Monday, April 19, 2010

An Interview with Lillian Stewart Carl

Lillian Stewart Carl Interview:
By Pamela James

Lillian when I visited your website I noticed J.R.R. Tolkien is your favorite author. I would love to know more about why you chose him as your favorite author?

I first read The Lord of the Rings in my teens. It was my favorite book then
and still is. As C.S. Lewis says, " are beauties which pierce like
swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart."
And, I will add, here is a book which will enrich your life.

It is fashionable these days to deplore Tolkien's rather old-fashioned prose
and unsophisticated poetry, but I love them. They create a complete world,
one of wonders and of loyalty and love. After all these years, all it takes
is one line, such as "Rohan had come at last" to bring tears to my eyes. But
then, as Tolkien's Gandalf says, "Not all tears are an evil".This is a collection of thirteen of my most recent short stories. All of
them were originally published in anthologies and a magazine. Some are
mystery, some are fantasy, some are somewhere between -- which meant I had a
bit of a problem coming up with a title!

Tell us about 'The Muse and Other Stories of History, Mystery and Myth?

"The Muse" is the last story in the book, about a middle-aged writer and a
mysterious bagpiper on the Isle of Skye.

You also have Thomas Jefferson solving a mystery, you have a feminist
scholar inhabited by the spirit of Ann Boleyn, you have a tale of India in
the style of Robert E. Howard, you have alternate history where Bonnie
Prince Charlie wins his rebellion, you have the story behind the ghosts in
"A Christmas Carol". And more.

Okay now I'll settle down and ask the standard questions. How many books have you written and published? Do you have a favorite book cover ?
  I've written twenty novels (in addition to twenty-five or so stories), but
the first two science fiction novels are tucked into my closet -- and will
stay there, period! The novel I wrote most recently is a game tie-in that
will appear under another name, but was just as difficult to write as any

Book number five of the Fairbairn/Cameron series, The Blue Hackle, will be
published in November 2010.

My favorite cover is from a standalone romantic fantasy titled
BlacknessTower, the work of artist Timothy Lantz. This is the first time I
ever had the cover while I was actually writing the book, so I was able to
a description or two toward the cover image. It's an evocation of a
pre-Raphaelite painting that plays an important role in the story, when the
heroine dreams of a castle on the Scottish coast, finds her way there,
and discovers her own face in a century-old painting. (And it goes without
saying that the castle is owned by a handsome and enigmatic man....)

Let's talk about how long it takes you to write a book and do you end your writing day after a certain word count or page count?

How long I take to write a book depends on how long a deadline I have. My
novels that were written on spec, without a contract, took a long longer --
Lucifer's Crown, for example, took me seven years, off and on. But then,
it's a "big" book in theme as well as length, being my version of the quest
for the Holy Grail, with a tarnished saint and a polished devil dueling in
modern Britain.

I have written an entire novel in as little as 4-5 months. As Samuel Johnson
said, "Impending execution concentrates the mind wonderfully"!

I will sometimes end my writing day after doing 2000 words, about as many as
my fingers and my mind can handle in one day, but usually I work in blocks
of time rather than words, simply doing as much as I can in whatever time I
have. A "day" can vary according to what else I have to do. Some days
produce almost
no new words at all, because I'm having to revise work I've already done,
especially if the book is a mystery, where continuity is an important issue.

Let's talk about the genres you write and you have travelled all over the world so as an author and a reader what spots have charmed you the most and helped you develop memorable characters in your body of books?

I love Colonial Williamsburg, which is where my most recent novel, The Charm
Stone, is set. (This is book four of the Fairbairn/Cameron series.) There's
a real feel of the past leaking into the present, and yet there are also the
funny incongruities you get when the one meets the other. Even though I made
up the ghost story that runs beneath the mystery in The Charm Stone,
Williamsburg has some wonderful ghost stories of its own. My husband and I
went on a ghost-story tour there last Halloween night, where expert
storytellers in candle- and fire-lit buildings related tales that had our
hair standing on end. Wonderful!
Further afield, I love Scotland. The other Fairbairn/Cameron books are set
in different areas there. The second one, The Murder Hole, is set at Loch
Ness, for example, with its plot concerning the mythical monster, while the
third one, The Burning Glass, takes up the mythology surrounding Rosslyn

Blackness Tower, of the beautiful cover, is set on the northern coast of
Scotland overlooking Orkney, a place where you really get the feeling you've
come to the edge of the world and the rim of time. (The cover photo on my
first collection of short stories, Along the Rim of Time, was taken there.)

My husband and I loved visiting India, where I've set a couple of short
stories, and New Zealand and Australia, but I've never set a novel in any of
those places -- yet. There are Aussie characters in The Blue Hackle, though.

Do you believe in writer's block?

Yes and no. Yes, in that I've very much had periods in which I couldn't for
the life of me set fingers to keyboard. Sometimes I felt everything I wrote
was drivel, other times I simply had nothing to say -- that next plot twist
eluded me. No, in that forcing myself to apply my bottom to the seat of the
chair and my fingers to the keyboard would get me past the blockage, no
matter how laboriously.

What is your favorite meal,dessert, movie, song and way to spend your free time? I noticed you like to needlepoint do you have any completed projects that you would like to show to us?

My favorite movie is the Lord of the Rings trilogy -- big surprise there!
The occasional mis-step sets my teeth on edge, but overall they catch the
feel of the books, and Howard Shore's score is superb.

I like Asian food, Mediterranean food, Indian food, but am embarrassed to
admit that even though I'm a descendant of Texas cattle ranchers, I'm not a
big meat eater. Dessert is best, I think, when it's chocolate or ice
cream -- or both.

I like Celtic folk/rock music, and can be found every year at the Texas
Scottish Festival, clapping and hooching along with the singers. (A hooch, a
yell, is the Celtic equivalent of a gospel choir's "Amen!")
Here's a photo of a couple of needlepoint pillows I've done, along with a
needlepoint fantasy scene I designed based on an Alicia Austin print.

Needlework seems to connect with the OCD part of my brain, stitch after
stitch building a pattern just like word after word builds a story. Same
thing with knitting,
except knitting is harder to put down at random, for fear of unraveling. Of
course, I've known novels to unravel, too!

I also enjoy tai chi, and take three classes a week. I spend so much time in
my head it's a good thing to move the energy into the rest of my body.

I also play the piano, badly. Since I played the accordion as a child, I
still want to sit sideways to the piano keyboard!You have to know when to hold 'em and you have to know when to fold 'em.

If you were going to mentor another writer what would be some of the do's and don't of writing a book, and publicity that you would tell this person?
Remember that you'll meet the same people on your way down that you met on
the way up.

Take time to stop and smell the roses.

What conventions, guest panels and workshops do you attend?

I've done a lot of conventions and panels over the years, with multiple
appearances at the Science Fiction Worldcon (the best one was 2009, when I
was nominated for a Hugo award), the World Fantasy Convention, Malice
Domestic, Bouchercon, Romantic Times -- and on and on, with my local Texas
conventions as important as the big ones. I've conducted a workshop or two
at local conventions, but on a day to day basis workshop my work with a
network of e-mail friends, not at formal gatherings.

You clearly love to read and travel so in closing leave us with some mythical, magical and mysterious quotes.

."Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?
A man may do both. For not we but those who come after will make the legends
of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend,
though you tread it under the light of day!"

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

“Sweep away the illusion of time. Compress our threescore years into three
minutes. Are we not spirits, that are shaped into a body, into an
Appearance, and that fade away into air and invisibility? This is no
metaphor, it is a simple fact: we start out of Nothingness, take figure and
are apparitions. Ghosts! there are a thousand million walking the earth . .
. some half hundred have vanished from it, some half hundred have arisen in
it, ere thy watch ticks once . . . we not only carry each a future ghost
within him; but are, in very deed, ghosts.”

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (quoted in Blackness Tower)

"In the ashes of time, you do find the odd live ember."

Lillian Stewart Carl, Ashes to Ashes


  1. Great Interview!

    I too love Scotland, tai Chi and needlepoint among other things. Your needlework is charming as well as your writing!


  2. I love Tolkien's books. Delightful interview.

  3. Really enjoyed this interview. I'm so jealous because I have not traveled much. Something I would like to change. I would love to go to Scotland. The books mentioned sound very intriguing. I see my TBR pile growing...


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