Monday, September 3, 2012

Interview with Carl Purdon, Author of "The Night Train"

As many of you may (or may not) know, Carl Purdon is one of my most favorite authors. He has a unique writing skill (I call it a blessing and one I'm quite envious) wherein he can tell a provoking, heart-wrenching, gut-twisting, exciting, story with the perfect amount of words. ;o)

I've very recently had the good fortune of interviewing Carl. I think you'll find him a very interesting fellow!

1.      What types of questions do you dislike the most when being asked to do an author interview? (hahah, couldn't resist that one!)

Canned ask-everyone-the-same questions. Ask me something that tells me you’ve at least made the effort to find out who I am and what I do. Readers will tire very quickly of seeing the same questions asked and answered by every author you interview. Of all the canned questions, I suppose my least favorite is when I’m asked my favorite color. I don’t have a favorite color. I don’t have a favorite anything. Favorite depends on my mood, whether it be favorite color, favorite food, or favorite author. So, when asked that question, as I often am, I just sigh and say yellow.

2.      Tell me about The Night Train…where did the inspiration for this novel come from?

The inspiration for The Night Train began with Jayrod Nash. I woke up one morning, several years ago, with the idea of him in my head. I knew he had a story to tell, and I wanted to help him tell it. Does that sound strange? It’s the same with the novel I’m working on now (as yet untitled). It started with a character who has a story to tell. When I see people who appear to be a bit strange, or reserved, I wonder what their story is. Why do they act the way they do? When I drive at night, especially late, and see lights on in windows, I wonder what stories are playing out behind those curtains. That, more than anything, drives my writing. When I first met Jayrod, I was struck by his sadness, and wondered what made him that way. I began putting myself in his shoes, imagining myself as him. The result was The Night Train.

3. How long did it take you to write it?

I’m not sure, exactly, because it wasn’t a linear process. I set it aside and did other things. I was struggling to find my voice as a writer. I actually set it aside long enough to write another novel, only to set that one aside and come back to it. There reached a point when I set it aside for good, or so I thought, because something was missing. It wasn’t the novel I wanted it to be. I gave up and moved on – wrote it off as practice, but Jayrod kept nagging at me, wanting me to tell his story. One morning I woke up and knew exactly what I needed to do. I deleted about half the manuscript and added the POV of his father – the antagonist. I realized it was impossible to tell Jayrod’s story without seeing inside his father’s head. From that point on my fingers couldn’t fly fast enough to get it all out. So, from initial concept to finished product, probably about seven or eight years.

3.      What do you hope the reader takes with him/her after reading The Night Train?

The Night Train deals with dysfunctional families, child abuse, spousal abuse, and unlikely heroes, but I tried very hard not to editorialize. The story is told through the eyes of those who lived it (funny that I consider them so real). Last week I was out of town and noticed that every day the same man was standing at a busy intersection wearing a sign. It was one of those store advertisements where all you could see of him was his head sticking out between two sheets of huge cardboard. He looked to be thirtyish. My first reaction was to laugh at a man his age standing all day with a sign draped across his shoulders, but then I found myself wondering why he did it. At least he was working, I realized, and that probably meant he had a family he was trying to support. Maybe he had lost his job in this lousy economy. I found myself wanting to know his story. What had he done before being reduced to acting out the role of human billboard? How much courage did it take for him to get up every morning and perform such a menial job, knowing it probably opened him up to ridicule. I wondered if his kids were teased, like Jayrod was, by classmates who recognized him as their father. Ultimately, I saw him in a different light, and it wasn’t funny anymore. That, I suppose, is what I hope people take from The Night Train.

4.      What or who inspires you to write?

That’s a tough one. I write because when I don’t write I have nightmares to the point that I can’t sleep. I would write even if I knew I would never sell a single copy, because it’s what I do. For a long time I wrote without the intention of publication, because I just wanted to pass it along to my kids and grandkids. I suppose the question would be easier to answer if I rephrased it to ask who or what inspires me to publish. That answer would include the e-book revolution (the what) and all those writers (the who) who refuse to be subdued by the silly notion that to self-publish is to admit vanity, inferiority, and desperation.

5.      Who is your favorite author?

There’s that favorite question (refer to my answer to question #1). At least you didn’t ask my favorite color (if this were Facebook or Twitter I’d insert LOL here). I’m a big fan of the classics, history, and biographies. Among my favorites would be Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, J.F. Cooper, Shelby Foote, and David McCullough. Lately I’ve been reading mostly self-published authors, and can add names like Suzan Tisdale, Morgan Nyberg, Ashley Barron, Kat Kennedy, and Mark Beyer to that list.

6.      How many children do you have and what do they think of your writing?

I have four kids and two grandkids, all of whom have been very supportive. My oldest son actually helped proofread The Night Train before I published it. My youngest son will be ten in December, and he writes stories, poems, and video games (in his head). He has a photographic memory, and can relate a story almost verbatim from one telling to the next. When I recently built my own private writing office, he claimed half the space, and has his own desk where he writes on his netbook. I asked him the other night why he writes and he said, “because you do.” That answer was worth more than any royalty check could ever be.

8.  How long have you been writing?

I started writing poems before I started grade school. I would keep them in my head because I didn’t know how to write them down. I’ve always known I was going to write novels, but I kept putting it off until I was in my thirties because I was so impatient. I couldn’t stand to start something I couldn’t finish in one sitting. I’m 48 now, and never was that great with math.

9. I've heard tell that some authors are very structured in their writing. They use things called outlines and even do interviews with the characters of their books. Are you this type of author?

No. I’ve tried to be, but it’s just not me. I do have a very loose outline for my current manuscript, but I reserve the right to ignore it. Character interviews intrigue me, and I actually did one for a blogger who asked me to do it as a guest post. I was excited about it, but soon realized it was harder than it sounded. Hard because I didn’t want to give away too much of the story. That being said, I’m a very organized person when it comes to some things. I use Scrivener, for example, because it helps keep my chapters and scenes organized. I’m almost OCD about where I put my cell phone, wallet, and truck keys when they are not in my pocket. When I write, though, I have to wait until the characters tell me what they are going to do next. Sometimes I can prod them into a general direction, but I never know what they are going to do or say until they tell me.

10. If you attended college, what was your major? If you didn't major in English or Journalism, did you take any creative writing courses? 

I have an AAS degree in electronics. I’ve never taken any creative writing courses other than what was required in school. I hated English in school but always made good grades. What I hated most was diagraming sentences, like dissecting a frog, and never understood the purpose of doing it. If a sentence relates the desired thought, and sounds good doing it, what does it matter which word is an adverb, adjective, or noun? I think creative writing courses tend to stifle creativity with too many rules and guidelines. Few things make me toss a book aside like a strict adherence to properly formatted sentences. Is it possible to teach someone to be creative? My disclaimer here is that I’m assuming what such a course would be like.

11.  You're stranded on a deserted island and it will be at least six months before you're rescued. Who is with you? What would you have to have in order to survive mentally, spiritually, and physically? 

Without a doubt it would be my wife and kids. I travel fairly often for my job, and the most difficult part is being away from my family. They may find that hard to believe because when I’m home I’m so often isolated in my office writing, but it’s the comfort of knowing they’re nearby that makes the difference. It’s so hard for me to write in a hotel room when I’m away from home for some reason. What would I need to survive? A laptop that would run on solar power, I suppose, because I can’t read my own handwriting. And food. I eat a lot of food.

12. If there is a question you wished that I had asked, then ask and answer it. ;o)

Question: Why do you think Suzan stole your trademark question?

Answer:  Because it’s a pretty awesome question. J


  1. Thanks for the great questions, Suzan. This was a fun interview to do.

  2. Good questions for a good writer, Suzan. Way to draw him out on process and method. Carl, I liked hearing that you didn't use college courses to mess with your writerly intelligence.

    1. Thanks, Mark. Some of the most creative projects came from people who didn't know any better. I hope I can fall into that category someday.

  3. Great interview, Susan. Carl's novel is one of those that stays with you, and I'm looking forward to his next offering. You did a great job with the questions. Carl, I agree about the sentence diagramming. My philosophy was always: I don't have to know how to take apart a motor to drive a car.

  4. Carl was an excellent interviewee! ;o) And I'm not being nepotistic! ;o) hahahahah