Interview: Mary Carter

Mary Carter is a freelance writer and novelist. My Sister’s Voice is her fourth novel with Kensington. Her other works include: She’ll Take It, Accidentally Engaged, Sunnyside Blues, and The Honeymoon House in the best selling anthology Almost Home.

She is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has just completed A Very Maui Christmas, a new novella for Kensington that will be included in a Christmas of 2010 anthology. She is currently working on a new novel, The Pub Across the Pond, about an American woman who swears off all Irish men only to learn she’s won a pub in Ireland.

Enjoy this interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?

I’m originally from Ohio, but I moved to New York City to study acting when I was eighteen. I wrote my first short story when I was four-years-old. It was called, The Boy and the Mouse. (“Oh boy!” said the boy. “A mouse!” “Oh boy,” said the mouse. “A boy!) I wanted to be an actress, writing was just something I did, something I thought everyone did. I wrote essays, short stories, poems, and plays. I spent several years as a working stage actress, then studied to become a sign language interpreter, and finally in 2002, began work on my first novel. It was just a personal goal, a New Years Resolution in fact. I never dreamt it would be the segue to a career as a novelist. Currently I live in Sunnyside Queens, I’m a writer, but I also support myself through interpreting, and I’m working on my fifth novel for Kensington Books.

Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?

I hope they come away with a new perspective on deafness. I meet a lot of hearing people who don’t understand what Deaf Culture is all about, or why someone would be happy to be deaf. Sometimes I still encounter adults who are surprised that deaf people are allowed to drive. Although my book is not only about deafness, I would be happy to know that some readers came away with a new perspective on this incredible population.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I’m always trying to improve as a writer. I’m currently reading several books on writing. I want to improve my craft. I want my works to be taken seriously, I strive to grow with each book. I’m currently working on my fifth novel for Kensington. It’s due in August—eek!

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The characters, and their passions, and ideals, jumped off the page and made a lasting impression.

Favorite authors?

Herman Hesse, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemmingway, Wally Lamb, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, and Amy Tan stand out. However I’m an eclectic and voracious reader. I will pick up authors I’ve never heard of, or read the current hot thing everyone is reading, or buy a new paperback suspense at the drug store. I’ve read romances, and chick lit—I like Miriam Keyes, and Lisa Jewell, and Anna Maxted, and Jane Green. I read John Grisham and Lee Childs, and Stephen King, and Dean Koontz.

Book you’re currently reading?

Since my next novel takes place in Ireland, I’m reading a lot of books on Ireland at the moment. I’m also reading, From Where You Dream, which is shaping up to be one of the best books on writing I’ve come across in a long time. I recently finished the memoir, The Glass Castle, and loved it.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

I keep swearing I’m going to become more organized and settle into some kind of ritual, or writing practice that is consistent. So far, it hasn’t happened. I write around my work schedule, I write on subways, I write in my head while I’m supposed to be paying attention to something else, I write when I go to bed, I pretty much write everywhere—then I sit down to write and suddenly think I should be doing something else. It’s a daily challenge, but I’ve never missed a deadline. Lately I’ve taken to writing both by hand, and on my laptop. Writing by hand frees me up, helps me relax and not take the draft so seriously. My strength kicks in during rewrites—first drafts are torture for me. So I’m learning how to write the first draft quickly—at least I’m trying to learn how to do that. Once I have a first draft, I absolutely love the process of rewriting. It takes me several drafts to get even close to where my story is supposed to be—but that’s the part where time flies and the world disappears. I wish first drafts were like that.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

From Where You Dream, talks about writer’s block. The author suggests that if you don’t get writer’s block, then you aren’t a true artist. Yes, I get writer’s block. It’s terrifying, and it also makes me stress eat. It happens to me during first drafts—again, torture! I get past it by going around it. I get past it by telling myself that the first draft is allowed to be awful. Hemmingway puts it more colorfully, but the sentiment is the same. I get away from my laptop and write with paper and pen. Then I re-type what I’ve written, and it’s almost as if that scene now becomes the second draft for often I will add to it while typing it in. I go back to my outline and write whether I feel like it or not. I give myself writing goals—such as 2,000 words a day. Some days I let myself stop after much less as long as I’ve moved the story forward. I DO NOT LET MYSELF GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. Sometimes I will let myself read the last few pages just to get back in the groove, but that’s it. I make myself touch base with the story every day. I give myself permission to write badly—I try and not THINK. I remind myself I’ve done this four other times, so logically, I can do it again. I read books on writing and just hearing that other authors face the same blocks makes me feel a whole lot better and enables me to keep going.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

Someone who continues to write, and constantly strives to improve their craft. Someone who continues to read. Someone who is passionate about the art form and believes they are never finished learning or growing as an artist. Someone who gets excited about a great new novel, and is always thinking about their next project. I also think that a successful writer is someone who is paid to write. I guess this can be debated, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t great writers out there who don’t make money from it, but whether or not that factors into their idea of success would be up to them. For me, being able to earn a living as a writer is definitely a goal I’m striving for, and is part of my definition of success. I think it’s also a way of honoring the hard work involved in writing. In most professions, the professional expects to be paid. It’s a little dicey for an artist to say that, but we still have bills to pay, and the effort involved is immense.

Advice for other writers?

Read. Write. Read books on writing, or take a class, or join a writer’s group. Find some way of improving your craft. Finish what you start. Don’t keep starting over—wait until you have a complete first draft. Really grasp the idea that writing is re-writing. I’m lucky that I love re-writing but you may not. You still have to do it. Be open to feedback. If you’re closed to criticism you may be missing an opportunity to grow. Once you start a project, don’t abandon it, and touch on it every day.

Where can we learn more about you?

My website is marycarterbooks.com and I have a facebook page— Mary Carter Books.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for your time!

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