If you haven’t read “Sweet Souls,” you’ve missed a treat. I am a fan of short stories, and Charles Blackburn, Jr.’s delivers on this one. Charles is a pretty nice guy, to boot. I keep these interviews short for the blog, but as in his writing, Charles packs a lot into a small space. He grew up in Henderson, N.C., attended Barton College and UNC-Chapel Hill and now lives in Raleigh with his wife and daughter. Early in his career he roamed the state as a reporter and editor for four small town newspapers. He has been part owner of a Chapel Hill used and rare bookshop, for which customers were even rarer. He worked for 30 years in public relations for a major medical center and a scientific research society. His stories, feature
articles, and poems have appeared in many regional and national publications. He has written about N.C. history, people, and places for Our State magazine. Charles is a three-time winner of Crucible magazine’s short fiction award. It was on the strength of his story “Sweet Souls” that he won a literary fellowship from the N.C. Arts Council in a statewide competition. In 2008, St. Andrews Presbyterian College presented him the Sam Ragan Award for Literature. He is a past president of the N.C. Writers’ Network and the N.C. Writers Conference.
How would you describe “Sweet Souls” to someone who hasn’t seen it or read any of your work?
Above all I hope these 13 stories are entertaining. They range in locale from the rural South to the Middle East. Their subjects include the home front in World War II, the dangers of unexploded Confederate ordinance, a small-town lawyer’s encounter with the supernatural, and a modern-day outlaw whose exploits breathe life into a dying newspaper. In “Borer Bees,” a lonely recluse’s unusual method of bee control robs him of a gabfest with two visiting missionaries, and in “Ghost of a Scientist,” babysitting an elderly gentleman in a spooky old house leads to an unexpected revelation. In “Sweet Souls,” the title story, the skeptical editor of a small-town newspaper finds himself involved with forces beyond his experience
What is your process for creating a story, or getting started on a writing project? No cop outs.
About half the stories in “Sweet Souls” are based on experiences I’ve had or stories people have told me. A couple of the stories are pure fantasies, but that’s rare for me. I usually have something in mind. I’m a fan of Somerset Maugham, who preached the gospel of stories having a beginning, middle, and end. In other words, I usually know where I’m going to end up when I start out. Also I have a box full of the fragments of stories going back many years that I return to from time to time. These were tales that I couldn’t quite pull off, but find that by letting “the field lie fallow,” I can sometimes come to them with a fresh perspective. For me, inspiration often comes on the 10th draft
What are you working on now?
I’m in the research phase of a longer work based on my late uncle’s service as a fighter pilot in South Pacific during World War II.
What advice would you give a fiction writer who is facing the submission process or working on a first book?
Keep plugging away. Don’t take rejection personally. Don’t get discouraged. It’s a very subjective process. An editor may have used a story similar to yours. Or he/she may be hungover on the day your story crosses his/her desk. By the time a story comes back, it has cooled sufficiently to allow a critical reading. And sometimes improvements may suggest themselves. I’ve had stories that were rejected by publications that went on to win awards in others. I can say from experience that all writers can benefit from intelligent editing.
How do you set up your workspace?
I work at a desk in my bedroom by a window that doesn’t have much of a view but lets in fresh air when the weather cooperates.
BONUS: Best thing to drink and/or eat while writing?
I drink a lot of water, having given up the somewhat heavy drinking of my youth.
“Sweet Souls” can be ordered online from Main Street Rag Press in Charlotte, N.C.
Ghost of a Scientist, click here