Interview with 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up: Carole Garrison
In a former life, Carole left the comforts of suburbia with two young daughters in tow to become a police officer in Atlanta, Georgia. After completing her Ph.D. at Ohio State University, she spent over thirty years as a professor of criminal justice and women’s studies, taking time out to supervise Cambodia’s first democratic election in its history. For 13 months, she lived in a remote village, set up polling stations and supervised the registration of voters. In 1993, she returned to teaching; but three years later she was back in Cambodia as executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, a network of humanitarian and developmental non-government organizations. Her work in Cambodia and for women’s rights in Akron, Ohio won her a place in the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame for cultural activism. Recently retired from higher education, she has shifted her focus from writing academic material to her writing fiction and non-fiction short stories. Her most current work appears in VietNow National Magazine, The Sacrifice: What Would You Give? An Anthology of Inspirational Essays and WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? Breaking the White Code of Silence, A Collection of Personal Narratives, 2Leaf Press. When she is not working on her debut novel, Dancing on the Razor’s Edge, Carole engages in projects that feed her soul—bringing the love of books to children, mentoring would-be entrepreneurs and, if the arthritis in her sewing hand doesn’t sabotage her work, weaving wall hangings for the nurseries of new mothers on welfare.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Carole’s award-winning story “The Wait” then return here for a chat with the author!
WOW!: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?
Carole: The inspiration actually came out of a chance conversation while visiting my mother's grave last summer. Mom passed away at 99.5 in 2013 and was buried next to my dad who died in 1954. Long years spent as a widow. They now share a marble grave stone (a whole other story). In 1987, my mother went with me on an around the world trip. I had originally planned to go alone but she insisted, begged. I had just seen the movie Golden Child and dreamed of going to Kathmandu. I agreed to take her with me on the trip, but only on the condition she stay in New Delhi with a family friend while I go to Nepal. Deal. I left her in Delhi, went to Calcutta on my way to Nepal and got food poisoning. I spent most of my time in Nepal vomiting from every orifice and wishing for my "mother." When I left her in Delhi, I had told her not to meet me at the airport as I was arriving in the middle of the night. As I came out of customs and walked down the exit gate, I heard my name, my mother's voice, and I literally got down on my knees and kissed her feet. The night she died, I dreamed she was walking out the same airport gate, pulling behind her tiny red kid's suitcase she always took on trips with her meds and a clean change of underwear when she heard a man's voice call out "Gerty." Of course it was my dad, waiting for her to arrive. She was at peace, I was at peace. Back to the cemetery - I told the funeral director the story. She told me she could believe it because of strange things always going on at the funeral home, like dead spouses appearing at services, etc. - hence “The Wait.”
WOW!: Wonderful! I could see multiple stories coming out of that whole experience. Your background that you've described in your bio is fascinating! In what ways do you think your experience have contributed to your writing and creativity?
Carole: Most of my writing for the past 30 years has been academic, but I'm a story teller. I have always used stories from my life (and sometimes from others) to make the point about what I am teaching, whether it was in criminal justice or women's studies. I think it is that willingness to use my personal narratives in the classroom and in mentoring that led to having stories to tell. Of course my life has been charmed. Lots of adventures, and misadventures to draw from. The problem for me is that they are non-fiction. Moving to fiction has been a real challenge.
WOW!: I definitely believe in the power of personal stories to educate. Even if it’s a challenge, I hope you enjoy your foray into fiction. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?
Carole: I can edit any one’s work but my own. I hate "styles", genres, grammar rules. I hate I'm not a better writer. Like with art, I'm okay, I'm good, I'm not an artistic genius.
WOW!: I hear you – self-editing takes some skill and persistence! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Carole: Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole mysteries because I love his books; Bird by Bird because it's so inspiring; Endurance by Lansing on a recommendation to see a real page turner in action.
WOW!: Bird by Bird is one I often return to, too. If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Carole: Carry a pencil and pad of paper with you everywhere you go and by your bed at night. Write every day, anything, everything . . . your dreams, a funny billboard, a spider trapping a ladybug.
WOW!: Great advice! Anything else you'd like to add?
Carole: Put yourself and your writings out there, in the universe. Great things happen, not all the time, but enough of the time!
WOW!: So true! Thank you for your thoughtful responses, and happy writing!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor