Carol Goodman at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City.
On a beautiful September, Saturday morning, our group from Senior Net Books and Literature was delighted to interview the renowned author, Carol Goodman at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City.
Introductions were followed by a delicious, ample brunch at which Ms. Goodman’s mother, Marge, was the guest of honor, in celebration of her birthday. A conference room, with ice-cold water and candies was awaiting us for our long anticipated interview with this author, who graciously accepted a Barnes & Noble gift certificate from our group.
Carol began informally by reading an essay she wrote, entitled, A Regional Muse, found in the back of her eighth book, The Night Villa. She interrupted herself, commenting and relating anecdotes from her past travels that had a strong “sense of place” for her, which she carried around just waiting to be formulated into a story.
Questions by the group followed:
1. Have you written your next book yet?
Answer: Oh yes, I’ve written two, since The Night Villa. The next one takes place back in New York City.
2. It seems in all of your books your characters are people going underwater, into the murky, frightening depths of the underground. Do you, yourself, have a fear of drowning?
Answer: I am a little claustrophobic. I tapped into my fear of not being able to breathe. I would never do that, by the way. I started reading about the bogs. I read the Bog People that illustrated the sacrificial victims and it attracted me- spooky, huh?
NO, out of the question, My characters are more brave and a little more fool- hardy than I am.
My characters are in the great tradition of the romantic suspense. I want my heroine to be an intelligent woman but one who makes mistakes. I try to figure out what it is that they are NOT looking at? Usually, they are blind about something and usually it’s men.
3. For the novel The Lake of Dead Languages did you first draw a map?
Answer: Yes, I always draw a map of the “place” to keep track of my story.
It is usually a contained world, such as the villa or the lake setting itself.
Now in this book the sun was coming in the wrong direction so I had to flip and redo the map. A Japanese translator took note of the details and mentioned to the publisher that east was wrong; I checked and they were correct, so I had to flip the map.
My daughter, Maggie, is the artist in the family. I would love to have her draw these maps and receive credit for her art-work. She is an illustrator.
4. Do other international people view your books differently such as the Italians in The Night Villa?
Answer: My books aren’t as popular in Italy as in other countries. My earlier books were very popular in Holland; these were the New York State books.
?? Was this due to the interest in The Island at the Center of the World, a book about Peter Stuyvesant, who helped lay the foundation for New York City. Our SeniorNet group discussed this book by Russell Shorto.
Answer: I’m not really sure where their interest comes from.
5. In The Lake of Dead Languages you did a terrific and a scientific job explaining how ice freezes with the ice crystals falling to the bottom, stirring “old things” up, allowing them to rise to the top. I loved the analogy but wonder, how did you check out the scientific aspect of this?
Answer: Oh yes I had my brother, the scientist, read my descriptions. I must have the right facts in my books as well as the emotions to support these facts. I always try to acknowledge those that assist me in my research. I normally thank “so and so” and state that any mistakes are my responsibility.
You can take advice from any expert but sometimes you may not want to use it, in the end. I try to balance my story and get the facts right, as much as possible. Then, I can free the imaginative part. I do use a lot of facts with extra information I hope people like. I love to hear from my readers and I love that readers pay such close attention to my books.
6. In the book, The Drowning Tree how did you do your research on stained glass repair?
Answer: I took a class at a local adult education site. I was terrible at it. I still have this ugly little bird hanging in my kitchen. Cut glass, well, I’m not great with my hands. I could imagine because of my doing this, what it was like. I also went to stained glass restorers and visited a studio that does renovations.
I communicated with a woman who was a professor of stained glass restoration. I talked with workmen, read books, but you really need to see it for yourself.
When a workman told me that “when we take the windows out sometimes there are little pieces of paper that had been left in the grooves where previous restorers had put notes in.” AHA, I thought, I can do something with that! There is a great plot element in there. (She laughs)
So I used it as a plot element.
Research enables me to go out like all professional students. It helps give me a focus- I am usually an introverted person- who feels like a reporter. I tend to withdraw and spend time alone as a writer. This gets me out in the world.
7. Do you enjoy these research projects?
Answer: Oh yes, I enjoy being the perpetual student and doing research. Many of us, like this group here today, are probably perpetual students. It allows me to follow a line for my stories. Often it ends when I end my book, such as my class in stained glass or it goes on, like the Italian Renaissance Gardens, my class in landscape design. It was for an imaginary garden for my book.
8. Many of your books are about upstate New York that I am personally familiar with, why do you continue to use that venue in your stories?
In the Lake of Dead Languages, I recognized Lake Mohaunk as the school for girls in the Adirondacks. Was it set at that locale? Have you ever been to Corinth?
9. Was the artist colony in The Ghost Orchid which you named Sacre Bosco akin to Yaddo, the artist colony in Saratoga Springs?
Answer: Yes, it was Lake Mohaunk! Yes, it was based on Yaddo and yes, I have been to Corinth, as well as Saratoga and Glens Falls. I lived there at one time.
I love upstate New York. There are so many pockets there for my imaginary places; such as Rip Van winkle at Sleepy Hollow. I can slip into and create these imaginary places with real landmarks all around it.
10. In The Ghost Orchid, you mentioned the fact that Yeats attended a séance. Did Yeats really dabble in spiritualism?
Answer: Yes, he did.
11. How was it possible that in The Night Villa the wax tablets discovered could have survived at Herculaneum? Why didn’t these tablets melt?
Answer: At the time that Vesuvius erupted and people were incinerated, people in Herculeneam were incinerated with hot ash but these wax tablets really did survive.
That is fact.
12. Does the place or the setting come first when you write a book ?
Answer: It’s usually a combination of both. I can’t start the book with out knowing who is narrating it. Yet, often I start thinking about a place because I think place is very important.
13. You wrote that “every writer must write a poorly disguised autobiography to be discarded and then move on.” Which book was your autobiography?
Answer: Did I write that? Wow, I don’t remember that but it sounds like me. (She laughs)
Well, most of my characters start out being much like myself, then they break and quickly become someone else. Sometimes I lay awake worrying abut things and turn it into a story, a worse story, a fantasy and have the character come through it. I am afraid of some of these elements that I write about; fearful thoughts sometimes.
14. You said that you wrote 2 books before you got published? What were they about and did you try to get an agent on your own?
Answer: My first was a young adult sci-fi fantasy written the day I finished my teacher certification and my thesis. I had no idea what I was doing in terms of structure. I finished the book, submitted it to twenty agents and received not a note, not one response. I gave up for a little while until my daughter was one year old and then I wrote a mystery novel, called Safe Harbor set in Long Island. It was a mystery about a woman who had a premie child (which my daughter was). She was on a heart monitor for one year. I was taking a writing class at this time at Hostra and married my teacher, who gave me a lot of encouragment. I sent the story out to 20 agents, got a few notes back, but still no agent. I spent the next three years writing short stories, some of which were accepted in small magazines which encouraged me. Lee (my husband) taught me how important these little steps were to be able to accrue Credits. I read these descriptions written by Stephen Kings, On Writing, in which he gives advice to young writers and the process. I stopped writing for a year, my father passed away and I started writing The Lake of Dead Languages in nine months, partly to think of something other than my loss.
I had this great epiphany that dead languages were actually the vehicle for us to speak to the dead.
This was a huge leap of faith after writing two that were not accepted. I sent my manuscript to 5 agents and had no reason to think anything would be any different this time. I heard from three of these agents who pointed out problems, necessitating revisions. I told one of them that I needed someone to work with me re. these revisions and she agreed to represent me - after 8 months and 3 revisions, I was in tears with a list of things to revise.
15. Were you happy with these revisions?
Answer: Yes, she was a good editor. She’d tell me what the problems were but not how to fix them. No good editor will tell you to do this or do that. Usually they identify the problem, but it’s up to you to figure out how to fix it. The Lake of Dead Languages sold for enough money for me to live on and start writing more. I always dreamed of having this life long dream. It’s frightening.
I try never to think of my book as my child- I understand the metaphor, but people mess with it; wish to change it.
16. What are you reading now?
Answer: I’m reading the biography of Grace Metalius who was pretty much destroyed by her fame after writing Peyton Place.
17. Someone once told me that if the authors name is above the title it means that you have arrived.
"Your name is above the title."
We congratulated her, hugged her and told her how anxious we were to have her join us when we discuss The Night Villa.
Reporter: Andrea Flannery
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