Inside the Literary Mind of Christina Carson
April 9, 2017
I have little interest in writing a book that doesn’t speak to our endless human potential.
Christina Carson was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania when it still looked like the verdant farming country of England. Horses and dairy farming were prominent, and I chose horses. Educated as a scientist, I was a child of the 1960s, and one of the outcomes of that was my stance as war protester.
Leaving a PhD. program and America in 1968, I settled in western Canada and fell in love with the wildness of the country and the tolerance of the people. The cold was a tad stunning, however. I’ve been writing nonfiction and poetry as long as I can remember, but eight years ago I began to write fiction.
In 1996, I came back to the States on the arm of a Vietnam veteran. Now there’s a story for you. Presently, I reside in Alabama with my husband, also a writer. Neither the adventure of life, its wonder, nor what it has yet to teach me seem anywhere close to an end.
Question: What was the inspiration behind your newest book?
Christina: My inspiration for Accidents of Birth, which I refer to as a profound love story, was inspired by a line from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in her poem, ‘The Messenger.’ It begins: My work is to love the world…, a line which captured my sense of wonder.
As I see it, endeavoring to love the world is not just a beautiful undertaking, but the mark of someone who, known or unknown to them, is in the act of transcending themselves. What would the character be like, I wondered, who could portray this mighty task and yet still remain believable? Who had I met along the way that expressed such unconditional love? My only experience with such love has been outside my culture – two Black orderlies who tended to me as I lay in a hospital bed in my early teens.
They each took me into their lives as if I were their child, and for no reason other than their hearts worked that way. Mrs. Imogene Ware, the story’s protagonist, became a compilation of those two people and a few other Black women I met through the years. The story itself emerges from the ugly realm of racism and abusive families, yet brings the reader to the heart of love through this amazing woman and her steadfast commitment to love the world – regardless.
Question: Why and when did you decide to become a writer?
Christina: I wrote off and on most of my life. My first story was about an Irish horse farm and the girl who lived there. I was pre-teen and a complete horse nut. But until I attempted novels in my late fifties, I wrote only non-fiction – education programs, a financial column in Canada’s top investment magazine, a dual autobiography with my husband and our own magazine, ‘The Daily Inspiration,’ which we wrote and published. I was raised on words and poetry, was an avid life-long reader and, finally having collected an abundance of stories, discovered myself a storyteller. Thus, I became a novelist.
Question: What book has had the greatest influence on you and your writing and why?
Christina: The book, actually set of books, which had the greatest influence on my life were the series of books written by Carlos Castaneda about the extraordinary life of a man called Don Juan Matus. For many, these were works of fiction. For me, there was never any question they were non-fiction.
They did not directly affect my writing. No one book ever did. But they did keep me psychically alive, and when the right time came, the wonder, possibility, and extravagant sense of reality they nurtured in me, allowed me to tell stories that could not only catch one’s imagination but also implant a seed of mystical probability in my characters and their worlds. I have little interest in writing a book that doesn’t speak to our endless human potential.
Question: Where do you find ideas for your books?
Christina: I have lived a life that had taken me from the halls of academia, to the wilds of northern Canada as a shepherdess, a seller of magazine ads, a stockbroker, a corporate consultant, college teacher and more. I’ve been impoverished, successful, mundane, creative, lost and found again. Always I’ve been driven by a desire to understand human nature and why is seemed so far from its own truth. If I couldn’t find a story in that sundry lot of experiences, writing probably wasn’t mine to do.
Question: Where do you find ideas for your characters?
Christina: Usually, my ideas for a novel start with a character I want to explore. The story emerges from whatever it is they’re exploring. I enjoy quirky, deep thinking, humorous people who can figure out the truth and have the guts to stick with it. I want a character I’d enjoy in real life, since I’ll be spending a great deal of time with them, and writing is the one place where I’m ensured of finding people with whom I want to spend time.
Question: How would you describe your writing style?
Christina: Having grown up raised on poetry, I enjoy a certain lyricism in writing. I listen for a rhythm in my language and will change a word if it breaks that rhythm. I tend toward long sentences as I like how ideas can be propagated in that way. However, I love the impact of short sentences. The long and short of it creates a montage I find compelling to read.
I am not a fan of extensive detail, but I do love using the natural world to set a mood in the reader that invites them into the story. I prefer terse to wordy. Though this may sound like a contradiction to my use of long sentences, it is not. For no matter what the length of a sentence, the point is to have only the necessary words. And finally, my writing must have heart as well as ideas that stimulate, perturb, and demand engagement of the reader. I’ve accomplished my aim if my reader walks away reflective and rapt.
Question: What do you consider the most difficult part of writing a book?
Christina: Endings are the toughest for me. I find it challenging to make them meaningful and memorable. A powerful ending can make a book. A weak ending can devalue the finest of stories. Imaginative first lines and first pages are easy compared to wrapping up an entire story creatively.
Question: What are your current projects?
Christina: Currently, I am writing short stories. In fact, I write what is called short, short stories. I am taking an unexpected moment in the lives of various individuals and giving the reader an insider view of the inner and outer experiences of those involved. A grandmother and granddaughter talking about love; a war veteran on the run who meets a woman he could have loved had it not been for war; a woman bitten by a dog which brings an interesting man into her life. Stories that show how funny or poignant, endearing or tragic human interaction can be and yet what can evolve from such experiences.
Please click HERE to purchase Accidents of Birth.