Author of the Month
David agreed to answer a few questions I had for him. Here is what he had to say:
David: The first thing of mine that I saw in print was an essay I wrote for my sophomore English class in high school. Mrs. Maxwell, my English teacher, was sponsor for the school paper and she surprised me by publishing it. I had always been a voracious reader, but never considered that I could write for publication until the moment I saw my first byline. From then on, I was hooked.
The following year, I found out I had a talent for writing verse. I could even mimic the major poets with new lines, sometimes humorous ones. Not long afterwards, I started sending light verse to Mad Magazine at a time when they bought little freelance material. Nick Meglin, one of the founding editors, liked my stuff and bought some of it. I wrote very little for them, but parts of my work ended up in two Mad anthologies through the years -- Mad Looks at the Ten Commandments, and The Vintage Mad.
I sold a lot of light verse through the years, then switched to short fiction – mostly science fiction – when I was in my late twenties. I wasn't a great commercial success, but I learned to write well because of the volume I was turning out. Most of the editors were very supportive. I have a huge box of s-f stories stashed away somewhere.
In my early thirties, I tried my hand at a novel, which didn't sell, but taught me a lot about structure and characterization. Also, in my thirties, I became a police officer, a sheriff’s deputy, and did everything from corrections officer to detective. During that period, I wrote about three novels – because I thought it was a novelist’s world and that a novel was the mark of an “artiste.”
Seven years into my police career, I took my first two-week vacation and did my first nonfiction book called The Moon Is Always Full. It was about daily life as a street cop. Some say I sort of invented a genre, the first-person short police essay. By the time it was published, I had written another. Before I was finished, I wrote five collections, that came to a little over 250,000 words. After my second nonfiction book, I told my publisher that I had to know if I could really write novels or not. The first one published was The Jigsaw Man, based on a real case in my county. Through the years, I published five more novels, a collection of short fiction and two coming of age memoirs.
After my first book was published, I was asked by the editor of the Knoxville Journal, a Gannet paper to do a weekly column. The Journal died, but the other daily, the Knoxville News Sentinel, a Scripps Howard paper, picked me up and I've written on the editorial page for 22 years as an Op-Ed columnist. Between my books, the newspaper column and magazine work, I passed my first million published words several years ago.
This brings us up-to-date. Last year, Oconee Spirit Press asked me for a book for their new press, and the editor, Deborah Adams said she would prefer a nonfiction book. I had a few pieces on absurdities that hadn't been published before and I sent them to OSP with the pitch for a book dedicated to nothing but absurdity. She liked it and so did I. In fact, I am now working on Absurdity Redux: If Your Name’s In the News, You Gotta Have a Title.
Bev: I notice that your fiction is mystery/suspense with a cop protagonist. Are most of these stories based on real cases, or on your own experiences as a police officer?
David: Some characters are based on real people from real cases, but mostly I blend my experience with having been a cop with ideas that can come from anywhere. One morning the Knoxville News Sentinel had a story about someone breaking into the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft in Gatlinburg, TN. I thought, “What if it were a museum of werewolves and someone stole a werewolf kit?” That morning A Whiff of Garlic was born. It was about people being killed with silver bullets.
Bev: Tell us about developing your characters and plots.
David: I start, usually with a vague idea of the finished plot. Sometimes I'm in the last chapter before I know how it will end. Characters are built a little a time, based on circumstance. Characterization, to me, is one of the most important aspects of a novel. The reader should learn, quickly, any outstanding characteristics, physical and emotional. They should also see his home, vehicle, favorite foods and likes and dislikes. If the character doesn't have something with which the reader can empathize, it won't work. I once had a novel turned down by an editor who like the plot, loved the premise and the action, but could not find a single character he liked. I read it again, and the editor was right.
Bev: What is your working day like? Do you maintain certain
David: I try to work in the morning when I'm fresh, but sometimes I end up approaching deadline. Coming through is the difference between an amateur and a professional. Stephen King once said something along these lines: “I don't have a muse, but if I had one, he would look like Jack Webb in the “Drill Instructor” He'd come in the morning and say, “Get your ass out of bed. If you don't work, you don't get paid.” Writing is hard work and there are no shortcuts.
I have several projects going at any given time. If an editor asks for something specific that I'm working on, that becomes the first priority. Fiction is harder for me than nonfiction, because in nonfiction I do my research or just remember. Writing a novel is like juggling knives while riding a unicycle – you have to maintain a fictional universe and keep it separate from the real world.
Bev: While many of your essays are humorous, they all seem to point out how crazy this world of our is. What is your fan mail like? Do you ever have time to answer any fan mail?
David: Looking at the absurdity of the universe keeps me sane. Almost anything can be funny when viewed from the right perspective. A chapter of my first published book had a humorous-ironic chapter called Man With Half a Face about a man who attempted suicide with a shotgun and failed.
I do answer fan mail, but these days it’s limited to the electronic variety because of time constraints. The mail ranges from intelligent and informative to people who see little men crawling from the air vents. The Archangel Michael has been keeping up with me for years since I wrote a book called The Archangel Caper. I know who he is because friends of mine have arrested him when he’s off his meds.
Bev: Are you currently working on another book? Fiction or nonfiction....can you tell us anything about it?
David: Several, fiction and nonfiction, including a s-f novel called An Oyster Bar on Purgatory and a nonfiction book called The Street People of Saint Demetrios.
Bev: Are there any plans to make your earlier works available as e-books? I have a Kindle and love it....didn't think I would. How do you see the future of electronic reading?
David: This book came out in e-format and paperback and there’s been talk from previous publishers that didn't pan out.
E-books, for the first time last week sold more copies of Amazon than hard copies. I'm thinking about buying a Kindle, but I haven't yet. Until our electronic network falls apart, e-publishing will continue to grow.
Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?
David: In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell makes a good case that practice produces the best in any field, from The Beatles to hockey players to computer geeks. He calls it Ten Thousand Hours of Practice.
I agree. A writer writes, When he or she stops writing, the title doesn't
fit any more. You can be an author all your life with one book, but
a writer writes for the same reason a spider spins webs – an overwhelming
Bev: David, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, and your fans, here at MyShelf.com. I'm looking forward to catching up on your work that I haven't read yet.
Read Bev's Review of From Here to Absurdity
Read Beth's Review of Tempest at the Sunsphere
None at this time....
2011's Honorary List