Please welcome fantasy author Patrick Carr. Patrick graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer. His day gig for the last eight years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. Sometime in the future he would like to be a jazz pianist, and he wrestles with the complexity of improvisation on a daily basis.
Now for the interview!
1) Tell us a little about your books.
Most fantasy that I’ve read is very plot-driven. Whether it’s an epic quest or a personal one, most fantasy stories start with a plot idea. I’ve tried to approach my fantasy writing from a combination of plot-driven and character-driven. Before I outline a story, I will outline the characters, asking myself questions such as what makes this character interesting (not necessarily likable)? What is this character’s flaw? What is his/her secret? What do they desperately want more than anything? From there it’s a natural progression to write a plot, because the moment I figure out what my character wants so desperately, it becomes my job to figure out ways to keep them from getting it. All of which is to say, I write about very flawed people. In The Staff and the Sword, my main character was a drunk, and he starts off not being very likeable. His flaw is visible and external. In my new series, The Darkwater Saga (look for the free novella in September), my character’s flaws are all in his head. It’s a more-or-less medieval setting, but my main character suffers from a form of PTSD and dissociative disorder. It’s challenging writing, which is fun.
2) How do you write? What’s a normal writing day like for you?
Like a lot of writers these days, I’m basically a working stiff so I have to be creative in my time management. Lately what works best is getting up early, usually around 5 AM, and getting in my word count before the rest of the house wakes up. I’ll stumble upstairs to the kitchen and start the coffee. While it’s brewing I take Mel (our dog – I call him Mr. Fruffles) for a walk. Then I grab a cup of coffee and a square of dark chocolate and settle in for an hour of furious first-drafting. On a good day, I can get in close to a thousand words in before I trundle off to school to teach Geometry. I’m not really a morning person, but I’ve been surprised at how well the consistent routine has worked for me.
3) Who are your books aimed at? If applicable: What are some of the challenges of writing for your audience?
The real challenge is not writing for the audience, but to satisfy the demands of building an audience. If I were an animal, it’s distinctly possible that I would be a squirrel. I have a pretty short attention span and I love trying new things and taking on new challenges. After I finished The Staff and the Sword, I wanted to launch into a contemporary Urban Fantasy. My agent, Steve Laube (who also owns Enclave! Hey Steve – I’m waving!!) and my editor at Bethany House, Dave Long, both kind of took me aside and said something to the effect of “Um, you kind of built an audience around medieval epic fantasy. You might want to figure out a way to hold on to your readership.” This was probably very good advice. Of course, communicating with squirrels is notoriously difficult. In the end, I took my project and turned it into (drum roll please) “The Darkwater Saga,” an epic, medieval, suspense fantasy. Did I mention it was challenging?
4) What is the one author, living or dead, who you would like to co-write a book with someday, and why?
I’m going to cheat on this and name two, because they have very different styles. The first would be Brandon Sanderson. I would love to collaborate and learn his process for the incredibly detailed world-building that takes place in his books. He has a wonderful ability to create a universe with specific laws and consequences and he remains wonderfully faithful to them. As an engineer by education and vocation, I have an incredible amount of respect for the craft that he’s exercising on such a grand scale. It’s the same approach I tried to take with both of my series, but he’s doing it on a much more vast scale because his series are enormous in scope.
The other author would be Jim Butcher. The highest compliment I can give is that if I’m in the middle of a project, I have to stay away from his books. They’re like a literary version of crack. Seriously, I can’t put them down if I open them up and I love the way he writes fight scenes. I’ve read almost all of the Harry Dresden series and it’s been fun to watch him really find his groove as a writer. The very first book in the series reminded me quite a bit of the Phillip Marlowe stories from the ‘40’s and ‘50’s but by the time I got to Cold Days, Butcher was hitting them out of the park, I mean way up in the cheap seats.
5) What are your hopes for your future as an author?
I’m not really sure. There are a lot of things I think I want, but the problem is I won’t know until I get them. I think I’d like to write full-time and teach part-time, but that amount of solitude might just drive me bonkers. I would love to own the NYT Bestseller list, but it would really stink to lose my anonymity. I thought it would be cool to go to a conference and have people recognize me and tell me that they loved my books. That one actually happened at ACFW this last year (2014), but in the end it was more weird than anything else. The reality of getting public recognition for something I do all alone at 5 AM every morning was pretty surreal. By the end of the conference, I’d hit my weirdness limit. Someone asked to have their picture taken with me right after I’d won the Carol Award and I said “You know you just asked to have your picture taken with a Geometry teacher, right? You know that, don’t you?”
So in the end, I have a lot of things I think I want, but I won’t know until I get there. I definitely want people to close the cover of the last book in one of my series and feel as though a best friend just moved away.
6) What were some of the challenges for you writing your book?
Time. There’s never enough of it. Not even close. Not even in the same ballpark, neighborhood, city, or state.
7) What can you tell us about any future releases you have planned?
In mid-September I will be releasing a free e-book novella entitled “By Divine Right.” It’s the opening prequel to my new series, “The Darkwater Saga.” The first full-length book in that series will come out around the first of November and it’s called “The Shock of Night.” By the way, books make awesome Christmas presents. There is nothing better than sitting in front of a roaring fire with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate when it’s cold outside.
8) Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?
I listen to Windham Hill Chill (1 and 2), Enya (Watermark or Shepherd Moon), Everybody Digs Bill Evans, or my son Patrick’s masters recital CD. Most of the music I listen to is instrumental only. Lyrics are too distracting while I’m actually in the writing process. I’m trying to figure out how to get Patrick to compose theme music for the new series. He did it for “A Cast of Stones” and it was awesome. Like everybody I know, he’s crazy busy, so we’ll have to wait and see.
9) Does anyone else in your family have musical/writing/artistic skills?
Oh my, yes. Patrick plays piano. In fact he just got his master’s degree in jazz piano performance. He’s amazing. I’m kind of embarrassed to play when he’s home, but it’s hard to turn down the free lessons. Connor also plays jazz piano and he’s carrying a minor in that while he studies Material Science Engineering. Daniel plays piano, but for him it’s more of a hobby. He played a mean cello in high school and made all-state one year. Ethan plays saxophone, either alto or tenor, and made the mid-state band for jazz. I love it when they’re all home at the same time. It’s like getting a free concert every day.
10) How would you like to be remembered?
As one who loved well.
11) What is your favorite thing you have ever written?
So far, it’s The Hero’s Lot. I was really surprised when A Cast of Stones beat it out for the Carol Award and the Clive Staples Award. Of the two, I though the second book in the series was the stronger piece of writing and since I’d already done the heavy lifting of the world-building in the first book, the second one offered me the opportunity to really develop the characters the way I wanted. We got to see so much more of everyone’s story and a lot more of their secrets came out. I loved every minute of it.
Thank you so much, Patrick for joining us! Here is where you can find Patrick Carr online:
Great interview and insight, Patrick!
I agree that time is the greatest struggle for writing. It was great meeting you at ACFW last year and I’m very excited for the first installment of the Darkwater Saga!
What a fun and insightful interview! I especially liked your observation: “The real challenge is not writing for the audience, but to satisfy the demands of building an audience.” That is exactly my challenge: to present the type of story that people have grown to expect from me, but not to let their (often imaginary) opinions influence the book that should be written. I think it was Stephen King who said that he wrote for only one person: his wife. I’ve found that trick of writing for your most personal fan to be useful in keeping my focus.
I also enjoy your lightheartedness. I’m one of those authors who is learning not to take myself so seriously, so your “squirrel” moments resonate with this author! I will have to get my hands on a copy of your book(s) and let you know what I think! Keep writing!
Thanks for sharing! I love The Staff and Sword trilogy. The fact that Errol is so broken at the beginning of the story is what connected me to the story in the first place. And I am looking forward to Darkwater Saga. 🙂
Thank you, Nadine and congratulations on your own writing success. You’re killing it, girl. 🙂
Thank you. I’m looking forward to seeing your thoughts. Best of fortune with your writing as well and all of it.
My pleasure. I hope you enjoy Darkwater as much as The Staff and the Sword.