Q&A with Author Tobias Carroll

Andrew Critchlow

Author Tobias Carroll was among over 160 writers present at the 2017 SOKY Book Fest in Bowling Green this weekend. Carroll is the author of a story collection “Transitory” and is currently touring his most recent work, a novel entitled “Reel.”

Carroll is also the managing editor of the Brooklyn-based literary publication Vol. 1, and has submitted writing for various publications including Rolling Stone, Tin House and Men’s Journal.

Carroll made time to talk to the Herald about his experience at the SOKY Book Fest, his writing inspirations and what’s in store for the future of his writing. 

Tell me a little bit about your recent experience at the SOKY Book Fest and your time in Bowling Green.

I had a really enjoyable time at the SOKY Book Fest.  At the Kentucky Writers Conference, I talked about the way that location works in fiction, and at the Fest itself, I was on a panel with a host of amazing writers to discuss music and art in fiction. I enjoyed meeting a bunch of people while in Bowling Green; I was especially happy to meet Rion Amilcar Scott, as we have a lot of friends in common. Seems like there’s a really great community of writers and literary folks here, and that’s a fine thing to see.

Some authors really enjoy the experience of engaging with readers at book signings, while others sometimes find the process monotonous. What has your experience with “touring” your work been like thus far? 

Touring has been pretty great so far, I’d say. Tenspell out numbers at beginning of sentences years ago, I did my first readings out of state-specifically, Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama-and I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better at the performative part of reading. I’ve been doing a lot more readings since both books came out last year; last month, I was on the road with Duncan B. Barlow (author of, most recently, the novel “The City”, Awake-which is highly recommended). We started in Santa Fe and wrapped up the tour in Chicago. That experience gave me a really good sense of what worked in front of an audience and what didn’t as well as what sections of each book fit well together.

Tell me a little bit about your novel “Reel” and the inspiration behind it.

“Reel” follows the lives of two people whose paths briefly cross at a punk show in Seattle. I’d had the beginning of the book floating around in my head for several years, but it took a long while for me to realize that the story that I wanted to tell with these characters was something that would be book-length, rather than story-length. In terms of inspiration, I wanted to tell a story set in and around Seattle; in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my friend Scott and I ran a small indie label and released music by a few Pacific Northwestern artists, and I have a huge affection for the area. And I wanted to explore questions of connection, of family  and of space. “Reel” turned out to be a really good way to do all of those things.

“Reel” is your first published novel. After releasing a collection of short stories, was it challenging to commit to publishing a more fleshed-out work?

I’ve always juxtaposed writing shorter and longer fiction. The oldest stories in my collection “Transitory” are about a decade old at this point; there are also some stories in there that were written more recently than “Reel.” Before “Reel,” I wrote a novel that didn’t quite work. I’d definitely say that “Reel” was a challenge, as at that point, I wasn’t sure that I could write something that approached the length of a novel.

“Reel” meditates on the experiences of art and music, as someone who writes about these things for various publications, was it natural to write fiction on these experiences?

Definitely. Music has been a big part of my life for a long time, though I’m not a musician myself, and art is also something that I find very important. (I’m writing this from Nashville right now; yesterday I walked a mile-long sculpture trail to see a James Turrell skyspace.) I liked the idea of writing about characters who, like myself, were on the periphery of these worlds. The novel I’m working on right now has a couple of musicians in its cast of characters, though they’re in a very different music scene.

You are also the managing editor for Vol. 1 based in Brooklyn; can you tell the people of Bowling Green about this publication and the importance of publications focused on the literary?

Absolutely! Vol. 1 Brooklyn was founded by my friend Jason Diamond–whose memoir “Searching For John Hughes” came out late last year, and is fantastic. We’ve been running it for a while now; we run interviews and reviews of books, along with weekly stories and bi-weekly essays. We also do a lot of events in New York City–later this summer, we’re sponsoring a panel discussion featuring Eugene Lim, author of “Dear Cyborgs,” for instance. And we’ve done a few chapbooks along the way as well, and have been lucky enough to work with writers like Mairead Case, Rahawa Haile  and Jes Skolnik.

Literary publications, whether in print or online, are,  (in my opinion),  a vital piece of the literary community. They can bring writers together, showcase new work from emerging voices and advocate for important issues.

What do you see for the future of your bibliography? Do you hope to write another novel next? Another collection?

I’m in the middle of revising a new novel right now, one that’s set in and around a fictional town in northwestern New Jersey and which spans thirty-odd years in the lives of its characters. I’m also writing short stories. I’d love to do another collection as well, and I think I have a solid core for one if I’m lucky enough to find someone interested in releasing it. I find that having multiple projects in front of me helps keep me motivated;  if I’m blocked on one of them, I have something else that I can work on. 

Reporter Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]