Carlyn Greenwald writes romantic and thrilling page-turners for teens and adults. A film school graduate and former Hollywood lackey, she now works in publishing. She resides in Los Angeles, mourning ArcLight Cinemas and soaking in the sun with her dogs. You can find her online at @CarlynGreenwald on Twitter and @carlyn_gee on Instagram.
I had the opportunity to interview Carlyn, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I’m Carlyn Greenwald, and I’m the author of queer adult romcom, Sizzle Reel. Besides that, I also write Adult Thriller, YA Contemporary, and YA Thriller (which will hopefully all have published books to represent them someday) that all generally feature mentally ill, queer Jewish protagonists. I’m a film school graduate and former Hollywood assistant who broke off from that path to get an MFA in Creative Writing at The New School and I’m now the Content Development Coordinator at Cake Creative. There’s a fair amount of tv/film crossover within my new work, and I still write for screen and television on the side. Otherwise, I currently live in LA where I spend most of my time going to movies, doing pop culture and theme park deep dives on YouTube, and spending as much time with dogs as possible.
What can you tell us about your debut novel, Sizzle Reel? What inspired this story?
It was a combination of a creative interest and an emotional moment. I’d started reading more romcoms around 2018-2019, and my Hollywood work at the time led me into seeing the Crazy Rich Asians premiere. It was such a fantastic time that I think I caught a bug for romance and started thinking about what kind of love story I’d potentially want to tell. It was also within the next few weeks that I ended up quitting said Hollywood job and was generally dealing with existential questions surrounding career, sexuality, and general identity stuff. My therapist at the time suggested I channel those feelings into a story and the puzzle pieces just ended up coming together—my love for movies but disillusion with Hollywood, my interest in romcoms, and setting out to write something that unabashedly dealt with the messiness of coming out in one’s 20s but still providing a fun, joyful love story. Although funny enough, I wrote it first as a romcom script and a writing mentor convinced me to turn it into a book. I drafted said book in 10 days and after several rounds of edits and letting it sit, it became Sizzle Reel.
As a writer, what drew you to storytelling, specifically to young adult fiction?
I’ve always been a huge reader since I was a kid, and YA was really where my writing passion started. I was writing novels in middle school but reading up, so the genre always had this huge impact on me. In fact, up until a few years ago, I was focused on YA, but had always been fascinated by the “new adult”/younger adult space. It felt like it had the energy I loved in YA while exploring different themes and felt more relatable to what I was immediately going through. I actually did most of the rewrites for Sizzle Reel while in an MFA program for writing children and young adults, so I’m sure that some of the incredible teachings I found in YA—about the value of characters who make mistakes, pacing, the importance of voice—made its way into my adult work. And my hope is to be able to toggle between the age categories as well. I truly adore them both.
How would you describe your writing process?
It really depends, and I’ve been adjusting it depending on what my day job looks like, my passion for the project, and what else I’m working on. (As in: when I drafted SR in 10 days, I wasn’t employed at the time and could write a ton every day.) But basically, if I’m really eager to work on a project, I’ll want to write every day and now I mostly work on managing my energy well. Usually, I’ll make reach goals and realistic goals. A realistic would be one chapter written every week, to be divided out among the hours after work and on the weekend. A reach would be to write, say, four or five chapters in a week. The result usually ends up being two to three written per week and I still have time for exercise, socializing, hobbies, and rest. And if I don’t even get one chapter done, then no sweat. So long as I’m making deadlines, it can be as slow or quick as it needs to be.
And then, on a more technical level, my film background has made me a huge fan of outlines. I’ll usually have a couple-paragraph long blurb of the concept, character profiles, and a chapter-by-chapter outline done before I get drafting (maybe I’ll let myself write a chapter for voice with a partial outline, but I need to know where I’m going to sink into a project). Then, I’ll write in two bursts—drafting without stopping until I reach the end of a scene, take a break, then draft the other scene. Sometimes that happens in the same day, sometimes over two days throughout the week. In my ideal world, I write in the morning, but I try to rely on whenever the creativity hits.
What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most challenging/frustrating?
My absolute favorite part is the beginning. When I’m taking an idea to a blurb to an outline and get to start drafting those first few chapters. I adore the process of getting to know an MC and seeing what details will come to me before I go to bed or am milling about my daily life. I also think that my first few chapters end up being the most detailed in my mind so the writing tends to be better. It makes it easier for me to fall in love with a project. Plus, there’s nothing like showing a new idea to friends and having them get excited about it too.
As for frustration/challenge, I am not a good reviser. To me, it’s always going to feel like a chore and I always have to psyche myself out to work on them. But, reverse outlines and telling myself that the book will be so much better and I’ll probably get to rewrite something (which kind of feels like drafting) makes the process more palatable. I keep hoping I’ll find some joy in the process, but we’ll see.
Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way? Any stories that feel relatable to you today?
I hate to admit it, but I definitely think my queer media came more in my young adulthood. But growing up, I loved action-adventure and thriller media. I have this distinct memory of loving like, what are now actually pretty radical animated movies, stuff like The Iron Giant and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Avatar: The Last Airbender remains my favorite story ever told and it was literally The Dark Knight that got me writing novels. YA wise, I was a voracious consumer of 2000s and 2010s YA, where my taste was all over the place—from horror, no one’s heard of to Libba Bray to Sarah Dessen, but my favorites were always these kinds of strange, high concept thrillers. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga-type stuff. I was also an unwavering emo for most of my adolescence, so take with that what you will.
Nowadays, I’m still a very eclectic media consumer. Queer wise, Legend of Korra, She-Ra, Killing Eve, Hannibal, Rocketman, Booksmart, Moonlight. Books-wise, I adore YA thrillers by Courtney Summers and Tess Sharpe and think about Courtney Kae, Allison Cochrun, and Jennifer Dugan romcoms in the YA and Adult space all the time. I think for me, within the context of every genre from darker to lighter, I’m always interested in characters feeling authentic and complex, showcasing different sides of themselves. I adore sweet and escapist romances, but I’m such a sucker for angst and moral ambiguity. (Whether that’s characters just being total messes or you know, murder getting involved.)
As a fellow student of the New School MFA Program, I’m curious about your experiences in the program. Could you describe it and some memorable parts of your experience?
I am a huge fan of TNS and the program! So in short, you study across age categories within kidlit (picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and we touched on “new adult”/crossover). I think the program really opened my mind to what I was capable of writing. I’d gone in exclusively wanting to write YA and Adult and came out with a whole manuscript written for middle grade and all this knowledge of how storytelling shifts and remains universal across stories for all aged readers. It was truly so freeing and fun to be in a space to explore.
And besides that, the people in the program were incredible. I made lifelong connections, ranging from how I got my job with Dhonielle Clayton, a fellow alum, and all my cohort friends who I still talk to every day and plan to support through every stage of their publishing journeys. Truly some of the warmest, funniest, most insightful and kind people I’ve ever met.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Will you ever write a protagonist who isn’t a total disaster—like in an actual irredeemably unlikeable way? No. In fact, if the books published go the exact way I want, the next 3 protagonists will be: vapid, pretentious, and emotionally immature to the point of screaming aren’t you like 30; the grodiest, unorganized, and self-destructive gremlin who is totally fine sleeping with a known asshole and criminal; and a teenage dirtbag who would rather get her entire friend group killed while insulting them the whole time than process an iota of negative emotion. They’re all weird and horny. I adore them all.
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
If you want to do traditional publishing, just know that it’s not so black and white as “you have to sell your soul and write something you don’t like to get published” or “the book of your heart will be the one you’re published with.” I’ve had so many books not get agented or die on submission, books that I was really passionate about but may have been considered more niche. I did a lot of experimenting to get where I am now. I was open to projects that weren’t necessarily my IP but I could put my own stamp on them. I found new passions in new genres and age categories. Ultimately, any story you write has the capacity to be a book of your heart and have your stamp on it. So if you have a beloved manuscript you’ve been querying for years and not getting responses on, maybe take a break and try to write something new. Maybe try a genre that you’re curious about. See what tiny elements you need in books for them to feel like your work and to get yourself invested in them.
For me, I’m truly open to any genre and age category, but I need there to be that emotional complexity (and dare I say, a drop of angst in every book lol), I love bouncy dialogue/banter, having characters think about/explore sexuality in whatever is appropriate for the age category, and then just…I don’t know, all my original work seems to incorporate chain restaurants into the plot for some reason. All stuff that makes me happy and makes every book feel like mine as I navigate the waters of trying to write commercially enough to sell.
Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
Book 2 with Vintage will definitely be a queer rom-com, but I can’t say more than that yet. I have some projects I’m working on, but I don’t think I can discuss them yet. But uncontracted stuff, I’m currently working on a YA Thriller set at a theme park, an Adult Thriller set on a plane, and am always opening my mind to new rom-com ideas. Plus, I have this historical horror feature script I’d love to dive into between deadlines.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
THE LOCKED TOMB SERIES by Tamsyn Muir
SOME GIRLS DO (or really anything) by Jennifer Dugan
I’M THE GIRL (or anything) by Courtney Summers
HELL FOLLOWED WITH US by Andrew Joseph White
THE GIRLS I’VE BEEN by Tess Sharpe
THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS by Adam Sass
ALWAYS THE ALMOST by Edward Underwood
OUT OF CHARACTER by Jenna Miller
BIANCA TORRE IS AFRAID OF EVERYTHING by Justine Pucella Winans
DAMNED IF YOU DO by Alex Brown