November 16, 2015 | By Audrey Hall, Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian
The winner of the Killer Nashville 2014 Claymore Award, Dana Chamblee Carpenter (PhD English), will be back in Oxford signing her debut novel “Bohemian Gospel” at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Square Books. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Carpenter said she couldn’t wait to show off her latest accomplishment in the town where everything started.
“It’s awesome. I can’t even imagine getting to celebrate it here. It’s a dream come true,” Carpenter said. “When I was getting my Ph.D. and had no money, my husband and I would go to Square Books and just hang out with all the books there. It was my secret dream to write my own book and see it on the tables in Square Books. It’s all so surreal.”
Ever since the days when she would wander the shelves of Square Books, Carpenter has known she wanted to be a writer. After completing her doctoral work at Ole Miss, she moved to Nashville and was able to pursue her dream of writing. She has won several awards for her short fiction over the years, but “Bohemian Gospel” is her first novel-length published work.
“Bohemian Gospel” follows the story of a young woman named Mouse who grew up in an abbey in the 13th century, hiding her strange powers from the suspicious outside world. When confronted with a king in danger, she chooses to save him and is whisked away on a journey to uncover the secrets of her strange powers, as well as the intrigue of Bohemia itself. This newly-lauded story is historical fantasy and draws its power from the incredible amount of research that Carpenter did in order to center her character in a nuanced world.
“When I was getting to know Mouse,” Carpenter said, “knowing where she was from was a big piece of the puzzle. I caught 10 minutes of a documentary about a mysterious medieval manuscript that didn’t fit into the guidelines of most historical documents. It was like a flash of lightning: Mouse wrote that book. I still wasn’t sure about how this all fit into history, but I found out about a guy named Ottakar, who’s like the King Arthur of Bohemia. It was like finding treasure.”
Carpenter explained how her main character, Mouse, really started to take shape within her imagination over time, eventually evolving into the mysterious girl at the center of her novel.
“I saw Mouse in a sort of vision. I saw her looking out over a battlefield at one soldier in particular,” Carpenter said. “Her face was so emotional. She was angry, anguished and determined all at once. And then she heard someone calling her name in the distance and that’s how she came to be named Mouse.”
Carpenter teaches creative writing and American literature at Lipscomb University in Nashville. Continuing in the tradition of excavating history in order to tell this story, Carpenter explains her philosophy on writing.
“Stephen King once said that he writes in a discover process, like archaeology,” she said. “You’re looking for an artifact, maybe even something really small, like a shard of an ancient pot. But when you find it, you’re no longer driving the bus. You’re uncovering it and seeing the artifact for what it’s becoming, and that’s how Mouse and ‘Bohemian Gospel’ came to be.”
Carpenter said she has been inspired by writers like Stephen King and Ron Rash, the latter whose advice is all about perseverance.
“Rash talked about how you see people whose ambition is to be writers slowly break away from their dreams, just one after the other,” she said. “It’s a hard journey, and you have to pay rent and put food on the table. Everyone thinks about quitting. But it’s the ones who persevere and just keep writing who end up with published careers in the end.”
Besides “Bohemian Gospel,” Carpenter has written another novel, titled “The Crop Duster’s Daughter,” that she has not yet published. The manuscript tells the story of her father, whose passing inspired her to return to writing, and she hopes one day to revitalize and publish the work.
For young writers, Carpenter said she encourages aspiring authors and novelists to never give up on writing if they ever want to publish their work.
“The best advice is just don’t quit,” Carpenter said. “That’s the advice I heard. You learn everything about your craft and fill that well with knowledge, but the most important thing is to never quit.”