Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interview with author Carol Carr.

Last week I reviewed Carol Carr's new book, INDIA BLACK. Very favorably, I might add.

Afterwards, she was gracious enough to answer a few questions I put to her, I hope you find it interesting:

Who is Carol Carr? Married? Kids? Husband? Pets?

I grew up and attended college in Missouri, and then moved to Washington, D.C., where I got a law degree in 1982 from George Washington University. Then I spent two decades in Dallas and southern California, working in private practice until I joined the legal department at a Fortune 500 company. After several years in the legal department, I became head of the Human Resource department. I retired from there a few years ago, while my sense of humor and my sanity were still intact. I live in the Ozarks with my husband and two German Shepherds.

Did you always want to be a writer growing up, or did you come to it as an adult?

I always had the desire to write, but I didn't try my hand at until I was in my mid 40's. Prior to that I was busy trying to climb the corporate ladder, and didn't have the time to devote to writing. Well, I suppose I could have, but I preferred coming home and having a gin and tonic in front of tube to hammering out a story.

Did you have a lot of support when you began writing, or did you suffer the same raised eyebrow most of us do? In other words, what kept you motivated at the start of your career?

I kept it a secret. I was superstitious about telling anyone, for fear I'd jinx myself. As for motivation, I am a competitive person. Over the years, I'd read books and think: "I could do better than that." So one day I tried, and quickly learned that there was a whole lot more to this writing thing than I had thought. It took a few years to produce something that I could acknowledge as my work without shuddering, but I never doubted I could get there, if I just kept working at it.

What is your writing schedule?

Usually, I sit down in front of the computer at about 2:00, so I finish writing between 5:30 and 6:00. You'll notice this corresponds with the cocktail hour, and I usually wind up the day's word count with a drink in hand. If you notice a decline in the quality of the writing every 5 pages or so, that's why.

Do you actively look for story ideas (combing newspapers etc), or do they just come to you?

I don't really search them out, but ideas do present themselves from my reading. The idea for the first India Black novel came from a dual biography of Disraeli and Gladstone, outlining their many public disagreements. For the second India, I knew I wanted to write about Queen Victoria (the humorous aspects of her private life were too good to pass up), so I did some research about her and the numerous attempts on her life.

India Black is, in my view, very original -- how would you classify the genre?

She doesn't fit neatly into one genre, as I discovered (to my dismay) when I tried to compose a query letter to agents. I'd describe the book as a caper novel, full of adventure and episodes of derring-do, though it does contain some aspects of the historical thriller and romance genres, and a little comedy as well.

Who are your favorite authors?

How much space can I have? Kipling, Trollope, Dickens, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad. I read lots of mysteries: Kate Atkinson, Sarah Caudwell, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Laurie R. King, Julia-Spencer Fleming, Christopher Fowler, and Phil Rickman. I've left out lots.

What is your favorite ever novel?

Argh! Another impossible question to answer. Okay, this week I'll pick "Lord Jim."

If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring novelists, what would it be?

Buy the very best ergonomically-designed chair you can afford. Your back will thank you. On a more serious note, you have to persevere at writing, even if you're not successful initially. India Black is my third novel. The first was embarrassing, the second less so, and I finally found my voice with India. Have patience and be persistent.

Do you outline your novels?

I didn't outline this one, and I wish I had, because half way through it I found myself thinking: what next? My editor required an outline for the second novel, and I put together a lengthy one (20 pages, single-spaced!). I'm glad I did. It made writing so much easier. That may not work for everyone, but I like to know where I'm going. I couldn't possibly start a book without knowing who'd committed the murder, but I know some people do.

How much research did India Black take? (Seems like a lot, you nail the language perfectly)

I've been a history buff since grade school, and I've read a lot of British history, so I was familiar with the general background of the story and the personalities involved. But I like the details to be as accurate as possible, so I read up on British revolvers, Cossack swords, Russian aristocratic names, when bed-springs were invented, etc. For the second India, I read books on fencing and visited the local fencing maestro and his students so I could render a plausible action scene involving swordplay. Basically, the research is just an excuse for me to indulge my interest in various subjects.

Do you recommend any specific "how-to" writing books for mystery/thriller writers?

I know I've read one or two over the years but I can't remember any names (this happens to me frequently at this stage of my life). I actually think I've learned more from reading really good writers like Alan Furst, Kate Atkinson, and John Le Carre. My style is nothing like theirs, but I have learned a lot about structuring plots, creating atmosphere, and developing characters. Now if only I could do that as well as they do.

Is there any part of being a professional, full-time writer that you don't like?

Thanks for granting me that appellation, but I have to say that I don't feel like a professional yet. There is certainly more stress once you've published. I always thought that would be the big hurdle, but it turns out it's just the first of many. Now you have to try to produce another quality work, on time and with the editor looking over your shoulder. (My editor is very nice, actually, but she does have expectations, and rightly so). So that's the only negative thing. On the other hand, it's a privilege to have to worry about something like that.

What are you working on now?

I signed a two-book contract with Berkley. India Black is the first, and the second has been delivered to the editor. I think it will be published sometime in 2012. But because I hate to stress out about things, I'm at work outlining a third novel in the series, in the event sales justify a new contract. The third book features India Black and anarchists. It should be incendiary.


  1. Great interview! Looking forward to reading the book.

  2. For a second there I thought she said her favorite novel was "Lucky Jim," which is equally fantastic.

  3. Anon: You are a Kingsley Amis fan? I'm impressed!

  4. Impressed? Some of us native Texans can in fact read, old boy!!!

  5. Oh, I know you CAN read, I'm just impressed at WHAT you're reading. :)

  6. Lucky Jim should be, and likely is, required reading for any academic wannabe--along with David Lodge's books, and Starter for Ten, which I think was published here as A Question of Attraction.
    (Phillip Roth and De Lillo have of course written them too, but the humor is not as pronounced, of course.)

    That's the great thing about the internet--where else do you meet a prosecutor who writes novels and is into Furst (you) or a prosecutor who's into Sillitoe, Larry Brown, Elmer Kelton, Julian Barnes, etc. (me). It's a small world, getting smaller.

  7. Elmer Kelton and Julian Barnes - don't often see those two mentioned together. Shame, too. I have an Elmer Kelton on my TBR pile, which is rising like a volcano under my bedside table.


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