One of the hardest parts of this pandemic is that it has cut a lot of us off from seeing family. For today’s edition of the Open Mic Creativity and COVID-19 Special Project, I travel to South Carolina to check in with two of my favorite past Open Mic guests: Published poet and book concierge extraordinaire Rowena Carenen and her father, the outstanding mystery author John Carenen. Thankfully they are doing well and doing their best to stay creative.
OM: Rowe, you’re both a published poet and a person who helps other writers with the business end of things. We’ll start with the latter of those two – how has all this impacted your business?
RC: Well, I’ve had to cancel and reschedule all of the events that were set to happen this spring and some of the summer. It is hard and disheartening, but I’ve been encouraged by so many of the virtual events that are taking place all over hosted by authors, bookstores, bloggers, etc.
OM: And how about your creativity? I’ve talked with some writers who feel so out of sorts and stressed it has made being creative very difficult. How about for you?
RC: I am one of those writers. I have a hard time writing when I’m in the midst of it. I have a few poems right now fermenting, but they aren’t ready to be tapped yet. I’m a bit anxious to get them on paper so I can clear my mind for other things.
OM: Writers can occasionally need a lot of…uh…reassurance throughout the process, whether they are legacy published or going the indie route. Have you had to do more of that part of the process of late?
RC: I have, but hand holding is a big part of my relationship with my authors. Part of why they hire me is that so much of this business can be overwhelming even in the best of times. I’m glad that I can be there as a comfort and a shining light, and occasionally break out my teacher voice and tell them to get back to work.
OM: Have you been able to take any positives out of all this?
RC: The big positive for me is that I’m reminded how much reading for pleasure feeds my soul. I haven’t done as much of it in the previous months as I’d like because I’ve been reading so much for work. Now I’m making a point to spend quality hours on my porch swing with tea, a good book, and a puppy who is hellbent on catching a bee.
OM: Is there anything new you’re working on you would like to tell us about?
RC: Yes! I’m thrilled that my next collection of poems, entitled First Drafts from the Brewery, has been picked up by Unsolicited Press! I’m really proud of this work and I cannot wait to share it with the world. Look for it Spring/Summer 2022.
For John C:
OM: How are you holding up during these challenging times?
JC: Well, considering that I’m older than the State of Israel, I’m holding up pretty well generally. I’m staying active outdoors since my wife has a garden big enough to be seen from the International Space Station. That keeps me busy. Our neighborhood is semi-rural and beautiful and quiet, so long walks are pleasant, too. I’ve taken on the challenge of gaining 19 pounds out of respect for the Corvid 19 situation.
OM: Has all this impacted your writing at all? Either in a positive or negative way?
JC: My writing has been negatively impacted because I keep thinking I’ll have plenty of time to write and then the day has slipped away and I haven’t written anything. Very little writing at all beyond correspondence, blog, tweets; that sort of thing. But then, yesterday, WOW!, I wrote two pages of dialogue, hand written. Weird. But since I never write in longhand, and my penmanship is miserable, I don’t know what I wrote!
OM: How about away from writing? I think in times like this many people are reminded of their role in society and their communities, but of course this time we’re supposed to be staying away from everyone else. How have you managed this very odd dichotomy?
JC: I’ve had plenty of practice staying away from others. When I was a kid, I was grounded so often that I got used to being alone; that, plus I’m a serious introvert, so these times mesh nicely with my social orientation. On the other hand, I spend some time volunteering through our church with a ministry to homeless men at a shelter, and as a pen pal to men in prison on their way to being released in our community, and coming alongside them once they’re out. I do miss that kind of relationship.
OM: Have you discovered any new authors to read during your downtime? Or shows you are binge watching?
JC: I’m entranced with a gifted, oft-published poet, Rowe Carenen. I’m sure you’ve heard of her. Further, I’ve been reading the work of Lisa Preston, truly talented writer, and her Horseshoe Mystery series. Fresh protagonist, great setting out west, and just fine story telling. Binge watching? I’d have to say Brit mystery shows. Also the DVD of the 2004 MLB playoffs and World Series. I’m hoping my Red Sox will win. Did you know that Ted Williams’ only World Series appearance had him going only 5 for 25? A mystery.
OM: Have you got any new projects or storylines you are working on you would like to share with us?
JC: I’m writing a huge trilogy about an itinerant Lithuanian podiatrist who travels around the country solving mysteries wherever he walked. Seriously, I am working “at” a novel set in Iowa in the early 60’s about a high school senior who loves his single parent, alcoholic mom and basketball, and has those loves taken away even as he is really learning about girls. Ten chapters in and it’s hard work. Slow going. Rabbit trails.
For you both:
OM: It’s been very interesting to me to see how people are reacting to being in isolation. I think of what my grandparents went through in the Great Depression and WWII – and for my grandfather, WWI – and I can’t help but feel like we are way too spoiled as a society. Am I wrong?
JC: I think so. My father was a hobo, a Knight of the Road, during the depression, riding the rails, sleeping and eating in hobo jungles. I grew up poor but didn’t realize how poor we really were, but really didn’t suffer much at all. Two parents who loved me, two older sisters who beat me up until I grew bigger than they were, and plenty of food and friends and school, and the Mississippi River two blocks from home (which was between an all-night truckstop and a couple of taverns) all made for a pretty good upbringing. Now, I know if I don’t get college football this fall I’ll pitch a hissy fit. Lots of travel all over the world when I was younger also helped reveal how spoiled I, and most American, are.
RC: I think that is true to an extent, but what I’m finding I miss the most is in person human connection. I’m a serious introvert, but I miss sitting with my friends over a glass of wine or a beer and laughing and touching each other. I am inordinately blessed because I own my home (well, mainly the bank), my fridge and cabinets are well stocked, and my parents spoil me with meals and wine. I have a smart phone and get to video chat with friends and send ridiculous memes. I have a job that allows me to work easily from my porch. Many Americans do not have those luxuries and while this time is incredibly hard on me emotionally and spiritually, it is even more so for those who do not have the abundance that I do.
OM: That said, what are you most looking forward to if and when life gets back to a semblance of normalcy?
JC: I yearn for the chance to worship with my church, together, in person. Live stream is a poor substitute for fellowship. Also, I look forward to getting back into the swing of things with my friends at the shelter, and also have people in larger groups coming by here at the cottage. We have a critique group that meets twice monthly here, called “The Write Minds” and I really miss them. Also hope to finally get my tryout with the Boston Red Sox. I’m not expecting to take over in left field, but I’d be useful as a stationary defensive substitute, and beneficiary of free after-game food.
RC: I want to hug the necks of the people I love (and even some of those I just sorta like). I cannot wait to sit again with the aforementioned Write Minds. But what I’m really craving is a cold glass of Marzen while sitting on the back patio of the Swamp Rabbit Brewery.