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Carole Stivers: Constantly Evolving as a Writer

In this post, debut author Carole Stivers shares how a family trip in the desert Southwest in 2003 resulted in her debut novel in 2020, what wrong assumption she had about agents, how Hollywood got looped in before the book was picked up by a publisher, and more!

Born in East Cleveland, Ohio, Carole Stivers received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She went on to post-doctoral work at Stanford University before launching a career in medical diagnostics.

Carole Stivers (Photo credit: Alan Stivers)

Carole Stivers (Photo credit: Alan Stivers)

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She now lives in California, where she's combined her love of writing and her fascination with the possibilities of science to create her first novel, The Mother Code.

In this post, debut author Carole Stivers shares how a family trip in the desert Southwest in 2003 resulted in her debut novel in 2020, what wrong assumption she had about agents, how Hollywood got looped in before the book was picked up by a publisher, and more!


how to catch an agent first pages

Writing strong first pages requires a great hook, a strong voice, and a clear premise. The first sentence should immediately catch the reader’s attention, while the subsequent text should leave the reader wanting to dive further into the pages of the manuscript. But making the first pages of your story absolutely un-putdownable takes practice, patience, revision, and an eye for detail. Which is why we’re here: to discuss what to do (and not to do) to make your opening pages stand out.

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Name: Carole Stivers
Literary agent: Elizabeth Weed of The Book Group
Book title: The Mother Code
Publisher: Berkley/Penguin Random House
Release date: August 25, 2020
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Literary
Previous titles: The Butterfly Garden (an online serial novella)


Elevator pitch for the book: Kai is born alone in the desert, his only companion his mother—who happens to be a super-soldier robot. The Mother Code is the story of how this came about, and of how Kai comes to better know both himself and the mother who raised him.

What prompted you to write this book?

I first had the idea for The Mother Code while traveling in the desert Southwest with my family in 2003. Watching Japanese mecha anime with my daughter, I became fascinated with the idea of a child living inside one of those giant robots, surviving alone in this desert. 

I was especially intrigued with the idea of a human-machine interface between a child and his bot, inspired by books like The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku and mecha anime classics like "Neon Genesis Evangelion." 

So far as my child knew, there was no other life left on the planet. But still he would be seeking others, even as he sought to understand his own origins. Everything else in my story sprang from these core ideas.

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

I have notes for The Mother Code dating back to November 2004. But I didn't get serious about writing it until sometime in 2011. I wasn't truly finished with it until the last line edits were completed In October 2019. But though the details shifted constantly, even over the final year before submission to publishers, the basic idea never changed.

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

The biggest surprise for me came when my agent submitted my manuscript to a Hollywood agent for review, even before it had been picked up by a publisher. Elisabeth had told me she planned to do that, but I really thought nothing of it until the following week, when I got an enthusiastic call from Michelle Weiner at CAA. 

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Talking to Hollywood producers about my novel was the most exciting and surprising thing I could have imagined. Another surprising (and not so exciting) thing that happened was having my book release delayed by a real-life pandemic!


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

I'd always assumed that an agent wouldn't take on a project unless he or she thought the manuscript was ready to submit to publishers. On the contrary, I wound up rewriting the second half of the novel multiple times after signing with my agent! But the final result was much better than what I had originally submitted. 

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I look forward to collaborating more in the future, though perhaps with fewer revisions.

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

The Mother Code is a cautionary tale about biowarfare. But it is also a study of parent-child relationships, and how those can come in so many different shapes and sizes. I wanted to inspire readers to think about all the different ways that one can be important in the life of a child.

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

You will constantly evolve as a writer, but only if you allow yourself to do so. Open yourself to criticism, and don't take it personally. In the end, the best novel is the result of a team effort. Then, once your novel is published, put it aside and move on.

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