Scott Driscoll interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Oct 12, 2017 11:03:33 PM
Scott Driscoll interview with David Alan Binder
Bio from Goodreads: Scott Driscoll, an award-winning writing instructor at the University of Washington, Continuing and Professional Education, took several years to finish Better You Go Home (October 2013, Coffeetown Press), a novel that grew out of the exploration of the Czech side of his family in the 1990s after Eastern Europe was liberated. Driscoll keeps busy teaching and freelancing stories to airline magazines while starting work on his next novel.
My web site: www.scott-driscoll.com
Goodreads link to my novel: www.goodreads.com/book/show/17901400-better-you-go-home
1. Where are you currently living?
I live in Seattle. This has been my home for most of my adult life.
2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
To begin, whether writing fiction or creative nonfiction or a feature piece for commercial magazines, with an immersion in the world of the senses. Also, to then take that raw material and write very deliberately into a form. It’s less fun to write into a form, but that’s how you have a chance of reaching an audience beyond the audience of one you start with.
3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I teach a lot and I still prefer to read assignments in hard copy. I definitely give better comments when reading hard copy versus an electronic file. But this means the poor reader on the other end has to decipher my handwriting. I strive to write plainly. It is not my goal to write like a doctor. Yet my fingers make it come out that way. It is as if they had a will of their own. And after all these years of teaching, I am still surprised when I hear: great comments, if only I could read your handwriting. I take it on faith, each time, that I am writing plainly.
4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?
Self-publishing is easier now than ever before, but that is a double-edged sword. It also means, everyone who ever aspired to be a writer is self-publishing when they can’t make headway in the conventional manner. If you are very good at on-line marketing and manipulating social media, you can actually sell anything. If you are not this person, sales will elude you. What I find distressing about this situation is that financial success is more about manipulating sales than about providing content you feel good about.
I have published a lot of short stories, essays, and feature articles in magazines, all the conventional way. I’ve managed to eke out a part-time living doing it, at least for a while (not so much anymore). I finally published my first novel four years ago with Coffeetown Press. This is a “small” publisher that does between 50-60 books per year. They have three imprints. My novel came out in their literary imprint. Authors who have an already established audience can do quite well going with a small press, such as Coffeetown, because they have fewer hands taking pieces out of the pie. If you don’t have an established audience, it’s harder to get recognition outside the area you have contact with. Partly this problem of limited distribution is caused by the difficulty of getting any attention drawn to your book when the social media channels are so flooded with self-publishers.
5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
All books nowadays that come out in hardcover or trade paperback also come out as e-books. In some popular fiction genres, it can be the case that a book only comes out as an e-book because most readers are searching for their books in that realm. I do think, though, that most readers still like to have books in print to read. There is something viscerally more satisfying about handling an actual object, flipping pages, thumbing corners, underlining. E-books can mimic much of this but at best they cannot give readers anything approaching the same pleasurable sensory experience.
6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
The best tip I know is to pick an audience, send to that audience, and persist. Everyone meets rejection. Those who persist despite rejection are the ones who break through.
7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
The process of getting an agent is very like the process of seeking a publisher. You have to find those who have a known interest in the kind of thing you’re writing, you have to follow their rules, you have to have a manuscript that is very nearly ready to market, and you have to be willing to hear “no” a whole bunch before you hear “yes.” That said, even a “yes” is just a starting point. Plenty of writers I know have had agents who did nothing on their behalf, or who gave their manuscript very little effort and then just stopped returning messages. It really matters to seek not just any agent, but one who really seems interested in just what you have written.
8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
This is going to sound self-serving, but take writing classes. There is much to learn about craft and you can’t figure it all out on your own and your chances for publication will improve considerably if what you send out reads like it was written by a “professional” writer. By “professional” I mean, a writer who shows mastery of craft. Also, make sure you have a critique group. Every writer, even every successful writer, needs to have trusted readers. You can’t do this entirely on your own.
9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
I discovered, first, that not everyone is as interested in my creative thinking as I am, and, then, mundanely, that I am at my creative best only a certain times of day. I can edit, or work at nonfiction in the late afternoon but I cannot get into a fictional world at all much beyond midday. I can trick myself into believing that the morning is mine to enter, like a fantasy, guilt-free. But that illusion wears off and the need to get busy with tasks takes over.
10. How many books have you written?
One, not counting the many articles and one-off stories. Just finishing my second book, soon to be sent out.
11. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Study form. If you are writing fiction, you must learn the various plot structures. It helps to have a thorough understanding of narrative distance. It also helps to learn basic principles about how characters engage in their quest through story structure. If you are writing creative nonfiction or journalism or features pieces or profiles or book reviews, study the form that others have had success with, then imitate their use of the form. For example, when I wanted to switch from writing fiction and personal narrative nonfiction to writing for commercial magazines, I studied how certain authors built their pieces, then I imitated that form and, guess what, suddenly I started selling feature stories. Then I sought advice from editors. Ask what they prefer, then make sure you provide it. Your job is not to be brilliant, but to provide what you will be paid for. A similar way of thinking helps writing fiction as well. If you want to get published, study forms and study styles and imitate them until your own voice and persona take over.
12. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Withhold key information. Tantalize with details that don’t have an immediate explanation. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that a character’s actions are governed by past actions. Surprise the reader. All worthy characters have an inner life that includes contradictory desires and ghosts of past unresolved conflicts. Much remains hidden from the reader. Make sure every character is pursuing a goal. Don’t let main characters become too predictable or passive.
13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
This is a touchy one, but I’ve asked this question of agents I’ve met when speaking at conferences. We agreed there are three things that must be operating in order for a work to get attention (and thus stand out from the crowd of manuscripts that will be ignored). First, there has to be a clear disturbing event (inciting incident) that creates a sense of urgency and requires a reaction that will lead to a quest and this must be at least suggested to the reader immediately. Second, the first page needs to make clear what is at stake for the main character about to embark on this quest. Third, and this is the tricky one, voice. The reader who doesn’t know you, and will likely never meet you, the agent or editor who is your first reader, needs to hear a voice that is in control of the narrative. The first readers need to feel guided by a “voice” that is in control of the story that is about to unfold. If your openings have these three elements strongly present, at least the first readers will read more pages, and that’s a pretty good start.
14. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
This is done these days mostly through reviews on-line and through the social media outlets like Goodreads and through blogs and author pages. Word of mouth helps a lot if it spread through social media. Winning contests helps. At least you get some recognition. Doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. If you are writing pop fiction, it’s important to write a series. Books don’t tend to sell so well as stand-alones. The second book helps sell more copies of the first, and so on.
15. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I would start getting serious about learning craft and learning form and writing in a more disciplined manner sooner. It took me a long time to get over writing as a means of self-expression. I am not entirely over that, but at least now I know how to bury the passages of self-expression in stories that have a readable form.
16. What saying or mantra do you live by?
Love writing, learn form, and persist, and persist, and persist. Oh, and my second mantra: the best writing happens in the rewrite, always. Take the pressure off the first time through.
17. Anything else you would like to say?
Buy books. Be a prodigious reader. Share reading that has impressed you. Learn by imitation. Take classes. Don’t think you can do this alone.