, so I’m expecting Birthmarked to exist only as a novel. 

Do you have a teacher’s guide for Birthmarked?
I saw one online once, but I haven’t written one myself. I can direct you to a super cool, 6-week lesson plan that a teacher designed for her class. Check out this Birthmarked Wiki.

Will you Skype with my book group?  
Probably.  Send me a message here and I’ll gladly look at my calendar.

Is Promised going to be released in the UK and Australia?
Simon and Schuster Children’s UK has acquired the e-book rights for Promised, so the third book in the series is available in digital format to readers in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. No paperback is planned at this time.

Is Leon okay?
Unfortunately, I have no way to answer this without spoilers. For readers who have finished Birthmarked, I’ve written a short story, “Tortured” that may answer some questions. It is available free on Kindle and Nook, and for those without e-readers, the entire text is featured on Tor.com.

Where did you get the idea for Birthmarked?
The very first ideas began to come when I was driving across the U.S. a few years ago and went through a drought in the South.The waterless lakes made me feel like climate change was already here, and I started to consider the social and political effects we’ll face in the coming years. Then I wondered what it would take to survive, and Gaia’s story began to form. I started writing the first chapter a couple weeks later, and then I wrote the rest to see what would happen.

Was there any reason that you chose the name Gaia Stone?
I chose Gaia’s name because I wanted to convey strength and a connection to motherhood. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the earth mother, which fits my Gaia, a young midwife, perfectly. I thought her last name, “Stone,” struck a nice counterbalance to the unfamiliarity of her first name.

Are you writing a Story 2.5 like you did a Story 1.5?
Yes. “Ruled” went up for free on Tor.com on Tuesday, September 25, 2012, a week before Promised was released. It is also available on Kindle, and Nook, though less free there. The story is from Leon’s perspective, and it’s the very last thing I wrote for the series.

Do you have any tattoos?
Not so far.

How do you pronounce your name?
“Caragh” rhymes with “JAR-uh,” and the “-gh” is silent. It’s Gaelic, and I’m named after a lake in Ireland. I hope to visit it some day.

How did you come up with the code in Birthmarked?
The main code is a variation on one I played around with when I was a kid. I thought my brother Tim taught it to me, but when I asked him about it recently, he didn’t remember it.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Where do you live now?
I live in a small town in rural Connecticut.

How old are you?
I decline to state my age publicly. One of my friends told me, “A woman who will tell you her age will tell you anything,” and I like to keep my secrets.

Do you miss teaching?
Yes, I do. I resigned from teaching high school English to write full time in 2010, and I miss my students. I’m also very happy writing, so it was the right decision. Now I volunteer as a visiting writer at Journey House, a local program for incarcerated teens, and it gives me great delight to explore writing and reading with them.

Is Birthmarked available in other languages?
Yes. Rights have sold in France, Germany, China, Spain, Brazil and Turkey. They’ve sold in the UK, too. There’s a nifty French website / site Web français with a book trailer, and a very fancy German Video / deutsches Video that, regrettably, I can’t understand at all.

Was it hard to find a publisher for your book?
No. I found my agent by coming through the slush pile, and then he submitted my book to editors he knew would be interested. I feel very fortunate.

How long does it take to have a book published?  What’s the process?

In traditional publishing, it takes 18 months to two years for a YA novel to be published from the point it’s sold to when it hits the shelves.  I have a more detailed answer about the process here, but basically a writer completes a novel, queries agents until she finds representation, waits while the agent submits the novel to editors, celebrates when the novel is bought, revises the novel with her editor, and starts writing her next book.

I’m a first time writer and I’m getting kind of overwhelmed. Are there any tips you can give on how to get published, maybe some good agents and publishers?
Sure. Basically, to get a novel published these days, it helps to find a literary agent to represent your work. A good agent knows which editors will be most likely to offer for your novel, and he or she will handle submitting it, negotiating an advantageous contract, and protecting your rights in exchange for 15% of what you earn.

Another option is to self-publish your novel, which you can do for free online. Indie publishing, despite certain drawbacks, gets more respect all the time. (See Smashwords, Amazon’s Kindle Direct, or Create Space for starters)

Be aware: the honest, fair people in publishing don’t ask writers to pay for services, so don’t be scammed. Traditional publishers pay writers an advance before a book comes out. Legitimate agents never charge fees up front.

So, where do you go from here? I have found two sites to be invaluable.

AgentQuery.com is a free site that has great info about how to find an agent, plus tips on how publishing works.

The SCBWI’s Blueboards are a free forum where writers exchange information and encourage each other on their paths to publishing YA and Kidslit. You can read about many practical topics and join to ask questions and comment.

It takes time to write, and time to learn about publishing and submitting, too. Never let your efforts to publish undermine the joy you find in your own writing, and you’ll be in good shape.

For details on how I found a publisher for Birthmarked, see my related post.

Do you earn much money?
I earn about as much from writing as I did from teaching.

Is Birthmarked going to be an audio book?
Yes. The audio rights for the trilogy were picked up by Tantor Audio, and the audio books are available at Tantor, Amazon, Audible, and Barnes & Noble.  The Vault of Dreamers and The Rule of Mirrors are also audio books.

Did anything crazy or frantic happen while you were born?
Not really. I’m the fourth of seven children, so I grew up in a pack. Imagine always doing everything—every meal, every bedtime, every chore, every celebration, every spat, every song—in a large group and you have my childhood.

Can you tell more about your life as an author and how you started off being interested in writing?
I started writing a journal in 7th grade and kept up with it until writing and thinking merged for me. I didn’t think about being a writer or realize I was training to be a writer, but I was always reading books, and I liked writing letters, plays, and stories. Then, in college, when I was majoring in physics, I took a creative writing course and realized I liked that way more, so I started spending all my spare time writing, and I wrote my first romance novel shortly after I graduated. It took me a couple more decades to be ready to write Birthmarked, and now I write YA for a living.

My book group is reading Birthmarked and I’d like to find some discussion questions. Do you have any?
You and your friends are likely to discuss what interests you most if you simply start with your honest reactions to the novel. I hope you enjoy where the book leads you! Also, I wrote some questions to ponder that are included in the back matter of the paperback edition of Birthmarked. Please be warned that they include spoilers and are meant to be considered only after reading the novel. I’m including them here in case they might be helpful: Pondering Questions for Birthmarked.

Do you have any suggestions for a young author?

I rarely feel qualified to give writing advice. It implies that I know what I’m doing, and I honestly spend most of my time puzzled. If you have a story you’re excited about writing, jump in hard and wrestle the thing. Chances are, you’ll discover what you need to know along the way. For further ruminations, see “How To Write a Novel.”

Author Caragh O'Brien
Turkish Version of Birthmarked
Author Caragh O'Brien
Portuguese Version of Birthmarked
Author Caragh O'Brien
French Version of Birthmarked
Author Caragh O'Brien
German Version of Birthmarked
Author Caragh O'Brien
Spanish Version of Birthmarked
Author Caragh O'Brien
United Kingdom Version of Birthmarked