Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’m chatting to the horror writer, Carmen Baca. Carmen taught high school and college English for thirty-six years before retiring in 2014. Her command of English and her regional Spanish dialect contributes to her story-telling style. Her debut novel El Hermano published in April of 2017 and became a finalist in the NM-AZ book awards program in 2018. Her third book, Cuentos del Cañón, received first place for short story fiction anthology in 2020 from the same program. To date, she has published 5 books and close to 50 short works in online literary magazines and anthologies. She and her husband live a quiet life in the country caring for their animals and any stray cat that happens to come by. Carmen, like myself is one of the writers featured in the Women of Horror Anthology, Vol 3 The One that Got Away published by Kandisha Press
Welcome to the tearoom, Carmen. May I start by asking you When you first began your writing journey, what drew you to your chosen genre?
First, I’d like to extend my gratitude to you for this opportunity for readers to get to know us—the authors who make up the women in horror. With a cup of strong coffee in hand, I’d like to answer your first question about my chosen genre.
I don’t have a chosen genre exactly, but I do have a chosen style: regionalism. I write in a variety of genres; but 90% of the time, I write those books and stories through regionalism, incorporating elements of my region and most especially my culture. I am drawn by the desire to entertain, inform, and educate my readers about my culture through the stories I write, whether they’re mysteries, paranormal, horror, or any of the other genres I’ve written.
What writing elements do you think are your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
My use of the elements of regionalism and tone are my strong points, at least I think so. I love incorporating my culture’s customs, traditions, superstitions, etc. of what I experienced in my youth which have died out and which today’s and future generations will never know. Creating a certain tone in my works is also something I work at through scrupulous choice of diction and syntax. I love creating a spooky atmosphere just as much as a religious or festive one, so my readers experience the emotions I strive to evoke in them as they read. There is one skill I’d like to master, which is changing my voice to suit the genres I tackle. I’ve done this successfully a few times, but it’s something I’d like to be able to do effortlessly.
Tell us a little about your latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
I’m close to finishing my sixth book, which was inspired by one of my readers who is also a writer. Because most of my books are set in the ’50s and ’60s and because of my use of regionalism, they serve as a record of what life was like in those eras, especially for us Hispanics living in the southwest region. That woman, Caroline Vigil, told me once she’s saving my books for her grandchildren, so they will learn of those traditions and other elements of our culture which are no longer practiced. The book is my first attempt at a new genre: YA. I refer to as an Alice in Wonderland adventure through Tales from the Crypt. The main character finds herself in a world inhabited by her ancestors who introduce her to the supernatural creatures and folktale characters of my culture. Because they are evil, dark, ghostly, or deadly, the atmosphere at times takes dangerous turns I hope will surprise the reader.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
I have four books and about six short stories waiting their turns. All but two will wait a bit longer because I’m anxious to work on a couple for specific reasons. One is a sequel and the other is a companion book for my fifth, La Quinceañera. Both feature antagonists who emerged from La Quinceañeraand who became powerful female horror characters. They require their own books.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors. Can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
Only five is a bit difficult, but here goes:
Shakespeare—he influences my use of general nature, the depiction of the stages of life, emotions, and experiences of every human—the human experience.
Milton—his concept of man’s creation, the unholy trinity, and the function of the conscience guide many of my works or insert themselves into my themes.
Dickinson—her themes and some of her concepts also find their way into many of my stories (death, success, hope, aloneness, among others).
Yann Martel—his mastery of the metaphysical conceit (aka extended metaphor) influences my own use of this literary device to set the tone of scenes, chapters, or entire works.
Rudolfo Anaya—my former advisor, may he rest in peace, taught me the value of embracing and making the most of writing through regionalism, creating my own idioms, and conveying our culture through literature.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Almost all the characters in my first book are real people because it’s based on a true story. Since then, many of the characters I created and still create are based real people or have traits I borrow from people I know or have known.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
For my first book, I learned so much more about the religious brotherhoodwhich was a big part of the storyline. I am the curator of the brothers’ records dating back to 1850 and their religious artifacts, so I have most of what I needed in my home. My mother, the historian of our family, also left many records of our ancestry and traditions which I incorporated into that book.
Each book I write requires research for historical accuracy or for other elements I include. I research as I write, so google is a good writing buddy I rely upon. However, I have my own library of resources I use constantly, like New Mexico plants and herbal remedies. I learned about ghosts and their ghostly presence for the second book; I learned about the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 and found a blog of survivors who supplied details for the experience of being in an earthquake. I discovered new folktale characters and creatures to incorporate into my third book, and I found many New Mexico outlaws to choose from for the fourth book. I learned about the tradition of the Quinceañera for book five and also learned about a new genre I never knew about. Writing teaches me something new almost every day.
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books or stories, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
For the first book, many childhood memories came back to me and provided a bit of introspection about myself regarding my youth. Most of what I’ve uncovered comes from the non-fiction stories, essays, and articles I write between books. Some of the memories are unwelcome and painful, but writing about them and sharing them with readers makes me realize I’m not alone because they’ve gone through similar human experiences.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I select many of the names of my characters from the old names from my culture. Many are archaic, and since I write about elements of my culture I don’t want forgotten, the names are part of that. Some character names are symbolic or allegorical to suit the story lines. Take my most current antagonist, Atlaclamani Ahuatzi, an Aztec woman who needed a powerful name. A special character is a boy named José María from a previous story. Hesettled in a community called Rey Salvador (King Savior); his story is an allegory of Christ’s. Some names are more relevant than others to suit the characters.
How long on average does it take you to write a book or story?
My first five books took two months each to write. My sixth is going a bit faster, perhaps because the inspiration for it is strong. My short stories take anywhere from a few hours to a few days before I submit them to publications. I love the satisfying feeling of bursting with inspiration to start a new project, even as I’m finishing the one before.
Thank you for joining me in the tearoom, Carman.
To find out more about Carman’s books and writing click on the link below:
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