5 Questions for Carol Dines

Carol Dines’s new young adult novel, The Take-Over Friend, finalist for the Achevan Prize, will be forthcoming from Fitzroy Books October, 2022. Her recent adult fiction, a collection of stories, This Distance We Call Love, won the Eric Hoffer Book Prize, 2022. In addition, her recent stories have been published in Ploughshares, Salamander, Narrative, Colorado Review, and Nimrod International. She has also published two novels for young adults, Best Friends Tell the Best Lies (Delacorte), The Queen’s Soprano (Harcourt) and a collection of short stories for young adults, Talk to Me (Delacorte.) Her poems and stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Somebody’s Speaking My Language (Women’s Voices Press), Voices of the Land (Milkweed), and Love and Lust: An Anthology, (Taylor and O’Neill’s Open To Interpretation, 2014). She is a recipient of the Judy Blume award as well as a recipient of Minnesota and Wisconsin State Artist Fellowships. Dines received a BA from Stanford University and an MA in English from Colorado State University. She has taught writing to all ages at universities, colleges, and public schools in Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Jack Zipes, and their standard poodle.

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Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your novel, The Take-over Friend? What made you want to tell this story?

Carol Dines: I began writing this book after a very painful break-up with a lifelong friend. At the same time, my teenage daughter was going through her own break-up with her childhood friend. I realized then that no one really talks about break-ups and endings in friendships. I had struggled for years to reset the friendship, to loosen the expectations we’d had previously in our friendship. I had tried to be honest about my needs and expectations for the friendship, but my friend wanted the friendship to stay the same. Ultimately, I ended the friendship, and that experience was a very painful experience because I still loved my friend and admired her greatly, but we’d ended up having really different expectations of each other, and I grew tired of disappointing her. The ending left me wondering if it was me or her, or simply the nature of friendship. I began thinking about why friendships end, how to communicate changes in friendships, and what it takes to maintain a healthy friendship. Disparities exist in life, and very few friendships can bear the weight of those disparities over time if two friends are relying solely on each other to fulfill their needs. I came to believe that the closest friendships are sometimes the least flexible in terms of change. And that is when I started to write this book to explore what had happened in my own friendship.

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V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?

CD: My last book, a collection of short stories for adults, explored boundaries in our most intimate relationships—marriage, family, friendship, couples. I didn’t realize it until I began rewriting this book, but The Take-Over Friend is also about boundaries in Frances and Sonja’s friendship, and also about the boundaries in their families. I believe relationships are the meaning of our lives, and I am always thinking about the tension/boundary between deep connection and commitment to a relationship but also each person’s individual need to grow and change. What I would like readers to take away is the understanding that we all have boundaries whether we’re aware of them or not. And knowing our own boundaries helps us to navigate our relationships with honesty. Most of us don’t pay attention to our boundaries until they are crossed which can end up making a relationship feel like an obligation or duty, rather than a relationship that supports and expands one’s life. I want readers to take away the understanding that relationships—even friendships—are complex and sometimes it’s necessary to let go of a friendship and other times it’s important to go deeper to try to communicate shifting needs and expectations for the relationship to last.

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V: What was the hardest scene of The Take-over Friend to write?

CD: The last two chapters, when Sonja feels betrayed by Frances and seeks revenge, were the most difficult. I love all my characters, but Sonja was a challenge toward the end of the book. I wanted to reveal the depths of Sonja’s pain, the ways she covered it up, and her motive for acting out after Frances tells her she can’t live with her family. Sonja tells Frances, “Sometimes endings are easier…No one deserves your kind of innocence.” She is referring to Frances having a supportive family, and Frances’s unwillingness to understand Sonja’s own desperation. I wanted to develop Sonja as a tragic figure, but I also wanted to show the extent to which she felt Frances’s boundaries as a betrayal. It was challenging to make her character both sympathetic and cruel.

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V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?

CD: To not be so perfectionistic. I grew up in a family with very high expectations and in a community (medical/Mayo Clinic in Rochester) where my friends had huge ambitions. It took me a long time to learn not to compare myself to others (a lifelong journey, actually) and to feel proud of my own journey and accomplishments. In the writing world, it is very important to block out the perfectionistic voices inside because the first few drafts come from experimentation which inevitably means there will be failures.

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V: What are your writing must-haves?

CD: A room to myself, quiet (I use headphones since I live in the city), and blocking off mornings for writing. I always begin with a poem or a short story, then free-write sometimes using lines from the poetry to expand my mind, and then I move into whatever project I’m working on, sometimes weaving in the free writing. I use a large lined journal, and I fill a couple of pages before I begin working on a manuscript.

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Head to our Instagram page (@voyageya) to hear Carol Dines read the first page of The Take-over Friend. Find Carol’s video under the videos tab.

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