Raleigh author Carrie Knowles releases two very different books this spring—here’s where she got her inspiration.
by Steven Norton | photograph courtesy Carrie Knowles
I met Carrie Knowles in the spring of 2010. She came to my salon for a haircut. “Have you ever considered writing a book?” she asked. “What could I possibly have to write about?” I asked back. “You’re kidding, right?” Knowles retorted. Her response lit a spark—for me, as it has for others.
Knowles moved to Raleigh in 1978, when her husband took a position in the Sociology Department at North Carolina State University. Over the last forty years, Knowles has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines, worked as a writing coach and penned seven books, including Lillian’s Garden, Ashoan’s Rug and A Garden Wall in Provence. She was the 2014 Piedmont Laureate in Short Fiction and has two books coming out this spring. She spends her work hours in an art-filled Victorian-era home downtown, which she shares with others as a co-working space called the Free Range Studio. We spoke about her work.
How did you spend your year as the Piedmont Laureate, and how did it impact your writing?
It was the most concentrated year of teaching I’ve had. I conducted forty different writing workshops, so I didn’t have a lot of time to do my own writing. However, that opportunity to teach so many different people, who were so passionate about learning how to write, in such a concentrated time, motivated me to write A Self-Guided Workbook and Gentle Tour on Learning How to Write Stories from Start-to-Finish. So I guess you could say that my workshop students inspired me to find a way to help them tell their stories.
How is your workbook different from other workbooks?
The participants in the workshops ranged in age from 12 to 80 years old. Some had gone to college, but most had not. It was a challenge to find a way to teach such a broad range of students. My workbook breaks down the writing process into small, easily followed lessons—from character development to dialogue—with workbook exercises, so people can get the basics of a writing concept and practice it before taking the next step. Like a reviewer said about it, “it’s a down-to-earth guide, with no pretense and no arrogance.”
Your newest book starts with a grandmother speaking from the grave to her granddaughter. Where did this idea come from?
In 1902, a young woman was found beaten and unconscious in the Macon, Georgia train station. She was pregnant and dying. A local doctor saved the baby by doing an emergency c-section. The mother died without regaining consciousness, and the baby was my real-life father. Who she was, what happened to her and where she was going has always haunted me, and I knew that eventually I would have to write about her, which is how The Inevitable Past came about.
You wrote a story about a grandmother you never met—who no one knew. You didn’t even know her name. How were you able to write her story?
I researched the life of women at the turn of the century and tried to imagine what her life might have been like in a time when young women were moving from farms to the city and the Suffragettes were agitating for voting rights. I also went down to Macon, Georgia to learn about the Door of Hope, a home for wayward girls, i.e., unwed pregnant women, where my father was born.
There are two grandmothers in your book, your father’s birth mother, and the woman who adopted him and raised him. Can you talk a little about his other mother?
My father was blinded during his birth. The matron of the Door of Hope, Mother Knowles, realized no one would adopt a blind child, so she decided to give him her last name and raise him as her son. She was a widow and had no children of her own. I was able to find out quite a bit of information about the Door of Hope, as well as Mother Knowles, all of which became part of the book.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing short stories and thinking about another play. What do you say to aspiring writers? If you have an idea you’ve always wanted to write about, now is your chance. No excuses!