Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.
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Raised in Los Angeles, Carla Malden began her career working in motion picture production and development before becoming a screenwriter. Along with her father, Academy Award-winning actor Karl Malden, she co-authored his critically acclaimed memoir When Do I Start? More recently, Malden published AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life, her own fiercely personal account of battling the before and surviving the after of losing her first husband to cancer. Afterimage is a journey through grief to gratitude that alerts an entire generation: This is not your mother’s widowhood.


In this post, Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand, how she connected with her main character's voice, and much more!


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Name: Carla Malden
Manager: Marianne Moloney
Title: Shine Until Tomorrow
Publisher: Rare Bird
Release date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Young Adult/Literary
Previous titles: Search Heartache; AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life; When Do I Start?
Elevator pitch for the book: A teenage girl focused solely on her future must visit the past to learn to live—and love—in the present.

carla malden Shine Until Tomorrow Cover

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What prompted you to write this book?

I have particular fondnesses for coming-of-age stories and for the sixties—they both involve optimism and innocence. Combining the two offered a fascinating opportunity to explore the contrast between kids then and now and to suggest that first love feels the same regardless of the decade. Despite Mari’s much-cultivated hard outer shell, she turns out to be a girl longing to belong and capable of making sacrifices. The sixties provided a thematically ideal—and colorful—backdrop for her personal growth.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

From idea to publication, about four years. I put the project aside for a while to concentrate on finishing my novel, Search Heartache, which was published last year. Because the times in which we’re living changed dramatically since the election in 2016, I think the subtext of the book took on some more colors. The contrast between the idealism of the sixties and the political solipsism of the past four years made the story more poignant. And the renaissance of a certain kind of radicalism in the past year deepened the connection between the two eras. As for the basic idea, that remained constant.

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Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I don’t know if this qualifies as a surprise, but I was gratified to discover that early readers were responding to this book as a story with appeal beyond the young adult audience. I was pleased to find that it resonates with older audiences. I was thrilled with the cover design immediately; I think we just tweaked it here and there. Of course, the pandemic has altered plans for the book’s release. The campaign for Search Heartache, which was released last January, was aborted by the pandemic, and now this book isn’t even going to get a real-world headstart. That presents its challenges, but I’m hoping to discover that those challenges can turn into opportunities.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

I know this girl very well. I really understand her. (She is some of the more neurotic threads in me on steroids.) So, there were not a lot of surprises in developing the main character. However, there were some surprises in terms of plot and secondary characters. Without giving anything away, I would say that one secondary character in particular suddenly declared himself to be more significant than I’d anticipated. Actually, several supporting characters staked their claims in unexpected ways, so some layers developed that were not necessarily in my original plotline. Also, I had originally conceived of this story as a possible screenplay, so it was great fun and very liberating to be able to delve into Mari’s psychology and transform it into her voice, rather than being confined by the parameters of a visual medium.

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What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope that readers are reminded of the carpe diem theme. Regardless of whatever time we find ourselves in, all we really have is this moment. (Learning how to navigate time, moment to moment, has been one of the great challenges of 2020.) At the beginning of the story, Mari desperately wants to bypass the present, to jump to her future. A dramatic series of circumstances teach her to appreciate the moment. Ultimately, her trip to the past shapes her future—as do all our pasts. I would hope that a take-away would be the realization that we fold the past into our lives because it makes us who we are, but we cannot allow the past to hobble us. And … the music lives forever!


If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

This is a challenging question because I struggle with taking my own advice. Basically, I try to balance the flip sides of the work ethic coin: work every day, even if you just write a sentence, and be gentle with yourself. By that, I mean sometimes life intervenes and takes precedence over work. At least it does for me. I have learned that even when I’m not “working,” I’m percolating and that is often time spent equally, if not more, valuably. Again, the pandemic has changed everything. All bets are off this year.

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