A conversation with Sarah McCarry


    Brenna Ehrlich spoke with Sarah McCarry about absorbing her life nonchronologically, preferring vengeance as a philosophy, the transformative effect of doula work and the young-adult novel she’ll be writing for the rest of her life.

    My memory doesn’t work chronologically; it’s more like finding the photo album of someone you sort of know, only nobody is named in any of the pictures and nothing’s dated.

    Brenna asked Sarah what came to mind when presented with five objects.

    Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C# Minor, which is the hardest piano piece I ever learned to play.

    Always have some.

    I keep killing mine off, unfortunately.

    I was really obsessed with wearing beanies and men’s undershirts as a young dirtbag.

    Strep throat.


    Brenna Ehrlich

    First of all, what are you working on right now? Any new books on the way?

    Sarah McCarry

    What I am working on now is a still-secret novel for adults about murder and writing and shitty men, but hopefully the answer to the second question will be yes, and then I can tell you more about it.


    You tend to incorporate a lot of mythology into your books. Which mythological creature do you most identify with and why?

    I think probably a better-smelling harpy, but I’m aging up into the Furies. Forgiveness is cool if that’s your jam, but I prefer bloody vengeance as a lifestyle choice, especially these days. Jess Zimmerman has a great series for CatapultRole Monsters, on female monsters.


    What is your earliest childhood memory? Please describe it in great detail. How does it shape the way you write YA?

    My memory doesn’t work chronologically; it’s more like finding the photo album of someone you sort of know only nobody is named in any of the pictures and nothing’s dated, either. I remember stories I want to tell much better than I remember things that actually happened.

    I don’t really think about things in terms of “things that shape my writing” and “things that don’t”; it all goes into the percolator. Sometimes things brew up right away, and sometimes they take years and years. I’m still writing a book I started when I was 18 or 19 and I’ll probably still be writing it when I’m 60.


    You have a myriad of gorgeous tattoos. Can you please describe the process of tattoos, for you, using only book titles?

    Aw, thanks! I have some really bad ones, too. So probably Nothing Sacred, which is an Angela Carter essay collection.

    I don’t think the industry will change until the leadership changes. Like, great, you have diverse editorial assistants now, congratulations, now pay them well and promote them.


    Imagine you are on your deathbed. You can give advice to three people and they have to take it. Who do you choose and what advice do you give?

    I give advice to people I love all of the time whether they want it or not, to be honest; the advice I give is usually “dump them,” or “if they fuck with you I’ll kill them.” I guess the second one isn’t really advice.


    You are heavily involved in the Doula Project. Can you tell us a bit about your role and why you chose to be a part of this project?

    Sure! The Doula Project is the first and oldest full-spectrum doula project in the country; we’re a collectively-governed, all-volunteer-run organization that provides physical and emotional support to people across the spectrum of pregnancy. I’m the media coordinator now, but I volunteered as an abortion doula for three or four years before I moved into that role.

    I like to say that the whole job of an abortion doula is to love total strangers unconditionally in 10- to 15-minute increments. I got involved in the DP because, like a lot of people, I was (and still am) really terrified about the future of healthcare access in this country, but I kept working as an abortion doula because the work itself was so transformative. It’s a pretty incredible way to spend time with other human beings.


    As a publisher and writer, how do you see diversity (in race, gender and experience) represented in the literary field? What, for you, would an equal plane for all writers and readers look like?

    Ha, I could talk about this for a really long time, but I feel like I’ve already said so much about it for so long that it’s important for me to take a step back and support other folks, especially writers of color, especially women of color, who are doing the important and necessary and amazing work of pushing that conversation forward. I don’t think the industry will change until the leadership changes; like, great, you have diverse editorial assistants now, congratulations, now pay them well and promote them and give them imprints and marketing departments and positions as editorial directors and publishers. You can give media and publishing any kind of facelift you want but it’s still old white dudes at the top, almost entirely across the board, and a lot of white women who have a lot of vested interest in supporting structural racism and even structural sexism. Also I think everybody should unionize, including writers.

    That said, there are a lot of really incredible people doing really incredible work: Kima Jones, Justina Ireland, Debbie Reese, Ayesha Siddiqi, Jenny Zhang, Sara Ahmed, Well-Read Black Girl, Roxane Gay, Morgan Jerkins… I mean, there are a lot of brilliant people doing a much better job of this work than I could and I am with them all one hundred percent.


    Please tell me about a book that changed your life and tell us a little bit as to why it did so.

    Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko. That book does things I had no idea you were allowed to do in a novel.


    Please take a photo of the view out of your nearest window.

    I did, but it’s dark. I can see the East River from the window of my day job and if I get really close to the glass I can see all the way downtown.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 109
    Curated by: Brenna Ehrlich
    Conducted by: Email
    Edited by: Morgan Enos
    Published: January 18, 2018
    Total questions: 5 + 9
    Word count: 933
    Reading time: Three minutes
    Hyperlinks: 5
    Imagery: 5


    Interest: Vested
    Succulent: Null
    Percolator: Involved
    Facelift: Published
    Conversation: Pushed


    About the subject

    Sarah McCarry is an author, editor, publisher, the media co-coordinator for the Doula Project and executive director of the Eve Kososfky Sedgwick Foundation.

    About the guest curator

    Brenna Ehrlich aspires to write a novel that’s a classic album. She enjoys taking solitary trips to distant locations and scoring the whole experience with the perfect book, record and restaurant. She often dreams (literally, while sleeping) of getting lost in unforgiving locales sans shoes or socks.

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