Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Please join us between Thanksgiving and New Year's when our authors present original holiday short stories. We hope they will add to the season's festivities! 11/28 Annette Dashofy, 12/3 E. B. Davis, 12/8 KM Rockwood, 12/13 Korina Moss, 12/18 Tammy Euliano, 12/23 Warren Bull, 12/28 Paula Gail Benson Have a wonderful holiday! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Interview with Carla Damron

“The combination of the wicker desk and chairs, fluffy pink pillows, and plastic flower arrangements protruding from wall sconces made him feel like a Ken doll in Malibu Barbie’s dream house.”
                                                                                        Carla Damron
                                                                                        Death in Zooville
When Carla Damron started blogging for WWK, I didn’t know her well. After reading her three novels back-to-back because I couldn’t put the page-turners down, I feel that I know her much better. The main character of her series, Caleb Knowles, is a clinical social worker, a profession that Carla has practiced in public mental health institutions and private practice. I won’t welcome Carla to WWK, since she blogs regularly here at WWK, but I will welcome her home.

The first book of your Caleb Knowles series, Keeping Silent, was published in 2001, the second, Spider Blue, in 2005, and the third, Death in Zooville, in 2010. That’s a lot of time between books. Why so long?

It wasn’t supposed to be that long between the first and second! My initial publisher, Writeway, went bankrupt before publishing  Spider Blue. That novel was orphaned for a while as I worked to get the rights back and find a new publisher. I’m so grateful that Bella Rosa Books took me on!

Between the second and third novel, I worked on other projects and pursued my MFA in Creative Writing. (I graduated in January 2011.) I hope to have the fourth Caleb completed this summer. I’m not as fast as some other writers …

Could you give us a short summary of each plot in your three novels?

My novels have been called “social issues mysteries” partly because my protagonist, Caleb Knowles, is a social worker. In Keeping Silent, Caleb tries to clear his brother Sam of murder charges. Sam is a deaf artist accused of killing his fiancée, who was also deaf, and the police are railroading Sam as the only suspect. Sam’s silence—and withdrawal from Caleb—make clearing him a challenge.  

In Spider Blue, Caleb’s involved in two mysteries. A young nurse and mother is stabbed in front of her home. When Caleb tries to help one of the children work through the trauma, he learns important details about the crime. The second mystery in Spider is more of a “why’d-he-do-it” than a whodunit. A worker goes into a mill, shoots several people, and sets his gun down. Caleb’s task is to determine why this normally kind, placid man would do such a thing, and eventually finds a tie between the two brutal crimes.

Death in Zooville came about after I did some volunteer work in a homeless shelter. Zooville was actually a homeless tent village in Columbia, SC, where I live—so I borrowed it. Caleb works in a homeless shelter where several people , including Caleb’s social work intern, are murdered. City officials blame the crimes on the homeless and attempt to shut down the shelter. Caleb’s determination to find the real culprit puts his reputation, and life, in jeopardy. FYI: my royalties for Death in Zooville have been donated to homeless resources. 

Do you still work as a clinical social worker?

I’m more of an administrator now. After 30+ years as a mental health clinician, I’m now the part-time executive director for the South Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. I love it—I get to advocate for the clients we serve.

What is the hardest recurring problem social workers face on a daily basis?

There are so many, but I’d say it is the lack of resources. Finding homes for folks with no money, helping them access medical care, find jobs, etc. It doesn’t help that our political climate has become so polarized. Our clients get blamed for being poor, for needing food stamps and other subsidies. Example: one legislator wants to cut food stamps for families if a child doesn’t get good grades. Being hungry is going to improve her school performance? Really? (Okay. Don’t get me started!)

How did you go from social work to an MFA in Creative Writing?

I’m a social worker. I’ll always be a social worker. But I’m a writer, too, and I wanted to be better at it. I felt like my writing had stagnated. School was tough, but it was low-residency, so I could keep working. It made for long hours, but it pointed me in the right direction and opened some doors in my craft. Plus, I met some wonderful writers from all over the country.
Since then, I’ve managed to get a few literary short stories published and completed a novel that most would call women’s fiction. It’s in New York trying to find a publisher.

When I read your books, it seemed as if Caleb Knowles practiced psychology. What is the difference between a clinical social worker and a psychologist?

Both can be skilled clinicians, but may approach therapy from a different perspective. Social workers tend to focus on the individual in the system within which they live—the family dynamics, the relationship issues, etc. Psychologists focus more on the individual and, sometimes, on testing, though they also do family work if needed. One way I describe it is that comparing psychologists and social workers is like contrasting Methodists with Presbyterians. They both try to accomplish the same thing but take different approaches. 

Caleb has a lot on his plate. Not only his patients but also his daughter, ex-wife, current girlfriend and a brother who is deaf. Do most social workers have as complex private lives as their professional dilemmas?  

Don’t we ALLLL have complex lives? I do think some of us get into social work because we’ve grown up trying to figure out our own complicated families. And we have a strong drive to help others. It would be hard to be effective at helping others if you always lived a perfect life, wouldn’t it?

What is an “intake” patient?

An “intake” is a client that we see for the first time. It involves a comprehensive assessment to see how we can help them.

Drugs are themes in your books. How does a professional dissuade patients from taking “bad” drugs but persuade them to take the “good” ones?

AH. A big challenge. When I was a young clinician, I believed everyone should abstain from recreational/addictive drugs if they were to recover. I know now that’s unrealistic—that recovery takes TIME, and happens in stages. So if I can get a crack addict to start with not using for one whole weekend, that’s a huge step. Then we try for two weekends, etc.

Compliance with psychiatric drugs can be a struggle because of the side effects. The psychiatrists I worked with were very skilled at finding the right medication and dosage to keep the patient stable but able to function, but pharmacology is far from perfect.

A sad note: One anti-psychotic that’s effective for some of our sickest clients can cause metabolic syndrome. One of my clients who had been tortured by voices all his life was finally able to live on his own and hold down a job. Unfortunately, the meds caused unstable diabetes, heart problems and other complications that killed him. This is one of the toughest things we face as clinicians. I HOPE researchers find a solution soon.

Social work in private practice seems vastly different from the work in public clinics. But I can also see similarities and frustration between the two. Which venue do you prefer?

I’ve done private practice, but I prefer public. We can take care of people regardless of their ability to pay. And honestly, I love working with folks who have a very serious mental illness—they have taught me so much, and most of them are served in the public sector.

Your publisher is Bella Rosa Books. How did you discover this publisher and how easy is thepublisher to work with?

I think I answered that above. Bella Rosa is GREAT to work with. However, they take on clients who already have a publishing history, so they’re not a good option for first novels.

Beach or mountains?

Both? But if I had to choose, Edisto Beach: feet in surf, salt on skin, dolphins leaping over the waves, novel in my hand. Ahhhhh.

Carla’s novels are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble                                                      


Jim Jackson said...


Best of luck with getting your "women's literature" novel a good home in New York.

I’d be interested in hearing what you think are the best and worst parts of getting your MFA.

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

Hi Carla,
So interesting to see how your career has informed your writing and characters. Charles Dickens came to mind as I read, especially when you mentioned the legislator who thinks only children with good grades should get food assistance. As you said, Really?!
I, too, would like to hear about your MFA experience.
Thanks for the interview!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Elaine, for this great interview with Carla. I'm very proud to call Carla my friend, and am constantly finding new reasons why I admire her. She is loyal and caring and looks out for people and animals in need. Not only is she a gifted writer, but a valued critique partner. Just from her tender treatment of my and others' stories, I know she must be a dedicated advocate for her clients. Write on, Carla!

Warren Bull said...

Thanks for sharing with us. Your protagonist sounds interesting,

carla said...

Y'all are so kind to me. I'd love to share more about the MFA--maybe a future blog? It was grueling, and at times, I wanted to escape it, but I'm so glad I finished. It made writing harder but more fulfilling, if that makes sense.

Ricky Bush said...

I can relate to publishers going out of business. I had two go under while they had my manuscript. Takes perseverance, which you seem to have plenty.

carla said...

Some call it perseverance, others call it stubbornness!

Jessica Robison said...

Wow. What an interesting story. Thank you so much for sharing. I would also be interested in hearing about your MFA experience :D

E. B. Davis said...

Carla's books are great reads. I downloaded one, then had to have another, then the last. I feel like it was an advantage not to have read them when they were first published. Something to consider, Carla, in a series--a year is the maximum between books. You'll lose readers otherwise. But, you've got three books for new readers to consume and hopefully a whole bunch more! Caleb is a wonderful and likable character.

Gloria Alden said...

Carla, what an interesting story. Thanks for sharing with us. I've been wanting to read your books since you joined and especially after this interview was sent earlier for review. Today I finally took action on it and ordered all three books with the gift card I got from bidding on the FISH NETS basket at Malice. I'm looking forward to reading them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an informative blog.

I'd be interested to read a future one about your experiences with the MFA program. I've had editors who have that education, and they often want my blue collar factory workers to speak the King's (or Queen's) English. Not gonna happen!

Some of my characters have "social issues," too, and despite me doing my research when I'm uncertain on a point, I get the "That can't be true!" response. Right now I'm working on my 5th in a crime series where the protagonist is on parole for murder. I've asked a buddy (on parole for murder) if he will photocopy all his traffic court records for me to use. He struggled to get together $1700 to pay thirty year old traffic court fines & get his driver's license. The next month it was suspended for a year for a 30 year old drag racing conviction. They don't make it easy to avoid being a recidivism statistic.

Kara Cerise said...

Carla, I enjoyed learning about how your work shapes your stories. I have to admit that I was shocked to hear about the legislator who proposed food stamps for a family only if the child got good grades. Thank goodness for people like you who work on behalf of others who need an advocate.

I would also like to hear about your MFA experience.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Carla, What a fascinating and inspiring journey! I am also impressed by your time management skills. Working full time, writing and completing an MFA must have involved quite a bit of juggling.

I am also interested in hearing more about your MFA experience.