Discouraged from following her artistic talent and desires at an early age, Carrie Kabak was educated as a teacher. It wasn’t until two years ago she gave in and followed the pull of writing and is now a full time author. With one book on the shelves and another on the way she’s finally living the life she knew she always wanted. Kabak, born and raised in the United Kingdom, currently lives in Kansa City, Missouri with her husband and their five sons.
Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer? Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.
Carrie Kabak: When I was nine, my cousin let me into a secret. Parents “hide dirty books and stuff” on top of their dressers. Taking what he said to heart, I promptly found a copy of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls on top of my father’s wardrobe. Stumbling through the difficult words and the naughty bits, I found the characters, mood and dialogue pulled me into a familiar world. Here were the mothers, fathers, shopkeepers, teachers and nuns I knew so well in the many places I lived and visited with my family in England, Wales and Ireland. “I might write books when I grow up,” I told my cousin.
At eighteen, it was time to line up for career advice at school. The Head Teacher studied our exam results. She pointed to each girl, teacher, bank, nurse, teacher, bank, nurse. I was labelled ‘teacher’ and encouraged to train for a real job when I objected, saying I’d like to be an artist even an author.
So I went to Cardiff University to train as a French, English and Art teacher. At college, an English professor pulled me to one side. Why was I teaching, he asked. Why wasn’t I writing? Because it’s not a proper job, I explained. Then make it one, he said.
I married, taught, designed, and raised four children instead.
But I kept notes, mingled characters in my head. Studied the craft, kept reading, wrote poetry, achieved grade A for my sons’ essay assignments (D for math).
I moved to the United States and began children’s book illustrating, always thinking, I’ll write a book next but it took another four years to finally take the plunge. I was sure words could be used like a paintbrush, but with writing, I could climb inside the picture too. And live in it.
Moe: What inspires you?
Carrie Kabak: Films. Old photos. Past experiences, people I used to know, and the new ones I meet.
Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Carrie Kabak: I usually write 3-4 days a week, and start typing after 11am, and often keep going until 4am in the morning, or if I’m on a roll, I’ll work through the night, not wanting to lose the thoughts in my head. I change from my desktop computer to my laptop when my husband comes home, so I can follow him around. Otherwise, he feels neglected! He’s a fantastic cook so on my writing days, I don’t have to stop to prepare meals.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Carrie Kabak: Cover the Butter took about eight months and Tarts and Sinners six months (I’ve nearly finished!). I revise and edit as I go along, and I work with a critique partner, who writes non-fiction, and I have a reader, also a published author, who writes the same genre as me. They usually edit or read three chapters at a time.
Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?
Carrie Kabak: I write for a mixed age group with mostly female readers in mind, but also aim for a style male readers might enjoy, too.
Moe: When it comes to plot, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Carrie Kabak: The first thing I do is jot down a cast list, as if about to write a play then I write freely and usually let the characters lead the way.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Carrie Kabak: I tend to use places I’m already intimately familiar with, so I don’t need to visit. I also make use of my own interests, when I can. For example, I used to keep hens, so one of my characters in Tarts and Sinners is obsessed with chickens. I’m fond of vintage Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, so another character is obsessed with the fifties. But I still do lots of research, to make sure I get everything right. I use the library, the internet, and photos. I watch films, stage plays; even a drag show recently (for Tarts and Sinners) to get a sense of “atmosphere.”
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from?
Carrie Kabak: My work is a fictitious blend of various elements from my own life and those of others. My characters are formed by mixing the personality traits of those I’ve met or been involved with, or just observed.
Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?
Carrie Kabak: Thank goodness, I don’t get writer’s block, but I do procrastinate. I find all sorts of essential jobs I must do around the house. I have to force myself to sit down sometimes–but once I start writing, I find it hard to stop!
Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Carrie Kabak: In Cover the Butter, I want emotions stirred. I want the reader to laugh, cry, feel anger, be sympathetic. I want the protagonist to become the reader’s friend. And I want to make sure my writing appeals to all five senses when I create settings. The reviews I’ve received for Cover the Butter tell me I achieved what I’ve hoped a reader would experience. I really appreciate it when someone takes the time to write one. Totally flattered.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Carrie Kabak: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand” ~George Orwell. Well ok, that’s perhaps going a bit too far, but boy, writing is extremely hard work!
You must be serious about a writing career, and think in the future. Publishers aren’t interested in one-book wonders. They like to invest time and energy in a person who will gather a following.
Not really about the business, but writing has made all life’s experiences: success, betrayal, obsession, loss and love have a real purpose. I can write from the heart.
Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?
Carrie Kabak: I answer all fan mail. I’m asked about England, London, Ireland, Wales and France. I’m asked for recipes for some of the things mentioned in Cover the Butter (I’ve put a few on my website). I’m asked if Cover the Butter is a memoir (It isn’t!). I’m asked when it will be available in paperback (May 2006) if it’s available on CD (Books on Tape and Audible) and if I plan to write a sequel. Readers wonder what happens next; they want to experience more of Kate Cadogan in Provence. I’m asked about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Some readers reckon the character Biddy suffers from this (although it’s her daughter who does all the suffering!) and I’m asked for advice, and they detail their predicament; but I’m afraid I can’t help, as I’m no expert. Oh, and I’ve had emails written in Welsh, and although I used to speak the language when very young, I have now forgotten how to (Shame on me). I’m also asked about my next book, and if I’ll be doing any official signings in readers’ hometowns.
Moe: What’s your latest book about?
Carrie Kabak: In Cover the Butter, Kate Cadogan passes out and dreams of a tunnel and a spiral stairway leading to a door marked nevermore. Nevermore will she sleep with Rodney, who has lately adopted bizarre sexual practices featuring epaulets and a sergeant major moustache. The frame story then gives way to the novel proper, a journey through ’60s, ’70s and ’80s England, detailing Kate’s coming of age and middle years. From early on, her Irish mother, difficult narcissistic Biddy, and her loving but wussy father Tom, disparage Kate’s goals in life and overzealously guard her virtue. Her friends Moira and Ingrid and her Welsh paternal grandparents are her only constants. Shoe-horned into an education major, she becomes a schoolteacher and is betrayed by her fiancee Jack. On the rebound, she marries prosperous Rodney but is marginalized by his eccentric family. Rodney devotes himself to hockeycricketsquashgolf and his Masonic Lodge. Kate devotes herself to son Charlie and cooking, her weight yo-yoing. Periodically, her parents lure her home, where she falls back into her childlike posture, alternately nurtured and slapped, her mother dishing out equal amounts of love and loathing.
Back to 1995. Kate wonders why she stood it for so long. She learned a lot about herself and others reflecting on her life. She finally breaks free from that claustrophobic tunnel, but in doing so, must experience torment and grief. She reluctantly cuts the security cord that binds her to her son, then retaliates with a determined strength, takes action, and pulls away the blindfolds, ropes and emotional clamps that have held her back for too long. When her mother opposes Kate’s move to France and sides with Rodney in the divorce, Kate divorces her parents as well.
Kate must turn the key that opens the door to freedom and lavender fields.
With, Tarts and Sinners (current project), the end of one year and the beginning of another in the lives of Annie Ruddock, age 58, a vicar’s wife in love with a cross-dressing bell ringer. Jane Frobisher, age 46, who’s obsessed with chickens (Her husband’s having an affair with a Camilla Parker-Bowles look-alike). And Fiona Wiggins, age 23, who’s obsessed with the Fabulous Fifties, and who regrets losing her virginity. It is mostly set in Tutton Longfield, England, is an interwoven tale told from three different points of view.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Carrie Kabak: Cookery books and fiction.
Authors I like: Kate Atkinson, Mary Wesley, Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth Berg, Alice McDermott, Anne Tyler, Bonnie Shimko, Edna O’Brien, Elizabeth McCracken, Frank McCourt, Trisha Ashley, Jeanne Ray, Joanna Trollope, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Lily Prior, Damian McNicholls, Maeve Binchy, Mary Gaitskill, Michael Cunningham, Patricia Scanlan, Rachel Cline, Katie Fforde, Allison Pearson, Sara Gruen, Maureen Ogle, Jill Morrow, Karen Abbott, Maggie Dana, Marina Richards, Kris Riggle, Danielle Schaaf, Becky Motew, Liz Stroud, Barbara Derbyshire, Elizabeth Graham, Jane Guill and many, many more.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Carrie Kabak: Spend as much time as I can with my family, and do, and go to, lots of dinner parties. I walk the dogs, watch films, paint canvas and walls, make curtains, cook French stuff and drink wine. Sometimes single malt.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Carrie Kabak: Learn the craft. Study absolutely everything you can about writing before you start. Read articles and how-to books. Learn how to sharpen your prose, structure a story, develop a scene and write dialogue. Then put them all to one side and let the creative juices flow!
Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Carrie Kabak: I’d own a restaurant, be an entomologist, or work in a zoo.
Moe: What is your favourite word?
Carrie Kabak: KENSPECKLE. Easily recognizable, conspicuous. Mostly used in Scotland and northern England.
Originally published 10/14/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.