I told you I wanted to try something new, and today’s the day! This will be a series of interviews, hopefully coming about once a month. I’ve come up with a list of questions I think are interesting, but if you have an idea of something you’d like to ask the featured writers and readers, feel free to let me know in the comments. (Which are turned on now, by the way. Just in case you’ve tried to comment in the past and haven’t been able to.) I’m calling the series “Bookish People” because they won’t all be writers, but likely all will be readers, and I think “bookish” covers everyone pretty nicely!
So, without further explanation, please meet my first featured guest, author *and* reader Carla Jean Whitley!
1. Give us a quick overview of the books you’ve written.
I’m the author of “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” and “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music.” In other words, I’m interested in history unlike that you’ve seen in your textbooks!
2. What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your books were published or as you were editing, revising, and getting feedback.
Even a very good editor needs an editor. A reader noticed I wrote “Buffalo Springsteen” instead of “Buffalo Springfield” in my first book. Oops. Don’t worry, I requested a correction in subsequent printings.
3. Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night gimme-a-piece-of-paper-now? Or something in between?
When I’m in the midst of a book project, I have to set aside daily time or else I won’t meet my deadline. I typically wrote an hour or two each evening and seven hours a day on weekends. I work a full-time and several part-time jobs, as well, so this meant lots of planning! Typically, I would take an hour away from any screens or work obligations when I got home from the day’s activities. That would leave me at least partly refreshed and ready to write.
4. From what I understand, your publisher came to you and asked you to write your first two books. If you could choose the topic of your next book, what would you most like to write about?
That’s true, but I had some say in both cases. Beer and music are both topics I’ve written about a lot in the past, and so it was fun to delve into them more deeply through these projects.
However, you’re also right to think I might do something a little different next time. My passion is telling people’s stories. Both of these histories touched on that, but each individual’s role was portrayed in necessarily short glimpses. I’d like to dive deeply into a single person’s compelling narrative.
5. Because I know you are a *major* reader, what’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (For example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc)
Are there inappropriate places to read? Really?! Growing up, my sisters and I were often allowed to bring books to restaurants. I am all too acquainted with the act of reading in the bathroom. But perhaps the incident most people found surprising was when I read John Green’s “Paper Towns” during a Stevie Wonder concert. (You can find the full story at carlajeanwhitley.com.)
6. Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.
Have you read any of Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series? I encountered these while researching children’s books that deal with Alabama history, and I adore them. Meltzer, who also writes adult thrillers, profiles historical characters and emphasizes how we all can make a difference. The books are easy to read, accessible and include resources for additional learning. I want them all!
7. Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would–maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.
Short story collections rarely resonate with me, but I thoroughly enjoyed Helen Ellis’ “American Housewife.” The collection started with a series of tweets, and the resulting stories are hilarious.
8. What are your pet peeve as a reader–something you read in books that really bugs you? (For example, one of my reading pet peeves is when someone misspells y’all. Especially if it’s a southern author!)
I’m with you on the incorrect punctuation of y’all–it leaves me batty! I have put down books before when author misused semicolons. I’m not kidding; I feel strongly about this punctuation mark, and I recently got it tattooed on my right wrist. There are several layers of meaning, but for me, it started with this pet peeve.
My latest pet peeve, though, is an overuse of -ing words. My students and I have discussed this at length this semester, and I’m guilty. Now I can’t help but see the same in others’ writing!
9. Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
Today I updated my e-reader with a couple of library books. But truly, I’m a print person; today I also bought seven books at my favorite used bookstore, McKay in Nashville. As a professional, I’m platform agnostic, but personally, print please. The same goes for calendars. I tried going digital for a few years, but it never felt right.
10. Chocolate or vanilla?
Vanilla. 100 percent.
11. Coffee or tea? Or something else?
I’m a coffee addict! But many people are surprised that I average a cup-and-a-half a day. I guess I express my feelings so strongly that people expect I drink pots at a time. I also love herbal tea, though, and could go for a cup right now.
12. Tell me what you’re working on now.
Besides the aforementioned cup of tea? I’m not in the midst of a big writing project. Rather, I’m trying to create wider margins so I might be better attuned when the next big story comes along. Because I keep so many balls in the air and I’m a people pleaser, I’m prone to focusing on obligations rather than my dreams. I want to not only dream more, but also chase those pursuits.
You can find Carla Jean on all of the major social media hangouts and her website.
Thanks Carla Jean and thank you for reading!