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Interview With an Author: Carter Wilson

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
photo of author Carter Wilson and his book

Carter Wilson is an award-winning, best-selling author who specializes in domestic thrillers filled with tension, paranoia, and psychological terror. He recently agreed to be interviewed by Daryl Maxwell for his latest book, Mister Tender’s Girl.

You’ve said that your initial inspiration for Mr. Tender’s Girl was the 2014 incident in Waukesha, Wisconsin where two 12-year-old girls stabbed another 12-year-old girl to gain the favor of the fictional Slenderman. What was it about that case that inspired your novel?

I only read a few paragraphs of the Slenderman-crime news story and was completely chilled. Scary enough about how young the attackers were, and that they committed the crime as a tribute to a fictional character. But once I saw that the victim had survived I knew it was going to be the basis for my next book, because I truly wanted to explore what a victim that young would be like as a grown woman. What is her life like? What physical and emotional scars does she carry?

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I'm a classic "pantser" (as in writing-from-the-seat-of). I don't outline. As a result, there are many changes during editing, but I wouldn't say I lost too much of what I had originally written. I'd say I cut mostly some internal thoughts, as it was keeping the pace from the breakneck speed I wanted. When you're writing first person present-tense, pace is your greatest weapon.

Are Alice, Jack, Richard, Thomas, Brenda, or any of the other characters in Mr. Tender’s Girl based on specific individuals (beyond the Slenderman incident)?

No character was based on any specific people, and I should mention I never went back and read anything else on the Slenderman case (even to this day) as I didn't want to be unduly influenced by the actual case. Moreover, and I didn't want to feel as if I was capitalizing on a horrific crime. As a result, my story is very different than the actual case.

There are a lot of references to 80s movies/music in Mister Tender’s Girl. What’s your favorite 80s band, movie, or TV show?

I am a proud child of the 80s. My favorite band of all time is named James, and they were huge in the 80s and 90s, and are still putting out new music. I used a quote from one of their songs at the beginning of this book. 80s movie? I might have to go with Heathers. As for TV show, probably a toss-up between Cheers and The Wonder Years.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Operation Mincemeat. Non-fiction. A fantastic telling of a novelesque operation of deception during WWII.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Maybe not quite as a child, but certainly as a teen, it was Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Was there a book you had to hide from your parents?

Book or magazine? Because those are two different answers.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Always hard to choose favorites, of course. Stephen King is up there, along with Cormac McCarthy. Probably James Clavell. Douglas Adams. Hmmm... one more. Twist my arm and I'll say (early) Anne Rice.

What is a book you've faked reading?

I don't know if I ever have—I wear my literary ignorance proudly. I was a business major in school, and really didn’t even get into reading—much less writing—until my twenties. The amount of books I haven't read is astounding, but I'm never shy to admit it.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I don't go cold into a book. I will always read the back copy or at least be familiar with the author before I buy a book. That being said, a good cover can call you over, make you curious enough to see what it's all about. I love what the design team did with the cover of Mister Tender's Girl. Those eyes. They just tractor-beam you in.

Is there a book that changed your life?

I don't know if it changed my life, but reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road transformed how I looked at language. I glimpsed at the poetry of fractured sentences, and how the fewest words could conjure the most powerful images. God, that guy is incredible. 

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

You mean aside from mine? Ha, I kid, of course.

Everybody has their own emotional constitution and thus own reactions to books, so I'm not a believer that there's one book out there everyone should read. But I gave a gift once to my girlfriend. Three books that were meaningful to me that I wanted to share with here. They were Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (everyone should hold silliness close to their hearts), To Kill a Mockingbird (still resonates with me since junior high), and Shogun by James Clavell (even at 1,100 pages, still the best love story I've ever read).

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Oh, yes. The Stand by Stephen King. Unabridged version.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Hmmmm....anyone, alive or dead? I'd spend the day with my dad and ask him all the things I wish I had when he was alive. There would be tequila, beer, and sunshine involved.

What are you working on now?

A creepy novel about people with shared pasts and huge gaps in their memories. It's one of the most complex stories I've ever crafted, but at the heart of it is a pure and simple tale of murder.

Wilson, Carter (Novelist),