Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Carl E. Reed

Posted by August 15th, 2011

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A
Carl E Reed pic

Get to know Book Country member Carl E Reed in our inaugural Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

When I sat down to really think about who should kick off our new monthly Book Country Member Spotlight, I knew it was going to be a tough decision. “There are so many awesome people, here!” I told myself. “How am I supposed to pick just one?”

After scouring member profiles, discussion boards, and top lists, there were still too many options. (Thank goodness, we’ll be doing this spotlight more than once!) So I thought about who pops up on the site regularly that I know essentially nothing about–Oooh! Carl E Reed! The only things I really knew about this man was what he shared in his profile–that, and his exuberant and unstoppable love of words.

So, without much further ado, let’s learn a little bit about this 47-year-old gentleman from the Windy City (whose middle name I now know is Everett, by the way):

DP: Let’s start with the basics…when and why did you start writing? 

CR: Like many another writer I fell in love with the transportive, ecstatic power of the written word nearly as soon as I’d learned to read. I learned this now-dying Mandarin art (the average modern-day American reads at between a seventh and eighth-grade level) at John B. Murphy Public School on the northwest side of Chicago: a hulking, three-story, no-nonsense elementary education center for the working classes that I attended in the early 70s.

The school library proudly displayed over-sized, oil-painted portraits of the “multicultural” heroes Christopher Columbus and Leif Ericson on the high-ceilinged walls. It was in that room in the second grade that I began copying out admired short stories from our school primer onto notebook paper. It was my intention to retain these literary masterpieces when I had to give the book back at the end of the school year. (The ranks upon ranks of colorful, plastic-covered books on the shelves—so I assumed—would always be there.)

Our school librarian was Mrs. Cottney: a stern, gray-haired teacher in black cats-eye spectacles who managed to look even more severe when she smiled. Her crisp, clarion-clear educator’s voice rings in my head to this day: “We don’t dog-end pages to mark our place in a book; we always use a bookmark. A book is not a toy; it is your passport to adventure and higher learning.” It was mid-way through my third year when she came up behind me while I was sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair and snapped, “Stop copying stories out of books and start writing your own.”

I was thunderstruck. The idea had never even occurred to me.

DP:  What’s your favorite genre to write? How about to read? Why? 

CR: Most of my stories seem to fall into the “weird fiction” category; however, I don’t really think in terms of genre categories when I write. An idea occurs to me—well, it would be more accurate to say that the climax of a story suddenly pops into my head from out of nowhere, occasioned by an upwelling of emotion—and then I begin to work backward from that vision and feeling, building a skeletal framework of plot around the hard-beating heart of the story’s climax and denouement.

As to what I enjoy reading, it’s . . . erm . . . nearly everything.

I read for 2-3 hours a day. Since I work full-time this isn’t always an easy or practical thing to do. I’ve arranged a number of book tables beside my leather recliner in the living room (the one indulgence in this otherwise Spartan apartment; no TV) and I read from the stacks of books I’ve removed from my library for immediate consumption: an eclectic mixture reflecting my own interests, consisting of just about everything under the sun: poetry, essays, science, religion, philosophy, psychology, history, fiction, literary criticism, memoir, biography, military history, etc.

DP: Not all writers hope to accomplish the same thing with their work or have the same dreams for a work’s life. What are your writing goals and aspirations?

CR: My writing goals and aspirations are these:

(1) Write every day.

(2) Continue to write short stories with the hope of one day seeing Dark Visions: The Collected Weird Fiction of Carl E. Reed, vol. 1 in print.

(3) Someday write a memorable sentence or phrase so pitch-perfect, powerful and evocative that it simply can’t be improved upon—and, once read, is impossible to forget.

Other writers may wish to be remembered for a particularly strong novel, short story, poem or series of books. Not me. There are entire libraries of great books that I will never get to read before I die—the same is true for all of us, alas!—and I’ve no wish to add to the burden of others by being the kind of writer who creates yet another ten-million-word oeuvre of numbing mediocrity. My writerly [sic] ambition could be summed up like this (with apologies to Aristotle): the right word, at the right time, with the right person, for the right reason.

DP: Every writer comes across a rough patch in their work. What is your biggest personal writing challenge?

CR: The biggest personal writing challenge I face is overcoming my own resistance to write. Every day is a battle. Every . . .  single . . . day.

But I’ve learned a bit of on-again, off-again discipline through the years: the necessity of simply sitting down and doing the work, regardless of mood or energy. When Ray Bradbury advises “write yourself sane” or Joyce Carol Oates reminds us that “in a sense, the writing will create the mood” or William Faulkner shares, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”—I hear and respond to the masters’ ringing call to arms and I experience renewed enthusiasm for the writer’s craft: this strange, wrenching business of through-a-glass-darkly visions, overpowering emotion and occasional epiphanic insights expressed through tedious word-ordering on the page/computer screen.

DP: You mention William Shakespeare as a muse for your character Walter in THE MAN WHO KILLED WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Do you similarly have a muse? What inspires you?

CR: I don’t have a muse, per se; but I do invoke Cosmos and the Void/God/the conjoined powers of the rational and irrational minds when I write.

There is something very odd going on when we write fiction, something akin to (pick your favorite metaphor): “falling down the rabbit hole”, “a fictional trance”, “dreaming with eyes wide open”, etc. I try to get out of my own way when I write. In doing so, I give my characters room to breath and act. This feels like inspiration; this seems like the muse taking me by the arm and pointing: “There—do you see? There and there and there—look closely. Closer. Listen. Watch and learn.”

I am inspired by writers who are artistically fearless, wryly self-deprecating, feverishly-creative iconoclasts, struggling against psychic pain and constraining circumstance to bring their art into the world. I am moved by the deeply-flawed but large-souled human being: writers of distinctive vision and voice such as Howard Philips Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, etc. The list is legion.

I am also inspired every time I read about or encounter another truly decent, kind, tolerant and life-affirming human being. People who keep their egos in check; who know that the purpose of life is to spread light and love and laughter (sorry, but it really is that simple). What was it Kurt Vonnegut said?—“The only religion a man needs is kindness.” As a practicing Roman Catholic I must report that my church begs to differ with this sentiment, but I understand and applaud the twinkling-eyed humanistic warmth of Vonnegut’s flat declarative statement.

DP: In THE FINAL FLIGHT OF MAJOR HAVOC, you are very detailed when it comes to flight patterns and aircraft technology. Does this knowledge have anything to do with your experience in the Marine Corps or was it the result of mountains of research? 

CR: Ah, much amused am I! In answering I shall be forced to reveal my inner Walter Mitty: although I rode on Huey gunships, dual-bladed CH-46 helicopters, C-130 turbo-prop transports and giant four-engine C-5 Galaxy cargo jets in the Marine Corps my knowledge of piloting stems entirely from my love of combat flight simulators. It was venerable classics such as Red Baron, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and Jane’s ATF NATO Fighters that taught me how to quickly scan a bullet-riddled instrument panel and apply some deft stick-and-rudder to survive in a target-rich environment. One can’t be pondering the alien wonders and mind-reeling irrealities of Borgesian labyrinths and Lovecraftian cosmicism ALL the time. . . .

DP:  Before we wrap up, tell us something random and unexpected about yourself, something that has nothing to do with writing. 

CR: I love motorcycles. I’ve been riding since my early 20s: everything from single-stroke street bikes to 1800cc V-twin monsters. In days past there was nothing I liked better than to dump my notebooks, a couple of good paperbacks and two-day’s worth of clothes into my leather saddlebags and take off for the weekend. Destination: anywhere. I would ride entirely on whim and curiosity, navigating whatever roads caught my fancy, the sensation of speed a kind of dynamic meditation as I chandelled S-curves and straight-line power-blasted (I’ve got the 102-mph speeding ticket to prove it) down the interstate.

I don’t ride anymore. I have the feeling I’ve pushed my luck as far as I could take it.

Photo courtesy of Carl E. Reed.

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