Stephen L. Carter is a Yale University law professor, author, and Christianity Today
columnist. Carter is a well established nonfiction writer, having written books like The Culture of Disbelief and Civility. He has now turned to fiction with a much publicized $4 million advance for two works of fiction, the first being The Emperor of Ocean Park (Knopf).
Why did you decide to start writing fiction?
I don't know if I could call it a decision as much as almost an obsession. I'd wanted to write fiction from the time I was pretty small. I used to go down to the corner store and buy little spiral notebooks when I was a little kid, in which I would write my science fiction and mystery stories and so on, usually fill in all the pages without any paragraph breaks or anything like that. And even as an adult I had for many years the yearning to write. I had these characters in mind and wanted to find the life space and vehicle to let them tell their stories. And finally it seemed to be time to do it.
How was it to write fiction?
Well, everybody seems to think that writing fiction is liberating. But I actually found it confining in a way. As a scholar, when I write nonfiction I have footnotes. I have sources. I have things I rely on. And that structure for me has always been very liberating. What cramped me in was recognizing that for everything I wrote, in the end, the authority was me. It was my imagination as opposed to some source I could point to. And that was an eerie feeling and sometimes a very scary one.
And so writing a novel, I put in these various asides, those little provocative thoughts to jog people about—issues about race or religion or class or a thousand other things. Even doing that I felt a little uneasy to have one of ...1
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