TRP Q&A: An Interview with Caroline M. Mar

Mackenzie Campbell interviews Texas Review Press author Caroline M. Mar

Caroline M. Mar is a high school health educator and poet. A San Francisco local, Carrie is doing her best to keep her gentrifying hometown queer and creative. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, an alumna of VONA, a member of Rabble Collective, and serves on the board of Friends of Writers. Her writing has appeared in Cimarron ReviewNew England ReviewCALYXAnomaly, and Storyscape, among others. She has been granted residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Ragdale.

How are you keeping yourself busy during social distancing?
Figuring out how to teach 9th grade health—primarily our sex ed unit!—via distance learning; re-watching old seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race; quilting and sewing; reading; puzzles.

What books are you reading now?
Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz; Erou, by Maya Phillips; Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli; and Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
I was re-reading A Natural History of the Senses and appreciated re-learning how human smell works and why it is different from our other senses.

What are some of your ‘comfort food’ books, the books you keep coming back to when you need encouragement or escape?
This question depends a lot on what I need encouragement for (when writing Special Education, I turned to Diane Gilliam’s Kettle Bottom and Tyehimba Jess’s Leadbelly many times), or what I’m escaping from. I generally love a big, historical novel that can take me somewhere entirely different. I just read C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold and it completely sucked me in.

Did you like to read as a child? Were there any childhood books and authors that were your favorites?

As a kid I would read anything. ANYTHING. My grandparents’ stack of The New Yorker. Any book that was left anywhere within my reach. The first “grownup” book that was read aloud to me as a toddler was Treasure Island—my maternal grandfather being both an Anglophile and former sailor, it seemed to him a great choice to have a four-year-old walking around the house chanting “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!”

a four-year-old walking around the house chanting “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!”

As a kid I loved Lawrence Yep, and had read everything our local libraries had of his by age eleven or so. I was also a fan of anything in a long series so I could just keep going—Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, and the like. I loved and re-read Little Women many times.

What book did you expect to like, but didn’t? Why?
As a teen I picked up a Jane Austen book—I don’t remember which one—and was bored out of my mind. It was the first book (and one of the only in my entire life) that I didn’t finish reading. I thought given my Anglophile grandparents, enjoyment of the many movie adaptations I’d seen, and general love of literature by and about women, I like it. I really, really didn’t.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
Emotional usually wins. If a book can reach me emotionally and it’s doing something I am intrigued by on a craft level then I get really excited.

What books are on your nightstand?
Erou and Zen as F*ck: A Journal for Practicing the Mindful Art of Not Giving a Sh*t. The former is a collection of poems by Maya Phillips, the latter a very delightful prize I won for completing a self-care challenge at work. I’ve found many of the prompts quite useful and it appears to my natural curse-heavy nature. I also have at least one blank notebook to write my daily gratitude or any other notes on. I’m not allowed to keep novels by my bed because staying up past bedtime reading is a habit I’ve never been able to break.

When reading for pleasure, what do you read?
Almost all reading is pleasure for me, even reading pedagogical books related to my teaching life. I’m less likely to pick those up voluntarily, but once I’m reading them I almost always enjoy them. If I’m picking solely for fun, I’ll usually go to a novel first.

If you could have a conversation with any writer living or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?
This is such a hard question. . .I almost always want to have a conversation with whichever writer I’m currently or recently reading to talk about the work and their process, so any of the authors I’ve already mentioned would be people I have on my mind right now. The writers I most want to talk to each week are my writing collective, Rabble (Adrienne G. Perry, Francine Conley, and Somayeh Shams), who are amazing and brilliant and teach me so much each time we talk about anything at all. I think right now I’d love to have a conversation with Alexander Chee about his Instagram account, How to Write and Autobiographical Novel, and if he could just teach me to write a good essay that I don’t give up on halfway. And of course, Toni Morrison, because I still can’t believe she’s gone and I just want to ask her… well, anything really, but maybe I would ask her what stories she still wanted to tell that she hadn’t yet.

Do you watch television? What is the last thing you binge watched?
RuPaul’s Drag Race—currently watching Season 12, just binge re-watched Season 3.

What book should you wait until the age of 40 to read?
Being 37, I don’t at all feel qualified to answer this question. But maybe I should give Jane Austen another shot?

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?
As many as they can, whatever calls to them. As a teacher I want to encourage students to just read anything that is chosen by them rather than assigned. That being said, Shar Rednour’s The Femme’s Guide to the Universe was a book that opened up my gender and sexual identity in important ways when I was about 19 or 20; it came at such a necessary time in my life. I think sometimes the books we need find us, fortunately.

Does anyone give you books as a gift? Do you have a favorite?
I have several friends who will gift me books—either a title we’ve discussed wanting to read or something they think I’ll like, or a recommendation from bookstore staff. I love both presents and books, so this is almost always a win-win!

Where is your favorite place to read? To write?
To read: a comfortable chair that gives me space for multiple positions, because my back’s not great. To write: anywhere with a view of outside.

What’s your favorite obscure book?
I recently read Washo: A Tribal History, by Jo Ann Nevers. It was great to read a history of the Washoe Tribe written by a contemporary historian who is also a tribal member. It was part of research for my new manuscript, and then I got to meet Jo Ann and other members of the Washoe Cultural Resource Advisory Council, who were so generous and helpful to me.

Are there any classic books you feel like you should read but just can’t?
Poor Jane Austen. . .I’ve never gone back.

Mackenzie Campbell grew up in Kansas and north Texas. He is an MA candidate at Sam Houston State University. His research interests include 20th century American literature, women’s literature, and queer literature. He is currently the marketing assistant and publicist at Texas Review Press.

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