Archive for Friday, April 27, 1990


April 27, 1990


Some people think the teen-age characters in Alden Carter's books should have their mouths washed out with soap, but the author includes profanity in his writing because he wants to tell it like it is.

Carter also chose to tell it like it is on Thursday when he talked to some Lawrence High School students about the ups and downs of being a professional writer. His visit with LHS students and faculty this week is part of the school's annual writer-in-residence program.

This isn't Carter's first visit to this area: He graduated from Kansas University in 1969 with a degree in English and humanities. Carter has since written four novels, all of which have been named to the American Library Assn.'s annual list of best books for young adults.

Much of Carter's familiarity with the situations teen-agers face came from his four-year stint as a high school teacher in Marshfield, Wis.

CARTER QUIT that job in 1980 to pursue his dream of being a full-time writer, but he found that the profession required a lot of patience: It was 2 years before he earned his first dollar for his efforts.

"I had enough rejection slips to wallpaper half my office," he said.

"I found out very quickly that I knew very little about writing on a professional level."

Carter said many aspiring writers don't realize how much rewriting one must do to come up with a polished piece. Ernest Hemingway claimed to have rewritten "The Old Man and the Sea" 100 times, he said. Carter isn't quite that rigorous, but he says he usually rewrites his works between 20 and 25 times.

"One of the most important tools for the writer to learn how to use is the wastebasket," he said.

For similar reasons, Carter said it was not wise for writers to surround themselves with "yes" men, or "yes" women, for that matter.

"MY WIFE IS a lousy critic. She likes everything I do," he said. "My best friend is a good enough friend to tell me when my work is garbage.

"I like a tough editor. I like an editor who cares. The editor gives my book an objective reading. After I've worked on a story for months and months, I tend to lose perspective."

Carter said many people ask him how he overcomes the first and perhaps most difficult step of writing coming up with story ideas. Carter suggested that writers simply look at the world around them.

"I'm firmly convinced that a good writer is a good observer," he said. "I'm the kind of person who stops at car accidents, and I'll help out if I can. But the human condition is my stock and trade, and I miss no opportunity to add to my stock and trade."

CARTER SAID one thing he observed as a high school teacher was that some of his students' language was pretty harsh. Hence, he doesn't hesitate to throw a little profanity into his books.

"I take some heat for that, but I see my responsibility as presenting teen-age reality as truthfully as I can," he said.

Amy Stephens, LHS senior, said she'd read two of Carter's novels and found them to portray pretty accurately the world of teen-agers.

"And the issues he deals with are incredibly good," she said.

Stephens said she particularly liked "Sheila's Dying," the story of a teen-age boy who must cope with the incurable illness of his girlfriend.

Carter also has written several non-fiction books on such topics as electronics, supercomputers and the American Revolution, and his book on radio was named as an Outstanding Science Book for Children by the National Science Teachers Assn.

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