I want to thank Jane L. Carman for answering my interview questions! Read more about Jane here.
What was the first story that you remember writing about?
As a kid, I remember (hand) writing because I liked the way the letters and words looked on the page. It was a sort of artistic outlet; I still care very much about how my work looks on the page. My scribbling (or reading or anything not visibly “productive”) was also, according to most of the adults in my life, considered a waste of time. My grandfather would call anybody who wasn’t engaged in manual labor “a god-damned pencil pusher”—a Depression era mentality. I didn’t want to be looked down on, so I hid these scribblings. I wrote a lot of letters to friends, which I loved doing. It wasn’t until later in life that I remember actually writing a “story,” although my letters were full of them. I guess the first story I remember was called “The World’s Biggest Fish.” It was fictional but largely based upon memories of hand fishing in the Spoon River with my father and on the memory of the death of one of his friends that drown trying to save his son from the river. Since then, that river runs through a lot of my work. I like to try to give voice to those who are discouraged from having a written voice.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Probably famous or a veterinarian. I think maybe famous because I was looking for respect as a girl living in a boy’s world (riding horses and motorcycles, farming, hanging out in FFA and 4-H). A veterinarian, because I love animals. I still do a lot of animal doctoring on dumped and stray animals that find their way to me. I think I also always wanted to be an artist. I was always trying to put things together from the junk pile at our house, drawing, trying to learn to play a little plastic organ, dancing, etc.
Or maybe I don’t yet know. Do I really have to decide? I feel like I have lived lots of lives. Strange as it sounds, I had the childhood life of a farmer and sibling/parent. I had young adult lives as bartender, landscaper, photographer, ballroom dancer, floral designer, etc. I have been a daughter, mother, wife. In the writing world, I have been student, teacher, writer, publisher, editor, book designer, event coordinator, etc. I don’t know what’s next but want to keep these lives cycling through—they are great material.
Do you think writing is something we know to do instinctively, can be taught, or both? Why?
Can I say neither and both? I would say neither because I think writing is more a personal ambition. Those who do it best (not necessarily always those who are published most) have worked and continue to work on it. It is an art and an obsession (to create something that engages, moves (forward), and does something new).
I don’t think anybody is born with a gift to write or tell a story. You learn it, even if you learn it badly. We are surrounded by stories every day, including those our friends and family tell us, those we watch on TV, those we read and reread, those we hear at readings, songs, the little posts on FB and Twitter even tell stories. How we engage with these stories (there is no choice but to engage with at least some of them) seems to dictate how we become storytellers and how good (as subjective as that is) we are at telling/writing stories.
I also think writing workshops and writing groups are a great place to generate ideas and practice writing. These things work as a writing gym.
Writing is not innate—not divine. The writer is not a god; she is a devoted worker, hopefully doing something she loves.
What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?
This is more a story than an answer and has nothing to do with subject matter. I will make it short. The JH class with a sexist male teacher that harassed, but never touched, female students. Back then, this was “no big deal,” but it greatly affected the way I dealt with men in authority and how I felt my self-worth(lessness). Second worst? I can’t think of anything. I love science and can handle math when in the moment.
Are you reading anything right now?
I am currently reading Cris Mazza’s Something Wrong With Her, every bit of it that I read breaks my heart in some way. It also gives me hope. Because of a project I am starting, I am also rereading Nabokov’s Lolita.
Are you writing anything right now?
I am working on a project told from the POV of a woman who has Alzheimer’s. There may be another POV coming into the work, but I don’t yet know. I think it is important to try to understand those around us. Having watched grandparents and great-grandparents deal with self-loss and float between states of reality, I have always wanted to better understand what they were going through; this is my attempt. Writing this sort of delirium is also challenging; I want to keep the audience engaged but allow them to experience what the main character is going through.