'Famous Writers School:' Lessons for the Teacher Steven Carter's new book, Famous Writers School: A Novel may show that anyone can write but it also shows, through the fumbling of the protagonist, that not everyone can, or should, teach.
NPR logo

'Famous Writers School:' Lessons for the Teacher

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6354096/6360868" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Famous Writers School:' Lessons for the Teacher

'Famous Writers School:' Lessons for the Teacher

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6354096/6360868" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

So you always wanted to be a writer. You're an idea person with lots of stories to tell, but maybe you need a little professional help to put those stories on the page. Steven Carter's latest book, Famous Writers School: A Novel, may be just what you're looking for.

Mr. STEVEN CARTER (Writer): Dear Fellow Writer, congratulations. By asking to receive this information you've taken a step that requires a great deal of courage. How many times have you heard someone say, I'm going to write sometime, or I have a story that would make a great novel? Not many of us end up writing that novel, though. Why not? Well, that's a good question, and it's answer is different for different people, so I can only tell you my own story.

HANSEN: That's the author, Steven Carter, reading from his new work of fiction, Famous Writers School: A Novel. Carter joins us from member station WUKY in Lexington, Kentucky. Hi, welcome to the program, Steven.

Mr. CARTER: Hi, Liane, thanks for having me.

HANSEN: Did you ever respond to those ads at the backs of the magazines that advertised those correspondence courses for writers?

Mr. CARTER: You know, no, I didn't. I'm pretty sure I remember seeing some of those ads, though. When I was a kid, I read a lot of comic books, and I'm pretty certain they were somewhere in there.

HANSEN: Well, give us a brief bio of the four main characters you have in this novel and start with Wendell Newton, the instructor.

Mr. CARTER: Wendell's the teacher, and he runs a correspondence writing course, and he - oh, he's a bit of a - I hope a lovable conman/loser. Okay, there's another character, Dan Fetterman. He's a fellow who's actually a pretty good writer, and he's writing a detective novel that he sends in chapters of to Wendell. And I should have backed up and said that Wendell has these lessons about writing that he sends out to his students. They're actually more about his life than they are writing.

The next character is Rio. She's a woman who was getting her Ph.D. in sociology and quit at the dissertation and is now singing in jazz clubs around Pittsburgh. She starts a flirtation with Wendell, and she has writer's block, too, so she never sends in stories but just narratives about her own life.

Then the final character's a woman named Linda Trane. She's a housewife, and she sends Wendell these really sort of weird and slightly menacing responses to the lessons. And as the novel goes along, you find out some things about her you might not have expected.

HANSEN: Why did you think it would work as a novel?

Mr. CARTER: I thought you could get a lot of humor out of the interplay between the teacher and the students. I thought that, you know, you would know things about the characters' lives because, you know, in parts of the book they give you bios and whatnot. And then when they write the fiction, you can sort of see that in some of their own fiction or stories they tell Wendell, they're really commenting, almost unawares, about their own likes and dislikes and hopes and disappointments.

HANSEN: And there's also almost - I mean like a detective novel in many sense - the reader begins to make connections between the characters that have a lot more to do than just the stories that they're writing. I mean, they are - you do connect them.

Mr. CARTER: Yeah, that was my hope, yeah. And you know, as the novel progresses, I hope that you start seeing lots of interconnections between the characters, both - some just thematically, but more so actual plot interactions.

HANSEN: I'm reading something that you said in an interview that came with some of the publicity material, and you paraphrased a quote from Mark Twain that says anyone who tries to discover any deep meaning in this book will be shot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARTER: Yeah, I think the next questions was, that means there's no underlying meaning in the book? And I said, well, maybe some, but not enough to be troublesome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: You know, the advice that Wendell gives his pupils, some of it's not bad. I mean, write as if you're telling a story to a friend. Put some pressure on your characters. If you have to, steal your characters' names from obits. That's not really bad advice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARTER: You know, that's one thing about the character. As I was writing him, I realized you know, it'll be funnier, I think, if some of what he says has a germ of truth to it. You know, some of his advice about writing. But the problem is, I think sometimes he delivers a little self-righteously, maybe takes things a step too far. At least from my perspective, when you're writing that you hope is comic, that it helps to not make the characters too exaggerated. You know, you need to believe, or it seems like to me you need to believe that, you know, this could probably be happening. You know, someone could be offering this writing advice. If it were completely off base, then the students would drop him.

HANSEN: Do you think he's a charlatan?

Mr. CARTER: I think he is, but I think he's - I guess really I see him as kind of a grotesque of characteristics that each one of us might see in ourselves. I hope we can see enough of ourselves in him that we like him a little bit. I have to admit I like him, even though I can see how he - I guess if he were taking my money for the writing course, I wouldn't like him.

HANSEN: Steven Carter joined us from the studios of member station WUKY in Lexington, Kentucky. His latest novel, Famous Writers School: A Novel is published by Counterpoint. Thanks so much, Steven.

Mr. CARTER: Thank you, Liane.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.