- Guest Author -
Today I feature another Australian author - Dean Mayes. Born in country Victoria, Australia, Dean grew up with an early love of words - a trait a little out of step for most children of his age. His creative streak was inspired by his third grade teacher, Mrs. Furnell, who challenged him in his creative writing exercises which he initially "sucked at". After producing a surprisingly poignant piece about a soldier's experience of war (based on his grand father), Dean received his first writing award - a Purple Dragon sticker.
Welcome, Dean ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
Hi Clancy – thank you for inviting me to speak at your blog. My journey to publication came about in a rather unconventional way. Though it had long been a dream to be a published author, in early 2008, I had virtually given up on the idea of ever being published. However, I had this story that I really wanted to tell. So I started a blog and began posting the beginnings of a story, chapter by chapter, week by week. It was an unconventional love story, involving past lives and starting over. Quite unexpectedly, I garnered a following that would tune into my blog each week to follow this ever evolving story. I received some really encouraging feedback, some suggestions for the story but mainly it was resounding demands to “give us more, give us more”. I was surprised by the reaction but it drove me to keep going. One day, out of the blue, I received an email from the creative director at Central Avenue Publishing in Vancouver, Canada – a woman named Michelle Halket. She told me she really liked what I was doing and suggested I should consider taking this story “really” seriously. After looking into credentials and realising that she was herself “really serious”, I stopped posting the story to my blog – much to the anger of my fan base – and worked furiously to complete a manuscript. At the end of 2009, I submitted the completed manuscript to Central Avenue Publishing and within a week, I was offered a contract. My first novel, “The Hambledown Dream” was published in March 2010.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
It's definitely the creative process – the building of a story from the ground up, the creation and refinement of characters, the exploration of those characters through their respective arcs. I am driven by character based stories that require problem solving throughout the entire process in order to bring a convincing drama to life. I often say that I allow my characters to propel the story forward and I don't lock them into a predefined trajectory. Some of the best discoveries I've made, from a story telling point of view, are the ones that have come through my characters. For example, I often do have an idea of where I want them to go, but in the course of writing them, I'll discover a alternative path for them that I might not have considered before. This was especially true for my current novel “Gifts of the Peramangk” where several of the character arcs developed a lot differently to how I expected during the planning phase.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
It is most definitely the marketing. Over the past three years, I have pounded the pavement, knocked on doors, talked to so many people, dialled so many numbers, written so many letters, sent so many emails. And I think that about 10% of what I've done has yielded positive results. Still, I continue to explore as many opportunities as I can because I believe in what I'm doing and I have a small group of people around me who believe in what I'm doing as well.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I wouldn't call it a past life as such but in my other life, I am an Intensive Care Nurse specialising in Paediatrics and Neonatal Medicine. I have been a Nurse for around 18 years and continue to practise while juggling my career as a writer. I am a passionate Nurse and have specialised in those areas of practise to become an experienced clinician. It's something I'm particularly proud of.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
I would say that the publication of “Gifts of the Peramangk” - my second and latest novel – ranks as my most significant achievement, because it was a novel that not many people thought I could pull off. The novel follows the journey of an Aboriginal woman who is taken from her family during the height of the White Australia Policy in 1950's Australia and the effects this has on her life then and now - in the modern day. I am not an Aboriginal Australian and I had only a general understanding of the issues that I eventually explored in the novel when I began. But, through intensive and diligent research into the White Australia Policy and the resultant Stolen Generations, I learned much about the Aboriginal experience throughout the 20th century which I was then able to supplant into the story that I created. The novel represents my quest to understand that experience.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I'm focused on marketing “Gifts of the Peramangk” presently which is almost a full time job itself. I have just finished work on a piece that I am contributing to an anthology of Australian authors called “Great Southern Land – Tales Of Australia”. This anthology is slated for an August release and it's a project that I'm really excited about. There is some amazing talent that will be showcased in this anthology and I am hoping that the anthology will garner an audience, particularly internationally. I am also in the planning stages of a new novel which carries the working title of “The Recipient”. It is described as a murder mystery with a difference – that's all I'm willing to divulge at this stage.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Quiet human endeavour. There are people out there who toil away, every day performing service for others, engaging in their passions and achieving things that rarely receive notice. For instance, I recently interviewed an old friend of mine who I knew as a kid. He was a high achiever at school, academically gifted and successful in his chosen career in engineering. Well, he recently released his first memoir that recounts his battle with schizophrenia. I never even knew he had it but he battled it for several years before overcoming it and he has now returned to productive work, is married and has a child. I thought his story was courageous and something that outshines many other, more “mainstream” achievements. Similarly, I interviewed a young woman recently, who I have nursed with who revealed that she has a severe allergy disorder that prevents her from enjoying many of the foods we take for granted. Rather than retreat and avoid the danger foods, she is exploring foods and recipes in the hope of developing a book for people in her situation, where many foods can potentially be lethal. Again, I am inspired by her will to prevail in light of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I have to admit, I am an experimenter with genres. My first novel, “The Hambledown Dream” is a romance novel that crosses the paranormal line a little with it's exploration of reincarnation. “Gifts of the Peramangk” is a much more literary novel in the style of, say, Tim Winton or Peter Temple. Recently, I released a short story in digital format called “The Regenesis Cluster” which I describe as hard science fiction. In all of them though, these stories are driven by well formed characters who I have developed patiently and with a lot of details. I try not to be governed by a particular genre because I enjoy experimenting so much.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Though I describe myself as a pantster, I do value the importance of planning and developing ideas more and more. Don't be afraid to brainstorm ideas in the quest to write your story. I think that writers tend to rush into story writing without giving their ideas and plans the right amount of time to germinate and they, inevitably run into trouble. I've encountered this myself so I can confidently speak from experience. Don't preference quality over quantity.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Oh god yes! It's the perennial bug bare of writers and I get it bad. I'm getting better at overcoming it though and it goes back to that notion of planning and brainstorming. When I get stuck, I'll stop, go away from it and write something else. Often I'll write about how I'm feeling at that very moment – describing my writer's block and how I got to that point. It's kind of like a problem solving exercise involving the story itself. And it really does help to get me back on track.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I am a Nurse working night shift, a husband and father of two children under the age of ten. I have no hopes of a productive schedule (laughs here). More and more though, I'm finding that Monday's and Tuesday's are my writing days where I can get a lot done. And you'd be surprised how much I can get done in the middle of the night when the patients are asleep.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Not specifically. I do a lot of my writing on a tablet so I'm quite portable. I like quiet spaces, outdoors away from people where I can breathe and think clearly. I don't like to be cooped up indoors.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
I am actually. Or, more specifically, I'm influenced by people in my life. For “The Hambledown Dream” the central character of Sonya Llewellyn was based in part on my paternal grandmother. My Nana was happily married to my Pa for 48 years and when he died from cancer back in 1993, I remember Nana being very serene and very stoic in the aftermath of his death. She held it together for so long, refusing to grieve for the longest time, however her facade cracked about a year later and she went to pieces. It ended up being the best thing she could have done because it marked a release from this grief that she had held onto for so long. I found that to be a compelling thing and it was something I brought to the character of Sonya in a very real and satisfying way.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I'm represented by Michelle Halket from CAP Marketing and published by Central Avenue Publishing so my manuscripts are handled by their editors in house. It's a very collaborative process and is not hampered by the fact that I'm here in Australia and they are in Vancouver. During the editing process, we conference regularly and discuss the project in great depth. The most satisfying thing about it is that I retain final say on all of the edits so I am confident that my vision will be preserved. I'll add that we've never had any conflicts in the editing process and it's turned out to be the best part of the entire journey. Editing is actually one of my favourite parts of the process.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To continue to write, to market myself and my books and hopefully, grow my audience. Undoubtedly here are greater opportunities for independent authors in this new age of internet marketing but with that, there is greater competition for the attention of readers. Searching for a way to “cut through” is a never ending endeavour. Having said that, the most important thing, for me, is to continue to love what I do. If I don't enjoy the journey, then there is no point in pursuing it. Thankfully, I have a fertile imagination that I am keen to explore.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
It does – I think it's more a case that the entire book industry frustrates me. I recounted earlier my frustrations in marketing myself to book stores and readers more generally and how I have found the process discouraging in many ways. It's particularly disheartening when I walk into a book store and they are still relying on big titles such as the Twilight series or Fifty Shades that occupy big swathes of floor space in their store. Or they are pushing the latest AFL football star memoir or 'One Direction' autobiography. Don't get me wrong, the stores I do have my books in have been really supportive and the relationships I have formed with them have been good – but where I have fallen short are in stores who purport to support Australian literature and writers but take a small target approach with what they think will sell easily. I'll end up being offered space for a couple of copies of my books – at best and it's usually way up the back, away from view.
I have to say also that the dominance of Amazon concerns me as well in the way they structure their options for authors. I have never been a fan of KDP Select and I don't think that it allows for a level playing field. By encouraging authors to have free days and encouraging them to discount routinely, it distorts the market by way of the ranking system – which is something I've never been able to work out. I've also never been a fan of the 99cent price point for digital titles. When I think of the amount of effort I have poured into my own work, the many sleepless nights, the research I have acquitted myself to – you mean to tell me that I should price my work like a dime store novel just to get some sales???
Amazon has undoubtedly altered the entire books industry and it has allowed a platform for authors to get their work out there into the market where they perhaps otherwise wouldn't have had that opportunity. But Amazon has created distortions in the market that make it increasingly difficult for authors to compete fairly and I think that is bad for the industry going forward.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
“Gifts of the Peramangk” was perhaps my most favourite to write because, again, it was a project that many said I couldn't pull off. The dual story line of an Aboriginal child in 1950's Australia, named Virginia Crammond, who discovers the gift of the violin in the most unlikely of circumstances and how the legacy of that gift impacts her granddaughter Ruby Delfey in modern day Australia has all the ingredients of a powerful drama but I knew I had to take care to portray their story with the respect of their Aboriginal culture and the accuracy of the real life historical counterweights – the White Australia Policy and the Stolen Generations – in order for it to be a success. I gave everything to “Gifts of the Peramangk” and it has paid off in the feedback I have received. The reviews for the novel have, thus far, been really encouraging.
My official website is at http://www.deanfromaustralia.com
The Goodreads page for “Gifts of the Peramangk” is at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15830010-gifts-of-the-peramangk
The YouTube trailer for “Gifts of the Peramangk” is at http://youtu.be/alQjye6HTLY
The Goodreads page for “The Hambledown Dream” is at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8573409-the-hambledown-dream
My Facebook Page is at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dean-Mayes-The-Hambledown-Dreamer/263088081779