Interview with Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Interview with Dana Chamblee Carpenter, author of Book of the Just

Interview with Dana Chamblee Carpenter

What genre do you write and why?

I am proud that answering the first part of this question is rather difficult for me. The second part is easy-peasy. Some have called my books historical fiction or thrillers or horror or fantasy. I smile and say yes. Some say they are cross-genre books. I like to call them genre-defiant. I didn’t set out to write them that way, but it’s not a surprise that they turned out as such because I am an eclectic reader. I love historicals and thrillers and horror and fantasy and . . . well, there’s not much I won’t read. I don’t like to box in my reading so I’m not inclined to box in my storytelling. I let the story go where it needs to go, and if that means crossing some arbitrary genre lines then I’m okay with that—and I think most readers are, too.
Interview with Dana Chamblee Carpenter, author of Book of the Just
Tell us about your latest book.
Book of the Just picks up where Mouse’s story ends in The Devil’s Bible. She’s healing and finally with someone who accepts her as she is, but they are on the run, hiding from her father and from an organization that wants to capture her and use her special power for their own ends. Now that she has a taste of the life she’s always wanted, Mouse isn’t about to give it up. But she has to make some hard choices about how far she’s willing to go to hold onto what she loves. And whether she can forgive herself if she goes too far.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad or good ones?
Just before my first book, Bohemian Gospel, came out, I had several fellow writers tell me not to read the reviews—not the good ones, not the bad ones. I tried to stay away from them. I really did. What can I say? I don’t have much discipline. Goodreads might as well be a plate of cupcakes on the kitchen counter for all my power to stay away from them. The good reviews send a thrill of excitement through you. The bad ones are often a kick in the teeth. It really is good advice to stay away. But it would’ve meant missing out on the incredibly powerful and touching reviews that talk about how inspirational Mouse is for the reader, how she gave them the courage to do something difficult. And I would’ve missed the hilarious review that complained that the book was so scary the reviewer wouldn’t keep it in the house but took it down to the garage in the middle of the night.
What advice do you have for other writers?
The best advice I was given came from Ron Rash. He talked about how, out of all of his fellow students from his MFA program, only he and one other had actually succeeded. On the face of it, depressing, yes? But he went on to say that neither of them was the “best,” most talented writer in the group. What made them different? They were the only ones who didn’t give up. They worked through years of rejection, years of doing other things to pay the rent, of writing failed stories and learning to craft great ones. Seems simple, I know, but it’s actually a hard thing to do—don’t give up.
Who is you favourite character in your book and why?

Mouse is and will always be my first love. I love her fierceness of spirit, her refusal to accept the limitations others try to impose on her, and her constant search for a greater understanding of her self, of others, of the world around her. But in Book of the Just, she breaks my heart—and that’s when the story becomes one about the power of love to redeem us.
The character who unexpectedly captured my heart is a young boy from Eritrea named Birhan. He’s funny and wise and loyal and ever hopeful. Just what you’d want in a friend.

Who inspires you?

I’m rarely inspired by successful people, though I try to learn from them. But the people who give me the most hope and faith and courage are the people who struggle. Most of us are messed up in some way or start in hard, poor places. We don’t fit societal expectations. We sometimes fight with our inner demons. We doubt ourselves. But the people who persevere anyway are my heroes. The ones who keep going, who get up again, who shake themselves off, who forgive themselves—they’re the ones who meet the world with tenderness and kindness. For me, that’s the highest mark of success.

Interview with Dana Chamblee Carpenter, author of Book of the Just
When and where do you write?

Absolutely anywhere and any-when I can. There are loads of ideal recommendations by any number of writers out there about finding a place with a door, a place designated solely for the purpose of writing, and about writing at the same time every day, preferably in the wee hours when all the other distractions are asleep. I’m not dismissing these recommendations—they truly are the gold standard. But as a professor teaching four classes per semester and all of the other responsibilities that come with the career and being a mom of two who homeschools, if I waited until my schedule offered these kinds of ideal moments and locations, I would never get any writing done. I look at my schedule week by week and block off writing times, but I also plan ahead to be thinking about what I’m working on even in the moments where I have to be away from the keyboard. Drive times, waiting rooms, errand running—are all perfect times to let my mind play with a problem scene or with character development. I keep my journal on me at all times (and more often than not, my laptop) so I capture any magic moments that I can then use in my work. So, write anywhere and anytime when that’s all you’ve got. I do keep my summers clear so I can build more of those ideal times and places into my schedule. But I won’t let busyness keep me from telling stories.

Do you believe in writers block?

I believe that writers can sit down, fingers on the keyboard, and have nothing to give the blank page, but I don’t think there’s anything “blocking” them. Envisioning an insurmountable wall shutting us off from our creativity is certainly daunting and probably expresses the writer’s sense of panic in the moment. But I think the term and image are counter to what’s actually going on inside the writer in these moments. It’s not something blocking us, but rather an empty well that keeps the words from flowing. We’ve been pounding out the story, hard at work day in and day out puzzling through plot problems and developing character, and we forget to play. We keep siphoning from the same well to fuel the creativity, but we don’t put anything back in that well. I teach workshops about how important play is to a writer in filling the well. And when I say “play,” I really mean something fun, frivolous, without purpose—like a child would play. It’s like plugging in your imagination for a recharge.

What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.

I’m working on a first book in a new series that tells the story of the Lusk family—a mom, dad, and seven sisters, all of whom are witches like their father. All except one. Set against the backdrop of the great Mississippi flood of 1927 when the river breaks through the levies and pours into the Delta killing thousands, the story vibrates with the ancient history of the land as a dark magic is awoken and seeks vengeance.

What are you currently reading?
I actually have several books going at the same time. I’m reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to my son, who is experiencing it for the first time. So I spend most of my day building up my emotional fortitude to get through the heart-crushing next chapter. I do not know how I will hold it together when we get to the end.
I am also devouring V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, the last in her Shades of Magic trilogy. I am trying to make myself slow down but it is so hard!
And finally, I’m using Bryan Robinson’s Daily Writing Resilience: 356 Meditations and Inspirations for Writers to keep my well full as I word on the new book.


I love to hear from you. So feel free to comment, but keep in mind the basics of blog etiquette — no spam, no profanity, no slander, etc.

Thanks for being an active part of the Writers and Authors community.