Episode 35

Carla Damron Explores How Fiction can Make a Difference

In today’s episode, writer and social worker Carla Damron explores how her two careers are intertwined. Damron worked as a clinical social worker and mental health agency administrator for thirty+ years. She worked with numerous clients experiencing serious mental illness and found she learned more from them than she’d ever learned in a textbook. After retiring from the mental health organization, Damron directed an advocacy organization where she learned more than she ever wanted to know about the prevalence and impact of human trafficking. Both legs of her career (mental health and advocacy) have informed her writing. In her mysteries, suspense, and women’s fiction, Damron tackles social issues like mental illness, homelessness, and human trafficking—with the goal of entertaining her readers while expanding their awareness of these important issues.

Damron’s most recent novel, The Orchid Tattoo, has garnered several awards, but what has been more satisfying is the impact it’s had on readers, who reach out to her asking what they can do to combat human trafficking. Damron donates a large portion of her royalties to an organization that supports the recovery of trafficking survivors.

You can learn more about her work at www.carladamron.com and purchase her latest book here: https://bookshop.org/a/


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Kathleen Basi 0:00

Welcome to Author Express. Thanks for checking us out. This is the podcast for you give us 15 minutes of your time and we give you a chance to hear the voice behind the pages and get to know some of your favorite writers in a new light. I'm one of your hosts, Kathleen Basi. I'm an award winning musical composer, a feature writer, essayist, and of course storyteller. Let me tell you a little bit about today's guest.

Kathleen Basi 0:24

l, The Orchid Tattoo, won the:

Carla Damron 1:23

Thank you for having me. It's nice to be here.

Kathleen Basi 1:25

We have to ask about your poorly behaved shelter animals. How many do you have?

Carla Damron 1:29

hound dog that we fostered in:

Kathleen Basi 1:44

Wow. Well, maybe the animals is the answer to the next question. But let me ask you it any way, tell me the most interesting thing about where you're from.

Carla Damron 1:52

The most interesting thing about where I'm from, I'm originally from Sumter, South Carolina, which is, I live in Columbia, South Carolina now. Probably the most interesting thing about Sumter is just that it's, there's a big military base there. A big air force base. So, I was raised with a bunch of military kids, a bunch of Air Force kids. So, people asked me about my accent. And I don't have a typical Sumter accent because of that, because I was around all of these kids from all over. So, yeah.

Kathleen Basi 2:20

Ah, yeah. That's interesting. That's cool. Now, is this related to Fort Sumter?

Carla Damron 2:25

No, Fort Sumter's on the coast of Charleston. This is Shaw Air Force Base.

Kathleen Basi 2:30

Okay. Okay, gotcha.

Carla Damron 2:32

The other interesting thing is my mother was a theater director, a little theater director. So, I was pretty much literally raised in the theater, which is definitely a formal writing. I was put on stage when I was seven.

Kathleen Basi 2:45


Carla Damron 2:46

and did, yeah, I did everything. I was, I will work lights, I was a stage manager. I was in chorus, I was an actress, whenever I needed to be.

Kathleen Basi 2:54

Oh, how cool. That does sound like fun. I did not have that opportunity growing up. And I would really have liked to have been more involved in theater. It's still on my bucket list to do a musical theater production. I've done lots of pit orchestra, but not much in onstage itself. So,

Carla Damron 3:14

I could see you really loving it. I think you would really enjoy it. It's such an interesting community of people. Very artistic, very free flowing. You know, you're just accepted for who you are. It was a great environment.

Kathleen Basi 3:27

Yeah, I have a kid who's done a lot of theater. And he's really enjoyed it. Some really good kids. Some really good friends have come out of that. That's great. So, tell me what is something about you that other people would find hard to believe? I flagged this question for you because I thought, Oh, this will be a fun one to ask Carla.

Carla Damron 3:43

I have two things to say. One is, I was a singing extra in the TV mini series, North and South back in the 80s.

Kathleen Basi 3:55

Really? I watched that.

Carla Damron 3:57

I wore a hoop skirt.

Kathleen Basi 4:00

That is really cool.

Carla Damron 4:02

That was really interesting. It showed me a lot about what that life is like and how hard it is. I mean, those actors, they work so hard. And you have to do the same thing over and over and over again. I really felt for just, you know, what we see on screen is so different than what happens when they're filming. That was, it was really kind of fascinating. And the other interesting thing is that my brother is a mime in Sweden.

Kathleen Basi 4:30

Really? That's very interesting. Tell us more about that.

Carla Damron 4:35

Well, you know, I told you I grew up in a theater family and he really got interested in mime and he majored in mime and he majored in theater in college, and then wound up going to mime school in France. You know, like you do at a rotary scholarship. And he met his wife, Godetia, who was from Sweden, and after they graduated, they started their own little mime company in Sweden. Sweden is very supportive of the arts unlike other countries that I know. But anyway, so they've been doing that for 30 years or so, almost 30 years. And they have their own mime company, their own theater, they tour shows

Kathleen Basi 5:11

that is really interesting. Have you been over there to see them?

Carla Damron 5:14

I have. It's beautiful over there.

Kathleen Basi 5:17


Carla Damron 5:17

It's so different.

Kathleen Basi 5:19

Yeah, it is a different world. I have a cousin who lives in Northern Europe, and it's a very different world, that's for sure.

Carla Damron 5:25


Kathleen Basi 5:26

Okay. Well, let's focus in on your book, The Ochid Tattoo. I want you to tell us where this book is set and what's important about that setting.

Carla Damron 5:34

So, it's set here in South Carolina. It could be set anywhere because the book is about human trafficking. And sadly, human trafficking happens everywhere. I wish I could say it didn't, but it does. But I set it here because I really, one, this is the area that I know, and I know how things work down here. And also, we have, were a little bit of a hub for human trafficking here in the Midlands, so, it felt an appropriate thing. Plus, I like to play on the heat. You know, I said it in the summer in South Carolina. So, that ups the discomfort level of the characters just being in that heat. So, they're like, they're in a hot situation in terms of the crime, but it's physically hot, as well. So, I thought that was important. I mean, summer heat in South Carolina is like a character of its own. I mean, it's just has, it really informs everything.

Kathleen Basi 6:26

Yeah, I'm sure it does. I mean, having been in Florida last summer, it really is the only thing that you can think about staying hydrated, how much you sweat. It's, it's really quite something. So,

Carla Damron 6:40

yeah. So, like, why bother doing, why bother fixing your hair when you go out?

Kathleen Basi 6:43

Yes. I have curly hair, I totally resemble that. I got my hair cut yesterday, and I went outside today. And it was just frizz everywhere. So, I totally sympathize with that. So, all of your books are around social issues. Where did you come up with the idea? What was it about this issue that was so important to you to get out in front of people?

Carla Damron 7:05

I tend to write what fascinates me or haunts me. And this is something, human trafficking is something that haunted me. I'm a clinical social worker. That's my background. And I was working for the National Association of Social Workers doing advocacy. And we were working on legislation to get harsher, stricter, anti human trafficking laws passed. I didn't know a lot about trafficking at the time. But working on that advocacy role, I met survivors of trafficking, law enforcement people, the legal system people, advocates that were pulled, that are a part of this world and heard story after story after story of things that happened right here around me. And they really haunted me. And it was like, I felt like, we don't understand how prevalent this crime is and how awful it is. And I felt like, this is something that I can write about. One, it's therapeutic for me to write about things that disturbed me. But two, I wanted to use fiction as a vehicle to educate other people about just how this crime is manifested all around us.

Kathleen Basi 7:05

Well, I think that for a lot of us, we just don't even want to think about it. And so, you just don't. Like, I, I know nothing about human trafficking. So, yeah, it's definitely something that fits in with your background and your work. It's a great thing.

Carla Damron 7:50

Yeah. And I mean, none of us wants to know about it, because it's so horrific. But I think the more educated we are, we can all play a part in ending it, you know, and preventing it as much as possible. This is $150 billion crime. This crime makes three times more every year than Coca-Cola makes.

Kathleen Basi 8:52


Carla Damron 8:53

That was a new data for anyone. So, I mean, we can't keep looking, we have to stop looking away. We have to, we have to combat it. Let's face it head on.

Kathleen Basi 9:01

Yeah. Well, thank you for tackling the hard subject.

Carla Damron 9:05

Thank you.

Kathleen Basi 9:06

So, tell us what's one thing you wish you knew sooner about the process of getting published? You've been through this a few times now.

Carla Damron 9:13

Yeah, I think all writers come to understand that being a writer is really being three different people. The first person is the writer, the creator. And that is, in a lot of ways, the fun part, you know, letting your imagination just grow, letting your imagination tells this, let the story emerge. You know, being the artist, creating this work, that's the first person that you have to be. And the second person you have to be is the editor. And the editor needs to have a much harsher eye when they're looking at the writing. Editor can't be as in love with the writing as the creator is. You have to quit all of that romance that we have with it when we're first doing it. But then the third thing and this is what I really didn't understand early on is the business person.

Kathleen Basi:

Yeah, that's the hard part.

Carla Damron:

Because once it's done and ready for submission, you are a business person. You are submitting, you're getting rejected. You're submitting again, you're fine tuning, you're working your relationships, you're playing on social media to get your brand out. All of that. Being those three people is a complicated life. And we're not all good at being all three of them. You know, I'm definitely, I definitely prefer to be the creator than the business person. But I know I have to learn this stuff.

Kathleen Basi:


Carla Damron:

I can't just say, Oh, I don't want to do it.

Kathleen Basi:


Carla Damron:

I wish I would, but I don't get to say that.

Kathleen Basi:

Right. Yeah, that's something that we all have to deal with. That's for sure. So, let's start to wrap up here. Where is the best place for people to find you and your lovely books online?

Carla Damron:

Yeah, I'm easy to find. Carladamron.com is my website. And I'm available on bookshop.org and Amazon. And of course, you can go to your local, especially, your Indie bookstores and ask for it. That's always a great thing to do. And then, you know, I'm on Facebook, and TikTok, and Instagram and all of those wonderful things. And I love, love, communicating with readers. I love it when they reach out to me. And then we can have a dialogue about how things are going and what they've learned about the book or whatever questions they have. I just find that fascinating.

Kathleen Basi:

Yeah, that's almost as good as the writing process, I think.

Carla Damron:

It is, you know, you feel like you have a relationship with these people that you may have never met or would never really encounter in another way. It's, it's really kind of magical, I think.

Kathleen Basi:

Yeah. All right. Very good. So, in closing, let's ask you, what book or story inspires you the most?

Carla Damron:

What book or story inspires me the most? Oh, God, there's so many.

Kathleen Basi:

Yeah. Good luck with that one.

Carla Damron:

Yeah, thank you. I'll say, I've been really wrapped up in the Louise Penny books, Armand Gamache books. I've been reading that series through the pandemic. She got me through the pandemic, because I love how she's got a story arc that goes across 20 volumes, 20 different books. That's just amazing to me. And then the other person that I always recommend is the writer Elizabeth Strout, just for narrative, beautiful flow and use of language. She has taught me as much as any degree I ever had, just from reading her stuff.

Kathleen Basi:

Very cool. All right. Well, thank you for those recommendations. And thank you so much for being on Author Express with us today.

Carla Damron:

It was lovely talking to you. Thank you very much.

Kathleen Basi:

Thanks for joining us today. We hope you'll take a second to give us some stars or a review on your favorite podcasting platform. We'll be back next Wednesday. And in the meantime, follow us on Instagram, @AuthorExpresspodcast, to see who's coming up next. Don't forget, keep it express, but keep it interesting.

About the Podcast

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About your host

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Shawna Rodrigues

Shawna Rodrigues, Founder and Director of Impact at Authentic Connections Podcast Network, Host of The Grit Show (https://podcast.thegritshow.com) and Author Express (https://bit.ly/AuthorExpressPod) and coming in 2024- Authenticity Amplified. Shawna is a Podcast Mentor, Internationally Best-Selling Author (www.shawnarodrigues.com) and consultant.
Find her on Instagram @ShawnaPodcasts.