This weekend I went to see the play The Book of Mormon, which I laughed at repeatedly and occasionally felt bad about for doing so. Going to the performance, I walked past a Starbucks (surprised, right?) and found a gentleman rocking an electronic typewriter. He was writing, of all things, a screenplay, and masterfully zipping to the proper indentions as he pounded out the dialogue of what could be a masterpiece, or madness, or both. It was great to get some writing inspiration in Hollywood of all places. I’ll take it.
Monthly Archives: October 2012
After reading a recent article in Forbes magazine on whether creative careers (journalism, designer, publishing) are now reserved exclusively for the privileged, I can’t help but wonder about creative writers, and the advantages afforded those who have the means to pursue their craft full time.
This is nothing new, of course. Throughout history, many of our well-known artists have had the means and time to help support them in their process of development.
As someone who joined the Army at 17 to pay college, went in massive debt for an MFA and who has always worked 8 -12 hours a day to make ends meet, this is a subject I’ve thought about quite a bit over the years.
First of all, this isn’t about sour grapes. I judge writing and writers only by what I read. I do believe, however, that our American literature and point of view is diminished by the lack of diversity from those with working class means.
Feel free to join in the debate – would love to hear your thoughts.
The Writeliving interview series kicks off its first foray into genre fiction with journalist and internet professional turned mystery author Dmitri Ragano. I had the pleasure a few years ago to read part of a manuscript by Dmitri from a mystery called The Fugitive Grandma, and I’ve been a fan ever since. His first novel Employee of the Year, is a mystery must-read, and he is now releasing his second novel The Voting Machine.
Tell us about the new novel.
It’s a thriller set during an election in Las Vegas. Two political activists are killed as they cast their votes in a critical swing state Senate race. The murder victims are rival campaigners on opposite sides of the liberal – conservative divide. One is a retired school teacher, an ex-hippie who remains active in progressive causes. The other is a rich Tea Party supporter whose son served in Iraq.
Temo McCarthy, the hero of the story, is a volunteer in a voter registration drive and he knows both of the murdered men. The FBI asks Temo to assist their investigation based on his experience canvassing Las Vegas during the election campaign. The killings are then linked to broader threats of a terrorist attack on the general election. Temo has experience with main suspects in the attack: a mysterious Middle Eastern charity, a Mexican drug cartel and anti-government, white-supremacist militia.
What inspired you to write this story?
I love elections. I love politics. Social studies was always my favorite subject in grade school. I worked as a voter registration volunteer in Las Vegas in 2008 and it was an amazing experience. You put yourself out there in front of strangers and try to persuade them to take an action because you believe in the ideas behind democracy. Some people admire what you’re doing and some people hate you for it. One day you’re going door to door in a neighborhood full of rich retirees with Jaguars and BMWs in the driveway. The next day you are block walking with your clipboard in a rough part of town, talking to homeless and ex-felons who can’t vote until they get off probation.
It’s a big, sprawling country and it’s easy for us to become disconnected from the majority of our fellow citizens. We are rarely drawn into civic collaboration or public discussion beyond our own social/professional network. But elections are one of the ways we engage around ideas and common themes in public life. It’s a messy, bitter process but it is fascinating. It shows you all the different things that either motivate people or make them apathetic. It shows you how individuals construct their relationship to other people and society as a whole.
I want to emphasize that while I may have my own personal politics, this book isn’t a polemic. It merely aims to tell a good story that is rooted in real experiences. It’s about the human needs and the contradictory emotions that fuel our participation in politics.
This is your second novel featuring Temo McCarthy. He was also the protagonist the first book, Employee of the Year. Tell us the background behind this character.
The idea for this character was to create a kind of everyman in a modern urban setting. I wanted a hero who was flawed, humble and recognizable… He shouldn’t have exceptional skills or talents like say a Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. Temo isn’t particularly smart or tough and he has no elite training or background. His awareness of his limitations becomes an advantage. He’s spent most of his life as a loser and he goes into most situations expecting things to work against him. And yet he never gives up, just like his historical namesake Cuauhtemoc, who kept on fighting as his whole civilization collapsed in a way that must have been unimaginably horrific. Temo never loses his will to survive and maintain some kind of integrity.
Why did you choose to self-publish your novels?
I’ve been working around the Internet space since 1995, first as a HTML programmer, then in start-ups and more recently as a product manager. I think if you come from that background it’s always your first instinct to try and do something yourself – get it our there in front of an audience and get feedback. That iterative, interactive process is how you are used to working. I wanted to be able to have a book I could share with readers in a relatively short cycle and I knew the process of finding a traditional agent and traditional publisher can take years. At the same time, there’s this massive sea change going on in the book industry with the push towards e-book distribution and marketing so I thought it would be useful to get first-hand experience even if I ended up partnering with a traditional publisher in the future.
Writing can be a lonely pursuit, and I sometimes find myself needing and giving pep talks.
I have a good friend, who has gone through a long spell of not writing, reading or submitting after completing a novel, and he continually gets his hopes up on his submissions. He is also an ex-boxer and martial artist, and I tried to pump him up by reminding him that writing is like any other discipline – you have to do the basics well and often in order to create, refine and publish your writing.
Here are my 3 Basics to Writing and what I strive to do EVERY SINGLE DAY:
OK, I know…this one’s obvious. But I mean actually WRITE when you are tired, pissed about work, sick, or depressed. It doesn’t have to be much, preferrably at least an hour a day.
2. Read (And Think Critically)
Recently, in an interview on NPR, Junot Diaz said that everything he learned about writing he learned from reading. Reading is something we tend to cut back on when our professional, personal and writing lives are too busy. But we also need to remember that we love books and it helps our writing chops.
The second part of this is more complicated, and actually the reason I started this blog. I am now 15 years removed from my graduate writing program, and my writer’s group has turned into a social group over time, and I found I needed to find an outlet to engage with other people about what I love to do most. Some people post about writing on Facebook or Goodreads, and others go to workshops or join book clubs. My approach was to start a blog, and interact with a global community of writers (I have been surprised to find that Writeliving has now been read in more than 50 countries).
3. Submit (And Never Think About a Submission)
My writer friends run the gamut on this one, everywhere from 0 to 10,000 submissions a year. The past year I have simplified the process for myself and every day submit at least one thing. It helps that I write in multiple genres, finish new material often, and almost always have a selection of completed poems, stories, books to pitch.
My advice is to never have expectations for anything you’ve written to be published, and to always be open to what the universe brings from rejection notes, to acceptances.
There are other things you could put on this list, ranging from eating well, to sleeping, to calendaring your time. However, when I feel like I am getting off track, I focus even harder on these 3 basic things, and I repeat it almost like a matra. Write. Read. Submit. Repeat.