An Interview with the Author of Café Carolina and Other Stories

Q: Your first novel, Herald Square, is a spy thriller yet these stories range far from the world of espionage. What’s the explanation?

Flanders: I’m drawn to telling stories of all types. It runs in the family. My paternal grandfather, who was a New York and Boston lawyer, wrote adventure stories of the sea for popular magazines. My father and mother met in the newsroom of the Herald Tribune so I grew up with a sense of story (albeit a journalistic one).

Narrative has always been what has attracted me to writing. Some of the stories I want to tell are what Graham Greene called “entertainments” (like Herald Square), and others deal with quieter themes.

As one of the legion of kitchen-table writers—those who write after their day job is over and their family responsibilities dealt with—I enjoyed writing short fiction for the more immediate psychic reward of completing something—and telling a story—in whatever time that I can carve out.

Cafe Carolina

Q: Do you think readers of Herald Square will like these stories?

Flanders: I ask myself a simple question when I write: would I want to read the story or novel I’m creating? If the answer is yes, then I figure I’m on the right track. As the song goes, you can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself. I can imagine a Herald Square reader or two who might not care for these stories. On my iPod I have songs from Hal Ketchum and Radney Foster and I also have Baroque concertos—I’m sure that might seem strange to some people (although many classical musicians and singers enjoy country) but I think there’s an underlying commonality—melodic music that moves me. I hope my storytelling reflects the same.

Q: Speaking of music, in your Introduction to this collection you cite songs for inspiring some of your stories….

Flanders: True. The first story in the collection, “Café Carolina,” was sparked by a song on Don Williams’ album Cafe Carolina called “Maggie’s Dream,” written by Dave Loggins and Lisa Silver. It’s about a waitress in a roadstop diner who is watching life pass her by and who dreams of romance and marriage. The story emerged from the spirit of that song and a week I spent in December in a small North Carolina town (Hendersonville) some twenty years ago.

The story “Something More Than This” borrowed its title from a song written by my sister, Julie Flanders, and her long-time collaborator, Emil Adler. I visited Jerusalem in the mid-1990s during the second intifada and the arc of the story follows some of my experiences there.

Q: Was the geographic dispersion of the stories deliberate?

Flanders: Only in the sense that they map to where I’ve lived, worked, and traveled the past thirty years or so—California, Florida, Princeton, New York City, New England, and a few points in between. I do think they are distinctly American, but that’s just a natural reflection of my own life experiences, albeit altered by the workings of my imagination.

I’m most comfortable writing about places I’ve been. There’s something about starting with the physicality of place that I find liberating.

Q: These stories feature differing points of views and narrators…

Flanders: That they do. I’ve found writing stories in the first person is much easier in many ways, but it carries its own challenges—finding the authentic voice of the narrator and, as the author, not overwhelming it or competing with it. Writing in the third person I find harder, but necessary when the story calls for some distance.

Q: What do you find are the most significant differences between writing a novel and writing short stories?

Flanders: You’re telling a story in both, but for me the structure of a novel is much more complex. You’re solving a puzzle. I know there are some authors who string together a series of short stories to fashion a novel, but that hasn’t been my approach. Novels that are heavily plot-driven or have backstories or shifts in point of view are going to be inherently intricate. Short stories can be simpler. That isn’t to say they are any easier to construct because the writer has a lot less real estate to work with.

Q: And what about The North Building, the sequel to Herald Square? When can readers expect its arrival?

Flanders: Dr. Johnson once said: “The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.” Deadlines work the same way. So if I continue with a concentrated mind, I’m shooting for mid-2013 for The North Building. The book takes place over a longer period of time than Herald Square—which spanned a week—but it will again force Denny Collins out of his comfort zone—far out of that zone.



Download the story “Café Carolina” in PDF format.



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