You can read the full introduction to the series here. In short The Conversations with the Bookless series is designed to raise the profile of and increase the exposure of some of the emerging writers we knew were out there.
In this installment we talk to Gary Carson.
After the jump check out the full interview.
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
I’m sitting at an old desk in a house outside the city limits of Rolla, Missouri, a small university town in the middle of the Ozarks, one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet, now weathered to a landscape of rolling hills, deciduous forest, caves, springs, limestone bluffs and rivers full of catfish. This is Quantrill territory where a vicious guerrilla war was fought during the War Between The States. The New Madrid Seismic Zone is around here somewhere and you can actually see the Milky Way at night, unlike the megacities in California and Nevada where I lived for twelve years before moving back here around four years ago.
Rolla’s a temporary location, most likely, a good place to write, but that’s about it. If I can solve my bookless problem and actually start making a living at my writing, I’m thinking about moving back to California or the Northwest–somewhere near the mountains and the ocean. I miss rock climbing and sailing, but I like violent weather, too, so other possible locations include the sub-tropics–Florida, maybe, for the hurricanes–or even a wasteland like Oklahoma, somewhere in Tornado Alley. I’ve always wanted to get into tornado chasing, but the twisters always seem to go around me wherever I live. They’ve come close a few times–one passed directly over our house in Champagne, Illinois, when I was a kid, but I slept right through it. I’ve made a solemn vow to see a funnel cloud before I drop dead. I guess it’s possible that both things could happen simultaneously.
Who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?
Ian Fleming is a major inspiration. A seriously under-rated writer. His descriptive passages are fantastic: the underwater scenes in Thunderball and Live and Let Die; James Bond’s night voyage to Doctor No’s island; the night scene where Bond breaks into the Ouroboros Bait and Rare Fish Company in Live and Let Die (the same place where Felix Leiter gets fed to the sharks); the train scenes in From Russia With Love. These are some of the greatest descriptive passages you’ll ever find in thrillers of any genre. Period.
I’m also into espionage writers like Len Deighton (first three books, especially The Billion Dollar Brain); crime writers like James Ellroy (American Tabloid) and my own agent, Alan Guthrie, as well as writers like Philip Kerr and technothriller writers like Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I read all sorts of stuff, including a lot of non-fiction, especially ancient history, so it’s hard to narrow it down, but Fleming is definitely at the top of the list. I admire writers who are fast and good like Fleming and H.L. Mencken (big Mencken fan), but I also like writers who aren’t so good like Earl Stanley Gardner. Other favorites include H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard (Conan). Lovecraft’s stuff, especially stories like The Dunwich Horror, have heavily influenced my taste for tentacled bloblike creatures with multiple eyes and I keep finding them popping up in my own books.
I’ve also been heavily influenced by the old EC horror comics (the ones that were banned back in the Sixties) and things like the original Jonny Quest cartoons and the original Magnus-Robot Fighter comics (Russ Manning artwork–the later stuff is crap). My most unlikely influence I owe to my father, who got me into model railroads when I was a kid. I’ve been into trains every since and my books always include at least one train scene…
When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?
I started writing in the third grade, typing up grisly monster stories on an old manual typewriter. No idea why I got into it, but my grandmother had a lot to do with it. She was a kindly old woman who wrote Christian short stories and she encouraged my writing, but I think she was horrified by the result. At any rate, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been semi-decent at. I was a half-assed musician at one time–even spent two semesters at the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, Missouri–but I just didn’t have the ear for it. I was a journalist for a while, a programmer and corporate IT geek (I’ve got an English degree–waste of time–and a Computer Science degree), but I keep coming back to the fiction, probably because I have a strong compulsion to escape from reality.
Why do you write?
For pleasure and money, the same things that motivated Ian Fleming. Unfortunately, writing has turned out to be so difficult that it’s hard to enjoy it and I’m not making any money. Go figure.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
I’ve got to get faster and better. I need a more reliable method for brainstorming new ideas and turning them into solid outlines. I’ve been using dictation more and more for working things out and I’m going to try dictating my early drafts. I’d like to be able to produce at least one book a year, but–theoretically–I should be able to do even more than that.
For example, I can dictate around fifty words per minute right now, which is pretty slow, but even at that speed, I should be able to dictate a 120,000-word draft in four or five months just during the time I spend driving back and forth to the gym every day (roughly 30 minutes). So theoretically I should be able to work on two books simultaneously. Other writers have worked this way to good effect: Earl Stanley Gardner, for instance; Sydney Sheldon; Richard Powers. It’s a tough skill to learn, however.
My goal at the moment is to basically stop writing with a keyboard and start dictating everything, but who knows if I’ll be able to make the transition (I’m writing this on my laptop, for instance). Anyway, I’ve got all the tools I need: a professional-quality voice recorder, Dragon Naturally Speaking, a good wireless headset microphone, etc. I use the voice recorder while I’m driving around (with a noise-canceling headset mike) and transcribe the recordings into Word when I get home. Works pretty well.
I’m also experimenting with an “idea-generating machine” to use for brainstorming. Basically, I’m using an incredible software application called The Personal Brain to build a massive non-heirarchical database like a mind map, collecting story ideas which catch my attention. I can then create unusual connections between these different ideas which will hopefully trigger original story concepts.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
Atmosphere. Suspense. Solid writing. Realistic characters. Logical yet fantastic plots, if that makes any sense. Entertainment. Escapism. Sex and violence. Any whiff of political correctness is the kiss of death.
How would you describe your style?
Descriptive. Complex. Dark. Chaotic. Plot-oriented. It’s either evolving or devolving; I can never really tell. I write what I call “paranoid conspiracy technothrillers” which combine elements of espionage, noir crime, action/adventure, science fiction, political thrillers and disaster stories.
Where can readers check out some of your work?
It took me a long time to get my act together and I’m just getting started, so I don’t have a very long list of credits. I’ve had some short stories published by web zines, but my best story to date (Black Sun) was published in the anthology Sex, Thugs, and Rock and Roll, which is available on Amazon (my first and so far only sale–$50). I kind of like an essay I wrote called “The Crime Writer’s Guide To Contract Murder” which can be found on Alan Guthrie’s web magazine Noir Originals. I also run a blog devoted to ancient history called The Ancient World Review in case you’re interested in that kind of thing.
What are you working on now?
After slaving on it for over two years on a full-time basis, I’m wrapping up a massive thriller called Phase Four, undoubtedly the most complicated thing I’ve ever tried to write before. I’m also planning four more novels.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
I’m hoping my new book will break through, but if it doesn’t, I’ll keep cranking them out until I get there, wherever “there” might turn out to be. At this point, I don’t have any choice. I’m committed in more ways than one. This is an extremely difficult business to break into, but I’m dumb enough to think that I can actually do it. After all, if Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror and Son of Rosemary: The Sequel to Rosemary’s Baby can get published, I ought to be able to sell some of my crap. Right?