Artist Interview: John Carenen

Copyright John Carenen

John Carenen
Copyright John Carenen


L. N. Holmes: “Where is your hometown?”
John Carenen: “My home town is Clinton, Iowa, an old Mississippi River town and the birthplace of Lillian Russell, the first sex symbol in the movies.”

L. N. Holmes: “What is your chosen artistic profession?”
John Carenen: “My artistic expression is words, fictional, novel-length.”

L. N. Holmes: “Why did you choose to become a fiction writer and an English professor?”
John Carenen: “Tough question, LeeAnn. I more or less drifted into becoming a professor because some people I respect said they thought I’d be a good one. The jury’s out on that idea, I believe. And fiction writer? Hmmm, I just liked stories and decided to make up my own. I enjoy creating people and situations out of thin air (between my ears).”

L. N. Holmes: “What messages do you try to convey through your work?”
John Carenen: “I don’t deliberately think about messages. I just write the stories and I believe the messages come through: personal responsibility, a code of toughness and fairness, independence, self-reliance, and faith in God.”

L. N. Holmes: “Which of your works is your favorite? Which one was the hardest to write?”
John Carenen: “My favorite published piece is the sequel to my debut novel, Signs of Struggle. It’s just out, another Thomas O’Shea mystery/thriller and is called A Far Gone Night in which I dig deeper into relationships from the first novel and bring on a new character or two. I am also very fond of a novel I am shopping right now called, Taking A Chance On Love, a romantic comedy set up the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I found myself laughing while I wrote it. I hope it gets published, and soon.”

Copyright John Carenen

Copyright John Carenen


L. N. Holmes: “What was it like to be part of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop?”
John Carenen: “I am amazed I got in, but that’s a long story. The main thing I learned there was that it’s okay to be a writer. Mark Twain said one couldn’t throw a brick in Iowa City without hitting a writer. I liked that.”

L. N. Holmes: “What do you feel is the most important tool to teach your students when it comes to writing?”
John Carenen: “That’s an easy question! The most important tool is to read a lot and write a lot and be curious. I guess that’s three tools. Sorry.”

L. N. Holmes: “Where do you sell your work?”
John Carenen: “I sell my work through the publisher, Neverland Publishing, Amazon books, and a variety of independent book stores around the Midwest and the upstate of South Carolina, where I live.”

L. N. Holmes: “When are your readings?”
John Carenen: “My readings are scattered. My next one is Friday, Oct. 24th at Wide River Winery in my home town of Clinton, Iowa. It’s more of a signing than a reading, however. And it’s special because it’s in my home town, from 4-7 p.m., and I’ll get to see some old friends while I sip award-winning wines from the winery, situated on a bluff north of town with a great view of the river. Come see!

“My book concierge books my readings/signing. The most recent was at Newberry College, where I teach, and was a father-daughter reading of my daughter’s published poetry and my sequel novel.

“Another is scheduled in Tryon, North Carolina, at The Book Shelf from 2-4 p.m., November 15th.”

L. N. Holmes: “How do you support other artists?”
John Carenen: “I support other artists primarily through a critique group that meets twice a month here at the Carenen Cottage. We have an array of different levels, genres, and ages. We buoy each other up through what James Lee Burke calls the ‘corrosive self-doubt’ all writers face.”

L. N. Holmes: “What’s your biggest complaint about the writing industry?”
John Carenen: “My biggest complaint about the writing industry is that they don’t give six-figure bonuses to unknown authors. Seriously, I guess it’s that sometimes they put too much emphasis on sales and not enough on promoting really talented people that would translate into sales. There are people in my writing group who get rejected and rejected and their work is much better than most of that which is on the book store shelves. But we just have to hang in there and write for its own sake and believe it will be published.”

L. N. Holmes: “What/who inspires you?”
John Carenen: “I can’t think of any inspiration. I know that once I said to God, ‘Your will, and not mine,’ I felt peace and relief. My wife inspires me and reminds me that I have ability. My daughters (Rowena Carenen and Caitlin Carenen), both published writers, are inspirational. I guess I do have sources of inspiration. Thanks for asking that question, LeeAnn.”


Copyright John Carenen

From left, Lisa and John Carenen
Copyright John Carenen

L. N. Holmes: “What would you recommend to others attempting to become professional writers?”
John Carenen: “I recommend that those wishing to become professional writers quit wishing and just write. Forget about being published and getting rich, seriously. Write well and from the heart. I have a blown-up quote by Stephen King taped in front of my face next to my computer screen. It reads, ‘No, it’s not a very good story — its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.'”

L. N. Holmes: “Name a few of your favorite books and why they are your favorites.”
John Carenen: “My favorite books include anything by Robert B. Parker. I love his clever dialogue, action, and a protagonist (Spenser) who lives by his code. Hawk, his sidekick, is cool, too.

“Warren Moore III is a gifted writer with a dark side that makes compelling reading. His recent novel, Broken Glass Waltzes, needs to be recognized.

“I think Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a miraculous bit of fiction.

“I’ve become a James Lee Burke fan of late. His attention to detail, crisp and cynical dialogue, and approachable story lines resonate well with me.

“And of course, The Narnia Chronicles are read and re-read around our house.”

L. N. Holmes: “Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers?”
John Carenen: “LeeAnn, I would tell your readers to keep reading your blog, reach out to new writers and pick up their work, and keep on reading. It’s the thriftiest vacation one can take. Books are great, and I appreciate the chance to be interviewed by someone who loves writers and writing. Blessings on you and your readers!”

Copyright John Carenen

John Carenen signing a book for a fan.
Copyright John Carenen

To connect with John Carenen, please visit his Facebook page, his blog, or email him at



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