In my conversation series Making It Up I talk to writers of all backgrounds in order to find out why they do what they do. My guests and I discuss childhood influences, roots of creativity, luck and loss, tools of the craft, and the highs and lows of publishing. At the end of our conversation, we pick a random sentence from a random book and use it to create an impromptu short story. Scroll down for all the episodes!
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Episode 24 | October 18, 2021
Maureen Johnson is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow with John Green and Lauren Myracle (now on Netflix), and several works in the Shadowhunter universe with Cassandra Clare.
Among other things, Carter and Maureen discuss attending a Catholic high school as a non-Catholic, getting her MFA from Columbia, and how she writes mysteries by outlining and stress-testing her crime scene. At the end of their conversation, a sentence from A Column of Fire by Ken Follet sparks an in-depth conversation about old court schemes.
Episode 23 | October 11, 2021
Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, became a cultural phenomenon with his 13-volume A Series of Unfortunate Events. His books have sold more than 70 million copies, won Peabody and Writers Guild of America awards, and have been made into box-office and streaming movies. His latest release, the standalone novel Poison for Breakfast, is self-described as a “book about bewilderment.”
Among other things, Carter and Daniel discuss the education of writing, how to read like a writer, and the benefits of putting your work away for a whole year. At the end of their conversation, they spin a tale of mystery beginning with a random sentence from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Episode 22 | October 4, 2021
S.A. Cosby, thriller-writer extraordinaire. Shawn (S.A.) struck oil with his breakout 2019 novel Blacktop Wasteland, a Los Angeles Times book winner and the ITW Thriller Award winner for best hardcover (a big goddamned deal). He followed that up with his 2021 book Razorblade Tears, which was an instant New York Times bestseller.
Among other things, Carter and Shawn discuss writing for a purpose and expanding perspectives, the role luck and timing play in success after publishing, and accepting valuable help from industry experts and editors. At the end of their conversation, they tell a story, beginning from a sentence out of Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King, about being driven into a snap decision to find a long-lost love.
Episode 21 | September 21, 2021
Stuart Turton lives in West London with his wife and daughter writing murder mysteries after years spent as a journalist. He is the author of the international bestsellers The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle which got picked up to be a Netflix series, and The Devil and the Dark Water.
Among other things, Carter and Stuart discuss finding work as a writer after traveling for five years straight out of college, remembering a childhood conversation that may have foretold a future career as an author, and plotting vs pantsing. At the end of their conversation, they pull a random sentence from The War of the Rats by David L. Robbins and make up a story about shady experiments.
Episode 20 | September 15, 2021
Adrian Goldsworthy is a historian and novelist who specializes in ancient Roman history. After teaching Greek and Roman history for six years before pursuing writing full-time, Adrian has since published a vast collection of both fiction and non-fiction works, most centered on Ancient Rome. His latest novel, The Fort, was released in August 2021.
Among other things, Carter and Adrian discuss the creative challenge of putting 1,000 years of history into 450 pages, the publishing industry in Britain versus the States, and the inevitability of falling in love with your story and then writing until you hate it. At the end of their conversation, they pull a random sentence from Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and tell a story of a 13-year-old girl in a dire situation.
Episode 19 | September 6, 2021
Barb Webb is a sustainable living expert living in Appalachian Kentucky and the author of Getting Laid and Getting Baked. Barb’s writing isn’t just limited to books on sustainable living; she’s also a prolific blogger with her self-founded company Rural Moms, which has a social media audience of over 200,000 followers.
Among other things, Carter and Barb discuss growing up in a traditional family and being encouraged to fight against her artistic side, how her creativity found a home in tech-writing and the importance of being ahead of the trend. At the end of their conversation, they make up a story about a student caught in a scary web of lies, an unsure academic future, and a morally questionable professor.
Episode 18 | August 26, 2021
Brad Parks is an international bestselling author and the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. A graduate of Dartmouth College, a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, he now lives in Virginia with his wife and kids as a full-time novelist, his most recent being Unthinkable.
Among other things, Carter and Brad discuss how writing is both an art and a craft, the allure of writing for the reader and keeping the audience in mind, and letting characters tell their own stories. At the end of their conversation, they improvise a story about undercover agents skirting the line between right and wrong with a body in their trunk beginning with a random sentence from the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.
Episode 17 | August 19, 2021
Xio Axelrod is a USA Today bestselling author who writes different flavors of contemporary romance and what she likes to call, “strange, twisted tales.” Her love for writing started with writing fanfiction due to a passionate response to how an episode of Buffy ended. Now, her most recently published novel is titled, The Girl With Stars In Her Eyes.
Among other things, Carter and Xio discuss growing up under the influence of a songwriter and producer dad who wanted her to do anything but go into the music industry, how fan fiction developed into publishing novels, and the world of self-publishing. At the end of their conversation, from a random sentence in America America by Ethan Canin, they tell a story of discovery and uncover the confession of a crime that happened too close to home for comfort.
Episode 16 | August 12, 2021
Clare Whitfield was born the fourth child to ex-Armed Forces parents and grew up on St Helier Estate in Morden before moving to Sutton. After studying contemporary dance at Middlesex University, she worked as an editorial assistant for a publishing company, tried her hand at freelance writing, and eventually worked in marketing where she spent her free time writing. In her 30s she took an MA in creative writing at the University of Winchester and has now published her first novel, People of Abandoned Character.
Among other things, Carter and Clare discuss military parents and having a specific allotment of toilet paper, how being the youngest can teach creativity, and her road to writing fiction, handling rejection and getting published. At the end of their conversation, from a random sentence in Dreamcatcher by Stephen King they battle out a story of a husband and wife’s failing relationship that takes things to a new level, involving cheap (or expensive, depending on who you ask) cola and prescription painkillers.
Episode 15 | August 5, 2021
Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas). She is a sought-after speaker, as evidenced by her 2010 gig as emcee for the National Romance Writers of America’s 30th Anniversary Awards Ceremony. She continues writing romance and even plays with adding in a little Mystery, with her most recent novel, Undercover Duke.
Among other things, Carter and Sabrina discuss adjusting to pseudonyms, growing up the daughter of missionaries in Thailand, and the benefits versus difficulties of writing romance. At the end of their conversation, their story developed from a random sentence from Hornet Flight by Ken Follett, takes a kinky turn involving affairs, stolen diaries, and Pampers.
Episode 14 | July 30, 2021
Mark Sullivan is the acclaimed author of eighteen novels, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Private series, which he writes with James Patterson. He’s received numerous awards for his writing, including the WHSmith Fresh Talent Award, and his works have been named a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. After Beneath A Scarlet Sky far surpassed what he could have hoped, he recently published another Historical Fiction Novel about a story of incredible human perseverance.
Among other things, Carter and Mark discuss the difficulties of being an author, Mark’s journey learning to write in school and joining the Peace Corps for life experience, and how life can throw unexpected blessings your way. At the end of their conversation, they tell a story of common human struggle and love beginning from a random sentence from James Clavell’s Noble House.
Episode 13 | July 23, 2021
Erika Englehaupt has spent more than a decade writing and editing for top science publications, including National Geographic, Science News, Scientific American, the Philadelphia Inquirer and NPR. Her niche is exploring the gross and horrifying realities of nature. She decided to take it a step further, diving even deeper than her beloved blog, and write a book called Gory Details.
Among other things, Carter and Erika discuss growing up with an engineer and inventor dad who always had a lab nearby, the struggles of being a science writer, and how to write a book inspired from a blog. At the end of their conversation, they make up a wild tale of a man who might not be what he seems with a random sentence from North and South by John Jakes.
Episode 12 | July 13, 2021
Emily Bleeker is a busy woman. She’s a mother of four, an improv actor, an aspiring guitarist and, oh yeah, the Wall Street Journal and Amazon Charts bestselling author of six novels. Combined, her books have reached over a million readers. She is a two-time Whitney Award finalist and was recently listed as one of the top 100 Kindle authors “of all time.” Her latest novel, What’s Left Unsaid, releases July 2021.
Among other things, Carter and Emily discuss writing from wildly different points of views, how surviving a rare form of cancer influenced her novels, and how a person knows when they’ve finally become a writer. At the end of their conversation, they make up a murderous tale on the open seas based on a sentence from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
Episode 11 | July 5, 2021
Graham Hurley is the author of 25 novels, and shows no signs of slowing down. In his previous life, he worked as a script-writer with Southern Television before becoming a researcher and later a director. His latest novel is The Last Flight to Stalingrad, which The Times called “historical fiction of the highest order.”
Among other things, Carter and Graham discuss his lifelong love of WWII stories, writing five novels before he turned 18, and the challenge of mixing fact with fiction in historical novels. At the end of their conversation, they make up a twisty survivor story beginning with a random sentence from Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction bestseller Unbroken.
Episode 10 | July 5, 2021
Julia Heaberlin is the author of the international bestseller Black-Eyed Susans, Paper Ghosts, and We Are All the Same in the Dark, the latter of which her newest crime novel set in the moody landscape of Texas where she grew up. Heaberlin’s psychological thrillers, all set in her home state, have sold to more than twenty countries.
Among other things, Carter and Julia discuss murder in a small town, how persistence is equally important as talent in writing, and how a personal tragedy affected her work-in-progress. At the end of their conversation, they make up a dark tale involving scissors beginning with a random sentence from Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story.
Episode 9 | June 28, 2021
Steven James is a kind and gentle soul who writes about dark, gritty things. He’s the author of more than thirty books, including the critically acclaimed Bowers Files, an eleven-book series of psychological thrillers which includes Opening Moves, Every Crooked Path, and Every Deadly Kiss. The series has received four Christy Awards, which is a damn big deal.
Among other things, Carter and Steven discuss his family’s history of spinning yarns, getting a Master’s degree in storytelling, and how faith can influence writing. At the end of their chat, Carter and Steven create a tale of domestic turmoil using a sentence from James Clavell’s Shogun.
Episode 8 | June 21, 2021
Mark Stevens is a helluva good writer and an all-around good dude. Best known for his Allison Coil mystery series, Mark’s novel Antler Dust was a Denver Post best-seller in 2007 and 2009.
Among other things, Carter and Mark discuss what it was like being raised by librarians, how an early life in journalism fueled a passion for writing crime fiction, and the Herculean task of posthumously publishing fourteen of a friend’s novels. At the end of their chat, Carter and Mark create a rather bizarre story using a sentence from the non-fiction work The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick by Norman Kagan.
Episode 7 | June 13, 2021
Lynne Constantine is an internationally bestselling author who writes with her sister as Liv Constantine (The Last Mrs. Parrish) and solo as L.C. Shaw (The Silent Conspiracy). Her books have been translated into 28 languages, are available in 33 countries, and are in development for both television and film.
Among other things, Carter and Lynne talk about her father working for Spiro Agnew, the process of writing books with a sibling, and the dread of receiving the first editorial notes on a manuscript. At the end of their conversation, they make up a boozy little tale based on a random sentence from Mortal Fear by Greg Iles.
Episode 6 | June 6, 2021
K.J. Howe lived all over the world growing up, and those experiences turned her into a bestselling and award-winning storyteller with global reach.
Among other things, Carter and K.J. talk about meticulous research, the kindness of thriller writers, and kidnapping conferences in Miami. At the end of their conversation they make up a short story starting with a sentence from William Goldman’s Princess Bride.
Episode 5 | May 30, 2021
Sean Eads writes for himself and is unapologetic about it. Not only is Sean a talented and amazingly prolific author of countless novels and short stories, he and Carter are in the same critique group.
Carter and Sean talk about audience, character development, and the lasting pain from accidentally deleting a manuscript. At the end of their conversation they make up a short story starting with a sentence from Eyre Price’s Rock Island Rock.
Episode 4 | May 21, 2021
David Bell has been fascinated by murder since he was a kid. Fortunately, his career path led him to writing stories about it rather than committing it. He’s the USA Today bestselling author of ten standalone thrillers and his eleventh, Kill All Your Darlings, releases in July 2021.
Among other things, Carter and David talk discuss the highs and lows of publishing, the wisdom he imparts on his writing students, and how he defines success as an author. At the end of the conversation, they make up a weird story about chest hair using a sentence from The Children’s War by J.N. Stroyar.
Episode 3 | April 1, 2021
Joe Clifford’s writing career was immensely helped when he was hit by a bus. Today, this bestselling mystery and crime writer has a dozen books to his name and life is good, even if it requires a cane.
Carter and Joe discuss Joe’s past struggles with heroin addiction, his inability or desire to hold down a 9-5 job, and love and heartbreak within the publishing industry.
At the end of the conversation, they make up a noirish tale using a beginning sentence from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
Episode 2 | March 31, 2021
Julie Clark still tells people she’s an elementary school teacher, which she is. But she’s also the New York Times bestselling author of the 2020 breakout thriller The Last Flight.
Carter and Julie talk about working multiple jobs, the unpredictability of the publishing industry, and how to continuously become a better writer.
At the end of the conversation, they make up a surreal circus story using a sentence from The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, by J. P. Donleavy.
Episode 1 | March 26, 2021
Alex Marwood was a journalist who worked extensively across the British press. Her first novel, The Wicked Girls, achieved widespread acclaim and international bestsellerdom. It was shortlisted for ITW, Anthony and Macavity awards, was included in Stephen King’s Ten Best Books of the Year list, and won the prestigious Edgar Award.
Carter and Alex talk about the other famous writers in her family, the highs and lows of publishing, and what it’s like writing when you have ADHD. At the end of our conversation, we make up a dark little tale based on a random sentence from Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose.