Today's Woman In Horror is Carson Buckingham, an author whose writing I really love. This is an easy interview to read. My words are in white and Carson's are in red.
Enjoy this great interview!
It's great to have you here today, Carson Buckingham. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this interview, otherwise known as the questions and answers, could you give the readers and me a bit of a biography? Anything you wish. You asked for it:
Carson Buckingham was born a while back. As a child, she excelled in finger-painting, rendering an amazingly accurate reproduction of Picasso’s “Guernica” on the right index finger of a playmate. Unfortunately, the piece was destroyed when the teacher demanded that “all hands be washed sparkly clean” before snack time. Buckingham was so devastated that, to this day, she breaks out in a cold sweat at the sight of graham crackers and orange juice.
But, undaunted, she moved on to other areas of interest. In elementary school, she kept to herself, sneaking into the high school chemistry lab during play periods and creating explosions and smoke of various colors and corrosiveness.
Permanently banned from the inorganic sciences by age seven, she took up cooking, spending her play periods in the home economics room, creating explosions and smoke of various colors and corrosiveness.
The following year, the chemistry teacher and the home economics teacher spoke with Buckingham’s guidance counselor, recommending that, since she showed such promise, she be sent, as the youngest intern in history, to the underground weapons testing site in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Only too glad to comply, her father sent her packing. “Maybe now I can get the damned house rebuilt once and for all!” he was heard to mutter.
In New Mexico, Buckingham distinguished herself when, on her first day, she completely confounded the security system. Being a short, easily frustrated person, she couldn’t reach the keypad to punch in her access code, so she kicked the console several times, causing a total blackout and system lockup throughout the entire compound, not to mention the activation of launch codes. Seven weeks later, when the Microsoft technical experts could get the doors open once again, she was ejected by Bill Gates personally.
Having a deep sense of pride, even at age eight, Buckingham didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of going home again. She wasn’t sure she’d recognize the place, anyway, since, when she last saw it, it was pretty much a charred frame with doors. So, she sang ho for the open highway, and hit the road.
After a year or so, she was apprehended and sent back to school, where she worked hard for four years and finally entered high school quietly and without fanfare.
In high school, her inquiring mind was ready to explore the theater and she was one of the youngest members of the drama club to be cast in a leading role. Her first, and unfortunately, her last role the Monster in “Frankenstein;” during which she was booed off the stage. It all happened during the famous cigar-smoking scene in the blind hermit’s hut, in which the Monster goes berserk at the sight of a flaming match. Buckingham, in her zeal to make the Monster’s fear credible, roared and waved her arms about to such an extent that she ended up setting fire to the table, the set, and the blind hermit (played by a high school senior who could, from that point forward, forget about the modeling career he was previously so well suited for).
Acting career at an end, Buckingham immersed herself in reading and later, writing. She began an underground newspaper at her school, which was wildly popular until she was ratted out by the senior whose modeling career she’d ruined.
She graduated from high school as the class Maledictorian (no, that’s not a typo). In her parting speech, she used so many words that the audience had to look up that, when she was finished, they had no choice but to applaud, even though she had just spent twenty minutes telling them all to . . . well, it’s probably better left unrepeated.
Buckingham spent a short time in college, where the professors all clubbed together to buy off the Dean to give her a diploma and get her the hell out of there.
Professionally, Buckingham has made her way in life doing all manner of things, most of which involve arson. She is currently employed as a freelance writer on a work release program. In her spare time, she studies forensics, in hopes of applying her new knowledge to eluding the authorities more effectively the next time.
She is originally from Connecticut, but now resides in Glendale, AZ—and Connecticut is glad to be rid of her.
Okay, time for some Q&A.
- What got you started on the path to writing? My childhood was chaotic, what with my step-father being the town drunk. Writing was not only cathartic for me, but allowed me to put some sense of control back into my life.
- Who are your favorite authors? Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, Patrick Taylor, Poe (of course), Tee Gerritsen, Charles L. Grant, Bentley Little, Donald E. Westlake, T.M. Wright, and Maeve Binchy.
- You have said that fiction is truth. Could you explain that? Actually, what I said was, “Fiction is where the truth is.” This is different from nonfiction, which is where the facts are. Certainly facts are all true, but all truth is not factual—in fact, very little of it is. Truth is a matter of perception—everyone’s truth is a little different, depending upon how one looks at things. Truth is more of an idea-based concept, so when reading fiction, the reader may not necessarily find truth that dovetails with his or her own—it’s the author’s view of truth, after all—but I find that, more times than not, I am in agreement with what the author is putting forth because most truth in fiction is fairly universal. However, if the reader disagrees with the author’s idea of truth, then the result is that the reader understands and defines his or her personal truth a little better. All you have to do is read the comments on Facebook after someone has made a statement—a perfect demonstration that truth is subjective. Facts are not—they just are.
- Is horror more truth than other fiction? No, I don’t think so. Again, we’re dealing with perceptions. Every piece of fiction has some or many truthful points to get across.
- Is that the reason you write horror? I write horror because I enjoy reading horror, so it made sense for me to write in that genre—much easier to keep up with, if you enjoy reading it. I once took a stab at a romance novel for some quick cash. After reading four or five to familiarize myself with the genre, I discovered that I couldn’t actually write one with a straight face. It kept degenerating into circus-like comedy.
- You never get writer's block. Why is this? I don’t know. Perhaps because nothing much intimidates me. I don’t panic when I see an empty page. Every word doesn’t have to be golden and they are not inscribed in stone. Once you adopt this attitude, you just sit and write something—nobody else is going to see it before you’re ready to show it to them. I regard it, much like Stephen King does—it’s my job. I love one of his quotes: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration—the rest of us just get up and go to work.” Not to say that there haven’t been times when I haven’t felt like writing, but it wasn’t because I was blocked.
- You, like me, don't write outlines. What is your writing method? I decide how I want the story to end and I write to that ending. I don’t think you can start anything if you don’t know the direction you need to follow to reach the end. Additionally, if you slavishly follow an outline, you’ll probably get a technically decent story, but you will have missed out on the wonderful feeling of well-drawn characters taking over your story—which much improves it. There are lots of times when I’m on a roll, that the characters seem to say and do things that I didn’t anticipate. It’s sort of like being haunted by your own creations, and there’s nothing like it. I feel like I’m just taking dictation, sometimes. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve felt it once yourself.
- I love your sense of humor. How are you able to interject it into your writing? I try to inject the way we live into my writing—it makes everything more realistic. As we go about our lives, there is humor, depression, sadness, laughter, dissention, anger, insecurity, and more. I try to incorporate as many of these states as I can, because they are real. And, in turn, it makes the characters much more human and, with any luck at all, the reader will come to like the likeable ones, detest the bad ones, and root for the protagonist(s). When a reader finishes one of my books or short stories, I want that person to be a little sad that he and the characters he or she has come to care about are going their separate ways.
- Dialogue is one of your strong points. Many supposed greats at the craft have never been able to write decent, let alone good, dialogue. What are your secrets? No big secret. It’s just a matter of listening to the ways in which a variety of people talk. And this doesn’t mean that you need to sit in a park all day eavesdropping, though it’s fun to do. I paid attention to every conversation I’ve ever had and I write the way people actually speak. Before I even get started Chapter One of my book, I write up a brief character sketch of the main characters, and when I add in a minor character, I stop and do the same thing. Then I give them voices according to who they are and what they do. For example—the cab driver in Gothic Revival is a grizzled old guy who’s probably been driving a cab since he got his license—so not a lot of education there—so let’s not make him speak like Alan Rickman. You have him running words together, perhaps using an incorrect word, dropping his ‘Gs’, make him superstitious and a chain smoker. Without even describing the man physically, the reader will pull his or her own idea of what the cabbie looks like simply from his speech. Additionally, if you have varying speech patterns between a couple of characters, you can avoid the “Stanley said…Agnes said…” You won’t need to use these labels because it will be obvious who is speaking.
- Even though you have written some lengthy tales, you have plenty of detail without going over-board and boring the reader. Do you consider this to be one of your strong points? I certainly do. I think it’s all a matter of correct pacing, as well as showing rather than telling. I try to get details across in conversations as much as possible, and keep the narrative super-streamlined, conveying detail that conveys the bare minimum of what the reader needs to know. It’s easy to bog down the story if you don’t. I do scads of research for my work. For Home, I read three or four books pertinent to the subject matter, but actually included very little of it. Research is done so the writer may write with authority and factually about a particular subject—not to be all bunged in there so the readers can see everything you learned. They will not be impressed by this.
- Could you explain some of your other strengths? Don't be shy. Okay—one of them is that all open questions must be answered or explained by the end of the book—nothing left hanging, no matter how small. When I finish a chapter, I print it off and get out a red pen. At the bottom of the last page of the chapter, I list the open questions. I refer back to the ends of chapters constantly. It really helps. The second strength is that I also do tons of research—even if you’re writing fiction, accuracy of ALL facts you put forward must be verified. For example, I called the Connecticut Horticultural Society to find out when lilacs bloomed in CT. As it turned out, I had them blooming in the wrong month, and rather than change the timeline of the story, I opted to change flowers. This may seem like a small thing, but if someone who knows when lilacs are supposed to bloom reads that they’re now blooming in July instead of April, something like this will happen: “Feh! Lilacs don’t bloom in July!” When this happens, not only have you pulled your reader out of your story, but the gentle reader will no longer trust any facts you put forth, whether they are correct or not. Inaccuracies, even minute ones, will cause this. I fact check everything I write exhaustively—it’s worth the time and effort.
- I love how you help promote other authors. This is certainly to be commended and is always appreciated by those getting your approval. Obviously you love giving back to the community. I think it is up to each of us to promote each other. Pay it forward is my motto. It makes me really happy when an author succeeds. However, I also feel very strongly that, when someone takes the time to promote an author, that it is incumbent upon said author to express a little gratitude/humility. There are authors I’ve written to to tell them how much I enjoyed their books (and not big name authors—folks right on FB) only to be completely ignored. Doesn’t make me want to buy another one of their books. Recently, there was a post going around on FB called, “10 Unpopular Opinions” and one author actually wrote “You suck. Not you, you.” Wow. Really want your readers to see that? Is that all you think of them?
- This will be the question you probably didn't expect to see here, but it's one I've been wondering about for awhile. I've made veiled references to this before in posts. You don't have to mention names, of course, but do you think that all your publishers have done enough to promote you and your great books? If not, what could some publishers do to more of, in your opinion, to champion the cause of their authors? I’m kind of at sea on this one. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent formula for success. I tried blogging—didn’t make a difference. I tried a book launch with really great prizes and not as many folks as I thought would show up, did. I’ve tried FB notifications and email blasts to no avail. I think that my publishers were just as much in the dark about what would work as I was—so I can’t really blame them too much. After everything I’ve tried, I’m really not sure which way to go anymore, as far as promotion goes. I have no idea what works.
Okay, now it's time for you to add in whatever you wish. Tell us about your work at editing, book reviews, and more. Make it as long or short as you wish.
I’ve edited a handful of books by authors other than myself, and everybody seems pleased. I charge $2 per 250-word page, and I provide extensive editing—by which I mean that I don’t just find typos and incorrect grammar or style. I also find areas to improve the manuscript and will make detailed suggestions about said areas. When I edit a book, the author also gets what amounts to a writing course. I will suggest areas to flesh out, areas to cut down or eliminate, questions that require answers that were not answered, inaccuracies in description or fact, etc.
I did book reviewing for Shroud Magazine for a while, and was never comfortable with it. I’m no one to say this book is good and that one isn’t. “Who do you think you are?” I ask myself. I’m no authority. As a matter of fact, if I felt I couldn’t give a book a ringing endorsement, I declined to review it. I’m not out to destroy someone’s efforts—that’s not who I am. I know how much work goes into putting a book together—and nobody sets out to create a not-ready-for-prime-time book. So, I finally decided that books should be allowed to rise or fall on their own—I’m not out to hasten a fall.
Feel free to add in as many links as you wish.
If anyone is interested in my editing services, check out: http://writetothepointservices.blogspot.com/ and drop me an email. References upon request.
My website: .http://carsonbuckingham.blogspot.com/
Thank you for taking part in Women In Horror Month, Carson. It's been a pleasure having you grace my website.
Well, thanks very much for including me, my friend—and the pleasure was all mine!