I want to thank Carolyn for answering my questions so thoughtfully! You can learn more about Carolyn and her first novel on her author page at Aqueous Books. I wrote a review of Carolyn’s novel, A Child is Being Killed, which you can read for more details and information about the book.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I learned what words were and how to physically write them at four or five years old, I started writing letters and stories. My interest in writing has always felt like a faithful friend or body part in this way.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book, A Child Is Being Killed, was directly inspired by Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School. I started writing immediately after I put the book down. I’d never read anything like it before and I felt exploded. It was a realization that I could write whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and that I didn’t need permission. Many people seem to understand this naturally; I didn’t. Acker’s book also addressed sexual slavery. I had spent time working with women and children who’d been sex-trafficked in India but I’d never known how to write about the subject. Again, I felt this profound, compassionate anti-permission permission after Acker.
Did you learn anything from writing your book?
I learned that I can do whatever I want with language and that doesn’t matter whether people like it. I don’t say this lightly. It’s not that I don’t care what people think; like most people, other people terrify me. It’s also not that words should be thrown around willy-nilly as if they have no power. What I mean is that one’s motivation for writing has to shift from one’s fear of other people to one’s knowledge that whatever is asking to be birthed/written must be birthed/written. There are very serious consequences to stuffing the birthing process and birth canal with distrust, hesitation, and irreverence. Life is easier when I think of myself primarily as a grounded, skillful language-midwife and only secondarily (if I must) as an ego-personality that should be protected with grand gestures and word-scaffolding.
What are your current projects?
My second manuscript, which I think of as the inside of a psychiatric file that somebody dropped on the floor, spilled the pages from, and had to rearrange haphazardly, will be published by Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2016. My third manuscript is long-finished and homeless. It’s about an unnamed person who’s trying to say her story in relation to another unnamed person who’s trying to replace her story with his. Come to think of it, all my work is about documenting narrators as they insist themselves into existence. I guess I’m a bit obsessed with the things that are on either side of semi-existence.
I’m working on a messy conglomeration that will hopefully be a fourth manuscript. It’s inspired by male mathematicians who have gone “crazy,” particularly Kurt Gödel, who proved incompleteness and starved himself to death, but also Georg Cantor, who was driven mad over the issue of infinity, and Alan Turing, who was, arguably, driven mad on purpose when the government chemically castrated him for being gay. I’ve always been fascinated by this male mathematician archetype and the historical figures who embodied it.
Do you think there is a specific “achievement” a person must “unlock” before she can be called a writer?
The idea of being a writer can, like any identity or object of mind, take on a pathological, addictive, and ultimately empty quality. People think they have to publish something to be a writer. So they publish a piece, then they don’t think they’re a writer till they publish at a certain journal. Then they don’t think they’re a real writer till they publish a book. Then they don’t think they’re a real writer till they publish on a certain type of press, or get a certain type or review or award, or become an academic, or till they’ve mastered some kind of elusive, perfect “writer’s life” strategy like the ones in those “ten habits of great writers” lists. Nothing seems to stop them from feeling like a fraudulent turd, like they never quite wear their beret at the correct angle, like if they really have a poet’s heart then why are they only pretending to like Leonard Cohen, like if they were just a bit more of an insomniac or manic depressive maybe they could complete a novel and attain a Wikipedia page.
I want to hug everyone who’s caught in this poverty-paradigm hole. There’s enough “being a writer” to go around for everyone. It’s not that I think everybody who writes anything, ever, is magically A Writer or that every piece of writing is Equally Good. To me, being a writer is about whether or not you feel like writing and language are central to your spiritual, mental, and emotional existence. Your writing could be public, private, or in-between. There’s an identification with the act and a drive to do it—but you can do it on your own terms and timeline. It doesn’t have much to do with externals. It’s not a CV. It’s not something you wear. Being a writer is not equivalent to owning a T-shirt with a logo of your own face on it.
How are your family/friends affected by your writing?
My world is full of people who are very supportive. However, I write in ways that many people see as formally unusual and often the topics I write about are intense and/or violent—abuse, trauma, mental illness. So there are people in my personal life who love me but who seem like they… well… lovingly struggle with not being on the same wavelength as my creations, which is fine. I understood people might struggle with my writing when I started publishing. My goal is simply to encourage people to meet a piece of writing on its own terms, to shake hands and look it in the eye, even when the writing seems unusual or difficult, because these kinds of interactions between art and humans have alchemical potential.