Today I am talking to author Anthea Carson about her life and writing.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Anthea Carson: The first story I wrote, I didn't know how to use letters. I noticed that there were symbols used to make sentences, so I tried using ice cream cones for the letters. I thought it wouldn't matter, and that my mom should be able to make sense of it anyway. I don't remember what the story was about, but I remember that my mom couldn't make sense of it. She tried to pretend she did, but when I quizzed her on what the story was about, she flunked terribly. I then sobbed and sobbed and stomped my feet because nobody could read my ice cream cone words. I don't know how old I was, but obviously couldn't yet read. So I tried to write my first story before I could read or write.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Anthea Carson: I used to stand outside and stare at the sunlight shimmering through the trees, and the first time I found myself alone outside and saw the stars at night, I stood in awe and wonder at them. So I guess it was nature that inspired me.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
Anthea Carson: I love to create the unspoken tension between characters. I love to mimic reality, and the flowing and undefinable nature of relationships. I love to show the cause and effect between people and the decisions that they make. I love how one thing leads to another, and how so often one event will set in motion a chain of events that cannot be stopped. I both love and hate that time is irreversible, and I love to ponder that and show the harsh reality of that in my stories. I love the struggles that are common to everyone like indecision, hesitation, and how each of us handles grief in his or her own individual way, almost like a fingerprint.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about your book Call me Jane?
Anthea Carson: Jane starts off as a somewhat of a blank piece of paper in her adolescent years and life begins tossing and turning her, changing who she is forever. She leaves her cushy private school for the rough and tumble public school because she wants to be more real The realness of life might not have been something she was prepared for though. And although she is naive, she is not innocent, and her choices also impact the world, as it impacts her. She is sly, and sometimes only seems innocent. She falls in love with her best friend's boyfriend, and justifies to herself the steps she takes to steal him. The harm she does to her best friend was something she hadn't expected, and wasn't prepared to deal with. Life wasn't playing dress up and barbies, like she half expected. Consequences were something she had simply never seen before. And sometimes it's not that you don't do the right thing, but simply that you wait too long to do it.
While Jane herself could be called naive, her new friends certainly are not. They are cynical, jaded, worldy and unpredictable. They play with her like a new found kitten, tossing her balls to chase. They are like a set of puzzle pieces that all fit together, or a chess board where the men all move differently, only she has yet to figure out her place in that strange world they have created.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for the book?
Anthea Carson: It is fairly autobiographical although the names are changed, and mostly fictionalized.
Books & Writing: How long did it take you to write the book?
Anthea Carson: Call me Jane took about five years total, although for several of those years the manuscript simply sat on the shelf jelling.
Books & Writing: The book is part of a trilogy called "The Oshkosh Trilogy." Why did you decide to make a trilogy from the story and which part of the trilogy is "Call me Jane?"
Anthea Carson: The first book in the trilogy was not originally intended to be a trilogy at all. "The Dark Lake," as it is called, was the story of a woman who is caught in the past and for some reason cannot leave it. "Call me Jane" is the next book in the sequel, but it is in reality a prequel. "Call me Jane" shows the event she cannot remember in "The Dark Lake," twenty years later. The event happened at a party. In "The Dark Lake" she gets two separate events mixed up in her mind and has melded them together as one. "Call me Jane" and the next book, not yet titled, is the separating of those two events. She cannot remember what happened, and yet remembers fragments and blurs the lines between the two traumatic events. And the reality of what happened to her is much less terrifying than the nightmare her life has become by repressing the memories.
Books & Writing: I understand that you have written several books over the years. Can you elaborate on some of them?
Anthea Carson: I co-authored a children's chess book called "How to Play Chess Like an Animal," with the Colorado State chess Champion, Brian Wall. (I have been a tournament chess player and chess coach for many years). I wrote a young adult fiction called "Ainsworth," about a mystery of uncovering the disappearance of a long lost uncle on a farm in the Sandhills of Nebraska. This book explores the fascinating world of the Ghostdance, a phenomenon that spread across the Native American tribes in the late 1800's.
I also wrote "Two Moons," a short story about a female chess player and a strange man who follows her, a short story called "House Under Water," about a dream, a novella called "Girl with the Alligator Pants," which is a fantasy, stream of consciousness version of "Call me Jane," and "Cheese Doodles," a nonsensical short story about a drug addicted young woman in Texas whose life seems to be spinning out of control.
Books & Writing: What do you like about writing short stories?
Anthea Carson: I like the fact that they don't need to go on and on, and can contain strange ideas that, if carried on throughout a long sequence would become far fetched and ridiculous or lose momentum. I like the fact that they can be trivial and ridiculous. I suppose novels can too, but it's easier with short stories.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Anthea Carson: I recommend a book called "Writing down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. She helps free the creative spirit. I recommend stripping off the mask and telling the truth although I must say that doing so exposes one's soul to the world and this may yet cause me to become a recluse if I'm not careful. Of course there is always chess I can escape to. Thank God for that.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Anthea Carson: Faulkner inspires me, but I don't want to write like him. I want to write like Hemmingway. I want to learn to keep it simple. But I love the complexity of Faulkner. I don't think readers are drawn to that sort of thing though, it is too straining. I also deeply respect and admire the work of George Eliot. Other major influences include Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte, Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Gone with the Wind. I know I know, not considered a classic. But it should be. Oh, and of course, the best, Jane Austen. I love Shakespeare too.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Anthea Carson: I have a free ebook on Goodreads, called "House Under Water." Otherwise my books are all on Amazon kindle. You can also order my paperback of Ainsworth from amazon. You can go to http://www.chesslikeananimal.com to order chess like an animal. I also have 2 new books out with a fellow chess player named Tim Brennan. They are called Tactics Time and Tactics Time for Kids.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on the internet?
Anthea Carson: I am @chessanimal on Twitter, Anthea Jane Carson on facebook, http://www.antheajanecarson.com and Goodreads, Anthea Carson.
Books & Writing: Is there anything else you want to share with readers?
Anthea Carson: I have two or three more novels in the works. One is of course the third in the Oshkosh Trilogy, and another is a suspense/thriller about a woman trapped in a deadly marriage.
Below is an excerpt from the book Call me Jane!
Back in 8th grade we used to go to the Y dance every Friday night.
Lynn Bonner was my best friend. She would bring the clothes she planned to wear in a duffel bag to my house. She could never borrow any of my pants or shirts because she was so tall. She loved to do my hair and make up and talk about the cool kids who went to Webster.
Webster was the public middle school down on Hazel Street about one block from Menomonee Park. St. Mary’s, where we went to school, was only about four blocks away on Baldwin Street, but it seemed like miles. And once we started high school, those middle school Y dances seemed like they happened years ago even though it had only been a couple of months.
Lynn still did my hair but we weren’t getting ready for Y dances anymore, we were getting ready for parties.
“There,” Lynn said and stood back to admire her work. She had applied blue shadow over my eyelids, black eyeliner and thick mascara which made my upper eyelashes stick to my lower lids. Her own mascara was always smudged all over her cheeks.
“Who is the most popular girl at Webster?” I asked.
It would be years before I realized how ridiculous this question was. And yet there would always be a part of me that wanted to be one of the popular girls too.
“Glinda. She really takes the cake,” Lynn said, shaking her head as she dabbed my face. “She dresses so cool.”
“And she is really coming here tonight?”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard. And Gay too, she’s coming. Actually, Gay is probably the most popular, but Glinda is the prettiest. She’s so pretty. And she dresses really cool. Nobody can imitate her style,” she continued. She had finished my make up and was working on her own hair, touching up one of the curls with that hot, clumsy curling iron, its cord bulky, stiff and awkward. It kept knocking over vials of nail polish and bottles of foundations that were always two shades too dark for my skin color. It was the 1970’s. Disco, feathered hair and dark tans were cool. I could never admit how pale my shade actually was.
“They all have such weird names,” I observed. “Like that girl Krishna? What do you know about her?”
“She is really popular.” She finished one curl and went on to the next, eyeing it in the mirror from a strange angle. This next curl was further back, on the top of her head. It’s what gave her hair lots of volume. She didn’t always do those top curls. “She hangs out with Carly Carter. Maybe Carly is the most popular. Even more than Gay. But they don’t hang out together.”
A question was forming in my brain. Didn’t all the popular people hang out together in one big popular group? But I didn’t ask her this. Instead I said, “Are those guys coming here tonight too?”
“Everyone is. At least that’s what I heard. They all found out we had booze, and that your parents are going to be gone all night,” said Lynn.
“What about Lucy? How popular is she?” I asked.
“She is really cute. She hangs out with Krishna. But Krishna is super-cute because she’s so dark. Actually Lucy’s pretty dark too. I would love to be that dark, and not have to lay out all the time.” It was brushing time. And she always loaded on the hairspray right about now. It choked me till I had to leave my bathroom, and back out into my wooden back room. It wasn’t really my bedroom. It was the den, and even when I tried to turn it into my bedroom, it still looked like the den.
She brushed and brushed, and then put her thick mess of hair down and shook it and brushed it forward. Then stood up, sprayed some more and brushed it back. Then she shook it side to side and gave it a wary eyed inspection.
“Sit down,” she said, closed the green toilet lid and pointed to my toilet. She loved to work on my hair.
“You are so cute,” she said.
“No I’m not,” I said. It didn’t mean I didn’t think I was cute, although I didn’t. It was just the standard thing you said when someone told you that you were cute. If you said nothing, you got a reputation for being stuck-up.
When she was done she said, “Is that what you’re going to wear? That?” Pointing at the outfit I had laid out on the bed. “You are not going to wear that.” She tossed it aside and began poking through my things.
I had no built-in closet for my clothes like I would in a real bedroom. My dad bought me this wardrobe thing and we set it in the corner by the door. It worked but it looked weird and temporary and if you pulled the doors too hard it tipped over. And it was metal. And yellow. There was a narrow mirror on one of the two doors on it. Next to it was the big old fold out couch. I never slept on it since I got my army cot. There was a big picture window that looked out at my backyard. I loved to stare through it. I was staring through it now, while I listened to Lynn rattle off the names of the popular kids I could never hope to be one of.