Thrilled to share my interview with bestselling author and judge for World’s Best Story Carl S. Plumer.
1- What are the ingredients for a blockbuster story to you?
A blockbuster to me is a huge, multi-generational, multi-character epic that gives us characters across time and across geography. People we care about and want to see what happens to them next. People we miss when the die in the story, or when the story has come to an end. A blockbuster makes us think, makes us care, makes us wish we were a part of it all (and often, it feels like we are). Obviously, a blockbuster must have excellent plotting, engaging subplots, multi-faceted and nuanced characters; no cliches, no stereotypes, no predictability. No safety net. It must be very new, and very old at the same time. For the writer, or for the reader, it has to be “all in”. A blockbuster pulls in, keeps us on the edge of our seat, and leaves us wanting more with each page, each chapter, and each sequel.
2- What story has influenced your life?
It’s funny, I wouldn’t call it influencing me in the traditional sense, but one story was the first to make me understand the power of words and of words’ ability to create striking visuals. That story was, “To Build a Fire,” by Jack London. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and that story shook me. As did “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce. Then “A Tell Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amatillado.” Riveting visual tales that got inside my brain like nothing before. The first novel that had such an effect on me was Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” These tales made me feel the fear, the danger, to worry for the characters and to project myself into the stories as if I were there; no, as if I were the main character. As if I were Peyton or Henry or Fortunato. Then came William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” and finally, Italo Calvino’s “If On a Winter’s Night, a Traveller.” These all disrupted my neural patterns to be sure! Later, in college, I was introduced to Fuentes, Cortazar, and Borges — these authors rewrote my wiring again with the emotion of their stories as well as with how the story form itself could be transformed and how the reader could be (in a good way) manipulated.
3- What writer would you consider a mentor?
I’d have to say Calvino — he awakened in me a desire to craft language and not just write. That the language could be as much a part of the story as the characters and the plot. In that area, so did Donald Barthelme. And isn’t everyone’s (or every male’s) mentor Papa Hemingway?
4- What story do you enjoy reading over and over again?
Surprisingly, I don’t have a book like this in fiction. For nonfiction, I’d have to say Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”
5- Do you have any advice to aspiring writers?
Write! It’s my opinion that you have to write past the, er, bad stuff. You can’t get any better as a writer unless you write. But that writing must be directed. Take courses. Read books on writing. Scour the internet. You need to love what you do so much that it consumes you. It’s not enough to want to write a story. You have to want to write a story that communicates at the deepest level. Even the silliest book, if done well, can touch us. Oh, and don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Your dream CAN come true; it very much IS possible.
6- Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’m not sure, because it’s always been there, haunting me if you will. I always received praise from teachers for how good my writing was. They would use it as examples to the rest of the class. This really bothered me simply because I hadn’t really tried. I wrote it off the cuff, first draft. And I had the feeling that most of my fellow students worked really hard to create their work, which was never held up as an example. Writing came easy to me, like making music does to some people. I’ve never had the desire to be an “author” (another word for “poseur,” in my mind). I just want to write, to see what happens next! But I remember feeling strongly about my “calling;” certainly no later than five or six years old.
7- How would you increase literacy?
Have parents read with their kids, even for five minutes. Parents need to read more and speak about the fun their having to their kids. People should not be afraid of boring their colleagues or family by talking about “a wonderful book” they’re reading. Everyone likes to talk about a movie they saw, the cliff hanger at the end of a television season, this “thing on the internet.” Talk about reading, the sound of words, the flow of the story. Savor it for others, so they want to read, too. For literacy, I don’t know how to approach that problem if you mean the actual interpretation of symbols.
8- If heaven exists, what is the first thing you would like to hear from God when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Your father is over here, waiting for you. Right this way . . .
9- If you could grant someone one wish, who would it be? Why?
I know my wife wants me to live forever (I’m more than a decade older than her). I would love to grant her that wish. Of course, in the “be careful what you wish for category,” I’d add that neither one of us gets sick, crippled, mentally deficient, or any other “gotcha” not herein explicitly mentioned. And that she and all my kids live forever, too! (Or really, what’s the point?)
10- If you were given 5000$ and told you have one day to spend it, what would you buy?
I’d give the money to my wife and kids. Does that count? If the rules required me to actually spend the money, I’d buy them all gifts, just shower them.
CARL S. PLUMER was born in New York City, holds advanced degrees in writing, and has spent his life surrounded by words. He’s delivered newspapers, worked at a printing press, managed a bookstore, taught writing, wrote for literary magazines, published technical and fiction books, and has always considered himself a writer.
His first novel, Mad About Undead You, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist and a National Indie Excellence Award Finalist.
To find out more about Carl and his books: carlplumer.com