Welcome once again to Thursday’s author interview at the Fiction Reboot! Today we are featuring David Bain, author of numerous books and short stories. I first became familiar with David through his work on Gray Lake, an independently published novel of mystery, crime and supernatural horror. He was kind enough to speak with us today about writing, about inspiration, and about navigating the new (and still largely uncharted) waters of eBook publishing.
Thank you, David, for giving us your insight into the writing life!
David Bain is a community college English professor and a writer with more than 100 traditionaly published stories and poems to his credit in venues as diverse as the academic journal Poems and Plays and Weird Tales magazine. He is also the independent author of the crime/horror novel Gray Lake, the Will Castleton series of psychic detective stories, and several short story collections. He lives in the country with four dogs, four cats, two chinchillas (and several other humans). You can follow David on twitter at @davidbainaa
Teenage friends Brian and Iggy suddenly find themselves living the ghost stories and urban legends they love one night as they watch a car drive across the moonlit surface of GRAY LAKE. At the same moment, in the marshes to the north, the battle for dominance over a troubled gang of small town meth dealers begins. For Iggy, the car’s arrival heralds a downward spiral as he dreams of its sometimes lovely, sometimes ghastly occupants chauffering him into murky depths. Soon the mysteries of the ghost car, coupled with the unstable gang members’ obsessions, will drive them toward fateful choices, hurtling headlong into a violent and deadly showdown on the spectral shores of Gray Lake.
–Available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.
1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Could you say a bit about your early experiences?
I’m definitely with Isaac! I don’t know about death, but I get cranky if I don’t write a little every day. I did well enough with English in high school, but the full-on writing bug didn’t bite me until college. I had a couple creative writing profs who tried to dissuade me from the genre side of things, but I simply never listened to that.Early experiences: I was a big-time Dungeons and Dragons player – I think my earliest serious writing probably involved creating new D&D magic items, characters, adventure modules and the like for my friends, and the reactions were always pretty good. I think gaming is a fantastic introduction to world-building – your campaign has to be consistent for the players; it has to have an interior logic or the players balk and start withholding the chips and beer – or, even worse, don’t show up for the next session.
2. Not unlike many an author, I come from an academic background where writing fiction is a somewhat closeted affair. Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”—that decision to write for publication and give this work the time and energy it so deserves?
I’ve been submitting stories for publication since my late teens. My very first college creative writing teacher emphasized that real poets and writers send their work out. So I did. I can’t think of a time since then that I haven’t been serious about it. I’ve been very, very busy with “real life” from time to time – one semester my goal was to write only 100 words per day; I was working as an assistant in a special ed classroom during the day, teaching college English every night but Friday, and working 32 hours every weekend. But I did manage a couple eventually published stories during that time.
3. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?
I go for 500 words per day minimum, usually more. That’s usually not too tough to squeeze in – though, for instance, we spent yesterday at a zoo three hours away, so that day, while fun, was shot as far as writing’s concerned, so I’ll have to make it up today.As for revision, I’m a big believer in sticking it in a drawer if your deadline allows and revisiting it after a fortnight. I at the very least do a read-through and have beta readers. I know the rule is to cut, but I almost always add during rewrites. I do a lot of revision as I write – I often write a sentence, then fix another two or three sentences back.I do not believe in writer’s block. If I’m stuck, I’ll simply free-write, no attention to form, grammar, spelling, just speed, keep those keys a-clackin’. If I lack an idea, I’ll brainstorm, but that’s rare. Usually I’ll write about what I’m writing about – the scene or story or novel – until a solution occurs; I’ve *never* had that not work. And I save every bit of that freewriting – you never know when some stray idea will come in useful.
4. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of networking and workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism?
I try to ignore criticism, but if you have several people saying the same thing, my ears start perking up. But I also have a thick skin; I trust my gut. I’ve been fairly lucky with reviews and even workshop criticism, but writers need to develop the knack for telling good advice from bad. As they say, “Haters gonna hate.” My own strategy when teaching writing is what worked best from my classes at my alma mater, Columbia College Chicago – I have students orally retell scenes from each other’s stories. This avoids direct “I hated it” criticism and helps students see what stuck with readers and what they glossed over as well as other possible ways to tell or construct their tale.My schedule and wallet tend to resist conferences and conventions, but I’m passionate about networking on social media. I really can’t say how many books I’ve sold thanks to Twitter, but I can say, for instance, that every five-star review on Amazon for my novel GRAY LAKE is unsolicited – and written by someone I now consider a Twitter friend. I respond to all tweets that look sincere; it’s a fun place.Regarding mentors, I can say I’m still in touch with professors from every level of education I’ve had – community college, my B.A. in English, my M.F.A. in creative writing. I sometimes find myself speaking in their voices when I teach. The best mentors teach by example as well as by instruction, I think.
5. You often publish in ebook form. How would you compare this to other kinds of publishing venues? Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? Or upon the need/value of agents?
I spent twenty years or so in the small press before self-publishing my first ebook. And GRAY LAKE is my first and only previously unpublished work I’ve put out there – it was to have been published in the small press, but that fell through, as so often happens there.. While slapping a cover together and tossing your latest story out there amongst the chum floating around in the great sea that is Amazon’s Kindle selection is easy, submitting stories to even the smallest e-zines gets your name out there, builds confidence, teaches you to think of your audience, teaches you to strive for quality. I’d much rather buy an ebook by someone who can claim most of the stories in their collection were previously published – any decent publication will eventually return the rights to you – that’s when you put it into an ebook. That said, for right now, I plan to self-publish at least my Will Castleton psychic detective novels – even though all the original stories came from small press anthologies.Agents: my only experience with them has been shopping GRAY LAKE around to them. Several wanted to see more after the initial summary. To a man, they said, “Good stuff, but no one’s publishing that sort of thing right now.” So I found a publisher on my own, and when that fell through, self-published it to generally favorable response and relatively steady monthly sales – though I’m talking gas money, the Florida mansion will have to wait. The indie thing seems to be working for me, and I love the creative freedom, but I can’t say I’ll never pursue getting an agent again.
6. Your works are so diverse! You write in a few genres—urban fantasy, mystery, crime, etc. Can you tell us about your experience as a cross-genre writer and what it takes to be successful?
First of all, I purposely immerse myself in many genres at once. I’ve never believed any kind of split truly exists between “literature” and “genre” – they all require different strengths and writerly emphases, but I’ve never found one genre to truly “feed my soul” as a writer more than any other. Right now, for instance, I’m reading books by Philip Roth and Rex Miller, nonfiction by Joan Didion and short stories by Joyce Carol Oates (my favorite writer, incidentally. There’s *nothing* that woman can’t do with words!). In the car, I’m listening to a novel by Michael Chabon, interspersed with old time radio horror (“Suspense”, “Lights Out”, “Inner Sanctum”) and mysteries (I’m working my way through all the Bob Bailey episodes of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar”). I do this with music too, by the way – typing this my Windows Media Player (always on random) has jumped from The Misfits to Chuck Mangione to Toby Keith to The Cocteau Twins.Quite simply – I write what I’d want to read. The books no one else is writing, at least not to my satisfaction. There’s no genre that can’t influence another genre.I don’t even know that I’m what many would call successful – that’s such a slippery word, especially in the writing world – but I’m relatively happy doing what I’m doing. To be honest, I think being successful involves not quitting. I can’t count the number of friends who were simply on fire in my creative writing classes throughout my academic experiences who just didn’t stick with it. The mad poet now sells cars, went to a weekend workshop last year hoping to reignite the spark, hasn’t written a line since. The guy who wrote three novels as I agonized over two stories now happily works in the IT department, doesn’t even know where his old manuscripts are, wishes he could find the time to write, though he’d probably watch ESPN instead.
7. Crime and mystery novels never go out of style, in my opinion. But could you tell us how you keep your work fresh and new, cutting edge?
Right now I’m working with a series character, “slightly psychic” detective Will Castleton. There are four short stories and a novella about him already out there, collected in THE CASTLETON FILES. These stories happened organically, written more or less to order for anthologies some time ago. As I reread these stories while getting them ready for the collection, I realized they happen over perhaps two decades of his life – there’s a big arc in his interior world, his love life, his outlook, the cases he’s willing to handle throughout just these five stories. My intent now is to write novels filling in the blanks. Will’s inner and outer conflicts are utterly fascinating to me – that’s what keeps the work feeling fresh and new as far as I’m concerned – and I hope readers will feel the same. It comes down to this: if the characters aren’t interesting, the most twisty-turny, in-depth plot will simply plod. As a reader, I’ll give a book 30 pages – if I’m not enthralled with a character in those pages by that time, I move on.
8. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)
I mentioned Joyce Carol Oates above. Although she’s famously clashed with a number of her critics, she seems to effortlessly transcend any label that’s put on her – she’s a female writer, yes, but writes whole novels from a flawlessly male point of view. She’s a literary writer who is published in Weird Tales and Ellery Queen and any number of genre anthologies and has won the World Fantasy Award. Poetry, nonfiction, plays – no form is beyond her reach. Her output rivals the prolific speed of any pulpster, but she’s won the O’Henry and National Book Awards and often been on the Pulitzer and even Nobel short lists. Her critics can (and do) say what they want about her work, but to me, this lifelong attention to craft, this immersion in and love affair with writing is inspirational.
9. Gray Lake, because of its Gothic feel, has endeared itself to me. Which of your novels do you consider the favorite and why?
I think Gray Lake will always be my favorite. Writing the book exorcised a certain darkness I lived with for a decade or so – call it an attitude, an outlook, fueled by various chemicals, by people I should probably never have hung out with, by feeling sorry for myself, etc. I’m very much a different person these days because of writing Gray Lake. I doubt that’ll happen too often from here on in – though I could be wrong!
10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a good one to keep you on track when you’re feeling down about writing. I read J.A. Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith’s and Jon F. Merz’s blogs for insights on the ebook revolution, but I don’t adhere to them as a religion or anything. I believe in being swept up by whatever you find intriguing, by whatever you find works for you. If an author, forum, etc., clicks in your head, run with it!
Don’t forget, tomorrow is the Friday Fiction Feature! Please let me know if you have suggestions for summer good-reads–I am getting quite a list now!