Here’s a snippet of a conversation between publisher Grant P. Hudson (i.e. me) and best-selling author Steve Carr, shortly after the publication of the hardcover edition of The Very Best of Steve Carr.
Grant: I have to admit that the whole idea of producing a hardcover collection was a little daunting at first. I have now published dozens of paperbacks and have the process down pat, but a hardcover was a whole new experience.
Steve: In what way exactly?
Grant: For a start, the formatting is different — different margins, paper quality, and so on — and you have a dust jacket rather than a simple cover. Fortunately, Lulu provides professional templates for all of that for free, and the final look of the book shows an upgrade in quality all round, I think.
Steve: My copy hasn’t arrived yet. Tell me about the book in your hands.
Grant: It’s a big, weighty book, over 450 pages. It has the look and feel of an old book, and reminds me of the kinds of books my father had in his library, in which I was allowed to freely roam as a child, discovering such treasures as H. Rider Haggard’s She and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. Sitting down to read your book you immediately feel as though you need an armchair, a large cup of tea and a rainy afternoon. Luckily, I had all three for most of the time while proofreading it.
Steve: I can’t wait until mine arrives. Did it get there quickly?
Grant: Lulu normally delivers a paperback from order to doorstep within five days, including printing time. I think this took seven or eight days, which is fair enough given the quality of it.
Steve: On re-reading it, were there any favourites?
Grant: I’ve read some of these stories so many times now that I wondered if they would still have any power for me, but I needn’t have worried. As I progressed through the book, some tales captured me all over again: I particularly liked ‘Flowersong’ and, even though I am not a horror fan, ‘Strange Water’ is just such a dynamic piece that it still gets me. Some of them I think I saw more depth in than in earlier readings: ‘Tenderloin’, for example, seemed to pack more of punch, if you’ll pardon the expression (readers of ‘Tenderloin’ will know what I mean).
Steve: I hope the book meets with approval from readers.
Grant: It’s definitely one for the library of anyone who has followed your progress as a short story writer over the last couple of years. I have a feeling that this is the book that could well be used in literature classes at some point. Reading through it, I spotted consistent themes and motifs that I hadn’t registered before — you may not even be aware of them yourself.
Steve: Such as…?
Grant: There are a great many colourful skies ‘fanning out’, along with geese formations in the sky, as an example of motifs. This consistent imaging isn’t a weakness, but rather gives the reader the semi-hypnotic suggestion that all of these stories are taking place in the same world. In Media Studies it’s what’s called ‘paradigmatic’: going beyond one particular story and linking it with something outside, in this case in another story.
Steve: That’s interesting. It reminds me of something you said ages ago about Talker Knock.
Grant: Yes, your Talker Knock tales are an example of a set of adventures featuring a central character taking place in a wide variety of settings, but building up the gradual background impression that the world in which all these things happen is a common one. Reading Talker Knock would make a certain kind of reader — like me, for instance — want a map. Now, reading over this entire collection, I start to wonder about connections between, for example the Paper Mache Man and the Costume Maker, if you see what I mean.
Steve: That’s fascinating. Can you see any other connections?
Grant: I think it needs an intense study. What you need is for the book to be included on a university course and a student to research all the connections for an MA thesis or something.
Grant: Don’t laugh too much, it might happen one day.
Steve: Aren’t authors usually dead before they get studied at universities?
Grant: Yes, it’s almost a prerequisite. But look at Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie. They’re regarded as worthy of academic study and they’re still here. I read Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale years ago and to be honest thought it lacked some emotional power. Your ‘The Festival of the Cull’, similar in some ways, hits the reader between the eyes more sharply, I think.
Steve: You seriously think one day academia will be interested?
Grant: It’s possible. Things move faster these days. You’ve just got to keep eating well and exercising so you’re still around when it happens! Maria Estrada is already promoting your work along those lines.
Steve: What makes one book worthy of academic study as compared to another, do you think?
Grant: Number and size of vacuums. Was that too quick and brief an answer? OK, what I mean is that the fiction has to craft enough gaps, holes, mysteries and the like to be open to multiple interpretations, all of which can be argued to be ‘present in the text’. If a story is a simple ‘wham bam’ good guys versus bad guys two dimensional piece, there’s nothing really to explore. Fiction has to open up voids for people to journey in before you get prolonged interest. And if there’s one thing your stories have, it’s voids.
Grant: Well, you have a number of pieces which start and end in mysteries, like ‘The Missouri River Story’, or ‘The Oasis’. You don’t even attempt to explain what we’ve just read in those. On a different scale, you have emotional voids, like the one that leads us through ‘The Citrus Thief’ and leaves the abyss gaping at the end, or, in a more comedic way, ‘Noise’, which carries us through the viewpoint of a disgruntled and dissatisfied old lady.
Grant: Anyway, I’d better finish this cup of tea and get back to work. What’s say we print this up and put it out as a blog item?
Steve: Good idea! Bye for now!