Monday, March 28, 2011

Interview With a Sad Clown.

I had the chance to sit down with Carla Rene, author of The Gaslight Journals. Her journey has been long, filled with downs and downs. Somehow, Carla always finds a way to bring comedy into her writing. Read about this Sad Clown; come scrape below the surface of a discarded woman. She deserves more than an interview can offer.

What do you write?

My passion lies in historical fiction (Victorian, Edwardian and some Empire)[Just released my first full-length novel The Gaslight Journal on Thanksgiving Day to Kindle], with my favourite being comedy. I have written my own one-woman shows and been a professional stand-up comic since 1994. They sort of encourage you to write about your own life and mine it for comedy, and with my trainwreck of a life, I’m in absolutely NO danger of running out of material anytime soon. In 2000 I got a scholarship to study with Second City in Chicago, and improv comedy is my favourite to perform. I also have some folks waiting for a spec script at CBS-TV for The Big Bang Theory, if I can get off my ass and write it.

Now my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel, A Most Devout Coward is nearly done. Jack Ryan O’Hanlan, a lifelong Atheist who suffers with severe social anxiety and OCD witnesses a mob hit in a Manhattan diner and is forced to enter WITSEC where he becomes a Priest. I think it’s my absolute best work to date since I let myself go and just do what I do best: barf from my fingers. Comedy author and how-to comedy writer John Vorhaus will be giving me a blurb for it and hopefully writing the forward (if I can extort enough money to pay him), since he laughed his ass off when I sent him my pitch. I also received permission from famous UK comic writer, Graham Linehan to reference his brainchild, Father Ted in the book. One of my absolute favourite comedies. It was like meeting God. But with more pratfalls.

What are your political views?

I realise it makes me sound like someone perpetually stuck in high-school, but I detest politics with a passion, except to make passing mockery of them. They tear more people apart. I realise the base definition of this word deals with social interactions and the viewpoint we hold about them, and to some degree we need a little PC around or else we’d all constantly be needing to be bailed out of jail for spouting off to the cross-dressing gang banger at the stop light. I detest the part of that definition that centres around the cult-like obsession that’s recently developed with the onslaught of 24-hour news stations. I think our cultural obsession with following political office has less to do with wanting to be better informed and more to do with the cult of celebrity, without the straight-forward admission, natch. I guess it’s way cooler to criticise what Dick Cheney’s wearing than it is to admit you’re a closet Kardashian fan.

What the biggest problems you see with the world?

You mean besides the politics? *chuckles* I think there are too many world leaders now in the throes of their mid-life crises who think that suddenly ruling the world would somehow be cooler than simply doing what the rest of us do: Dying our hair and buying red sports cars. Greed is a bitch and irony an evil mistress. The world’s fecked up for a variety of reasons, none of which I’m either versed enough in or can be arsed enough to actually make comment. But a nice short answer would be we are and always have been victims--victims of the human condition in the purest sense. Of course, that’s not a very popular viewpoint because who in their right mind actually wants to admit they’re shallow and selfish? Well, I mean, who here who’s sober will admit to such a thing? Because we’re too proud to admit that we’ve not been intelligent enough to fix ourselves like humanism said we could, we then parade ourselves as being somehow more enlightened than the rest of the schmoes in other countries, but the truth remains, we’re all hopelessly flawed and until we cop to that, we’re going to screw up a lot more lives.

Pride indeed, goes before a big-ass fall. I believe Jesus quoted that in the New Testament.

What would you change about the education system?

The serious answer is that I’d dump more money into hiring teachers who actually give a good feck about the students, get the beaurocrats out of it who only think they know what’s going on, and stop cowtowing to parents with serious control issues. See? This is a great example of being too politic for any effective use. Parents should be held more accountable than they are for their children’s lack of deplorable education. Schools should not have to be teaching sex education. That is, and always has been, the responsibility of the streets. Or, to save the budget, we could combine driver’s ed and sex ed into one class, and just hire hookers to teach from the back seats of the cars. I can’t see there being many complaints from the kids.

What crafts do you do?

I was a Front End Supervisor at a DC Michaels, so really honed my interest there, playing in the aisles during my breaks. That’s where I taught myself jewellery design. I specialise in wire-wrapping and polymer clay, but also incorporate unusual items into my jewellery designs like used CDRs and common junk. My desire sort of came from my mum, even though I was a child prodigy in both music as well as fine art. I’ve just been hard-wired to be creative, and I can pretty much do anything I wish. And if I can’t, give me an hour and I’ll go and read up on it and then be able to teach it. Srsly. I’m a freak that way. I used to love the NBC show The Pretender, because I could always identify with his freakish ability to simply decide to do something and then be able to do it with a high-degree of technical skill, enough to fool everybody.

That's what I am...a huge fraud.

I draw and paint, do scrapbooking, card-making, taught myself floral design, decorated my own wedding cake from a magazine (I’d never even picked up an icing bag before that), they gave me the nickname The Adhesive Queen while at Michaels, I use glitter on everything and have even tricked out my Chuck Taylors, I’ve done digital design work for many years (I design book covers, do web-design and other graphics work and AM available for hire), I have a real eye for colour, and really, if you know your colour wheel, you can pretty much cross-pollinate into a variety of craft areas.

You were homeless, right? Could you explain?

This one’s still painful for me, and SO much frakkin’ crap has happened to me, truly--it’s the stuff nothing short of epic movies that last five-hours and need dinner breaks and frequent rub-downs. But, I’ll try and keep it short. And not cry. Very raw, still.

On Dec. 1, 1990 at 8:00 AM, I collapsed on the way to German class with chest pains. Was in hospital four-days, but after many tests they couldn’t tell me what was wrong. Fast forward to 1991, I’m now living in Nashville and attending Belmont University on a Trumpet scholarship. Again, my chest muscles seized up and I was having trouble breathing, and as a trumpet player for all but ten-years of my life, that was devastating. I couldn’t put enough PSI through my horn anymore. After a trip to my internist in 1993 and many more tests, she threw a pamphlet in my face and said, “You have Systemic Lupus.” She referred me to a rheumatologist who told me I also had Fibromyalgia with costochondritis and would never play my horn again. After ten+ years of research on my own, I discovered the two go hand-in-hand a lot. And the bad part is that both Lupus and Fibromyalgia are chronic pain illnesses. Oh, joy.

On November 4, 2008, I lost my job at Michaels due to my illnesses. I was able to finish a second job as a seasonal floral designer, but on December 16, 2008 that one also ended. I’d also had my disability turned down once already and awaiting the decision from that appeal (which finally came in January of 2010 with a final denial). With my being four-months behind already on the rent and the rental guy not willing to work with me, my three cats and I officially moved into my Volvo on January 9, 2009. A friend let me stay on her sofa for the next three-weeks, but during that first week, I lost my 13-year-old brown tabby who was my heart. The change proved to be too much for her little system. And I still blame myself for Isabella's loss. I was so poor when she died, I couldn't even pay her vet bill and pick up her ashes. I still cry major painful tears over that one.

In February of '09, I found a temporary lease situation from Craigslist and I couldn’t have been happier. However, I was still having difficulties locating a job and paying my rent. I finally got my unemployment, but it wasn’t enough to take care of my new rent. Add to that two 20-year-old children for landlords, convinced they had the world figured out, the girl whom of which absolutely hated me for having an IQ at least 40-points higher than her own. (I’ve been a MENSA member for many years.) Trouble with her began and one day when she tried to let my cats outside for spite and I walked over to the door to close it so they wouldn’t escape (they had six of their own, so I’m not sure what crawled up her arse), she told her mum on her cell phone that I had just assaulted her. The cops were called and I was arrested and jailed for two days before I could get through to my dad so he could contact someone here to bail me out. And to add insult to injury, she filed a restraining order against me, which automatically evicted me, which again, left me homeless. (I’ve never shared this with anyone other than those who went through it with me, so this is very difficult for me to write right now.) My cats had been left in their home for two days without food and I was convinced they would be dead. I was a mess, because they are all I have. My ex and his wife bailed me out on the second night and allowed me to spend the night I got home on their sofa, and the next morning we contacted the local police to find out how to retrieve my cats, my car and my things, since, according to the terms of the restraining order I wasn’t even allowed to call and set up a time to pick up my things--that would be considered indirect contact and it would’ve landed me back in jail. Jail. Damn, I still have a hard time with that. I was raised a very moral person, taking care to always follow the rules, and to think I had a record is still something from a nightmare.

But, anyway. The cops tried to retrieve my medication and my cats but no one was home and they couldn’t break in. They were able to finally get through and ordered them to not touch anything of mine. Did they listen? Hell, no. My ex was able to retrieve my car the next morning and that’s when we found out my cats were no longer there. I was crazed. So as soon as I got back my car, I called the local shelter on a hunch, thinking maybe she’d taken them there. She had, against the orders of the officer that had spoken to her. I remember driving at 100-miles-an-hour to get to the shelter. Literally. I drove so fast I ended up tearing off the left headlight of my car--it had been loose. And I’m so glad to say that while they were scared, Playdoh and Honeybump were glad to see me and I couldn’t stop hugging and kissing them for two straight days. Or crying.

So, I was again living in my car. Until my pastor told me about a boarding house situation. I was there for the next year on a government grant, until the grant got illegally pulled and several of us were evicted. I was to move out on May 9, 2010, and exactly one week before that, my Volvo was repossessed because I was one day late with the payment. That time I landed on my ex’s couch for a week until I attempted suicide. I couldn’t handle anymore, and I’d been assaulted on a blind date. I was at. the. end. After being released, I lived out of an extended-stay hotel for the next month or two (thanks to my unemployment and benevolent friends--I now owe more money to friends than I ever did to the mob), until a friend told me that one of his friends in a very affluent neighbourhood wanted to rent an extra room in her home. I moved in here July 1, 2010 and have been here ever since. With my cats. In one room that’s bigger than my original apartment ever was.

However, thanks to my unemployment running out in the middle of February, my time is again limited. As of today, I have one-weeks’ worth of rent left and then it will be me on the streets, having to put down my cats. Years ago after being in college the first time, my federal loans were discharged due to my disability. Except for one. Here we are, so many years later, and I’ve just learned that the final loan is about to be discharged, thus enabling me to return to college in June. It’s about the only way I’m going to be able to get back on my feet since they offer services for disabled students. And btw, they turned down my disability a final time last January, so even that avenue is out. So, if I can just find some way to hang on until June, then I will finally be on the road to getting my life back.

Y’know, close friends keep telling me that only good can come of this hot mess I call my life and that I should write about it. I don’t know if that will happen, though. It took me three-weeks of putting this interview off until I was finally able to deal with the reality I’m now sharing with y'all now.

What are your favorite movies?

Comedies, natch, and anything where the stories centre around realistic space travel or airplanes; anything scientific that isn’t fantasy. My uncle Keith (RIP) was on the team of original aerospace designers that created the Space Shuttle. His brother-in-law and sister were both Chemical Engineers. His brother was head mechanic for San Francisci Int’l Airport and now his son is retired from the same position. My dad’s cousin in Frederick, MD is a private pilot also (he calls he and I a couple of fixed wing nuts) who is retired from both the government and private sector as air traffic controller. My dad had a dream of flying rotary wing aircraft. So my absolute favourites are Space Cowboys, Pushing Tin, Armageddon, and The Day After Tomorrow come to mind. I also adore Enigma--one of the most original movies I’ve seen in quite a while. I also love Harry Potter and anything period like Jane Austen.

What are your plans for the future?

To hopefully have one.

To become an Emmy-winning and gorgeous comedy writer for television, stand-up and land on the NYT best-seller list for fiction; to complete study so I can get my Commercial Pilot’s License and complete my double doctorate in both Applied Mathematics as well as Theoretical (possibly Astro) Physics. I already have the topic of my physics thesis and would like to teach Theoretical or AstroPhysics in a University. I’ve been fascinated with the topic of Cosmology and that’s thanks to my dad. Growing up on a farm we used to sit outdoors in the lawn chairs during hot summer nights and simply stare at the stars, discussing God, where we came from, where we're going and how we can catch a beam at the speed of light to get there. I want to prove that a benevolent God and the laws of Physics are no longer mutually exclusive.

I also hope to land on my feet, meet my future husband (as soon as he divorces his current wife) and move into a real home again with my two whiny, codependent and self-absorbed cats, who drop acid behind my back and treat me as if I’m the hired help.

You say you’ve been an actor. Have we seen you in anything?

Yes. My work has been seen on The Discovery Channel with Sir Ben Kingsley as well as a sitcom on NBC in the late 90s for a few years, not to mention being the first-call comedic actress for video work here in Nashville. I’ve performed comedy at The Kennedy Centre in DC, as well as stand-up clubs here in the mid-south and DC as well. I studied improv with Second City in Chicago and love writing/performing comedy.

Frustrations about writing?

The business, period. Just because you have a well-crafted and original story doesn’t mean that’s what the market will bear. If you go the traditional publishing route, then you must get your book through the gate keepers, and that’s tough. Even if everything is right about your manuscript, it may not be what’s currently selling and the gatekeepers represent business, not art. I've learned that it doesn't matter how good your story is, unless they think they can sell it, they'll take a pass on it.

And if you go the Kindle Direct Publishing route, again, you are selling your book to potential readers, and if the hot topic is cats and your smoking-hot manuscript is about culottes, then no one will be interested. And all I can add on a personal note to that, is thank GOD that vampires are now falling out-of-fashion.

So, like anything else, it boils down to a big numbers game. As in acting, only 10% is about talent, and the other 90% is about tenacity. It’s a business not meant for the faint of heart.

And requires lots of self-medication.

Where have you been published?

My first publication was for a now-defunct writing web-site and was my short-story called Zen In The Art of Absurdity in 2002. Then in 2004 I published a flash fiction of 500 words entitled, Bitch that was published in the Small Bites Horror Anthology. Rob Walker and Joe Konrath (I was Joe's first web-designer) also had stories published there. In fact, it was due to Rob that I found out about the Anthology. I was Rob’s web-designer (thanks to Joe's recommendation) at the time and he mentioned he was submitting a story. He’d been helping me with edits on a story of mine about a UK serial killer called Blood Alley and said, “Why don’t you submit something?” Bitch, my story about a female werewolf was born. Wrote it in an hour and took six to edit and make it perfect. An hour after sending it off, it was accepted. And it’s never been that easy again. :D Then I didn't submit for many years while being married, mainly because I'd convinced myself I had no talent for writing, and have begun submitting again recently. In September, HerNashville was interested in a comedic essay of mine called Freaks and Geeks, in January I published a historical fiction short-story called Secrets with the prestigious Copperfield Review, and in April will publish my second comic essay about living in my car entitled, Pardon Me Miss, But Are Those Your Knickers In The Sink? for Dark Comedy Hour Journal.

Draven, you’re an absolute sweetheart and a doll for making me drag up all this repressed pain. I’ll be sending you my psychotherapy bill.


Carla is one of the unheard voices out there. Before you read past this interview, think of what you would want from someone else, if you were walked on, chewed up and spit out by life. She is a warrior striving to live in a world that is upside down to her. We have all felt at our lowest before.

Thank you for helping lift her spirits. Now, you can find more about Carla here:

Her Official Web-site:

Her Official blog:

Her Amazon Author Page:

Where you can purchase her jewellery designs:

Become a 'Twit' and tweet with her:

And here is her official mugshot:


May Torres said...

Wow! Carla I wish you all the best. You certainly deserve to have all your dreams come true. Your life story will stay with me for a long time to come.

JohnGMarino said...

Kudos to Carla for having the strength to persevere through all of what life has thrown at her. I wish her all the success she deserves.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Outstanding interview! My eyes welled up as I read about Carla's plight, especially the part regarding the restraining order and worrying about whether her cats were okay. Carla is a trooper in every sense of the word and I'm sure great things will come to her!

Poetic Justice said...

Brilliant interview. I had tears in my eyes also. An inspiring story for sure. I wish you all the best Carla :) Nice work Draven :)

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Carla René said...

I'm posting this comment to those who took the time to comment on this interview when it was posted. Hopefully, they've got their e-mail comments option enabled so they can see this update.

It meant so very much to me that y'all took the time to read this, and then to offer your encouragement. Which is why I want to offer an update on my life.

Shortly after I posted this interview, a group of internet friends from Facebook completely rallied. I sent a nice letter to those who I knew were writers or artists, and simply told them the truth of my situation--that I'd been accepted to University and needed work, that I'd be happy to do whatever they needed if they wanted to retain my services.

Two minutes after sending off that very humble letter, the first friend responded with a reply, stating he'd just sent $100 to my PayPal account and that I owed him absolutely nothing in return. Then minutes later, the next $100 from another friend came.

And when I got up the next morning, the help was still coming. When all was said and done, I had been given $825--more than enough to get me through the next two months.

In the meantime in working with financial aid, I learned thanks to my grades in college before that I would be getting $5,000 for the summer. This did not include my $160 disability waiver tuition and my books. The rest was my money, free and clear. I nearly collapsed with gratitude.

So, on June 3 I moved in to Tech Village, on-campus apartments here at Tennessee Tech University. I got all my things out of storage and went with my U-Haul that very day with a friend who came down with me, and purchased a brand new bed, linens and a houseful of food and things I've done without for years, including a brand new laptop.

With my CATS! They are SO happy to be back in a real home again, and even though it's been three months, I still can't seem to stop crying from joy when I see them happily stretched along my new sofa, or playing with their little pop-up cubes in the living room, pretending they're being chased by criminals.

I completed my first Calculus classes from both summer terms with Bs, and am now full-time in the fall semester.

Three weeks after moving in I was involved in a serious car accident, in which I broke my nose, had a skull fracture and three broken ribs. But the great news is I've now filed a law suit, and next year at this time, I will have more than enough money to take care of me for a very long time. God took a bad situation and turned it into something wonderful.

So once again, I've wanted to share this good news with you for quite a while, and just decided tonight was the night. Thanks again for all your support and encouragement. I'm grateful that something out of my difficult and horrible life has touched and even helped some.

Blessings to you all.

~~Carla, Honeybump and Playdoh