Interview with Carson Gardner

How do you approach cover design?
I am not a visual artist--I do word pictures. But I joyfully push the limits of simple visual-art software, like Paint, just to see what comes from my creative yearnings onto the screen without too much adulteration from my obsessively-analytic intellect! My Pictures folder is choked mostly with weird, strange, lame stuff...and an occasional pseudo-brilliant serendipity. Sometimes I capitalize on one of those lucky breaks crystalized by untold hours of intensely sincere doodling. Other times, as with the cover of Roadaor, I realized I was under the deadline gun, I wasn't going to be hiring a graphic artist this time around, my visual art skills are much more conceptual than manual, I needed to avoid all my kindergartenoid hand-eye clumsiness and produce a multi-layered, metaphoric symbol rather than a landscape, portrait or historical icon. Heck, I can barely do stick figures! But I work pretty well under immensely imminent deadline pressure! I was also ticked off about my most recent rejection letter--that helped, too. I looked at the paint-program dashboard and mumbled, "Yeah, I can klutzify that." The rest is...mystery!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
My mother read me a book called An Otter's Story, by Emil E. Liers. I think I still have it on a shelf somewhere! It opened my mind to the fact that creatures other than humans also have goals, challenges, joys, sorrows, families, enemies, lucky breaks, tragedies and courageous recoveries.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Well, the Dao de Jing is one of my all--time favorites. Why? because it bumfoozles critics, experts and totalitarian autocrats. And also because, for me, it shares merciful solace without requiring intellectual dissection or uppity orthodoxy as a prerequisite.

I also love hard science fiction, the kind that makes correct use--even if only metaphorically--of physics, chemistry, biology and amazing medical frontiers. I'm a Schrödinger's Cat kind of science fiction reader. Anything by Asimov, Clarke or the titans of 20th century sci fi would qualify. I just discovered Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg. And ANYTHING, EVERYTHING BY Sir Terrence Pratchett!

I am fascinated by stories of how the human--and also the nonhuman--brain has hidden capacities unplumbed and unfathomable in "normal" daily life. I really groove on Oliver Sack's stories in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat--I'd love to know how those asylum-constrained twins played their prime number game! And I get really emotional about essays that recount the humanly-inexplicable perceptions and synchronies of companion creatures with their pathetically-clueless but favorite humans--like dogs who know, dead on, their human is on the way home, hours or even days before the door opens! Rupert Shelldrake says he has videos of an 11-second delay between a researcher's come-home beeper signal to an owner and the dog's getting up to head for the door. I'll bet the delay was in the human's brain, not the dog's!
What do you read for pleasure?
Sometimes, but not often, I actually read my own stuff! :O)> That sound's egotistical, but it's not my intention. For example, I have read Roadaor thirty or forty times in the past year. It gives me great pleasure to review the kind of immeasurable, transcendent, street-level solace it hints to me--and that the Dao--the way itself--actually delivers! Otherwise, for years I have been reading linguistic works about Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Ojibwe/Anishinaabe/Chippeweyan people. Their language contains a chronicle of one of the most balanced, humble, cleansing, refreshing, common-sense, street-level-effective spiritually healingly humorous disciplines I have ever encountered. I'm usually a bookworm, but in the case of Anishinaabemowin spirituality I walk my talk! That's a whole 'nother story and sortie!
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I've been a Nook-Reader fan, ever since I finally forced myself to let go of my ana-log (pun intended-) bookshelf! For the better part of the past 40 years, my special fun-date destination with my wife, Gail, has been a Barnes and Noble bookstore! That said, I have also been a fanatical supporter of small-town indie bookstores, like Beagle Books in Park Rapids, MN. And, I was a founding member of The Jackpine Writers' Bloc there in about 1990, give or take. I still love the heft, smell and shine of a real-deal hard cover or paperback. But I live 40 miles from the nearest big town of 3,000 people and about 100 miles from the nearest Barnes and Noble. It has been a joy to my soul--and a lurch to my bank account!--to be able to want, buy and start reading an ebook in about 2 minutes flat; without budging from my jack-pine woods cottage! Thank the fates for high-speed internet!
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Not a !@#$%^ one, that I know of! :O)> That's because, even after all these decades, I still haven't reached "Garrison Keillor Poet Parity." It was Keillor who once said an aspiring writer should not look for a real-deal publishing contract until she/he had accumulated enough rejection letters to paper a writing room! I'm still workin' on that, dudes--big writing room.
Describe your desk
It's got about forty-eleven stacks of dusty papers, articles, research-printouts, rejection slips, old/obsolete computers and stuff I've been meaning to put in a "safe place"--where I'll never, ever find it again. Haven't cleaned it off in years. You kids have probably never seen the W.C. Fields movie on "the efficiency expert," working for a huge corporation. Every time they desperately pleaded with him to retrieve a crucial document, he'd barricade himself in his office, ostensibly to prevent anybody form seeing his sure-fire efficiency filing system. When the door was shut and bolted, he'd go over to his desk and jam his arm into the 8-foot high mountain of debris-desiderata paper and pull out the sought-after document...first time, every time! I'm half way there--got the pile but not the aim. I write either at our kitchen table or in my broken-down old Crazy-Boy--they're not so badly avalanched...yet. Oh, yeah, I still make a paper backup copy of everything. I apologize to trees a lot.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
That's a long story. my "family" moved 5 times before I was 10 years old, and I attended nine different schools by the time I graduated from high-school...never did go to kindergarten. My father fell off a ladder and died when I was three; my mother died of cancer when I was nine; mostly my grandmother raised me with a bit of help from my uncle and aunt. Gram was some kinda grandma! She went back to work as a nanny at 80, when I was 11, in order to stretch the social security check. When I was a freshman in college, she took a year of college classes through the U of MN extension program--despite being only an 8th grade graduate--just to show me I wasn't the only college material in the family! All that basically resulted in my tending to write about issues of loneliness, fear, hope, shared resilience and inscrutable redemptive solace--not the churchy kind, the feet-on-the street kind.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote a few poems in grade school--the kind you hope and pray were thrown away long ago! When I was in middle school and early high school, I attended a private day school, church-run, and had to take a bus a long way across the twin cities--or hitchhike. When I took the bus, I had to transfer busses at a stop right in front of the Minneapolis public library. I'd run my transfer time out in the library looking at the new-book rack--had to hitch or walk home across the Mississippi bridge more than a few times for my literary dawdling. I read aerospace medicine and science fiction from that rack! I got inspired and, when my 9th grade English teacher, at the church school, assigned us each to write a short story, I risked a kinda (no, really really!) dorky science fiction plot--something about mirrors and other dimensions/universes--and proudly turned it in. The teacher took great pleasure in trashing my story in front of the whole class,--not because it was a really dorky and poorly developed plot, but rather because it was "fiction" and the church that ran that school thought fiction was officially diabolical. End of science-fiction writing career. I stuck to poems after that, and damn well didn't write anything Avant Garde for classes either!
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book, Roadaor, is my own personal poetic promise keeping. My wife, Gail, and I--42 years and counting--rescue special-needs dogs. A year and a half ago, late 2014, we lost a beautiful old Great Dane, isla, to a disease called mega-esophagus--everything she ate came back up. She was starving amid plenty! The vets, primary care and specialist, sadly admitted there was nothing to do for this malicious malady, except enjoy every day Isla had left with us. We did and she did. On the last day, after losing about 60 pounds in 6 months, despite our creatively crazy beat-the-reaper nutritional forays, Isla dignifiedly went out the dog door to do her morning business, came back in, plopped down on her huge dog bed and never got up again. She died quietly in about 12 hours, with us crying beside her. Not fair, but real. For most of my adult life, I have gone back to the Dao again and again, whenever I am in exceptional, unremitting and mystifying inner pain. It has always been the same: I start out reading and thinking, begin to get a faint inkling of peace, balance, meaning and healing; and then I either run out of time or of patience and stop short of really completing the lap. The next time I spiral in, limping through anguish, I get just a little farther before I succumb to the pace of disruptive desperation and zing off on an escape tangent. The last time this began to happen, I finally made a personal commitment to sit still and think about what I was reading until I found echoes of purposeful truth within myself. This book of poetry, Roadaor, is the result--those personal echoes of truth.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Rejection slips. :O)>
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It works! I did everything exactly as Mark said in his book. It worked from start to finish! He's the first "publisher" I've ever trusted! :O)> Go Mark!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I'm sort of a natural. I completed 23 years of school--no kindergarten in there!--took all the requisite science and technology classes and very few electives, got a medical degree--no time out for play--finished a family practice residency and spent thirty years running from exam room to exam room listening, caring, comforting and when possible bending science to fit solace. Then I retired and became an eccentric sort of medical administrator. Through it all, I somehow acquired a natural talent for Strunk-and-White-ism...thank God! I love to research and write street-level health education and do so in a balanced and respectful cultural context--right now I'm working on naloxone opioid-overdose rescue training materials for the reservation's citizens and tribal employees where I have lived and worked for the past 20 years.

That said, my greatest joy is when something spiritual--not medical--comes out of my heart, into my word processor, onto paper and then back through my eyes into my mind--and turns out to say something about street-level redemption and solace. That's my greatest joy, doesn't happen damn near often enough!
What do your fans mean to you?
Well, its always nice to hear kind words. But that's not mostly what fate and modern craziness offer. What I like best is hearing that something I wrote, or a story I told, actually helped somebody feel less lost, lonely and hopeless. There were a couple of decades or more of my young life where I desperately yearned, and needed, to hear such words and stories. I also learned pretty quickly that such words and stories were what many if not most of my family practice patients most wanted--more than tests, procedures or pills.

Second best is when a fan becomes a real-deal, street-level friend. Sadly, that doesn't happen very often. I am medical director of an ambulance agency--the crew know that I write some pretty weird "Robert Service" kinda stuff--I keep telling them EMS is a "Service" profession! :O)> But I've found a resonance with at least a few of them, including one who is also a writer--as well as a blacksmith. I copy edited his most recent book, The SHTF Art of War--a great prepper minority report! In return he made me a forge-hammered hunting knife from a railroad spike! It's deep woods out here, kids. I'd rather get the blade from a friend and fan than from a literary critic any day. :O)>
What are you working on next?
I may write a poem/prose hybrid called Anishinaabe by the Numbers. I have lived and worked here on an Anishinaabe/Ojibwe First Nations reservation for the better part of the past 20 years. I left corporate medicine and moved here to become a student of street-level spirituality from the land and creatures. I came to the right place; and as I told my blushing bride 42 years ago, "Stick with me, kid, and you'll never get rich!" :O)> But both Gail and I have been traditionally adopted here, into the spiritual community. We have found a treasure of priceless peace, balance, personal cleansing, healing, humor, protection; and the unshakeable recognition that "we are all related." When I was first adopted here, my adoptive sister said "Don't even think about coming here just to write a book!" Now she bugs me all the time, "When are you going to write that book about what you've learned here?" Anishinaabe by the Numbers will be that book. The chapters will start, "One God," "Two Worlds," "Three Questions," and so on. The Three Questions story here is the most powerful single spiritual thought-engine I have been gifted. It's controversial--some say it's ancient, others demur. It's pretty life-changing, as I've heard it. When you die, you then find yourself on a journey that ends at the river of stars. Across the river are Creator and all your relatives--including all of the Creation Song that has left earth for the spirit world ahead of you. You will be welcomed to cross the river if you choose to do so. There is no hell. But you have to want to cross the river of stars. And first Creator asks you just three "simple" questions: 1. What is you name? (Who have you chosen to become in your life on earth?) 2. What do you have to say for yourself? (Truly the essay question from hell! :O)>) and 3. What have you done with your life? That's it--you hafta answer honestly and you "grade" your own answers. That is the essential sum and substance of Anishinaabe redemption theology. Gives you a lot to think about as you're crossing the river to join all you relatives...
Who are your favorite authors?
Lao Tzu, Oliver Sacks, Isaac Asimov (not his @#$% limericks! :O)>), Arthur Clarke, Robert L. Forward (Dragon's Egg--best hard sci fi I ever read!), a guy named Larry Stillday who wrote down the Anishinaabeg seven grandfathers' teachings for the Red Lake Nation of Anishinaabe, and SIR TERRY PRATCHETT!!! Oh, and Emil E. Liers, as I mentioned elsewhere in this essay test!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Some days I don't! Arthritis is a ***** Days I do, it's looking for good answers to the three questions--mentioned elsewhere in this essay test! :O)> And it's the 9 steps of the "Redder Roadaor": "Good morning, Gichi Maniddo, Great Mystery Essence. Thank you for this day and the gifts of breath and dreams and choices. I choose to walk the Redder Roadaor today with you. I choose : 1. to honor you, 2. to honor all created things, my elder brothers and sisters, 3. To honor elders, 4. to honor women and children. I choose to be 5.peaceful, 6. kind, 7. courageous, 8. honest and faithful in keeping my promises. I choose to 9. live a life in balance. I am a pathetic two-legged; on my own I will fail. But with your love and help and strength and guidance I will accomplish all you have for me to accomplish today. Please help me to listen very carefully for your voice in the land, sky, water, fire, creatures, plants and spirits; help me to hold out my hand and follow you in the circle dance of this day. Miigwech, thank you.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Feeding big rescue dogs; roughhousing with big rescue dogs; cleaning up after big rescue dogs: taking walks with big rescue dogs: laughing and crying with big rescue dogs: taking big rescue dogs to the vet; buying groceries for big rescue dogs. And reading Sir Terry Pratchett!
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I do a lot of researching of a lot of crazy ideas, on the internet; I attend conferences and seminars; I actually sometimes even listen to my family; and I love to check out straight-ahead and fusion jazz. I get ideas from those sources and then hit the ebook sites. Now, a bit tardily, I'm going to be paying a whole lot of attention to Smashwords! :O)>
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I mentioned it in another part of this essay test! :O)> I was in ninth grade, going to a strict church day school, loved science fiction and worked up the courage to write a dorky sci-fi short story having to do with mirrors and other dimensions/universes. The English teacher, in line with school orthodoxy, made fun of my story in front of the whole class--not because it was a dorky, dumb, poorly-dialogued and poorly-developed plot, but because that church administration felt that fiction was officially diabolical. I didn't' even save the manuscript, I was so mortified! :O(>
What is your writing process?
I usually find myself emotionally hurting--or very rarely emotionally euphoric--and then find myself writing as fast as I can type! After the digital-dust settles, I go back and see what I've got, to start developing/editing. I don' think they teach this method in college poetry 101...
When was the first time you read the Dao de Jing?
When I was a young doctor, in my thirties, Gail and I got our first dog--a Great Dane puppy with a jaw defect. He was an angel, but died at 3 1/2 years of age, after suddenly going paralyzed due to spinal bone cancer. Gail and I were completely devastated and broken hearted. I wrote a collection of over 50 poems, mostly shock, grief, anger, spiritual bargaining and despair--the stages-of grieving stuff for sure. I maxed my Christianity in search of elusive comfort--I didn't reject it, I just maxed it out. Finally, in desperation, I bought a copy of the Dao de Jing and read it. I couldn't exactly understand it--but, strangely, I felt a peacefulness start to grow in my mind and emotions, that continued to gradually nudge me toward substantive rescue-peace and healing. Why it worked that way, I don't know. That it did work, I do know. That was where I started my process of assessing the power of the Dao.
Published 2016-05-01.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Roadaor
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 5,990. Language: American English. Published: May 2, 2016. Categories: Essay » Literature, Fiction » Poetry » Contemporary Poetry
Gardner's spirited poetry offers simple, clear street-level personal solace and challenge found in responding to timeless, often tantalizingly obscure words of the Dao de Jing. His work is a gift, a tool for survival and a "blue note" of truth. Improvise!