On Saturday, Book Country creator Molly Barton was a guest on NPR’s “On the Media” to talk about Book Country and the wonderful writers who are part of it. For the segment, she was joined by one of our titular members, Carl E. Reed, who shared his experience of the site with the “On the Media” audience.
We thought Carl’s appearance on national radio was a good time to catch up with what’s been going on in his writing life. Be sure to check out the NPR interview—embedded below for your convenience—and share your impressions with Carl later.
NG: You were our inaugural spotlight back in 2011. What’s new since we last chatted?
CR: I have a gained a television! And lost sixty pounds. I’m sure these two facts are in no way related. Or—dum-dum-da DUMMMM!—are they?
NG: You were just interviewed by NPR’s “On the Media” about Book Country. What was that like?!
CR: A very intense and exciting experience. I was sitting in a quiet room, cell phone clapped to my ear, when Bob Garfield came on the line. The timbre of Bob’s baritone is so richly resonant, urbane and smooth that you imagine it’s exactly what an Augustan statue would sound like if it came to life and began declaiming The Aeneid.
We spoke about Book Country, the frustration writers face in finding open markets to submit to, and my own writing. But I am an unreliable witness.
At one point I believe Bob said something like, “Given Nietzsche’s fierce and vehement—aphoristically and otherwise—celebration of the Dionysiac over the Apollonian qualities of art, how does your own oeuvre fit into the post-modern milieu or otherwise affect the zeitgeist?”
To which I replied: “Erble meep! Me like Colorforms superfriends pack! Batman friend.”
This may have been fixed in editing…
NG: Haha, it seems that way! You recently published several of the works that you workshopped on Book Country. How has the feedback of the community contributed to the finished pieces?
CR: The criticism of the BC community has proven invaluable to my revision process. These talented writers unerringly zero in on anything that is weak or unclear, awkwardly phrased or just plain off-note (in terms of theme, tone, characterization, etc.) to the rest of the story proper. They have caught continuity errors, suggested better words or phrases for particular bits of business, and in one case supplied a more culturally appropriate name for an Aztec high-priest!
Also: I have learned to pay especial attention to bits of criticism that begin with: “I’m not quite sure about this, but…” or “Something’s bugging me about passage x; it’s hard to put into words, yet…” Invariably the reader has put his or her finger on a portion of the text that has structural problems.
CR: All of them; any of them. I am a person of many interests, moods, and sensibilities (aren’t we all?) so the most that can be said of any completed work is that I sustained the confidence and energy to finish it.
NG: In your bio, you mention having done improvisational comedy in the past. Can you tell us more about how that’s influenced your hysterically funny writing style?
CR: I am not at all certain that doing improv has influenced my comedic writing style. Having said that, however, I learned certain rules of improvisation while working with Ted Sarantos (of Sarantos Studios) while performing in “Improv the Night Away” showcases in the mid-90s.
Things like: Never ask yes or no questions on stage. (Or give yes or no answers.) Stay in the moment. Stay open to the possibilities. Play it for real: No matter how absurd or laugh-out-loud funny an unfolding skit becomes, your character should play it dead-straight and pursue their goal with single-minded intensity and creative fervor.
NG: I want to give you the pulpit: what’s your message for the Book Country members?
CR: The reward of writing well is that you more fully appreciate “The Greats” who did it (or do it) so much better than you. Fiction writing is—or should be—first and foremost a self-enrichment program; one writes to explore what one actually thinks and feels about a given subject, situation or circumstance.
For this process and published output to be compelling and relevant for the reader, the ideal writer should be intelligent, empathetic, and accomplished at his or her craft. A sense of humor is a delightful plus. Yes, the world has given us any number of bigoted, cruel, desperately unfunny and/or technically awful writers, but do you wish to be lumped into their camp?
Read widely, read well. Go wherever your omnivorously questing and perennially curious mind takes you. Eschew dogma and cant. Be courageous and honest in your work. The reader desires the cut of truth; give it to ’em—as you understand and experience it.
You cannot fool the reader. If you are a rigid thinker, a bigot, a hack—it will out. Your faults and failings—both as a writer and a decent human being—will be exposed on the page in words and subtext.
I have the utmost respect and admiration for every Book Country writer who is the decent sort. I applaud all writers who are struggling to improve their craft while they read and work, live and love, and do all of the many, myriad quotidian things our daily lives consist of.
May we all experience some measure of success and recognition for the hard work, time and passion that we pour into our writing.
NG: Amen, Carl! Thank you for being our guest again.