Interview With Carmen Lau

Carmen Lau
Carmen Lau
Carmen Lau is a second-year creative writing M.A. student at UC Davis. She grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. Her story “Red and Grandma Inside the Wolf” appears in Issue #12, and you can email her at carmenshanghai@gmail.com.

How did you celebrate your first sale?
I think I went out for frozen yogurt. I’m not very good at celebrating things. My birthday is coming up soon and I think I’ll go out to a bar by myself or something.

What people have helped you the most with your writing?
My teachers, who’ve always encouraged me. I would say my favorite writers as well.

Was there a specific thing that led you to retell Little Red Riding Hood? Have fairy tales always interested you?
I was always intrigued by the idea of fairy tales but didn’t actually read and understand them until I took a class in college. Reading Angela Carter was a huge revelation for me. Reading Kate Bernheimer too. I’m not sure what really led me to retell Little Red Riding Hood — I think I wanted to because it’s been retold so many times, and I wondered how it could be retold differently. So I just started thinking about the whole story and figured the wolf must be fat, and there was something interesting about the wolf’s hunger, and the image of the fat wolf on the bed popped up and I started writing.

If you were to have the Brothers Grimm over for tea, what might you serve them?
For some reason that’s a very frightening idea. My favorite fairy tale is Hansel and Gretel, so I would probably serve a gingerbread house. I have actually been thinking about this question for days and cannot come up with a better answer. Now I’m curious about the brothers’ favorite foods.

Favorite book you’ve read recently?
A High Wind In Jamaica by Robert Hughes is still haunting me. Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is another good one.

All-time favorite movie?
It’s hard to choose! Alien has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is wonderful. And Park Chan-Wook’s vengeance trilogy. I also like Jan Svankmajer.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’d like to be a writer and perhaps a professional tarot reader. I’d like to create my own tarot deck one day. In fact, I just woke up from a nap in which I did so. Unfortunately someone was angry at me and tried to destroy them, and I had to pedal a bicycle burdened by two very heavy people who kept saying discouraging things.

If you could talk to any author from the past, who would it be? Why? Who would you NOT want to talk to?
I would talk to Charlotte Bronte because she was my first favorite writer and her imaginative life seems to have been similar to mine (evidence: Tales of Angria), so we might have gotten along. I can’t really think of any writer I wouldn’t want to talk to.

Do your characters talk to you?  Do you see the stories as images? Do you ever argue with characters you hadn’t planned?
Yes, characters talk to me if I’m writing in first-person. Then writing becomes a kind of transcribing. It’s harder for me to write in third-person than in first-person because of this. I do often see my stories as images. I love writers like Bruno Schulz because they meld imagery and emotion. Films have affected me a lot. It’s funny because, even though I write, I love how films can convey so many things non-verbally. I don’t like narrators in movies, generally. I don’t argue with characters I haven’t planned because usually they are welcome additions.

What piece of writerly advice do you wish someone had given you?
I guess I’d have appreciated advice on how to live life on a practical level. Also things like how often to send stories out… just more practical things.

What is the best/worst piece of writerly advice you were given?
Best: Variations of “keep trucking on” from many people.
Worst: Variations of “you can’t do this or that” from several people. Even though they might have been right.

What kind of advice do you wish characters listened to?  Or offered?
I suppose the best advice I could give them is: Be yourselves.

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