Mark Tiedemann interview with David Alan Binder

posted Feb 21, 2016, 7:20 AM by David Alan Binder   [ updated May 16, 2016, 6:31 AM ]

Mark Tiedemann interview with David Alan Binder


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1.     How do you pronounce your name?




2.     Where are you currently living?


St. Louis.


3.     Where would you like to live?




4.     Why did you start writing?


Therein lies a tale. Let’s see.  I recall when I was about four, I very seriously informed my grandmother one day while she was babysitting me that I wasn’t really an earthling but from another planet.  Rather than ridicule me, she played along, and the yarn got bigger and more tangled.  I don’t remember details, but I do remember having an enormous amount of fun.  That probably started what became a lifelong practice of writing new realities to take the place of the one around me, which was generally either dull or painful.


Don’t get me wrong, I actually had a good childhood—in retrospect. Adults seem to forget that.  Later, they remember childhood as some kind of idyll, but for the child it might not be so wonderful.  My parents were very supportive and nurturing, but my peers were pestiferous bullies and self-involved animals, at least in my day to day experience.  Getting out of that was a driving ambition and, lacking any other viable means of doing so, I wrote comics, pretend-acted in my own movies, and made shit up.  The world inside my skull was a lot more interesting than anything going on around me, or so I thought, and it became a goal to figure out how to replace the one with the other.


The best way, it turned out, to do that was to create better stories.


I took a detour through photography for several years before coming back to writing.  I always thought Being A Writer—or, rather, Being An Author—would be a cool thing, but I had no idea how to go about it.  I thought the main component was to actually finish a book.  Since for a long time I couldn’t do that, I never got to any of the other steps.  When I was 21 I finally managed to finish a novel.  Knowing not one thing of what to do next, it went in a drawer.  I wrote four more.  Then I met my partner, Donna, who asked to read them, and then asked the magic question: have you ever tried to get these published?


From that point on it sort of took over my life.  It’s the only thing I ever did that I wanted to do more with every rejection I got.


5.     What is the most important thing you have learned in your writing experience so far?


PATIENCE.  You can be in as big a hurry as you want, but the universe doesn’t care, and impatience can ruin the work.  Second to that, persistence.  The most reliable way to fail is to give up.


6.     What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?


Hmm.  If you mean, quirks in the writing itself, I’m not sure I have one.  Long ago I used to be unable to do a rewrite if I actually finished a story.  I could write a whole new one, but going back in to something that was, in my mind, already finished was like a root canal without anesthetic.  I got over that.  Otherwise, well...I pace.  A lot.  I compose to exclusively instrumental music, either jazz, classical, or electronica. I do first drafts in the morning while still half asleep, I edit later when I’m fully awake. 


7.     Tell us your insights on self-publish vs traditional publishing.


Basically, if you’re serious about having a legacy, don’t self publish.  I’m sure a lot of people will disagree, but tough.  Self publishing is the surest way to put work out that won’t last past its sell-by date.  There are exceptions, obviously, but the reason they are exceptions is that all the rest conforms to the basic reality that publishing is a cooperative endeavor and the writer is not always—often not usually, even remotely—the best one to “finish” his/her own work.  We’re too close to it. 


But worse than that, self-publishing lends itself to what I call Blind Parent Syndrome.  “My child is wonderful, no matter what anyone (or everyone) says.”  You cannot improve if you do not take criticism and advice and self publishing is a perfect way to avoid both.  Frankly, it shows in the final product.  If you are serious about the work, commit yourself to the process and take your lumps along the way.  Self publishing is unfair to the work, ultimately unfair to the reader, and does harm to any reputation you might want to build.


Except for the exceptions.  But you (whoever you may be) are not one of them.


Now, as to those exceptions, here they are: if you have already established yourself as a published author in the traditional way and have a following, self publishing to serve that following works.  Self publishing backlists is a not bad idea, especially if you have an extensive one and an established readership.  If you have written a peculiarly rarefied piece that you know will only appeal to a hundred people and have no other expectations of it developing a wider readership, fine.  If you are a bestselling author and feel your publisher is being somewhat dishonest about royalties and so forth, try self publishing and see what happens.


Everyone else, avoid it if you’re at all serious about the work.


8.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?


There are no secrets, only hard work.  Write, submit, rewrite, resubmit, write more, submit more, write.

How did you acquire an agent?


Dumb luck.


9.     How many books have you written?


I’ve written about 24 (including those first 5 which are completely unpublishable and will never see the light of day) and I have published 12.


10.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become better writers?


There are no tricks.  Give up on the idea that there are tricks.  That makes it sound like some kind of secret society handshake or arcane knowledge passed on to the deserving.  As always, write, submit, rewrite, resubmit, write.  It is work.  Get used to the idea that it just hard work requiring attention to detail.  No single set of practices works universally, but they all have a few things in common.  Observe, listen, read widely—and I mean WIDELY: you can’t write well if you only read one kind of thing—read your work aloud and listen to how it flows.  Critique other work.  Sometimes problems you can’t see in your own work become obvious in others’.  Live, experience, pay attention.  Keep in mind that most aphorisms are basically worthless sound bites wrapped around a core of truth.  For instance, the time-honored one that I hate—Write What You Know.  Really?  I write science fiction, what do I know about aliens from another star system?  If you followed that aphorism to the letter you would hardly have anything to write about, at least not anything anyone else would want to read.  But if you consider it this way–Write What You Know About the Human Heart, All The Rest Is Research—then it becomes useful.


Do not follow trends.  Tell your story with as much honesty as you can muster.  Fiction is the practice of telling factual lies that are true.  Contradiction?  Not at all.  In this culture we tend to use true and fact interchangeably, but they are only related terms, not the same essential things.  Truth can be conveyed in parable, for instance.  We never stop to ask if the elements of a parable really happened, we know better, and we know that that is beside the point.  Truth is about meaning.  You get to meaning through honest assessment and presentation.  When you write, be truthful.  Facts are something else.  When you tell a story, you can say “These events did not actually happen, but if they did we would recognize the truth of what the characters went through.”  Bad fiction is basically dishonest—even when the writer has done all the research and gotten what facts there are correct, if the meaning is betrayed because the writer is more concerned with making a point rather than finding the truth, the work is corrupted.


So go live.  Be open to human experience. Don’t judge ahead of the experience.  Learn to walk in other shoes.  See the world through different eyes.  Learn.  Then go try to write it.


11.                        What makes your books stand out from the crowd?


I have no idea.  I was hoping you could tell me.


12.                        What is the one thing you would do differently now and why?

With the writing, nothing.  I can only do the work I can do.  With my career...I would hire a publicist if I were beginning now.  For better or worse, we live in a culture obsessed with personality.  Books, like people, have personalities which need promotion.  Writers who sell well have people putting them Out There.  (Again, there are always exceptions.)  I would hire a publicist who would push for me, arrange speaking engagements and book signings find ways to get me press and reviews.  Very expensive and most writers starting out can’t really afford to do this.  I couldn’t, but in hindsight I think I should have taken out a loan to do it.  When I have made a public appearance—at conventions, at bookstores, etc—my books have sold.  When I’m not there, not so much.  I have no idea whether in the long run it would have made much difference, but it’s the only thing I can think to do that I didn’t that might.


13.                        Further remarks?


Final advice for writers.  You have to love the work.  It’s a full-blown relationship, and you’ll have bad days, arguments, commitment problems.  But if you don’t love it—love sitting down and losing yourself in what you create—then be a plumber or an insurance salesman.  You are engaged in breathing life into ideas.  It occurred to me years ago that this is one of the causes of so many artists having such dysfunctional relationships.  It never occurs to people that the art is a whole being and is effectively a third partner in any marriage.  It requires as much and largely of the same things—love and attention.  We tend not to think of vocations that way in this culture, we want to consider them “just jobs.”  They’re not.  You have to be aware of how much time and viscera doing this work at a high level demands and that it is intimate. That changes your life.


It can be amazing.  It has been for me.  As frustrating and infuriating as the career aspects can and have been, the work itself has rewarded me continually and richly.  By this road, the corollary benefits have included friendships I otherwise would never have had, the opportunity to know people who filled my childhood and youth with wonder, a chance to go places I never would have gone otherwise, and be someone I find I can respect at the end of the day.  It’s been a good thing.


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