A Q&A with Steven Carr
A Tuesday Topics Guest Post
Steven Carr is the most prolific short story master I’ve ever heard of. He has a couple new shorts published every week, on average. Since short stories aren’t my focus, I thought it would be interesting to ask him some questions about the (in)famous Carr Method, and he was kind enough to share with us.
What is your writing background?
I had an English teacher in high school who told me I had a talent for writing and I was gullible enough to believe her. Right out of high school I enlisted in the Army to be a military journalist. Despite my hopes of being sent to Vietnam to see firsthand what was happening there, after graduating from the Defense Information School, which trained journalists in all branches of the military, I was assigned to the District Recruiting Command Headquarters in Jacksonville, Fl. For the next 2 1/12 years I traveled all over Florida and wrote what’s called hometown news releases and articles about aspects of Army recruiting.
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Skipping over the next five years that I spent in the Navy and kicked around the country, I then attended college and got a BA in English/Theater, with an interest in becoming a playwright. During that time I wrote three short stories that were published, and around that time, wrote a children’s play based on “Gulliver’s Travels” that was produced by the Albuquerque Children’s Theater, and a play based on Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad” that was produced by a University of Cincinnati-sponsored theater.
I set aside writing for many years to pursue a career in non-profit rural health care development and management, using my skills in writing to write numerous successful grants totaling millions of dollars. During that time a children’s theater play “The Brave Little Tree” was produced by a Longwood College sponsored theater.
Jump ahead to when I retired and my play “A Cowboy Comes to Dinner” was produced in Kansas City, Mo. Following that I had my own theater company in Arizona and produced my own plays, the musical “Nantucket,” the comedy “The Sisters, Bell,” and the drama “Regarding Meadowlarks.”
Jump ahead again to June, 2016 when I was mentoring a college student who wanted to learn how to write short stories, and realized I didn’t like teaching without having anything published recently to back up what I was teaching. I wrote the story “Eleanor,” and it was accepted by the first publication I submitted it to.
Since then I have had over 150 short stories in every genre published and a collection of my stories, “Sand,” published by Clarendon House Publications. I exclusively write short stories. I have completed a novel, but it is gathering cobwebs in my computer, where I intend it to stay for a while.
How do you find publications to submit to?
About 90% of the publications I find to submit to, I found through Duotrope. Along with having a very large database of publications in all genres looking for submissions, which can be found by using their search tools, they send out a weekly email with a list of paying and non-paying publications looking for submissions. Duotrope is a subscription service that costs $5.00 per month or $50.00 per year. The other publications I find to submit to come from many different sources.
How do you choose which publications to submit to?
Every Sunday, when I get the email from Duotrope that lists publications looking for submissions, I carefully look at the websites for the publications, and if I see one that I feel I could write a story for, then I make an index card with their information, set a date for when to have the story written by, then by that date have the story written and submit it. I almost always write stories based on what publications are looking for [JM: rather than looking for a home for a story already written]. In some ways, what publications say they are looking for acts as writing prompts.
Why do you write short stories?
I love the short story structure. The idea of a beginning, middle and end, seems so simple, but the understanding of each of those as parts of the whole of a short story is essential. The elements of a short story — character, setting, conflict, plot and theme — are, for me, a must in writing a short story, even in experimental writing.
I consider myself a “traditionalist” when it comes to short stories. If a short story isn’t structured correctly (as I see it), or lacks the essential elements, then I might like what is written, but I don’t consider it an actual short story. My experience is that most editors for publications are looking for traditionally structured stories with the essential elements no matter the genre they publish or how experimental the works are that they accept for publication.
Because I write in all genres, short stories challenge my imagination and test my ability to convey through words the worlds I create in my head.
How do you write?
Remember, this is just my opinion and it works for me, but it may not work for everyone, which is okay. I never let anyone read any of my stories before they have been published. I don’t use beta readers or editors. I edit as I write and try to make sure that there are no issues regarding continuity or construction.
I do sometimes make mistakes or miss editing issues, but good editors at the publications will catch them and correct them. That is their job. I’ve never had a story rejected because of editing errors, but if my stories contained lots of them, I’m certain they would be rejected.
The job of writers is to learn how to write, this includes learning grammar, punctuation and how to use spell check, dictionaries and a thesaurus. The other reason I don’t want anyone involved in anything I write is that, when I submit a story, I know without a doubt that it is 100% mine. If I allowed someone else to read my story and give me an opinion or add their editing, the story becomes partly theirs. My “voice” would get mixed with theirs and the story would no longer be solely mine.
Remember, for those of you who are beta readers or editors, or those of you who use them, this is just how I write and is not meant to imply everyone should or could write this way. Also, there is a big difference in using a beta reader for a short story as opposed to a novel. For novels, beta readers and editors become more necessary.
How has your process evolved?
By nature or long years of experience, I’m very organized. Almost as soon as I started writing short stories in earnest in 2016, I knew I had to write stories that publications were looking for if I wanted to be a published author.
Since I don’t need to or expect to make much money from writing short stories, I have the freedom to write for almost any publication that interests me. In the process of writing for a diverse number of publications, I’ve been able to experiment with my writing style and themes.
How long does it take for you to write a story?
I complete a new story every 2-3 days (sometimes 4), depending on the word count I plan for the story. I rarely hold on to a story after it is written, meaning that, because I already know which publication I am writing the story for, the story is submitted as soon as I finish it. I don’t linger over a story, nor do I put it aside to re-evaluate it later. In that way, I am a very confident writer. Before I even start writing the story, I know how the story will begin and end, and in the writing process, all I have to do is construct the middle, so I’m able to write quickly without having to spend time while writing trying to figure out where my story is going.
I have been told that my writing is “cinematic.” In some ways that’s true. Because I’m a movie buff and as a former playwright, I visualize my stories in much the same way that movies and plays are visual experiences, and have a very specific structure that mimics the structure of short stories. I want to add that there is a lot of attention paid to the number of stories I’ve had published, but — without meaning to brag — that wouldn’t happen if I didn’t know how to write a good short story and know how to select the right publications to submit my stories to.
What advice do you have for new or struggling writers?
Every writer has their own “voice.” That voice isn’t acquired or understood overnight. It takes time and a lot of self-exploration, keen observation of the world around you, an awareness of how you experience your world, and how these things affect your writing style and story themes.
Also, learn how to write. Learn grammar and punctuation. Be original; write stories that haven’t been told before. Or write stories that have been told before, but tell them in a new way. This means you should read the classics.
Know the publication you are submitting your story to. It wastes your time and the publication’s time if you submit a story that doesn’t fit what the publication is looking for.
Finally, accept that rejection happens to every writer. Don’t take it personally. If an editor takes the time to tell you why your story was rejected, pay attention to what you’re told. But also remember, editors can be wrong. If your story is rejected by one publication, submit it right away to another publication.
Follow Steven Carr on Facebook for updates on his short stories