An interview with author Carla Damron . . .
Carla Damron is a social worker, advocate, and author whose last novel, The Orchid Tattoo, won the 2023 winter Pencraft Award for Literary Excellence. Her work The Stone Necklace (about grief and addiction) won the 2017 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Best Novel and was selected the One Community Read for Columbia SC.
Damron is also the author of the Caleb Knowles mystery novels, including Justice Be Done, the fourth in this series. She holds an MSW and an MFA. Her careers of social worker and writer are intricately intertwined; all of her novels explore social issues like addiction, homelessness, and mental illness.
You can reach Carla at her website.
Interview by BWG member Paula Benson
Bethlehem Writers Group: How did your mother’s work as director of a community theater influence your desire to be a writer?
Carla Damron: Creativity was strongly nurtured in our house. And when you’re a theater family, you live and breathe it. I was put on stage when I was eight. I worked backstage throughout my teenage years—doing props, stage managing, make-up design, even lighting. Watching my mom direct plays told me a great deal about the power of scene. When I write, I find myself blocking the action, like she would do with actors on stage.
BWG: How did you create your mystery series protagonist Caleb Knowles?
CD: That’s a tough one to answer without sounding a little crazy. I think Caleb and his brother, Sam, just showed up one day. My imagination is a wacky thing, and these two hopped out of mind onto the page and suddenly I had a story to write! I didn’t have to assemble them—they arrived fully formed, with personalities and flaws and a complex relationship. I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know them.
BWG: How did graduating from the MFA creative writing program at Queens College in Charlotte change your attitude and work ethic about writing?
CD: I learned so much getting my MFA. And honestly, it made writing harder! I have a more analytical approach to revision/editing because I learned to explore scene and structure from the micro and macro perspective. I learned to accept and use critical feedback, even when it’s a little painful, because sometimes that’s what it takes to make the writing the best it can be. I’m still very good friends with writers I met in school and count on them to give me truthful feedback on my writing. They keep me honest, and readers deserve that from me.
BWG: Your The Stone Necklace was one of the final publications of Pat Conroy’s imprint at the University of South Carolina Press. It was selected by a local newspaper to be read in a one community, one book program. What was that experience like?
CD: It was WILD. It felt like every book club in Columbia, S.C. was reading it. I had tons of events and met some incredible people. All the attention was a little intimidating, but I love it that that book touched so many. (It also won the Women’s Fiction Writers Assn Star Award for best novel!).
BWG: How would you characterize your most recent novel, The Orchid Tattoo?
CD: We call it “crime fiction that makes a difference” because while it is strong suspense, it also has a very relevant message. I had two goals in writing this: ENTERTAIN my readers and EDUCATE them about how human trafficking happens.
BWG: What has been the reaction to The Orchid Tattoo? Is it what you expected?
CD: It’s better than I’d hoped for. People are connecting with this story and, MOST IMPORTANT, getting fired up about combatting this crime. Reviews have been wonderful, but having readers reach out to me is what matters most, particularly when they want to advocate for stronger laws to address traffickers.
BWG: Do you plan to write additional novels about the characters in The Orchid Tattoo?
CD: I’m working on a sequel to it as we speak!
BWG: What’s next?
CD: The fourth in my Caleb Knowles series, Justice Be Done, is at the publisher right now. I’m hoping it will be out later this year.
BWG: In addition to your novels, you’ve written many short stories. How do you know when an idea will work better as a short story than a novel?
CD: Short stories are HARD. I admire writers who have mastered this craft. I tend to prefer a great big canvas, so will always choose novel over shorter works.
BWG: What advice do you give to writers?
CD: 1. Butt in chair. Words don’t write themselves.
2. Forgive yourself if the first draft stinks. It’s supposed to.
3. Rejection is a part of the process. It’s easy to take it personally, but instead, learn from it and move on to the next possibility.