Author Carmen Rodrigues, 32, has a story to tell – and chances are, she always will. As a former resident of Union City, West New York, and Weehawken, Rodrigues recently released her first published novel, “Not Anything” (Berkley Publishing), which is for teenagers.
The book, published by an imprint of Penguin USA, revolves around the trials of a grief-stricken girl facing the hardships of high school and first love in the seemingly glamorous city of Miami.
Though the author claims that there are no experiences in the book that directly apply to her, there are similarities between her and her protagonist, Susie.
“I consider it a coming-of-age story,” said Rodrigues last week. “It’s very much about finding yourself and learning to love yourself.”
Started writing at age 11
The idea of love is a central point for character Susie and Rodrigues – in fact; it’s how Rodrigues first began writing at the age of 11.
“I have an older sister [four years older], and she tried to a write a poem for her boyfriend,” explained Rodrigues, “but she was having problems with it, so I helped her out, and it turned out real well.”
Throughout Rodrigues’ childhood, writing became an outlet and form of self-expression, she said.
In 1986, life seemed to imitate art for her. Eleven-year-old Rodrigues and her family moved south from her native town of Lorain, Ohio to Miami, Fla.
It was then that the young author grew fascinated with the idea of love and writing poetry.
“Of course, I didn’t have the love of my life at 11-years-old, but [I wrote about] potential romances,” said Rodrigues.
During the summer of 1989 at the tender age of 14, Rodrigues, who has cited Judy Blume’s “Forever” as her favorite childhood book, wrote her first novel. The teenage author wrote 67 pages before she abandoned the project and forgot about it.
A month later, upon the novel’s discovery, she received a phone call from her cousin filled with nothing but praise about the book.
After graduating from high school in Florida in 1993, Rodrigues chose to attend Miami-Dade College. She acquired a Liberal Arts degree from the junior college in spring 1996 before commencing her studies in English with a focus in creative writing at Florida State University.
Rodrigues graduated in 1998, never giving up her passion for writing.
In 2000, Rodrigues moved to Hudson County, where she did magazine editing, including serving as an editor at the Hudson Reporter newspaper group.
It was during her stay here that she began writing what would eventually become her first published young adult novel.
The grieving process
“I started writing the book [‘Not Anything’] in 2001, when I lived on Willow Avenue in Weehawken,” said Rodrigues. “Not knowing how to go about creating such a full-length piece, I had very little expectations when I wrote it.”
She added, “I wasn’t writing to get published, but rather to create a world that was honest, real, and relatable to me and others.”
Getting published is a difficult and ambitious journey; in fact, it took the author over two years just to find an agent! Then there are also the emotional hardships the author endures.
The author duplicated her personal grief through the relationships some of the characters in the novel were experiencing themselves.
In 2000, Rodrigues lost a personal friend, David Ashworth. His tragic death triggered her own grieving process that influenced the book. In Rodrigues’ novel, the main character, Susie, grieves for her mother who died five years earlier.
Having dedicated her book to David, the foreword also explains the author’s understanding of grief.
“My grief was …vast,” writes Rodrigues. “It didn’t all hit at once, instead it appeared at the most inopportunate times. I found from talking to more experienced mourners that my grief would last for years.”
During a recent phone interview last week, Rodrigues echoed the notion of life imitating art.
“[Writing] was a healing process for me,” said Rodrigues. “At the end of the book, I leave Susie in a safe place, and I found myself in a safe place. That’s one of the reasons I dedicate the book to David; it’s about my journey of finding peace with that situation and of Susie [finding peace] with her mother.”
Currently, Rodrigues lives in Wilmington, N.C. where she is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.
“A Little Something,” the sequel to “Not Anything,” is expected to be released in February 2009.
Nicolas Millan can be reached at NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.