by Karen Haber
For years Carol Carr has been a cult figure among friends, writers, and editors who have been privileged to see her stories, poetry, and short nonfiction. We’ve begged, pleaded, even tried to bribe her to write more and to put it all together in one volume. We knew what was good.
Years went by. Decades. We pleaded some more. Finally, she gave in and made a book. You hold the happy result in your hands.
Carol Carr: The Collected Writings shows her work at its best. It’s all here: the quicksilver wit, the mordant humor, the desire to drill down into subjects and sift for nuance and meaning. Her intelligence finds its target, and her humor illuminates it.
Carol grew up in tenement apartments in Brooklyn. As soon as she could read she was gobbling books from the neighborhood library—not only children’s books, but the mystery novels her mother passed on when she was through with them. One of her favorite memories is of an annual visit to an aunt in the “fancy” part of town and coming home with a tall stack of comics discarded by her young cousins. And her literary education at the time was rounded out with the true confessions and movie magazines left outside the door by a neighbor in her building. (Years later she tried writing a “confession” herself. She called it “I Washed Love Away,” about an over-zealous housewife. But she never sent it out for publication because it kept making her laugh.)
Her family didn’t own any books, and when she was thirteen she shlepped a twenty-volume set of Dickens home on the bus, one grocery bag at a time. She took advantage of the journey to read a couple of them.
In junior high she was recruited to join the school paper and the school literary magazine. She was by then in her rebellious years and she wrote this haiku-influenced poem: “Daylight / Embryo rays / Try feebly to be born / To master the maternal night / at dawn.” She says she understood it better when she was older.
In 1961 her marriage to Terry Carr (an aspiring author and later respected anthologist and editor) brought her into the world of science fiction. After attending a couple of conventions and conferences in the field, it occurred to her, “Hey, I can do this too,” and before long “Look, You Think You’ve Got Troubles” was born.
Carol became not only a writer but a whiz of an editor, skilled at lifting plonking sentences out of their puddles, drying them off, shining them up, and sending them forth better for their time spent with her. She teases meaning out of morass. And if it’s no good, well, she’ll be kind, but she’ll let you know. The right word matters—a lot.
She has the sharp focus, love of wordplay and whimsy, attention to detail, and grace in phrasing that characterize superb writing. She embraces all the humor and pathos of the human condition, bringing a good dose of anger—and leavening silliness—to the mix.
She’s sold every piece of fiction that she’s written. She’s appeared in the highly respected Omni magazine, scooped up by its fiction editor Ellen Datlow, and twice in Damon Knight’s anthology series, Orbit.
Carol Carr: The Collected Writings brings together a wide range of her most engaging work: the five short stories she calls her oeuvrette, as well as poetry, fanzine articles, and appreciations of writers in and around the field of science fiction. It’s all lip-smacking good.
Of course I’m biased.
She is my dearest friend. I remember our first meeting, how we clicked, with an essential yes that resonated unto the molecular level and has persisted through the years, through so many phone calls, so much parsing of life as it unfolded for each of us. She can munch emotional nuance with the best of them, and reframe pain until it doesn’t hurt quite so much. She would have made a superb therapist and, for her lucky friends, the hour is never up.
In addition to writing, she is known to wonk out on the latest manual for a toaster oven or a piece of software, or other technical challenges that send people like me running and screaming. She taught herself Photoshop and has never met a new camera that doesn’t intrigue her. But, most of all, she has had an ongoing affair with the language, and employed it in acute observations about human nature, relationships (oh, that word), the political landscape, and, more recently, people who talk to their cell phones during dinner.
Carol Carr has been drunk in love with words all her life, and this book is the delightful result. Carol Carr: The Collected Writings is finally here. Let the celebrations begin.