Thursday, January 12, 2023

An Interview with Ohio Author Carl Nelson


An Interview with Ohio Author Carl Nelson

A playwright, director, poet, and more, Ohio Author Carl Nelson knows his way around the creative community. He has had “poems nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Grinding his ax writing essays seems to keep him from ruining his poetry. His poems, stories, and essays have been published in such journals as the New English Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Orbis, Atlanta Review, and the Lake. He spent twenty years in the Seattle theater community, during which time he wrote and produced plays, directed others, and performed whenever the talent was missing but a body still needed. Before that, he did stand-up comedy. Now he lives in Belpre, Ohio, where he moseys about and is the publisher and managing editor of Magic Bean Books.


Welcome, Carl!

GM: Carl, it was super nice to meet you at our recent book festival. Happy New Year! What is your New Year Resolution?

CN:  I would suppose it would be to continue my balance and strength exercises I began late this past year. I don't like taking those tumbles... embarrassing.

GM: Take us through a day in your life as a writer...

CN:  To backtrack just a bit, one of my resolutions has been to try and reverse my day's schedule so that I start writing first, while I'm most fresh. But I do like to read with my coffee first thing morning time.  So I walk out to my garage studio with my dachshund Tater after the morning's rituals and begin. I try to have both serious non-fiction and fun fiction on tap and try to alternate. I usually try to read whatever a friend has just published and purchase it new. At one time I tried a sensory deprivation chamber to see if my inner demons would swarm me. No. I just became very bored. And I realized that much of my thinking comes from ideas I have poured in and stirred. This bolstered the notion that reading a lot is important to one's writing. For example, it takes an enormous amount of information to craft a good metaphor. A good metaphor sits at a crossroads with a lot of information passing every which way. And Art is basically metaphors. But to continue, I am a bit OCD in my conscientiousness, so that next I check e mails and then do Facebook. Links are my current way of ferreting out the reliable and interesting new source material. And Facebook reply threads are a bit like playwriting... plus show and tell, so it's fun.  One of the reasons I haven't had much success at reversing my daily schedule is that it is a rule of my writing to go where it's fun. By the time of day I've done all the aforementioned, I usually have developed a pressing need to save and implement many of my thoughts so that the writing usually begins there. And my writing is usually a matter of saving what's alive and fun to read, and put them all together like a quilt.  I haven't a gift for narrative but my view is that a writer is in the main a real estate agent. The reader wants to live somewhere better, which exists ironically where they currently are.  The writer lets them use the key box and have a look around.   So, if they like where they find themselves then there they are! After all this I walk my dog, eat dinner and usually watch TV, as I'm too tired for much else. (I'm 73). The next day is much the same.  I really haven't much urge to travel or hike or fish or hunt or watch sports. Yardwork and home repairs are good for me. I swim at Camden Pool 3x/week.

GM: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun?

CN:  I've always liked to wander. Woody Guthrie and Johnny Appleseed were my heroes. I used to just take off hitchhiking and be gone for months. So when I'm not writing I usually chat and snoop and get interested in whoever I bump up next to. I like to visit odd venues, at times. I love country and bluegrass music.

GM: What is the premise of your most recent book?

CN:  The latest book I've published is titled "Become Remarkable" and is about Appalachia where I live. It's an interlarded mix of essays and poetry. This poem sort of explains it:

Become Remarkable

Live alone long enough

and you become fascinating.

What is this glamour composed of?

I don’t know, but it slowly accrues.

Like hair and nails growing,

it slowly becomes remarkable.

Ordinary, then remarkable

that anyone could do it.

Become remarkable, that is.

Inch by inch, bit by bit, day by day,

drawing our notice

and then our attention

and finally our fascination.

To gain a following…

hermits, mystics, monks

all have this frightening pull.

Consider the withered legend,

in layered coats with walking stick,

who would tread the five miles

into Ripley, West Virginia

and back

followed by her two dogs

and three cats.

GM: Do you base characters on family, friends, etc., or do you create your own character profiles?

CN:  I base characters on whoever I've found interesting. They usually morph a bit, and when the story needs a personality it will often supply its own... which is a wonderful thing to happen. I've always loved when a conversation will pull something in from out of the air. For example, I once drove a bus part-time. One afternoon this woman got on and said, "You look very tired. You must work very hard. How many hours a day do you work?" "Well," I said, a bit embarrassed, "I only work three and a half hours a day."  To lighten the cognitive tension, I added:  "If I work longer than that I get these terrible rashes."  "Oh!" She said, touching my shoulder. "My aunt had that."

GM: Are you currently writing anything new?  

CN: I am published regularly in the New English Review. So I usually have a new essay/poem mix being worked up for submission at a later date. I'm also trying to assemble another book of poetry as I have about 600 of them littering the office like bird droppings, presently.

GM: Does the current political climate impact your writing career and/or characters?

CN:  I stopped including any Black characters in my fiction writing years ago. (I'm white.) I did this once and was roundly criticized for hurtful stereotyping. It was plain that I'd have to give up any agency I had in writing most ethnic characters, so I don't go there. You might cast the character I've written as black, say, in a play - but I'm not going to define them so. We also are in such an astonishing moment in our nation's history, that it is really hard to pull oneself away from the day to day news and concentrate on one's own work.

GM: List 10 things your fans may not know about you...


  1. I'm very tall: 6'8"
  2. Married late.
  3. Have an adopted Thai son.
  4. Have an MD degree never used.
  5. Would love to write and sing country songs.
  6. Was raised surrounded by engineers.
  7. Have a cousin whose son became a billionaire while still living at home.
  8. My Uncle used to tutor the Kennedy's for $3.00/hour
  9. My mom couldn't read until the eighth grade when it suddenly became clear to her. And then she went on to teach language arts at Continuation H. S.
  10. My family homesteaded a farm in the Columbia Basin in the 1950s

Connect with Carl…


Carl with his dog Tater Tot


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