Caroline Casper's "Eminence" a Finalist for Million Writers Award

UPDATE: The votes have been tallied and Caroline placed first in the contest. Thank you to all who voted to make Carve stories win first place two years in a row!

Carve would like to congratulate Caroline Casper, whose short story, “Eminence,” has been chosen as a finalist for the Million Writers Award.  Please go to the MWA website by January 15th to vote for her story, which was first published in Carve’s Winter 2013 issue.  

The Million Writers Award has been recognizing online fiction since 2004. The Million Writers Award, presented by storySouth, recognizes and honors fiction published online, and the top three winners will be awarded monetary prizes.

You can read Caroline’s story online, or read about her story on our blog. In short, “Eminence” is about a woman traveling to her hometown in Kentucky to retrieve an old answering machine she believes will contain messages from her mother, who is now dead.  The piece is memorable not only because of the resonant themes, but also because of the unique way in which it is told.

According to Caroline, her story is “about understanding loss and the complicated ways we cling to and search for missing memories to find meaning.” I asked Caroline a few more questions about her story, her writing, and her experience being nominated for the Million Writers Award.

“Eminence” is the first story you’ve ever gotten published.  Why did you decide to submit it to Carve?

I only submitted the story to a handful of places because, as you mentioned, it was my first fiction submission, and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I submitted to Carve because Raymond Carver is very popular in my family and because the tagline “Honest Fiction” really appealed to me.  Or as Matthew [Limpede, Carve’s editor] puts it, Carve publishes “fiction you believe to be real.”

Eminence is a real town in Kentucky and was part of my childhood. All of the characters in the story are also based on real people in my life. The plot is entirely fiction — though some say fiction can offer more insight into emotional reality than nonfiction.  And I believe this is true.  

Are you surprised the story has received so much attention?

Yes, but I think part of me will always be surprised when my stories are well-received. Writing is such a solitary process so feedback is crucial. The praise feels really good (and the criticism can feel awful), but I think it’s important to remember that it’s so subjective! 

When last we talked to you, you were working on getting an MFA. How is that going for you?

Really well. The inspiration from other writers (classmates as well as the published authors we’re reading) has been critical, and I’m writing more than I ever have. I have one semester of classes left, and then I will start working on my thesis, a collection of short stories.

How do you feel about this story now that it’s been out of your hands for a while? Is there anything you wish you could change about it?

This is an interesting question. Because, yes, now that it’s been out of my hands for a while, I do find things I’d like to change. I still really like the structure of the oppressive countdown and the search for a missing memory, but if I could revise it, I might change some of the flashbacks or reveal a bit more about the narrator.

Maybe I will include this piece in my thesis and have the chance to revise it. But sometimes you just have to allow something to be finished, so we’ll see.

What are you working on these days?

I’m currently writing short stories that are, in some ways, similar to the themes of “Eminence.” They are about real women on authenticity, our complicated relationships with loss and aging and sexual exploitation…and fallible memories. Or something like this.

Finally, what’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Three things: One, don’t try so hard to be original. If you’re being genuinely honest and true to yourself (which is the hardest part), your voice and insights will be entirely unique. Two, write only what feels urgent to you. And three, write it like a motherfucker. (Thanks, Cheryl Strayed, for the last one.)

And a big thanks to Caroline for finding the time to do this Q&A. Don’t forget to go to the MWA website by January 15th to vote for “Eminence.”