D. A. Blankinship

Meet Blankinship

The Interviews

Wallpaper Quotations
Short Stories & Poetry
Barred Owl Publishing
phontaine's gifts scoloderus conspiracy woodcliff anthology jewel's unexpected friends

The Interviews

Woodcliff Anthology
2010 Writer's Cadre
The Scoloderus Conspiracy
The Cool Book of the Day

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these interviews are the sole responsibility of D. A. Blankinship. They do not reflect the policies or practices of TenParInc.com.

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The LibraryThing Interview

What is the most memorable interview question you have ever been asked or wanted to have asked of you, and how did you answer it?

This honor goes to Ellen M. George (a Top-500 Reviewer at Amazon). Ms. George had read and reviewed The Scoloderus Conspiracy and in November 2008, she conducted an interview with me for Author’s Den. Ms. George asked me, "Would you like the book (The Scoloderus Conspiracy) made into a movie or mini-series?"

My answer: No. Books are profoundly personal experiences. A well-written story invites the reader to co-construct the experience with the author. When I tell my readers about a man or a woman, I intentionally use very few details. That character becomes an image, a voice, and a personality from that reader’s life experience. The reader and I co-create the characters; we co-design the rooms, the landscapes, and even the food that will be served at a meal. If I do it right, the reader will have vivid recollections of the story that I didn’t write. A reader once told me she started to tell a story from the book as if it was something that had happened to a friend; but she stopped herself when she remembered it wasn’t real. I was so flattered. “Scoloderus” is a different experience for each person who reads it because the drama is also his or her drama. Another reader called my home one evening and said she couldn’t sleep until she knew if some of the characters were going to be all right. I want people to be engrossed in my stories and that can only happen with reading. Reading nurtures our imagination and opens possibilities for us to explore. Reading engages us in asking questions; movies present the answers.

Why was it memorable?

This question reached deeply into my most fundamental values. I cherish reading; it is one of life’s most profound experiences. I remember reading the Hardy Boys at night with a flashlight, I remember staying awake until 3:00 AM with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (before the movie), Grisham’s A Time to Kill, and The Client are astounding works. When I started Tolkien’s The Hobbit, I had a recliner, a light over my shoulder, and I do not remember if I ate or drank during the entire weekend. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings three times. Well-written books are transporters that whisk me away, sometimes into an oblivion that can be disorienting in an exhilarating way. Movies never do that; I never completely suspend disbelieve when watching a movie. Just ask yourself, could you sit through a movie for ten hours? How easy is it to read for ten hours and then wonder how the time could have passed so quickly.

How emotionally involved in the story do you get when you're writing it?

I have two modes of writing stories.

When I write short stories (e.g., the Woodcliff Anthology), the narrative cascades into my awareness almost faster than I can memorize the sequence. The entire story, from opening sentence to the closing words arrives in my awareness in an instant. Yes, it’s a very strange feeling and usually the emotional power of the story arrives at the same time. When I write short stories, I focus on recalling the story and consequently it is seldom emotional for me until I re-read the story and fully appreciate what I have written. The Woodcliff Anthology is metaphysical on several levels and that is why I tell readers that not everyone will “get it.” It requires a spiritual maturity that some people have not experienced, yet. It you read the first story and it clicks for you, you’ll enjoy the entire book. If the first story doesn’t work, let the book sit on the shelf until you are ready for stories that will usher you in to new perspectives and speak to your soul.

When I write novels (e.g., Phontaine’s Gifts and The Scoloderus Conspiracy), I begin with a central character and build a world of family, close friends, and other people who help to tell the bigger story. I do not outline, I write stream of consciousness working toward the most lifelike events within the peculiar circumstances of the heroes and villains. As the people become entities in my mind and the plot unfolds as I write, I sometimes fear for their safety. I do not know—consciously—what will happen in the next chapter; that is the only way I know how to write so that the reader will not know what will happen next. Writing like that can be oddly stressful and it does become an obsession. On occasion, I have been at the computer for ten or twelve hours writing so I can find out what will happen to the people who have become so real for me. Reviewers have said they have had trouble putting the books down. Believe me, I know that feeling when I can’t stop writing until I get closure on what is happening to these—my friends—in deep trouble.

What do you like about your main characters?

I write speculative fiction and by that, I mean fiction that ventures into possibilities without resorting to advanced technology (i.e., science fiction) or magic (i.e., fantasy). That realm is the most fun for me. I like people and I enjoy exploring the experiences and decisions of realistic people confronting unusual or difficult situations.

In each short story and in each book, I write about people everyone recognizes. My characters are quite ordinary in the sense that everything they do is familiar, and they confront life-changing events with the very same skills any of us have or could develop. My favorite things about my main characters are: gender does not determine ability, no one is a misogynist, no one is sexually exploitive, no one is brutal (though sometimes they are rude or mean), they all struggle with gaps in what they know, no one curses (readers have argued with me that they were sure there were curse words somewhere, the book felt too powerful not to have resorted to cursing). My main characters are normal people in extraordinary circumstances and they solve their problems by thinking their way through, not by incantations or blowing up death stars or discovering they have super-powers. My main characters are the essence of humanity with very few trappings of neuroses or sociopathic behaviors (and yes, I am fully qualified to make that assessment).

What do you hope readers will find fun and/or enjoyable about your work?

When someone tells me that they have read one of my books and that the characters in the book seemed like friends or neighbors, I know they understand the deeper meanings of the story. I want readers to find new ways of seeing our collective experience of living together on a planet we must share and respect. I also want readers to experience my stories at different levels and that is easy to do by re-reading them. Every word I write needs to be there and I never include a word that is not necessary; re-reading is an amazing way to discover the affect of that approach to writing. Several people have read my books twice and some have read them three times. You can read them three times and still make connections that were not there before; knowing the future can make the present even more entertaining.

What did you learn about writing, publishing, and/or yourself while working on this novel?

My latest novel is Phontaine’s Gifts, it is an apocalyptic story of the ruin of North America and how people attempt to survive global cataclysms. I reached an interesting point about half-way into the book. I stopped writing for several months because I felt a profound ambivalence about allowing the story to go where it needed to go. For the past eleven years I have been working to help to reduce extreme poverty in Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa. Millions of people are suffering and dying from the lack of safe water, adequate food, healthcare, and many of the things we take for granted in our lives each day. For years, I have written fiction as a respite from being immersed in the tragedies in Ethiopia. Phontaine’s Gifts is a thinly disguised metaphor for how we are helping people cope with Eastern Africa’s apocalypse. After spending some time in significant reflection on what I was willing to tell the world in a novel, I decided to become transparent in the story. Without spoiling anything, I will tell you developed countries will only survive major devastations by learning and applying the techniques being pioneered right now in Ethiopia. Phontaine’s Gifts integrates my fictional writing with my academic and scholarly writing on the realities of working to help end starvation and disease in Ethiopia. Again, it is a book about realistic people encountering impossible situations and thinking their way through the predicament.

What advice do you have for folks who have a story in them and want to try to write?

This is a great question and from my perspective there are at least three tidbits of information that are helpful. First, read a variety of great authors continuously. This is somewhat like becoming a good chef or mastering a musical instrument. If you learn what great food tastes like or listen to really good music, you will recognize it as you start to achieve it. If you are not an avid reader, do not attempt to become a writer, your situation is no different than someone who is indifferent to music, but aspires to conduct an orchestra.

Second, the Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls wrote the secret to writing is to begin by writing ‘stream of consciousness.’ Start writing everything that enters your mind, if you do this a few times for a few hours you will discover the connection between thoughts and words on a page. This will help you to decide if you really do enjoy writing.

The third piece of advice is from James Michener. Michener said the only difference between writing and great writing is re-writing. He estimated that completing his novel, Hawaii, required more than one million key strokes on his typewriter. Writing words on paper has become much easier since the time Michener composed at an old, black, manual typewriter (yes, I’ve seen it). The typical novel is around 100,000 words and so a first pass will take at least a half-million keyboard strokes. Don’t worry about the keyboard, if you are into what you are writing you will not even notice the keyboard (having worn out two keyboards, I am now on my third replacement keyboard).

To re-cap, you need to read lots, write like you like it, and re-write until it is perfect.