Carol Dawson is both a novelist and nonfiction author whose books include the novels The Waking Spell, Body of Knowledge, Meeting the Minotaur, and The Mother-in-Law Diaries, all published by Algonquin Books, Simon and Schuster, Viking-Penguin, and translated overseas into several languages. Her award-winning nonfiction book House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias was published by the University of Texas Press. She has taught creative writing and literature at the College of Santa Fe, as well as in numerous workshops. In addition, her work has been published in magazines and journals, including Texas Monthly, Southern Living, The Oxford-American, and Parenting Magazine. Currently she is working on two historical novels, and researching her latest nonfiction book, Miles and Miles of Texas: The Story of the Texas Highway Department, 1917-2017, to be published in fall 2016 by Texas A&M University Press.
Carol will be teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “The Joy of Revision: Editing and Revising Your Masterpiece for the Marketplace” as part of our Summer Writing Retreat in beautiful Alpine, TX. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Scribe: You’ve lived all over the place — New Zealand, England, California, and Texas. How does this show up in your writing?
Carol Dawson: Any travel broadens the writer’s world view, of course—and the most important aspect of this is that it helps you to be more objective. This can balance your work, and help you to enter the skins of other people more easily, and strip the self-absorption from your own perspective. Seeing more of other cultures, experiencing them firsthand for a longer period of time, immersing yourself in the ways in which other people think, looking at the settings and artifacts of a much longer history than your own: these experiences all inform the mind and the writer’s approach. They strengthen empathy and promote maturity, which in turn gives the work more depth, more resonance, and more authority. And of course, all travel should stir and trigger both curiosity and the imagination.
Scribe: The class you’re teaching at the Summer Writing Retreat is on revision. Do you look forward more to the process of writing or revision?
CD: I love both processes. Although they require two different mindsets, they’re both highly creative. And since the final goal is to integrate them both into a more beautifully-crafted whole, I can think of few experiences in life more satisfying.
Scribe: Your April class will focus on the showing vs. telling dilemma. When did this ability really click for you? Was it something that you struggled with when you started writing?
CD: As a child I was crazy about reading—including many plays, both for kids and for adults (lots of Shakespeare, thanks to my older sister). I also loved writing poetry and stories. I was also one of those brash kids who organized the neighborhood into putting on plays (so bossy!!), either for our own amusement or for our parents and their friends. A lively imagination, in other words, that I tyrannically imposed on my buddies. Not because I wanted to push other kids around, but because I was on fire with an exciting idea or story that I wanted them to feel and live out, too—to fully realize, and for all of us to share the experience. Nowadays I do this with my characters. Thus, when I write a scene, I see it visually in my head—people doing and saying things in concrete settings, the reality of what’s happening, rather than just what the writer is thinking.
Scribe: What’s the end goal of showing? Is it to make writing more like real life?
CD: It’s to infuse life. To concretize the scene, as a direct event. This makes it much more accessible to the reader. That seems to be how we humans tick.
— Thanks, Carol!
Last year, Carol’s Summer Writing Retreat class sold out quickly. Don’t miss out! Sign up now!
To register for Carol’s class, click here.
For a full list of our Summer Writing Retreat classes, click here.