A Biblio Paradise is launching a new season, and my fellow Champagne author Ute Carbone is our first guest! Please give her a warm welcome, along with her book, A BLUEBERRY TRUTH.
Annabel Aidan: What triggered the move from poetry to novels? Do you still write poetry? Poetry requires such spare and specific language. Was opening out into prose a challenge?
Ute Carbone: The switch was something that just kind of happened. I had been writing poems for a while and I got to a plateau. I wanted to deepen my poetry and make it work better, but I couldn’t find the way to do it. I had talked to my good friend and fellow poet Lana Ayers and she suggested we take a workshop with another area poet, Kate Gleason. Kate is a terrific poet and a great teacher. Her workshop “writing from the inner voice” is based on workshops created in Amherst, Mass. by Pat Schneider. They’re all about writing from what’s inside of you, opening the faucets wide in the first draft. We would write using paper and pen and then read what we’d written, looking for the “good stuff,” the gems that come out in first writing. The method did help my poetry, but an interesting thing happened. I started writing stories. I began with flash fiction. Over time, the stories got longer and longer until, one day, I found myself writing a novel. I loved the method so much that I started a similar workshop with Lana!
I do occasionally still wax poetic. It’s a different kind of writing though, and most of my energy goes towards prose these days. I love creating worlds and telling stories. In a work in progress that I’m now polishing, the main character is a singer-songwriter. I wrote a couple of her songs. It was kind of fun, getting back into it.
You’re right about poetry being spare and specific. Blueberry Truth is around 60,000 words, P-town runs about 70,000. In novel-writing terms, those are relatively short books. Lots of novelists will write somewhere around 150.000 words in an early draft and then pare the story down to 100,000 or so. I find I often do the opposite, I’ll have to add things on rewrite because the prose is a bit spare.
But poetry has also been a great training ground for prose. Poets pay a lot of attention to voice, to how words ‘sound together’ on the page. I try to use that in my prose. And the language of poetry, because it is spare, needs to be precise. Every word counts. I try to carry that specificity into my prose. Geranium, for example, paints a more precise picture than flower.
AA: I love the title of your upcoming book from Champagne, THE P-TOWN QUEEN. Is it set in Provincetown? As someone who recently moved to Cape Cod, and spent many a summer in P-town in the late 1960s, the title alone captures my attention for the book.
UC: Thanks! P-town is a romantic comedy and kind of a romp. It was a lot of fun to write. And it is set in Provincetown. The Cape is one of my favorite places. I imagine it’s a wonderful place to live and a terrific place to write. I live about three hours away in Southern New Hampshire and my husband and I visit as often as we can manage. We usually go to the outer cape and have spent lots of time in Provincetown.
Provincetown is a great mix. There is a vibrant arts community, an open and equally vibrant gay community, lots of tourists, and a fishing community that tends to be traditional in its values and very proud of its Portuguese heritage. All on a tiny fist of land surrounded on three sides by water.
AA: BLUEBERRY TRUTH is set in Albany, NY. What about Albany, specifically, made it the perfect setting for the book?
UC: Hmm, good question. The short answer is that I lived and worked in the Albany area when I was in my twenties. I was a teacher and the school at which the main character, Beanie, teaches is loosely based on the place where I used to teach. So, Albany seemed like a natural.
I’ve read some of your blogs on the importance of setting and like you, I like having a place where I’m comfortable with the geography. Places have a kind of ‘feel’ to them that I think you have to experience firsthand. For this reason, all my books tend to be set in the northeast. It’s where I live and where I’m ‘comfortable’. That said, I have an idea for a book that would be set, at least for a part of it, in Afghanistan. I’ve been reluctant to follow that idea because I’ve never been there, but maybe it would be a challenge worth taking…
AA: Beanie’s playlist (on your book’s Facebook page) is fascinating –Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Dave Matthews. Do you usually use music when you write? Do the music choices evolve out of the writing process? Do you create a playlist before you write, and, if so, how do you choose what goes on it?
UC: I’m glad you asked about the playlist! Music and writing have always been connected for me. My love of poetry grew out of song. I spent my teens listening to songwriters like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell.
These days, I’m a huge Petty and Springsteen fan! My iPod is one of my prize possessions. I listen while driving and while walking and while doing chores. I don’t usually listen while writing, because I can get too caught up in the music and so it becomes a distraction rather than an asset .
Like most writers, I spend a lot of time “noodling,“ that is thinking about the next scene- what my characters are likely to do, what will happen, how things will be resolved, etc. I find that music helps to me to find my way into the tone and feeling of the book.
I have a playlist for nearly all my books, though I haven’t ever started with songs. I usually get a ways into a project before I start thinking about a list. The choices are very intuitive, they just ‘feel’ like they belong to the book. Often, the lyrics will in some way match the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. I will sometimes add or subtract songs as the characters undergo changes.
I read on Twitter where someone was creating stories based on what was playing on their iPod. That sounds fascinating to me, maybe I’ll try that at some point.
AA: What drives you to keep writing?
UC: I love words, I love the sound of them, the way they fall together on the page.
I was a head-in-the-clouds kind of kid so dreaming up worlds and characters suits me well. Creating characters is a kind of magic. After a while, they take on a life of their own. It’s like hanging out with a whole bunch of imaginary friends. And really, how many adults get to have imaginary friends? ☺
I shouldn’t have slept on the floor. I’ve got a perfectly good bed to sleep
in after all. But I couldn’t stay there. Not alone. Not after the fight I had
with Mac. It’s not as though we haven’t fought before. You don’t go
through a bunch of years dating and eight years of marriage without a few
skirmishes. But he’s never walked out before. He’s never opted to sleep on
the couch before.
He’s wrong about Blue. She needs a place to stay. I’ve promised to keep
her safe. She’s had enough of broken promises. I don’t plan on breaking
this one. I have to get Mac to change his mind. He’s not some cold-hearted
beast who won’t see the rightness of this. When I go down to find him, he’s
Blue wanders into the kitchen while I’m making coffee.
“Hey sleepyhead, what kind of cereal do you like?”
She doesn’t answer me right away. The wariness that had disappeared
yesterday is back and creates a wall between us.
“We not going to Florida?”
I set a bowl of cereal in front of her. “No, Blue. We’re not going to
“You say you help me out. You lie.”
“Florida’s a big place, Blue. I told you that. We can’t just go to Florida.”
“We can’t. We can’t. We can’t.”
I pour milk into the cereal. She stares at it for a minute, then walks
away. I walk after her to find her sitting desolate on the piano stool.
“Right now, we need to get to school.” I sound more like her teacher
than someone who might care for her.
“No. I’m going to find my ma. If you don’t help, I go by my own self.”
She crosses her arms and turns her back to me.
“It’s not that easy.” I’m ready to detail how impossible, to say we may
never find her.
Blue reaches into her pocket and pulls out a battered postcard. It has
been torn and taped back together. The ends are dog-eared from the
pocket. On it is a picture of a cheap-looking motel made of pink cinder
blocks. The sign in front of the motel says Flamingo Motor Lodge. On the
back, girlish handwriting tells Blue to be a good girl. The “o’s” in “love”
and “Mom” are big and heart shaped. The postmark is February
something, Dunedin, Florida. “That where Ma is.”
I hand the card back to her. She folds it into her pocket with the care
you’d give something breakable.
“We can’t go down there. The card came months ago. It’s a motel.
People don’t stay in motels for long.”
“You ain’t going to help. You lie. You fucking lie all the time.” She gets
up and knocks the piano bench over.The top flies open and sheet music is
spewed onto the floor. “Fuck you.”
I gather her up, hurt back and all, and hold her close.
“Fuck you.” She sobs into my robe. We sit on the floor, rocking and
Ute began her writing life as a poet and has had a number of poems published in small press magazines and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in such publications as Comstock Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and
Bellowing Ark. She taught first-draft writing workshops for about twelve years and keeps a fan page based on the workshops at:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wildwords/191658074009. She has a short story due out in the “Words on Fire Anthology” by Nemesis Publishing, later this year. Blueberry Truth is her first novel. A second book, a romantic comedy called The P-town Queen, will be released by Champagne Press next June.
Ute was born in Germany and grew up in upstate New York. She and her husband now reside in Nashua, NH. They have two grown sons. Ute enjoys hiking, skiing, and generally anything that involves being outside. She loves the theatre and attends as regularly as time and money will allow. She’s a bibliophile who will read just about anything, though she loves novels best.
You can contact Ute at her website: http://UteCarbone.com