Volunteer Holly interviews author Theodore Carter.
The moment I heard the title The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance I was eager to read the book of short stories written by the Washington, D.C.-based author, Theodore Carter. The stories within were just as quirky and imaginative as I hoped they would be. I felt as though they revealed a writer who was not only willing to take risks but to do so with layers of honesty, sensitivity and humor. Carter has carried this wonderful mix of fun and intrigue into his promotional campaign which is designed both to get the word out as well as to entertain. I had the opportunity to interview Carter to learn more about this “and other matters of importance” with his writing style and career.
Holly: Have there been any personal experiences or true life events that have stimulated the stories in the book?
Theodore Carter: Most of the stories in the book, despite their unusual premises, are based on real experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to write about something head on. For years, I’d been wanting to write about someone close to me battling mental illness. I couldn’t do it until I changed the illness to a problem of throwing up living animals. Likewise, I wrote a story about a college kid with a super-human sense of smell because I wanted to write about a friend who was a phenomenal baseball player. I enjoy working in magical elements, humor or a fleck of the macabre. These are the kinds of things I like as a reader. Also, for me, these elements provide the momentum that keeps my work moving and keeps the reader engaged.
Holly: Are these stories a good representation of your sense of humor?
Theodore Carter: No! My sense of humor is much more low-brow and off-kilter than what is in the book.
I do think that humor can accentuate the other qualities in a story. It can make realism more real, horror more horrific, etc. Also, when I use heavy satire, I can tackle subject matters that might otherwise come out sounding trite or cliché. It can be a wonderful form of abstraction.
Holly: So you enjoy the macabre?
Theodore Carter: Yes. I especially love stories that occupy the space between genres. Humorous horror stories are great if done well. I also love the nebulous area between magical realism and science fiction.
Holly: Can you tell me about what you’ve done to promote the book?
Theodore Carter: Upon the book’s release, I did my best to spread the word but found it hard to interest media outlets or people who didn’t know me already. I thought about paying for advertising, but I didn’t see how any traditional advertising effort wouldn’t lose money. Worse, I felt like bombarding people with traditional advertising could annoy my potential audience.
That’s when I came up with the idea of placing ceramic sea blobs around town. I didn’t pay for space, only plaster, and my signs were at least more entertaining than the “free towing” signs I see in my neighborhood. This made media outlets more willing to talk about me. It also engaged the public in a way that I felt was fun.
I began researching street art and stumbled upon the work of D.C.’s Mark Jenkins and read his tutorial on making tape sculpture. I made a life-sized sculpture of someone reading my book and put it out in Takoma Park. People loved it, and a local business association invited me to put it out again in a sanctioned location. Once I saw how people reacted to the sculpture, I decided to make the YouTube video.
So, the goal is to build an audience for this project and others without being too annoying. The other goal is to amuse people other than myself. This has included a launch party with Martian wind up toys, bacon lollipops and other door prizes. I’ll also draw you a personalized sea blob post card. You can keep up to date on the shenanigans via facebook, tumblr and my blog www.theodorecarter.com.
Holly: What’s your next project?
Theordore Carter: My novel “Stealing ‘The Scream’” is due out in January of 2015. It’s a fictional retelling of the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch’s famous painting. It too is a mix of realism and humor with a touch of the supernatural. It’s also heavily dependent on the work of Poe, Munch (of course) and the graffiti artist Banksy.
Theodore Carter’s is a writer and teacher living outside of Washington, D.C. His short story “Lurking” was a Hot Opener on the Potomac Review’s website and now appears in his collection of short stories published by Queen’s Fairy Press. His writing has appeared in several magazines and anthologies including The North American Review, From the Asylum, Yankee Pot Roast, The Potomac Review, Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry starring Jimi Hendrix and Stress City: A Big Fat Book of Fiction by 51 DC Guys. Carter holds a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University and an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.