Monday, April 15, 2013

IT'S A NEW DAY IN THE MADHOUSE

PATIENT: DAVID DAY
ILLNESS: WRITER

   When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write in?

Like most authors, I started writing at a young age. One of my earliest stories was an assignment in third or fourth grade. We had to write something like 5-10 pages, one sentence per page with an illustration, and then we bound them by hand. I wrote about a warrior who had to battle demons, avoid traps, travel through dark caverns, and reach the top of a mountain. Or something like that.

I'd like to say I've been an avid writer all my life, but that's not exactly true. I've been an avid reader, but when it comes to writing, I've had something of a rocky relationship. 

I wrote stories on and off until the end of my freshman year of college, when I transferred universities and switched my major from Mathematics to Creative Writing. During my college years, I leaned heavily toward poetry. I joke now that I didn't have the attention span to write anything longer than a few lines, but there may be some truth to it.

Anyhow, I told you so much about that early story as a way to answer the second part. While we can pick genres to work in, I think partly we're drawn to them. Very early on, I had a fascination with the fantastical, and that interest has been a part of me all my life.

   Where you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

My ideas come from a combination of observation, imagination, and a healthy dose of "What if." Part of my personality is to be the quiet observer, and I've always been a dreamer. Nearly every report card during grade school came home with the comment, "does not use time wisely." I realize now I was using my time wisely, because dreaming is healthy, but I wasn't using my time the way my teachers expected.

My mom used to say (and still does occasionally) that I was just content in the playground of my own mind. I spend a lot of time being introspective and pensive, exploring and relating memories and dreams. I don't really see the ideas as coming from somewhere. Our ideas are already inside us, remnants from Yeats' Spiritus Mundi or snippets from the Akashic Records. I just spend a lot of time sifting through them. I get sparks from the outside world--religious texts, classical mythology, other stories, movies, good conversations, the list is endless--but the actual ideas themselves come from internalizing, contemplating, sifting, sifting, sifting...

I've tried journaling and blogging. Fact is, I'd much rather just make things up. Journaling feels too much like homework, and blogging feels like shouting at the wind. That's not to say I don't capture stuff, I just don't focus my efforts on blogs or journals. I used to keep a couple of notebooks and stacks of index cards in strategic places around the house, but in recent years I've made liberal use of some electronic tools, namely Evernote and Remember the Milk, as a dumping ground for ideas. So I gather on the fly and organize later.

Personally, I just don't buy into the idea that every writer must have a blog. If a writer has the time, energy, and enthusiasm for a blog, hey, that's great. There are a lot of writers who make blogging work for them (Stephanie, for instance). As for me, I have to be very economical with my time and energy. I have a tubmlr account I loosely refer to as my blog, but when I set it up, I gave myself permission to post only when I felt like it.

   What’s a normal (writing) day like for you?

I get up early--somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 in the morning. First thing I do? I go to Facebook (gasp!) and post birthday wishes to anyone I care about who has a birthday that day.

My first drafts are always the stories I want to tell. But fiction is a serious, challenging form of communication and for communication to work there has to be an audience. Wishing people happy birthday in the morning reminds me that a first draft is never enough. I have to put in the extra effort to refine the work, craft it carefully as if it were a present.

The rest of my time varies. Until last week, I had been splitting my mornings between drafting short stories and minutia related to the release of TEARSTONE. A few months ago, I finished a first draft of my next project, and now that TEARSTONE is out, I've turned my attention towards revisions. My mornings are: Happy Birthdays, type up one or two chapters of revision from the previous day, revise one or two chapters by hand (yes, on paper), nap, shower, breakfast with family, then on to the day job.

I'm also focused on developing my short story skills in 2013, so between novel revisions, I'll take a week or two to work on short stories. I also recently volunteered to slush read for a magazine (intentionally not saying which one). They're closed for submissions right now, but once they reopen I'll read a story or two from their submissions each morning as well.

   Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

My all-time favorite book is Kurt Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan. It's rife with Vonnegut's unique sense of humor and appeals to my perspective on organized religion.

Wait. Actually, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End might be my favorite. Then again, maybe it's Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Phfft. This question always frustrates me. I hate trying to pick one piece of fiction, holding it up, and saying, "This is it! Best. Book. Ever." I can't do it. But King, Vonnegut, and Clarke--and specifically the works I mentioned--are always somewhere at or near the top.

Here are a few books I'm reading or have read lately:

* A History of Secret Societies by Arkon Daraul

* Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

* Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

* Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

* Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi

* Far Dark Fields by Gary A. Braunbeck

* The Croning by Laird Baron

* The Men Upstairs by Tim Waggoner 

   Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

I usually write in silence, but sometimes I'll play a little music to pump some extra energy into the work. My favorite band is Nine Inch Nails--even the mellow stuff seethes with a raw power, like a quiet breeze just before a raging storm. That energy comes in handy when writing scenes that draw heavily on my emotions.

   Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?

I wear glasses with a fairly mild prescription. I can see without them, even drive if necessary, but the world becomes a bit fuzzy. When my internal critic starts making too much noise and I lack the strength to mentally choke out the little shit, I'll take my glasses off. I can see well enough to type (I suppose because I touch type), but I have to strain to actually read the words on the monitor, and I definitely can't tell if I've misspelled something (no squiggly lines, I turn spell check off for first drafts). My critic falls silent, as if I've plucked the eyes from his head and stuffed them in his mouth. I'm always amazed at how well this works.

 

 
   Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pancer?
On the surface, I'm a pancer. However, I believe that we're all plotters. The real difference is in how we plot. I don't see how a writer can finish a work without having noodled out the plot. Some people plot using outlines, some use index cards, and some use the first draft.
I'm working hard to put plotting first. I mentioned before my need to be economical with my time, and I've come to realize that plotting by first draft is highly inefficient. Somewhere about half way through the first draft of my current project, I forced myself out of the word processor and into an iPad program called Index Card. I plotted out the rest of the work in a program that forced me to think only about plot and made it impossible for me to wander across pages, spilling out words behind me like transmission fluid. I finished the plot, then went back and drafted the actual pages. I cut my time in half roughly. For my next project, I plan to use Storyist, which is a more elaborate plotting / writing tool, and I plan to test out a rigorous timeline. Ultimately, I'd like to be able to produce a first draft of a reasonable size (say 100K words) in three months.

 
   What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Here is a quote by T.S. Eliot I keep at the back of my mind:

"When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost - and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl."

This is the hardest part of the craft: finding and adhering to a strict framework.

I tend to ramble when I write, and for the longest time I struggled with creating tight prose. And this tendency is true of me on a larger scale. I'll go back to that ever-present comment on my grade-school report cards about not using time wisely. My mind wanders easily, ideas swirl, converge, break, and reform in my head, sometimes so much so I have trouble focusing on a conversation or an activity. 

I am sprawl.

Over the past five or so years, I've worked at becoming mindful of my tendency to sprawl. In my day job, my responsibilities have steadily increased, and I reached a point where there was no hope of ever getting things done just by randomly tackling tasks. So I studied personal productivity, experimented with different ways of organizing the things I needed or wanted to do, and wrestled with understanding my life priorities.

Writers are creative creatures. There's a wonderful book by master choreographer Twyla Tharp called The Creative Habit. She makes a great case for creativity happening not through random sparks or epiphanies, but through careful planning and preparation (among other things). This is the framework I'm talking about. Our lives, when left to chance, produce random results. The same holds true for writing, or any creative endeavor. I'm learning to approach my writing with a structural framework to tax my imagination. Learning to plot is part of that framework, as are setting aside a regular time to write and setting specific goals for those designated writing times.

This takes a lot of the "sexy" out of writing, but it's necessary. We hear this advice time after time from successful people across creative fields. Make a schedule and stick to it. Plan your work. Set goals and measure your progress. I think creative types tend to buck these notions for fear the structure will squash their creativity the same way a droning, repetitive, soul-sucking job would. But we have to come to terms with the need for structure.

Repetition and structure do not suck the soul out of us. Repetition and structure provide the discipline that helps us excel in our craft. Our souls dry and wither when there's no meaning in what we're doing, not because we approach the act of creation methodically.

   Current projects?

I mentioned earlier that I'm starting revisions on a novel. It's called THE GALVANIZED MAN. It's still a bit of a mystery to me, but here's what I can tell you so far. The story centers on a young woman who lives in a near-future society damaged and altered by the failed invasion from a strange race of angelic beings. Her father's dying, she's broke from medical bills, and her abusive ex-boyfriend shows up after doing a stint in prison. She's forced to take on a quest by a man who promises to save her father. She and her companions must travel deep into the desert in search of a missing part of a mysterious machine. She becomes a pawn in a war between two cults to control reality. What she finds when she reaches her destination changes her, and her world, forever. 

In the next few months, I plan to start plotting out a sequel to TEARSTONE. During edits and revisions with my publisher, and a great conversation with my mom (an ordained minister) about Leonid Andreyev's wonderful short story "Lazarus," I discovered a minor factual error in TEARSTONE. Fixing the error in no way changed the novel, but it clarified the larger story arc I'd been mulling over. I know now there are at least two more books in this story, possibly four. I know the arcs of the two biggest characters. I know how it all ends. I have my framework.

   How do you balance being an editor and being a writer? (Or double jobs, being a mom/dad, etc.- apply to your situation)

I like to say I have two jobs: writing, and my day job. My wife says I have four jobs: father, husband, writing, and my day job.

She's right, of course. 

I hate to sound like a broken record, but balance comes from planning. I know how many hours my day job requires (gotta eat), and how much time I have left for my other three jobs. And sleep. Yeah, I should do that too.

It's like this:

1. I work eight or so hours a day. I have no choice right now.

2. I sleep roughly five hours a night. Used to be more but I experimented with sleep, measured my quality of sleep, and got it down to about five. Some nights it's four, some nights it's six, but that's okay. Gotta give the body what it needs and roll with it, baby.

3. I get up before the rest of my family and write for two or three hours. I get this in before the chaotic carnival of life can drain my energy.

4. Last, but most importantly, I spend time with my wife and kids. Sometimes it's just with the wife (rare); sometimes it's just with one or both boys. Sometimes we have planned activities (zoo, skate park, vacation, snipe hunting), and sometimes we wing it. But whatever we do, it's family time. 

That's how we make it work. Writing may be a solitary act (and boy is it), but I don't believe for an instant that most writers live a life of solitude. We make it work because my writing isn't just a part of my life; it's a part of who I am as a father and husband, as a person.

That's my answer, but I'm going to wander off here a moment to share. Logan (my oldest son) is in first grade, and part of what he's learning at school is storytelling. It absolutely thrills me. His teacher is great about sending daily emails on what they did in class, and I talk to him (as much as he'll let me) about the importance of stories and storytelling. My wife sent his teacher an email to let her know I'm a writer and asking if she'd like to have me come speak to the class. Logan's teacher was very excited, to say the least. She said Logan's talked a lot about how his dad is a writer and that she'd love to have me come and talk about her class and maybe even read a little from my book if I could find something appropriate. (TEARSTONE has absolutely nothing appropriate to read to a first grade class, so I'll be reading one of Logan's favorite stories.) My point is a writer makes multiple jobs work in part through the support and excitement of the other people in their lives. Our families, our communities, and our fans all contribute to helping us balance our lives.

   What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out? 

My career is too young to say what people expect from me specifically. I suppose in broad terms they expect creepy and disturbing mixed with touching and sorrowful. I will do the gross out or bloody when it fits, but I don't rely them.

   Advice for aspiring writers?

A well-worn aphorism chanted by writers is to write what you know. I think that statement is incomplete. Too often, I've seen it interpreted as meaning a writer should only write about things they've experienced personally. Let me modify and clarify: 

Write what you know in your heart.

Fiction isn't about facts; it's about the human condition. It's about the emotions we all feel regardless of if they're rational. Be they romance, western, mystery, bizarro, horror, science fiction, fantasy, inspirational, and on and on and on... the stories we connect to best are those that reflect what we feel to be true regardless of what we know as fact. Suspension of disbelief comes from listening to that soft-spoken voice inside, the one that says satyrs and the Graeae are real, that magic really happens, and that for one brief moment whether the world is round, flat, square, or otherwise no longer matters.

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Bio: David L. Day grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and spent many childhood summers camping in Hocking Hills, a place full of wonder and mystery, fertile soil for a dark imagination. He’s always had a deep interest in writing, scribbling poetry in notebook margins from a very early age. Having lived in a couple of different places, Day now resides in the Columbus area with his wife Denna, their two sons, their two suspicious cats, and their loyal dog, Zoe. He’s a 2011 graduate of Seton Hill University’s Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction program. TEARSTONE is his first novel.

 
Website: http://www.davidlday.com



ANNOUNCEMENTS:

TEARSTONE, my debut occult horror novel, published by Belfire Press.

* Publisher: http://belfirepress.com/main/our-titles/tearstone/


I'm actively looking for reviewers. Connect with me via my website (http://www.davidlday.com/social.html) to request a reviewer's copy.