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Carol Manley


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Carol Manley has, in no particular order, a BA in Computer Science, an MA in English, three children and two grandchildren. 

Short Story Collections

Church Booty
The University of West Alabama's Livingston Press, 2008

Finalist, Tartts Third Annual First Fiction Award

Reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson

 Interview with Carol Manley 

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Carol Manley: They were written over about a ten year period – with other things being written then as well.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

CM: I didn’t think of putting them together until after they all were written. Intensive Care, the last story in the collection, is the first that was written. My daughter had suffered a near-fatal car accident far from home which caused me to go into this strange little world of trauma and miracles in Memphis, Tennessee. I struggled to find a way to talk about that experience and finally, while I was fortunate enough to have a residency at Ragdale, I felt this voice emerging that was expressing itself in almost a child-like way. And though it sounds very simple and obvious now, it was a revelation to me that I could give up the grammar and let the characters tell stories in their own natural voices.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

CM: I chose these stories because they all say something about faith. Church Booty, the title story, came first because it had won first place in a Writer’s Digest competition which came as quite a surprise to me. The title came from a phrase my son had used about an ex-girlfriend’s mother and it was too good a phrase to let go. When it won the prize I had to look at it more seriously because when a story wins a prize it means that it stayed in someone’s mind for some time after they read it. I progressed from there to some more serious subjects and they all seemed to fall into place in a way that seemed to have an arc, ending with Intensive Care that’s a little goofy but also is sad and serious and hopefully leaves the reader some feeling of satisfaction.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

CM:  I’m kind of old fashioned, I guess. A story to me has a beginning, a middle and an end. When I hear the word “story” I want to get comfortable and let somebody lead me through some progression of thoughts or events. My stories are completely linear, though. They meander as my mind does, though they tend to eventually make it back. John Knoepfle, one of my favorite poets, has a line about thoughts that come wagging home. I like to think that when I write a story the lines may wander, but they do come wagging home, and usually they come wagging home with some stray bit of the stick they went off to fetch.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

CM:  I probably am that reader myself. A lot of my writing is done, or at least started, in my head while I’m walking, riding busses or sitting at bus stops. I hear a phrase or think of something that’s been on my mind and that will summon up a voice that tells the story.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

CM: The stories are mostly humorous and light, so I’d like to know if readers see beyond goofiness, do they find any truth there?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

CM: I feel like I want them to keep doing it. I especially like it when people buy the book and then tell me that they “have to have” another one for their mother or sister or friend. And it’s a thrill.

TSR: What are you working on now?

CM: I have a group of stories about a mother living in the Chicago in the welfare system in the 1980’s with a daughter who has just started school. I also want to write some stories based on soul music. Soul music has such an ability to stir sensations and evoke joy and pain. I want to incorporate that raw emotion into stories.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

CMI like anthologies that you find in second hand book stores, like the Norton anthologies, that somebody used for a literature class where they scribbled notes in the margins and highlighted passages. And I always pick the Best American Short Stories collection for each year. I don’t always like everything I read there. Sometimes the “Best” stories make me feel out of touch with “contemporary writing” but I like to know what people who read stories think is good. I don’t read collections completely through. One advantage of story collections is that you can open them anywhere and start reading. I have several collections near my bed right now, including the collected works of F.Scott Fitzgerald and Katherine Anne Porter and Flannery O’Connor. I also have collections by Eudora Welty and Robert Olen Butler in easy reach.