07/07/2014 12:58 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2014

Cora Carmack Talks About Real-Life Romance and Writing New Adult Fiction

Cora Carmack is a 20- something New York Times bestselling author who likes to write about 20-something characters. Raised in a small Texas town, she now splits her time between Austin, TX and New York City and spends her days writing, traveling, and marathoning various television shows on Netflix. In her books, you can expect to find humor, heart, and a whole lot of awkward. Because let's face it... awkward people need love, too.

Loren Kleinman (LK): Some critics call New Adult (NA) nothing but "chick lit." Would you agree?

Cora Carmack (CC): NA does appeal to the same audience that read chick lit, I think. But they're very different in tone. I read a lot of chick lit when I was younger and much of it was on the lighter side (which I do love). My experience with the genre was mostly books in an urban setting with characters beginning (or trying to begin) their careers. New Adult does include some of that, but it's much broader. It's also tends to air on the angstier side. There are a hundred small and large changes a person has to go through between the time they graduate high school and the point where they're an adult with an established life. And that's what NA is about. So, to me, Chick lit was very much a genre with a narrow focus. NA is a category with room for a multitude of perspectives and genres under that umbrella.

LK: Your stories center on putting your characters in awkward situations with the hope they'll get a boyfriend. How much of Cora is written into these situations?

CC: As with any fiction, it's a mix of real inspiration and imagined. When I wrote my first book, Losing It, it was very much in reaction to a gap I saw in the market. There were just a handful of NA books on the market at the time, and they were heavy on the angst. That wasn't my college experience at all. I spent a lot of time laughing and making mistakes and having the time of my life. I wanted to reflect that in my books. I also wanted to write a heroine that I could identify with. I'm not quite the shy, self-conscious heroine, nor am I completely confident and kick-ass. I'm more like the characters would typically fill the funny best friend role. So, I wanted to see what would happen if I took that kind of character and shoved her front and center. Of course, since then I've branched out and written all kinds of heroines, but I think humor is an important part of life. And everyone is awkward sometimes, so I use that to bring a lighter tone to my books that I think stands out in a category currently dominated by dark and dramatic themes.

LK: You're a young writer. 20-something. Have you been treated differently by the press because of your age? How have readers responded to your age? Do you feel it helps to connect you with younger 20-something readers?

CC: The world of publishing has been very kind to me. I've not ever been looked down upon for my age. Sometimes other authors jokingly tease that I'm a baby, but the fact is, by the time I published Losing It at twenty-five, I knew what I was doing. I'd started seriously writing at age twenty. I ran a highly successful book blog with over a million hits. I was enrolled in a MFA program for creative writing. I'd interned and worked at both a literary agency and a small indie publisher. That combined with the fact that I'm not far removed from the life period about which I write has so far meant that people take me pretty seriously.

I definitely think my age has allowed me to connect with my twenty-something readers. We watch all the same TV shows and listen to the same music and get the same pop culture references. And sometimes I get emails or messages from those readers asking for life advice. Sometimes I'm able to help. Sometimes I have no answers because I'm going through the same thing, and I just am able to commiserate and identify. But New Adult readers actually run the gamut from older teens to older people. At signings, I've met readers in high school and women who could easily be my grandmother. Everyone either knows or will one day know what it's like to make the transition from teenager to adult, so it's a universal thing that appeals to all kinds of readers.

LK: Let's talk about love. Are you a romantic? Why? Why not?

CC: [Laughs] It might seem strange, but not really. I write these romantic and sweet books, but I'm a very practical person. I once dated this guy who was big on romantic gestures. And I guarantee if I put them into a book of mine, readers would swoon all over the place. Whereas, in real life, it drove me nuts. But I also think it depends on the person. Something that seems obnoxious with one guy could seem perfect with another. And I guess I'm a romantic in that sense. I think when a relationship is right each person elevates the other in some way.

LK: Would you attend the fictional Rusk University given the chance? Why? Why not?

CC: For sure! Who doesn't want to go back to college? Being an adult is hard and complicated. Rusk is also an amalgamation of several colleges I've had connections with throughout my life, whether it was as a student or visiting a friend or something else. I've sort of pulled my favorite things from a lot of those campuses.