Interview with Carole Waterhouse: ‘The initial inspiration for my characters always comes from real people’

A creative writing professor at California University of Pennsylvania, Carole Waterhouse is the author of two novels, The Tapestry Baby and Without Wings, and a collection of short stories, The Paradise Ranch.

Her fiction has appeared in Arnazella, Artful Dodge, Baybury Review, Ceilidh, Eureka Literary Magazine, Forum, Half Tones to Jubilee, Massachusetts Review, Minnetonka Review, Oracle: The Brewton-Parker College Review, Parting Gifts, Pointed Circle, Potpourri, Seems, Spout, The Armchair Aesthete, The Griffin, The Styles, Tucumari Literary Review, Turnrow, and X-Connect.

A previous newspaper reporter, she has published essays in an anthology, Horse Crazy: Women and the Horses They Love, and Equus Spirit Magazine. Her book reviews have appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Press, and The New York Times Book Review.

Her latest novel is The Tapestry Baby, a novel depicting a mother who believes her child is born to fulfill some special destiny and discovers her life is intertwined with six other people, raising the question of whether any of us really control our own decisions, and through the process learns that greatness can be defined in the simplest of gestures.

You can visit Carole’s website at


Q: Thank you for this interview, Carole. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Tapestry Baby, is all about?


The story focuses on Karin, a woman who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with a mysterious tattooed man and becomes convinced she will give birth to a child whose skin is a colorful tapestry of color.  When her child, Anna, is born normal in appearance, Karin still believes she is predestined to achieve some form of greatness.  When she begins questioning her ability to raise Anna in a way that will enable her to reach her full potential, she considers giving her to a childless couple who are relatives and live at the opposite end of the state. Karin engages in a trip across Pennsylvania with her writer friend, Vonnie, waiting for a sign telling her what to do.  The novel focuses on the unexpected ways her decision is intertwined with seven other people and explores how even our most crucial decisions are not always entirely our own, that our lives are connected with other people in ways we never fully understand.


Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?


After having lost a previous child to SIDS and having three unsuccessful marriages, Karin is full of self-doubt and searching for a way to believe in herself.  Vonnie, her writer friend, appears to be her complete opposite.  Living what most would consider to be a near perfect life, she longs for turmoil, finding that the peacefulness of her own existence leaves her little to write about. Reggie, the tattoo-covered man, is searching for a woman he can’t destroy, and becomes involved with Daria, a photographer who wants to feel emotion with the same level of intensity she can show it in her work.  Daria is in a relationship with Ward, a cross-dresser who is equally exquisite as either a man or a woman, and who is beginning to understand that there may be more to life than the expression of his own beauty. Their lives are remotely connected to Ned, a music teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown who finds that his images of make-believe women are deteriorating as notes break on his piano.  Mrs. Brown, a school librarian with a sordid past, masquerades in her own dowdiness and ends up touching all of their lives in her quiet, invisible way.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?


The initial inspiration for my characters almost always comes from real people, but usually in the form of composites. I love taking details suggested by one person and mixing them with characteristics of another and then letting my imagination take off from there.  I have a tremendous respect for people’s privacy and am very careful to do this subtly, so that people who know me never recognize real individuals.  One of my favorite characters is a woman I created who was a composite of personality traits taken from my father and one of my horses, a mare I owned who was especially quirky.


Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?


I always have an idea for the beginning and a clear ending that I work towards.  My ending, however, almost always ends up changing as the characters begin taking over the story. By the time I reach my new ending, so much has changed that my beginning usually doesn’t work, so I usually go back and begin rewriting everything from the start. The best way of describing my writing process is to say that I do it in layers, each round of revisions an opportunity for the characters to define themselves more clearly.


Q: Your book is set in the fictional town of Four Gayles,  Pennsylvania.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?


The small town of Four Gayles is entirely fictional.  I created the name because it can have multiple meanings, an idea I actually explore briefly in the novel. Different interpretations of the same events are an essential part of the book’s theme and I wanted a name for the location that could also have different meanings. I used Pennsylvania for a setting because that’s where I live and it’s the area I know best.


Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?


This is a story focused more on character than place and addresses universal themes, such as a mother’s fear of not being able to raise her child to her fullest potential, the way we betray people even when we try to love them correctly, and how even when we try our hardest to live our lives in the best possible way, we still end up doing it all wrong. The Tapestry Baby could take place anywhere at anytime.


Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?


Karin is relating a frantic morning of waking up late and trying to quickly feed and dress Anna to get her ready for a doctor’s appointment. Karin is rushing and everything is going wrong.  When she tries to give Anna a bath, she becomes distracted and comes close to placing her in a tub of steaming water.  Her horror of what could have happened and the way it reminds her of her previous child’s death makes this a pivotal scene in the book. This is the moment she truly questions her ability to be a good mother and  begins to believe Anna may be better off without her.


Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?


Ned, the music teacher, conjures up images of ideal woman as he plays his piano, especially a woman named Dorothy with whom he is secretly in love.  As the keys on his piano begin breaking, his image of Dorothy begins to deteriorate:


He played one note and then another, his hands filling up the keys. Dorothy was there for a moment, even offered a smile, as though she saw what had been happening over these last few weeks.

He played on, each note he skipped adding a new wrinkle to

her skin, converting the satiny threads of her fine dress into a skirt

and sweater made of over-washed wool. A cracked button dislodged

itself from her blouse. Another quickly followed. Then the

whole image seemed to droop, the heels of her shoes, flats now,

became run over, the stockings sagged.

And there she was, the transformation complete. He hit the

last note hard, two thuds of a D-minor chord and the image stood

before him, its lines more solid, more clearly defined than anything

he had created before. He looked into her gray washed-out

eyes, gazed at her thin, colorless lips. There was nothing wisp-like

about her, just a general brown haze that seemed to cover her

from head to toe. His heart beat out the sound yes, yes, yes, its

steady rhythm tapping away any other feelings that had been

there before, erasing that other image entirely from his soul.

And then he recognized her, the new love of his life. His heart

was beating in pangs for the dowdiest of librarians, Mrs. Brown.



Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Carole.  We wish you much success!


Thank you for taking the time to interview me.  I’d just like to add that more information about me and my book is available at my website, and my book blog







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