Artist Interview: Rowena Carenen


L. N. Holmes: “Where is your hometown?”

Rowena Carenen: “I don’t really have a hometown. I’ve moved all over the southeast, but I was born outside of Morganton, NC. I’ve lived in Roanoke, VA, Macon, GA, Dublin, GA, Simpsonville, SC, Hattiesburg, MS, Greenville, SC, and Winston-Salem, NC.”


L. N. Holmes: “What is your chosen artistic profession?”

Rowena Carenen: “I consider myself both a poet and an author advocate, and think of both as artistic. Poetry is what comes naturally to me. I think in phrases and lines, which makes any other form of writing difficult. As for the artistry of being an advocate, well, I only represent authors whose work speaks to me on some level and I use my creative juices to get those works into the hands of readers.”


L. N. Holmes: “Why did you choose to become a poet and an author advocate?”

Rowena Carenen: “I don’t know that I chose poetry. I feel like it chose me. I love the sounds of words and I love the sound of silence between them. Prose requires so much! I don’t think I could ever write fiction or creative nonfiction, though I admire those who do. There’s just too many words for me. I’ve always subscribed (at least in my writing) to the Mark Twain quote ‘eschew surplusage.’ My parents had that — along with “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between a lightening bug and lightening” — done in calligraphy and framed for my high school graduation.


“I became and author advocate when my father published his first novel, Signs of Struggle. He’s published through a small press that doesn’t really have a marketing or PR budget and it became my mission to get it into the hands of more readers. I kept thinking, ‘Here’s this incredible story that not enough people are reading! How do I help?’ The rest just grew from there.”


L. N. Holmes: “What messages do you try to communicate through your work?”

Rowena Carenen: “I don’t know that I have an all encompassing message. I usually try to just get the reader to have a reaction, be it emotional or intellectual. Although, honestly, mainly emotional. I’m such an emotional person that I want others to feel what I feel, or to explore their own feelings and emotions on whatever I’ve written about.”


L. N. Holmes: “What are your favorite subjects to write about?”

Rowena Carenen: “I tend to consider myself an occasional poet. I’m inspired by daily activities and instances: naps with my cat Sylvia, going for a run and getting sores from my sports bra, my goddaughter’s laugh, painting my toenails with my roommate, and, of course, navigating love and loss.”


L. N. Holmes: “What’s it like being a second generation writer? Was your father as a fiction writer proud of your decision to be a poet?”

Rowena Carenen: “I am extraordinarily blessed that my father is a writer. He has really been instrumental in helping me hone my own craft and I couldn’t have a more vocal supporter. Both of my parents are word people (Dad also teaches at Newberry College and my mother is a 9th grade English teacher at Boiling Springs High School), and they are the greatest cheerleaders anyone could ever have. Dad’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that I’m a published poet, and my mother likes to volunteer me for things because I’m a poet and she claims to not understand poetry as well (which is ridiculous because she is off the charts smart and her favorite poet is Billy Collins).”


L. N. Holmes: “What was it like being an author advocate for your father? When did you decide to branch out and help other authors as well?”

Rowena Carenen: “Being proud of my father is easy. His writing is beyond good and his voice is unique and clear. Advocating that people read his work is like breathing, or recommending your favorite wine or restaurant to friends. Like, you can’t believe that not everyone is reading him and in love with his work. His second novel in his Thomas O’Shea mystery series, A Far Gone Night, has just been released and is even better than the first.


“I branched out when Dad mentioned to his writers group that his ‘book concierge’ had set up his book tour, created his blog, and got him on Facebook. One of the women in the group, Susan M. Boyer, said that she needed one of those as she’d just had her first novel come out. Susan became my second client. She is the writer of the Liz Talbot Mysteries, which includes Lowcountry Boil and Lowcountry Bombshell, which are out now, and Lowcountry Boneyard, which will be out in April 2015.


“Susan told someone who told someone and it just grew from there. I decided that there are too many good books and too many talented authors that weren’t getting any attention. So I wanted to help.”


L. N. Holmes: “When is the release of your book? Where will it be sold?”

Rowena Carenen: “My own book, In the Meantime, came out September 29.  I’ll have it in various independent bookstores in the Carolinas such as Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC and Fireside Books & Gifts in Shelby, NC. You can request it at your local bookstores. You can also buy it through Amazon or buy directly from me (”



L. N. Holmes: “When are your readings?”

Rowena Carenen: “My first reading will be at Salem College, October 9. October 16, I’ll be doing a joint reading with my father at Newberry College. October 18 is the official launch at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC. I’m working to get more on the calendar, but I got so distracted with my clients’ work I forgot to promote mine!”


L. N. Holmes: “How do you support other artists?”

Rowena Carenen: “I try to be a major supporter of other artists by purchasing their work when I can afford it, sending others to their stores/sites/events, shopping local, and promoting through various social media sites. I also try to engage them in joint projects. For example, my cover was shot by Melissa Thornley Ryon, an incredibly talented photographer and one of my dearest friends.”


L. N. Holmes: “What’s your biggest complaint about poetry and about the publishing industry?”

Rowena Carenen: “Poetry is perceived as difficult to understand and that drives me bonkers. I think that some poetry is hard to understand and I want to bonk poets who do that on purpose, as if you have to be a certain type of person to find poetry meaningful to you. Blech. To people that don’t like poetry, I say that they just haven’t found their poet yet. Publishing is difficult and can feel like punishment. There are a plethora of small presses, many of whom are understaffed and don’t get to read a quarter of their submissions. Breaking into one of the big houses is near impossible for a first time author, and even then it doesn’t guarantee you success. I’m an advocate for small presses and even self-publishing. Do it because you want the work shared, not because you want to be famous or rich.”

L. N. Holmes: “What would you recommend to others trying to become poets?”

Rowena Carenen: “Read! Read. And then read some more. Discover a writer (or 10) that you love and figure out why you love them. Write terrible poetry just to get it out. Find a writers’ group that is supportive in their criticism — one that wants to help you be the best writer you can be. Submit, submit, submit. Try to develop a tough skin, but don’t lose your sensitive nature in the process. And learn to let go of it all.”


L. N. Holmes: “Name a few of your favorite books and why they are your favorites.”

Rowena Carenen: “Immortal Poems of the English Language compiled by Oscar Williams is my go-to favorite book. I discovered so much in those pages. I gave it to just about everyone as a graduation present. I found relief and understanding in that book when I borrowed it from a boy I had a crush on in 9th grade. I will forever be indebted to Stuart Walker for that book.


“The entire The Chornicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis moves me, but Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite. When Edmund tells Eustace that he was worse than just the jerk his cousin was, he was a traitor, I cry. Every. Single. Time. The reminder of God’s grace never ceases to bring me to tears of thankfulness.


Sylvia Plath’s Ariel shows so much of her joy. People forget that she was a loving person who was incredibly damaged and fragile. They just focus on the damage. But I dare you to read Blackberries and not smile.


“A recent favorite is Eleanor & Park. Rainbow Rowell really gets into what it is like to be that age and the pain and feelings of loneliness and loss and just sheer befuddlement. I could easily go on for pages and pages.”


L. N. Holmes: “Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers?”

Rowena Carenen: “The last thing I want to leave your readers with is the idea that reading just makes it all better. If you don’t have a favorite author, ask your friends who they love to read. Ask them why. Find out what moves you and dive in as deeply as you can. You will come up a better person for it.”


To contact Rowena Carenen to purchase her collection of poems — or for questions, comments, or praise — please click here.



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