Nielsen BookScan has listed her novel as #20 on the mass market horror/occult/psychological list for last week. It is #29 overall (in hardcovers and trade) in the horror/occult category. She is up there with Stephen King, Dean Koontz and the like. I recently got a chance to talk to this very talented and prolific award-winning writer.
Carole, thanks for granting me this interview. You´ve written over fifty novels in so many genres. I know you´re a busy woman.
Never too busy to talk about writing and books, though.
Tell me a little about yourself. How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Being an only child (my father died before I was three) with a working mother meant I had to entertain myself a lot. That made me a bookworm and hyper-creative. I made dioramas with moss and twigs and dollhouses, "wrote" and put on plays, and was writing "Hollywood" on my aunt's old manual typewriter at age eight. I was pitching my favorite book as a movie so I could play the eight-year-old heroine. Ahead of my time. Now kids get music and acting breaks early!
I attended Catholic girls' schools in high school and college, so had no idea that the larger society had limited roles for women. As a theater major, I stood on 12-foot ladders to hang lights, and worked with animal glue and gauze to build sets as well as acted and directed. I saw women running student government and contributed to the campus newspaper and literary magazine.
Going out into the "real" working world was a shock. The talents and hard work that earned me such options as working on Vogue magazine as an editorial assistant (I was a finalist in a tough, three-stage writing contest but didn't take the job), didn't work at the metro daily newspaper where I got myself from advertising department flunkie to women's department reporter in a year, without a journalism degree, but then stalled.
I was the first woman on The Newspaper Guild of the Twin Cities union executive board, the first woman to chair the Twin Cities annual Gridiron Show (when I started writing for it, women were not allowed to attend or act in it), and the first full-time female Opinion Page staff and Editorial Board member. But despite doing award-winning writing, I was never allowed to reach my full potential. I finally discovered the management never read the features sections I worked in. Not manly.
In college I'd started what became my first published novel, triggered by a fondness for the Gothic romances then popular, but a loathing of the wimpy heroines in need of constant rescuing. These Gothics were descendants of Jane Eyre, probably the first novel to feature a "working woman" who wasn't a prostitute, and could have been good role models for women. A bigoted anti-Irish comment I heard a British couple make was another trigger for the novel and gave me my theme and "cause." The heroine was half English and half Irish.
I resumed writing that first novel Amberleigh after hitting the glass ceiling in my reporter job, just to see if I could end up with a real novel. I was surprised that I could. From that moment, I became determined to work my way from nonfiction writing into full-time fiction writing, which I've been doing since 1984. Everyone said you couldn't make a living writing fiction, and they are pretty correct, but some of those who are persistent and prolific can.
I reported on the arts and popular culture, and interviewed many famous actors, writers, artists who became my accidental mentors by making clear that my work was way above what they were used to from the press. They gave me confidence in my abilities I certainly wasn't getting inside the newspaper. The late Garson Kanin, a Golden Age film director and playwright and Ruth Gordon's husband, took Amberleigh to his publisher because he'd been so impressed with an interview I'd done with him five years before. That was my one big "break." It got Amberleigh read, but by then Gothics were dead. Amberleigh was a mainstream, post-feminist Gothic, though, so it did sell, and came out disguised as a historical romance.