Monday, May 26, 2008

Make-Believe Mondays With David Schwartz

On this Make-Believe Monday I am pleased to introduce David Schwartz.

David, first, tell us a little bit about the manuscript you’re working on now.

David: Currently I'm gearing up to do revisions on a novel I'm calling Succession, which is sort of a cross between War and Peace and Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, with a bit of the French Revolution thrown into the mix. It's got a lot of characters, a lot of story, a lot of world-building; wars and romance and political intrigue.

While I'm working on that I'll be working on short stories, and figuring out what the next novel will be. I love working in both forms, but I definitely need a break of a few months between novels, because they sort of take over my life. That can be a good thing--it's really helpful to have those characters and their story always in the back of your head, even when you're making dinner, or watching a band--but it's also pretty exhausting, after a while. I like short stories because you can work on them really intensely for a few days or weeks, and then they're done. Novels take a long time to feel done.

Debra: Yes, they certainly do. It's been a long while since I wrote a short story, but that's how I started with fiction. Maybe I should take it up again. The people in my novels do start to take things over.

Ray Bradbury said, “We are cups, constantly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” How do you keep your creative cup filled?

Debra: In ways that I suspect most writers do; traveling (when I can afford it), socializing, watching DVDs, listening to music, and reading, reading, reading. I read as widely as I can manage: contemporary stuff and classics, fiction and nonfiction, kid's books, graphic novels, the news. I find a lot of ideas in history books; there are dozens of overlooked historical figures who could easily carry a book.

Another thing is that, for me, an important ingredient in the "creative cup" (to go with Ray's metaphor) is anger. I'm not saying that I write screeds--I think my fiction is humanistic and (most of the time) optimistic. But there are plenty of things to get ticked off about in the world, whether they are political or cultural or personal. I feel compelled to confront those things in some way, although I'm careful not to let that get in the way of a good story. When you get to that point, you might as well write opinion pieces!

Debra: I think emotion is at the heart of all good fiction, because its what moves us and what a writer feels passionate about is then transferred into the writing. So it is very interesting to hear you say that. Anger creates action. Well, most emotion does, actually, unless we bottle it up.

Is there a point when your characters begin to come alive and you can see and hear them?

David: It's interesting; while in my normal everyday life I'm very visually oriented, I don't really "see" scenes as I'm writing them. Or rather, I'm very aware of what the characters are doing, but less focused on their surroundings, or what they're wearing, or even what they look like. I always have to go back in and flesh out descriptions, because that's not where my attention is. I suppose I'd say that my experience of stories and novels is closer to that of a play than a film; sometimes with plays all you have is a stage and two actors, and what they do and say is all you need for a story.

That's not to say that my characters don't come alive for me. It's always the characters that drive my stories; even when I know where a book or a story is headed (and I often don't), I'm relying on my characters to get me there. I know that some writers see characters as servicing the plot, but I see it the other way. If I can't make a piece of the story work because I'm finding that it goes against character, I'll throw it out. I've done it before, and I'll do it again!

Debra: Yes and with plays dialog and action drive the story, while settings may be black and almost empty. Though I've always felt that place, or setting can also sometimes be like a character.

For some writers, dreams play a role in creating fiction. Has this been true for you? Have you ever dreamed a scene or an image that later wound up in one of your books?

David: I've used dreams as templates for short stories, but most of the time it hasn't worked for me. I think the trick may be to use the dream only as a departure point, and not try to transcribe what happened as if it's going to make sense. They call it dream logic for a reason; what we find affecting or unsettling in a dream will often seem banal or gratuitously surreal on the page. Maybe this is something like the old saw about truth being stranger than fiction. On the other side of the coin, I'm probably guilty of over-using dreams as a narrative device. They can be great shorthand for revealing character anxieties. They're also a great opportunity for humor, and for going over-the-top in a way that the core story may not allow me to.

Debra: Yes, and dreams can be so hard to capture on the page, so trying to copy them exactly would difficult and I suspect, frustrating. Using dreams as a device in a story can be tricky to handle, but I love it when its down well.

If there were no categories for books, no reader expectations to meet, and you could create the wildest work of imagination that you could think of what kind of story would that be?

David: I'd actually like to think that's what I'm doing right now. Part of what keeps me writing is that I always want to know how things turn out; if what I'm writing is not something I'd want to read myself, it all falls apart. I've been lucky enough to have sold a first novel with some fantasy elements to a mostly-mainstream imprint, and I'd like to be one of those people who can work across the lines between those strange categories we call "genres." As an author I'm resigned to being categorized in some ways--by marketers, at least--but as a reader I rebel constantly against being told what I'm going to like. I can love Jane Austen and William Gibson both, darn it! And I want to write books that omnivorous readers like me will love.

Debra: Yes, you can darn it! I wish more men would read Jane Austin!
Is there anything else you'd like to add or share with our readers?

Visit my website at, or come over to my blog at, where I post book news, talk about what I'm reading/watching, make silly polls, and tell weird stories with photographs.

Thanks for having me!

Debra: You're quite welcome, David. It's been a pleasure.

Debra's news/Debra is watching:

This week my book cover is posted on my publishers website, my MySpace and my Facebook. Soon it will be up on my website along with other changes.

I am hard at work on revisions to my second manuscript so it can go out and A Desperate Journey is currently with the line editor and should be done any day now.

Soon I'll be setting up a Yahoo group for my readers as well as planning some promotions.

Over on my MySpace page there is a countdown to the release of the book while I heartily enjoy checking just to see it getting closer.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day!

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