We’d never turn down a wild escape through a novel. Space opera? We’re all over it. Post-apocalyptic dystopia? We’re shivering as we turn the pages. But sometimes it’s nice to settle into a story set in a world that feels familiar. And if there’s a tiny touch of magic to make that reality all the more special, we’re here for it. Lauren Karcz’s The Gallery of Unfinished Girls ($16) blends magical realism with high school crushes, family angst, and the unforgettable feeling of discovering your own voice. It’s a novel that’ll have you rooting for the book’s heroine, Mercy, pulling art supplies out of dusty drawers, and wishing a mysterious neighbor could take you under their wing. We caught up with Karcz and chatted creativity, new reads, and beyond. Scroll on to learn more from this brilliant author!

Brit + Co: Describe your book in six words or fewer.

Lauren Karcz: Everything’s beautiful; why does it hurt?

B+C: Where / when do you do your best writing?

LK: Usually when I feel like I should be doing something else! If there’s an insistence or a rebellion to it, I get it done. I like getting up really early, especially to edit. I’ll stumble into the kitchen, get some coffee, find my way to the guest room, and turn on a very bright light. At that point I’m stuck — with the caffeine and the bright light in my eyes, there’s no way I’m going back to bed. When I’m up and working that early (we’re talking 4:30 in the morning), I feel like I’ve discovered some extra hours in the day that no one else knows about. It’s a weird, good feeling: a rebellion against normal sleeping hours, and the sense that I’ve found a secret time to write.

B+C: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for book research?

LK: This was for a manuscript I worked on prior to The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, but I spent a lot of time reading about conspiracy theories and watching conspiracy theorists’ YouTube channels. This is a pretty frightening realm of the internet, I’ve gotta say. For years, I wrote and rewrote a manuscript about a family of conspiracy theorists, but the subject matter eventually wore me down. Writing Gallery was a dive into a completely different world, and a welcome change.

B+C: What’s your go-to cure when you’re stuck in a creativity rut?

LK: I go on a poetry-reading binge. Poetry helps me get out of the world of story and back into the world of language. Sometimes that’s just what I need. Adrienne Rich and Mary Oliver are my go-to poets. I also love Audre Lorde, Patricia Lockwood, and John Ashbery.

B+C: What two lady heroes do you turn to for inspiration, and why?

LK: Well, my first one is Elaine Stritch. She was a total badass singer, actress, and all-around entertainer who lived on her own terms. She lived in a hotel, did these amazing one-woman shows, and absolutely delighted in growing old and being old. I first encountered her in my mid-20s, when I listened to the original cast album for the 1970 musical Company. Her big song in that show, her signature song, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” is completely unrelatable to my life, and yet, the way she performed it struck something in me. I loved her brash, bold delivery, and I return to Stritch and that song in particular for inspiration quite often. I’ve had an emblematic quote of hers in my Twitter bio for years: “It’ll be smashing this time, I think.” (Photo via Ben Gabbe/Getty)

I also turn to the YA writing community on social media for inspiration. There are a TON of amazing women in the community, lifting each other up, promoting diverse voices, and writing one incredible book after another. I’m cheating and giving you two names here: Zoraida Córdova and Claire Legrand. I think between the two of them, they have five books coming out next year alone, with more to come the following year. I’m a writing process nerd, and I love when these ladies share glimpses into their writing lives. Writing as a career is a creative marathon and a life-balancing act, and I so admire how Zoraida and Claire keep showing up and making amazing art. (Photo via Zoraida Córdova)

B+C: What’s your latest Twitter obsession?

LK: I feel like every day is made better by pictures of otters, and so I follow In Otter News on Twitter, @otter_news.

B+C: Can you name a book that you think deserves a little more love + recognition?

LK: I read A.E. Kaplan’s Grendel’s Guide to Love and War ($18) last December, and every time I think about it, it brings a smile to my face. It’s a Beowulf-inspired YA contemporary novel, set around a prank war. It has just the right mix of oddball characters and story elements that shouldn’t work but somehow do. I hope Grendel’s Guide is finding its readers — it’s such a fun, quirky, endlessly re-readable book.

B+C: What’s next on your to-read pile?

LK: I have an advance copy of Kristin Cashore’s Jane Unlimited ($19) that I’m dying to get to! Everyone says this book is so weird and so great — I can’t wait to see for myself.

B+C: What advice do you have for aspiring creative ladies?

LK: Find the beating heart of your work. If an idea terrifies you or excited you, it’s probably worth pursuing. If there’s an idea that feels so raw and real that you want to keep it a secret, run with that idea.

Got an author you’d love to see interviewed? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know!

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(Feature image via Lauren Karcz)