Dana Carpenter was in third grade when she discovered her talent for storytelling. While waiting for the school bus, she excitedly told stories to classmates and watched as their facial expressions reflected the emotions she was narrating.
“I’d always come in with a fresh story, and it was always exhilarating to watch their faces react to being scared, sad or happy,” Carpenter said about her early experiences writing.
Carpenter continued writing all the way through her high school years, but “chickened out” after arriving to college. Her unfamiliarity with writers on campus led her to dive into academics and put creative writing to the side. It wasn’t until she was working on her PhD at the University of Mississippi that she rediscovered her passion for writing.
“My father who was a crop-duster was killed in a plane accident on Father’s Day weekend,” Carpenter said.
After returning to school after the horrific accident, she spent her days working on her dissertation in the school library. With the difficult experience still on her mind, she found herself drawn to the library’s old records and census data.
“I immersed myself in the genealogy of my dad’s family” Carpenter said.
When she was growing up, Carpenter noted that her father would always tell her “write my story for me someday.”
She found herself doing just that, researching during 15-minute study breaks that turned into 4-hour long dives into her family history. The microfilms and census data revitalized her Dad’s stories.
“I felt him there, and it was like he was giving me my dream back.”
Once Carpenter began teaching American Literature at Lipscomb, she was introduced to students seeking to start a literary arts journal on campus.
“Over the course of the three years while we were working on the journal, I was writing again and working on my craft,” Carpenter said. She began publishing short stories and developing her skills again.
The idea for her first book “Bohemian Gospel” came to her on the car ride home for Thanksgiving. As she watched the landscape roll by, she began seeing this battle scene in her head.
“It was like a panned-out film shot, and I zoomed in on this young woman looking out over the battlefield. Her face was full of anguish and determination, and I was instantly hooked,” Carpenter said. She then then began exploring the world she had imagined.
Carpenter said she wanted to get to know the girl in her vision and find out exactly what made her so angry. She grabbed a napkin off of the car floorboard and began jotting down what she was seeing.
“When I’m approaching a character, I always imagine it as if I’m meeting someone for the first time.” Carpenter spent the next few months just getting to know Mouse, her main character, who turned out to be guarded and full of secrets.
While watching a documentary on medieval manuscripts, Carpenter became intrigued with a book known as “The Devil’s Bible.”
“It’s (“The Devil’s Bible”) this huge mystery. No one knows who wrote it, and all these creepy things continuously happen around it.” After watching the documentary, it occurred to Carpenter that Mouse was the mystery author. The plot began to come together.
Once released, “Bohemian Gospel” received rave reviews and won the 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Award.
“Watching people fall in love with Mouse the way that I love her, and the success that the trilogy has garnered from people far and wide has built my confidence,” Carpenter said.
The trilogy’s final installment “Book of the Just” was released October 2.
To young aspiring writers, Carpenter advised them to stick with it and not quit.
“Define yourself as a writer, think of yourself as a writer, make the time for your writing and make that time important.”