Exclusive Interview with Author Arly Carmack

On Writing

What made you want to become a writer?

During my childhood, it was an escape from boredom. Ultimately, I didn’t choose it as a career path, but if I had it would’ve been a way to create my own worlds and live in them. Now that’s just a hobby.

Do you write alone or in public?

I usually write alone…I’m not a multitasker, so any distractions will lead me to doing something else.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

I’ve been told that I have no business being a writer because I don’t have an MFA in writing. I believe in education, and I have one, but I was forced to choose a career in which I could earn a steady income due to my circumstances at the time. Had my life situation been different, I may have pursued a career in writing or photography, my passions. The idea that people can’t practice an art unless they check off a bunch of boxes first, is ridiculous.

What has been the best compliment?

Anyone who connects with the characters or situations on any level makes me feel like I’ve done my job. The best compliment is when someone asks me about Cameron (the main character in Nineteen) like he’s our mutual friend.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you as a writer?

I tried to give away some copies of my books to an indie bookstore once and the owner practically kicked me out because she doesn’t support indie writers. She will only sell books from big publishing houses and best sellers. I have heard of this happening to several of my indie friends. I don’t understand why there isn’t a partnership there.

What do you love most about the writing process?

I love motivations. If someone in my real life is acting in a way that I don’t understand, I can put that into a character and design a motivation and an outcome so I can justify to myself why people do what they do. It gives me a sort of peace to work through situations on paper.

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?

My day job is the farthest thing from creative – I work at a CPA firm. I am eligible for my CPA license, but am afraid to take the test! Prior to that I was in healthcare accounting, which is eventually where I’d like to end up again because I like having an industry specialty.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

When it begins to exhaust me, I know that it’s time to take a break. I could never do something like nanowrimo, which requires powering through. When I’m on a roll and really love what I’m writing, it energizes me.

What are some common traps for aspiring writers?

Self-publishing is not as easy as it seems! I’m the last person to give advice, but the thing that caught me off guard is how much you have to market your work. You have to build followings on social media and reach out to people and ask them to read your book. There is a lot of hype about algorithms, reviews, and services claiming they can beat the numbers, but the best way to be read is to join the online writing and reading communities where everyone supports each other. Your book will not sell itself, you have to sell your book. Also, self-publishing can be quite expensive, which I was not expecting.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

I think it helps to have a lot of confidence. Most successful people have a big ego and accomplish a lot because they believe in themselves. There is probably some tipping point where too-big of an ego will work against you.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Probably historical accuracy. I waste so much time on it that my writing stalls. I give myself no creative freedoms when it comes to that, so if I want to say that a song was playing on the radio in Oklahoma on July 2nd, in 1955 at ten o’clock, you better believe I did hours of research to make sure some DJ in Oklahoma knew about that song on that date. I want to be period-correct when I write any type of period pieces. I’m writing a serial on my website now and the amount of research I’ve put into it is ridiculous because I’m sure I’m the only one who cares about these details.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

There are many types of writing. A strong analytical person could be a good non-fiction writer and a person with great attention to detail could make a wonderful technical writer. I would say for writing fiction, it helps to be emotional. Of course, if you want a character to be cold, calculating, and manipulative, maybe being a sociopath would help.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself to never let it go to the back burner for as long as I did. To stay active. I quit writing for about fifteen years, and once I started again I realized how much time I’d wasted suppressing it.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I was around four years old when my father moved away for his job and I communicated with him through letters. That was my primary means of communication with my father throughout most of my life until he passed away. Also, as I went through school, I can remember reading very powerful things, like the Gettysburg address, and my mind just being blown by how words could come together to form such a message.

What does literary success look like to you?

Fitzgerald said: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” I think if I’ve accomplished that with even one person – to make them feel like there is a kindred spirit out there in one of my characters, then I’ve had a good day. As an accountant, I am constantly measuring success in numbers, in profit. There is no way to measure the impact a book has. Yes, there are numbers and ratings systems and best-seller lists, but I just want my books to have a human connection. Money and sales would be nice, sure, but it doesn’t motivate my writing. When writing for an audience creeps into my thoughts, my writing hits a stone wall.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Yes. When I have a particularly bad day, it’s therapeutic to take it out on a keyboard.

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

It varies depending on what’s going on in my life and how inspired I am. I can go weeks without writing to spending every free moment and staying up all night writing.

What period of your life do you find you write about most often?

I like writing about my teen years because they were so formative. When I was younger, I had a lot of time to write in a journal, learn about myself, make lists. So many feelings are first-time feelings in those years – rejection, love, victory, defeat. You are learning what is going to be thrown at you for the rest of your life, and it’s a very cathartic time because you haven’t yet been conditioned to hide all of your feelings.  

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do read them because I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read and review my book. I want to take away any comments or criticism that could help me in my next project. I actually like the bad ones, too. I recently had a fairly mean review where the reviewer even took the time to add memes to prove her point. Even though she absolutely hated my book, she put quite a lot of time into writing a bad review with visual aides to help her really pack a punch! I just try to take away from it what I can. My characters are not for everyone and I understand that.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I absolutely hate the formatting and design aspect. It is difficult for me to know that every element of the book after the writing process is done is also my responsibility. This is the appeal of traditional publishing to me. Leaving what I’m not good at up to the experts. I don’t cut my own hair or perform surgery on myself – if something isn’t in my wheelhouse, I prefer to leave it to a professional. I’d like to do that with my book design, too.

On Books

What are five books you loved? For one of them, why did you love it?

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman – I highlight, I dog ear, I destroy the books I love. I would have to say that there was something on nearly every page of this book that spoke to me and reflected emotions that I’ve experienced.

What is a book you didn’t like, and why?

I remember reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and just hating it. The injustice, the prejudice, all of it. My English teacher explained to me that, yes, all of those things are deplorable, but also accurate for the period. I had a different take on it after that. Now I look back on the experience of reading that book with fondness because it taught me something – not all stories are happy and fair.

What is a funny/interesting/unique anecdote about you as a reader?

I recently saw a picture of my childhood favorite – RL Stine – and he looks exactly like my dentist. They could be identical twins.

How did you first fall in love with books?

I always loved books from the days of my Sesame Street book subscription and Scholastic book fairs, but I would say I became a “reader” with good old Nancy Drew. I loved the process of going to the library, choosing a book, signing the card, seeing who else read the book, and taking it home to read it.

What book or books are you planning to read soon?

My TBR will probably follow me to my grave, but I have a lot of indie books to read – Beacon City Confidential by Lawrence Jay Switzer, Summer at Enid’s by Britt Laux, Number Eight Crispy Chicken by Sarah Neofield, BirdSong by Jennifer Brasington-Crowley, as well as my non-fiction list. I said that 2020 would be my year of biographies, but so far I’m coming in at a whopping zero!

What book do you always recommend?

I try to recommend indie books because the big guys don’t really need my help! But if I read a good book, no matter who wrote it, I’m usually telling people about it.

What book/books changed the way you see the world and your place in it?

I think I read The Bell Jar too late in life for it to change the way I see the world, but it made me feel like I wasn’t an outsider, that I didn’t have to feel guilty for who I was. I wished I would’ve read it when I was 14 or 15. Esther Greenwood was a refreshing reminder than we don’t have to be strong and perfect all of the time. In fact, it’s impossible – you’ll lose your sanity trying for it. A person can have both strength and vulnerability. Female characters don’t have to be absolute or one-dimensional.

What was your favorite childhood book?

It wasn’t my favorite book, but it’s probably one of my favorite childhood book memories…I can remember when Stacy Chbosky, author of Who Owns the Sun, visited my elementary school and talked about writing and illustrating her book. I was just blown away that a teenager could accomplish so much. I’m sure it impacted my passion for writing.

Do you have any favorite literary journals?

I don’t keep up on them.

Have you ever read anything that made you think differently about fiction/nonfiction?

I remember reading On the Road when I was in high school and realizing that rules could be broken. It was freeing to know that writing didn’t have to follow any specific formula. Writing could be more feelings driven, and less conformist.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

The End of Alice by A.M. Homes. It’s very controversial. People don’t like to hear things from an unpopular viewpoint, which I believe is why it wasn’t well received. Not everyone is a good guy, that’s true of life, and I believe writing should be allowed to reflect that.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

I hate being forced to read, and I was not a Charles Dickens fan in high school, but there is something very tender about A Tale of Two Cities, which I appreciated eventually. Most of the books I was forced to read, I ended up having a good memory of.

What book have you read that has most influenced your life?

I doubt I could narrow it down to one. It’s constantly changing. Any book that was ahead of its time or stepped out of bounds is an inspiration to me.

Who are your favorite writers?

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Bukowski.

End of interview

Arly Carmack was born in Pennsylvania and attended a liberal arts college where she majored in business. After college, she moved to Northeast Ohio, began a job in banking, and put writing on the back burner. In 2014, she began to write again and started working on her debut novel, Nineteen. She still resides in Ohio where she enjoys film photography and hiking. Although she enjoys writing fiction, she has a true passion for writing letters. You can visit her website here


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