Hey Scribblers and Book Bandits!
You probably read this blog because you love writing or reading. (Unless you're my mom or something. Hi, Mom!). If so, isn’t it fun to see how our futures could involve these things we love?
I recently interviewed my British Literature professor, Dr. Caramine White, over the phone about her life as a professor and writer. Dr. White has written two non-fiction works: Reading Roddy Doyle, and Reading More of Roddy Doyle. She has also written a memoir called Running Naked Through the Streets about her experiences living in Slovakia as a teacher. On top of these accomplishments, she has written several articles and interviews. She is gifted with the ability to pick stories out of people and explain them to readers.
And, let’s not forget that she’s an avid marathon-runner and animal activist.
Please welcome, for your pleasure, Dr. Caramine White!
1. You’ve written a number of interviews. You mentioned once that good interviewers pick stories out of people. Do you have any tips about how to do this?
-Be interested in your subjects and you’ll be a good interviewer.
-Do research on your topic before you interview, because it’s hard to ask good questions if you don’t know anything about the topic.
-Keep the person talking. It’s like when you’re on a date—keep asking questions!
2. You wrote a memoir about your experiences in Slovakia as a teacher. Why did you choose to write a memoir as opposed to fiction?
-I had never written any fiction before, only non-fiction. The memoir just occurred to me as a true story to share.
I thought this was a cool point for us, Scribblers and Book Bandits. In this case, Dr. White took the advice to “write what you know.” She wrote about her experiences in a comfortable medium. It’s good for beginning writers to step out and stretch ourselves sometimes, but we can write things in comfortable mediums as well. (Although I wouldn't call Dr. White a beginning author!)
3. Can you share any lessons you’ve learned about writing?
-Since I write mostly non-fiction, the biggest thing I must remember is to make sure the facts are correct. Newspaper articles must be especially clear, meticulously so. I’ve gotten calls before about extremely minor things. Once, a musician told me his record had come out “recently.” I wrote that in the article. An editor called me and berated me for writing “recently,” because the musician’s record had been out for a few months already.
4. How do you include your Catholic faith in your writing?
-Being ethical is important. When I’m writing up interviews, I must represent people accurately. My subjects are often afraid of being misrepresented because they have been so many times before. I can’t let my biases interpret people—I have to put aside my opinions as much as possible. Although…when someone is particularly rude, I just let them form their own image on the page. I don’t edit out anything—I leave in everything they say and do, so I present the truth. That way, they look like who they are.
5. Are you planning to write fiction? If you did, what would it look like?
-My dream is to write accessible, best-selling novels that make people think. Serious fiction should make a person think. It should open up questions for people to think wonder about.
6. When did you learn to write?
-Actually, when I was working on my PH.d. program, one of my professors was very tough on me when he critiqued my writing. He taught me a lot!
7. How did you become interested in teaching?
- Originally, a high school history teacher told me that I didn’t write well, so I didn’t consider writing as a career. I was a Latin and Psych major at Duke for undergrad. Ater graduating from Duke, I served in the Navy as an operations officer. Then I went back to school to get a teaching degree. I eventually just decided to bag the Education degree and go for a PhD in English. My mentor said I was too eccentric to teach high school and suggested I teach college. I listened to her, and here I am!
I’m glad Dr. White listened to her mentor! I learned a lot about Literature in her class. One interesting topic that came up in our discussion about school was that Dr. White had graded AP Tests on a panel before. She asked about my experience with the AP Lit test. I said, “I don’t understand why I got a 3/5! I even wrote on Hamlet.” She laughed and told me, “Teachers should tell their students never to write on Hamlet. We graders groan every time a Hamlet essay comes up because we get so many. The essays never do the play justice, so they never get good grades.” In my essay on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she advised me about how to cover a topic more thoroughly in an essay. “A really good Lit essay explores every aspect of its thesis. So, if you’re writing on a character, you need to study him every time he appears on stage. It’s tough to do this in a short essay.” She also told me that when you examine a piece of literature in an essay, you must examine it like a lawyer. You must know everything about it and create a solid thesis using all the evidence the play gives you. You can’t just ignore something and hope no one notices. Dr. White's advice helps me every time I write an essay.
8. What is the publishing market like right now?
-It is SO hard to get published right now! A lot of people are just e-publishing. Actually, I’ve talked to some editors who advise just that. The big publishers don’t look at unsolicited manuscripts*, and agents don’t consider you unless you’ve already got a traditionally published book under your belt. It’s tough to break into the market
9. What book would you recommend for writers on the hunt for agents or editors?
-I would recommend Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishing. He publishes a new edition every few years.
* “Unsolicited manuscripts” are labeled as such because a publisher has not requested it. Sometimes, this only means that you need to send the publisher a query letter first. Other times, this means “Don’t send us anything.” Read a publisher’s “Submission Guidelines” page to find out. If they don’t have any guidelines, you can know for sure that they don’t even want to receive queries. Publishers like this usually require submissions to come from literary agents. It’s advised to try and interest a literary agent in your manuscript first anyway.
We hoped you enjoyed the interview, friends. Don’t forget to leave Dr. White a thank you note in the comment section!