Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Pat Carr - Part I

Partly cloudy, high 71 degrees--another beautiful day in St. Peters, MO.

I am so excited to share with you my interview with acclaimed writer and teacher Pat Carr. The interview will be in two parts beginning today and concluding tomorrow.

Carr's twelve books of fiction include THE WOMEN IN THE MIRROR, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, IF WE MUST DIE, nominated in the 2003 PEN book awards, and THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL, published by the University of Arkansas Press. Her more than one hundred short stories have been published in Southern Review, Yale Review, Best American Short Stories and other publications. ForeWord magazine named Carr's, THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL one of the top university press books of 2008.

This coming Saturday, October 24, Carr will present a workshop to Saturday Writers at the St. Peters Community and Arts Center on "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint." I conducted my interview with Pat via e-mail.

Donna Volkenannt: You have written a dozen books of fiction and have had more than 100 short stories appear in notable publications such as Southern Review, Yale Review, Best American Short Stories, and others. THE WOMEN IN THE MIRROR won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Your novel IF WE MUST DIE was a finalist in the PEN book awards. It is obvious you are talented and a master of the craft! When did you first discover you wanted to become a writer and how did you go about becoming one?

PAT CARR: I knew I wanted to be a writer before I could write. Before I knew the alphabet, I'd fold up pages into book form and write squiggled lines that I'd "read" to anyone who'd listen. I taught myself how to type when I was 13 so I could type up stories and start submitting them. Fortunately, no magazine took any of those early ones, but I had a liquor box stuffed with stories by the time I started high school.

DV: That's an interesting story, rich in memory and detail. Now, on to your latest book. THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL is a short story collection set in Arkansas during the American Civil War. ForeWord magazine named it one of the top university press publications of 2008. What was your inspiration for THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL, and why did you chose to write a short story collection rather than a novel?

PC: I did write a Civil War novel called A PERFECTLY SPLENDID TIME, but as I was researching and writing it, I ended up with a cast of characters that didn't fit in the novel plot, so I wrote a series of short stories as well and ended up with DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL.

DV: The research in your work shines through but does not overshadow story. Your novel IF WE MUST DIE is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the deadly race riot of 1921. Your short story collection THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL is set in Arkansas during the American Civil War. Both works of fiction are rich in historical detail. Please talk about how you research your fictional works.

PC: When I do historical research for a historical novel--or story--I read everything I can get my hands on--which in the case of the Civil War is thousands of volumes. For IF WE MUST DIE, there are basically only 8 sources since that deadly riot was kept secret until the 1980s. After I read everything, I go to the places I'm going to write about so I can get a feel for the setting. (I just finished another novel, BORDEAUX IS BURNING, set in 1348 France when the Black Plague came to Europe, so I had to go to Bordeaux to do part of the research.) I also stalk every museum I can find.

DV: I know what you mean about visiting museums. What a wonderful obsession! Now, on to short stories. Over the years I’ve attended numerous writers’ conferences, and almost without exception, agents and editors said they did not represent short story collections. Lately I’ve noticed short story collections are getting some favorable attention. Oprah’s latest pick, SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM by Uwem Akpan, is a collection of stories. John Grisham’s FORD COUNTY: STORIES is one of the most pre-ordered books on Wal-Mart.com and Amazon.com. What do you make of this? Do you think short story collections are making a comeback?

PC: I hope short story collections are making a comeback because I love the form. But agents and publishers other than academics are still very shy about taking on a collection.

DV: I hope you are right about short story collections making a comeback because I love the form, too. On the topic of short stories, who are some of your favorite short story writers?

PC: Short story writers I like are Chekhov, Frank O'Connor, and Katharine Mansfield.

That concludes Part I of my interview with Pat Carr. Check back tomorrow to find out which Pat believes is most important in fiction writing--vision, voice, or viewpoint--and what Hillary Clinton had to say about Pat's short story "The Party."

To learn more about Pat's "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint" Workshop visit the Events page of Saturday Writers.


  1. Pat, I love the fact that you include visiting locations as part of your story research...France must have been a wonderful trip!

    I'm looking forward to meeting you and hearing more at the Saturday Writers workshop.

    Do you have any ideas for your next book?


  2. I think if more short story collections were published the public would read more. A short story can be read quickly in this fast pace world.

    Pat, I have always enjoyed you, when you have spoken at OWL.

  3. Hi Pat and Mary,
    Thanks for your comments. As far as I know Pat isn't responding to questions or comments on my blog, so I guess the question will have to be held until the workshop.


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