Like most writers, Carre Armstrong Gardner grew up with her nose in a book. But, even though she always said she wanted to be a writer, she never really wrote anything. Until her husband handed her an adult education catalog and said, “Take a class. Otherwise, you’re never going to do this.”
One course … and many middle-of-the-night writing sessions later, she signed a multi-book deal. Her debut novel, All Right Here, released last month.
Carre, her husband, and their family reside in Portland, Maine.
What sparked your writing journey, and how does faith play into your work?
As a kid, I was always, always reading. I think that’s where anyone’s writing journey begins: with the love the printed word. All writers start off as great readers. In childhood, you soak yourself in words, marinate in them, unconsciously learning how they fit together best; what’s evocative; what kinds of stories and characters you love and which ones don’t really do it for you. I must have read every Nancy Drew book in the series at least three times.
When I was twelve, I wanted to be a “journalist.” I thought that was somebody who got paid for writing in a journal. (Today, that’s what a blogger is, but back then, such a thing didn’t exist.) The funny thing is, even though I wanted to be a writer, I never really wrote anything. I just knew the profound way books and stories moved me, and I wanted to move others that same way.
As a college student, I foresaw that the chances of supporting myself by writing fiction were slim, especially since I’d never even written so much as a short story. So I got a degree in nursing. I knew that as a nurse I would always have a job, and it would be flexible enough to allow me to write on the side. That’s how it’s worked out for me, although I never wrote a thing—well, never completed a thing—until I was in my 30’s. At that point, my husband—probably tired of hearing me talk about wanting to be a writer—came home with an adult ed catalog and, waving it under my nose, said, “Take a class. Otherwise, you’re never going to do this.”
The only class about writing books was called Writing the Middle-grade Novel, but I signed up for it. At about the third class, the teacher just threw out, “Go home and write a first chapter.” So I did. And so did everyone else. The next week, the teacher was astonished. She said, “I never thought any of you would actually do it.” But when our 6 or 8-session class was over, she invited several of us to meet in her home on a monthly basis for a writers’ group. We met for two years, and that’s when I wrote my first novel. It was about a teenage boy who gets stranded on an island in the Bering Sea with an old Aleutian woman. He has to build a boat in order to get off the island. It didn’t get published, but got some very encouraging rejection letters! After that, I joined an online writing community for several years, where I could post stories and get feedback. It was pure nerd fun! I got hooked on reviews, and discovered there’s no high like creating what you love and having other people love it too.
As far as how my faith works into my writing, to be honest, I chafe when people refer to my book as “Christian fiction.” What does that mean, anyway? My faith is central to who I am, and it comes through in my writing, as it comes through in the rest of my life. It will do that no matter what publisher I’m signed with. My goal is to write organically from a place of faith, but to write books I can hand to a neighbor or co-worker, and know she will be comfortable reading. I’m not interested in preaching the gospel to the choir: If I write a book that only Christians will read, I have not done what I set out to do.
With a full time career and a family, how do you make time for writing?
It’s just a question of doing what it takes to get it done. For me, that means going with less sleep. I more or less wrote All Right Here in the middle of the night. I’d go to bed at 9 or 10, get up at 2 a.m. and write until 5, then go back to bed again for an hour or two. It was the only time that was quiet enough for me to get inside my own head. I work as a nurse, which is a physically grueling job, so I had kind of played around with writing this book for five years. Then one day, I was at work talking with two other nurses about all the changes we’ve seen in the medical field throughout our careers. They were each about ten years older than me, and it suddenly hit me, “I can’t still be doing this ten years from now.” I mean, physically I can’t. And I don’t want to. That was in, I think January. I was so motivated that I finished writing the book the following May. I started pitching to agents that same month, and by October, I had sold it. If writing a book is something you want badly enough, you’ll do it.
Detours in life can be frustrating, but the outcome is often more intriguing than our original plan. Can you tell us about a “detour” in your life that turned out to be a blessing?
When my (now) husband and I were in college, we made a promise to God that we would one day go to Russia to work with orphans. But … I wanted to be a writer, and at the time, it was hard to find publishers who would work with you if you lived outside the U.S. We felt it was very definite that we were to fulfill our promise, however, so God and I had a few long wrestling matches. Ultimately, I told Him, “You’re the one who gave me this dream of being a writer. If you want to take it back, that’s your business.” I went to Russia fully thinking that was the end of my chance to be a novelist, but content to leave it in God’s hands. About three years later, we came home, and I finished what eventually became the first two books in the Darling Family series (All Right Here and Better All the Time, which will be released Spring, 2015.) Both an agent and a publisher picked the books up on the first round of submissions. It was God, giving my dream back to me because I’d been willing to give it up to Him. And not only did I sell one book: I sold a series. God’s big like that. : )
It’s the first in a series about the Darlings, who are this warm, loud, large, slightly boundary-challenged family. Each book in the series will feature different family members.
All Right Here is about Ivy, who can’t have children, and her husband Nick, who can’t forgive her for that. They live in one of those all-white towns on the coast of Maine, until three black kids move in next door. The kids are abandoned by their mother, and Ivy and Nick become their foster parents.
Ivy and Nick’s marriage continues to disintegrate, and Ivy’s not sure she even cares about trying to save it anymore. Meanwhile, Ivy’s sister Laura is having an affair with her married boss, and spiraling into addiction. It’s a book about family, faith, and forgiveness.
God often uses our work to teach us something. What did you learn (about life, faith, and/or even yourself) in the process of writing this book?
I learned that I have the tenacity and vision to do something as huge as writing a book. That surprised me, to be honest. And I learned that the difference between working at a job you don’t mind doing (nursing) versus something you’re passionate about (writing) is no contest. It makes me all the more determined to do this for a living.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
That would be mayonnaise! I have a shameless love for it. I could eat it on an aspirin and be happy. I’ve had to discipline myself to stop eating mayonnaise sandwiches—just plain mayonnaise on white bread—because it’s so bad for me.
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I’m a pianist. In college, I had a piano teacher who tried to encourage me to go to conservatory as a piano performance major, but I think I knew even then that I didn’t really have the gift for it. Or maybe it was the discipline I lacked. I still play classical music now and then, just for fun. Chopin in particular is my homeboy.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
Something by TobyMac, and the louder the better. I love his music because it appeals to people wherever they are in their faith journeys. Plus, I love to dance, and his music is so danceable!
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I admire women who know their own strength and aren’t afraid of it, so I would be the strong, female lead for sure. One of my real failings is that I can be impatient with women who aren’t confident and sure of where they’re headed in life. Even as a kid, I was drawn to books with strong female characters: Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Anne of Green Gables. I’ll confess that the book I just finished writing—the second of the Darling series—was harder for me than the first because the main character is not a strong woman. She does learn her own kind of strength by the end, but it was hard for me to get inside her head. I really wanted to take over and solve all her problems in a way that just wouldn’t have been true to her.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
We have two rescue dogs. We found one of them on the street in Russia and brought her back to America with us. She’s a neurotic, little, black mop of a thing, but so loyal and loving. We named her Kopek, after the smallest unit of Russian currency. She goes nuts when any of us come home: she’s just as thrilled to see us whether we’ve been gone ten days or ten minutes. Her welcomes always makes me think of the way God loves and welcomes me. Our other is a two-year-old lab mix that my youngest son picked out from the local shelter. He was into the Percy Jackson books at the time, so her name is Athena. She’s smart and obedient, and starting to lose that manic puppy energy, which is a relief. To be honest, I’d rather have a cat. They’re independent and you don’t have to walk them every day. But some of my family are allergic, so a cat is not in the cards for me, I’m afraid.
Thank you, Carre! It’s nice to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
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For more information about Carre, visit her website.
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