Eric: First off, I want to welcome you to Working My Muse. It's a true honor and pleasure. But tell me Davin, how did you get started in this writing game?
Davin: When I was a younger student my teachers convinced me that I was a bad writer. I was downgraded to some sub-standard English track in Junior High. One of my teachers at the time, Mr. P, was a man who had a reputation for being "strange" and wasn't very liked by a lot of students. One day in class he made us discuss a poem. All I remember about it was that it involved a father and son and some emotional tension. My interpretation of it differed from everyone else in the class, and so I decided once again that I just didn't understand English. But this teacher came up to me and said I actually understood the poem better than anyone. And he knew that because he had written the poem himself. I think that was the first time I learned to trust myself when it came to English. That teacher committed suicide the following summer. Only years later did I come to understand that he seemed "strange" probably because he was gay. The poem about the father and son took on a different meaning for me then, and I really saw much more value in writing as a result of it. Although I hadn't actually written anything creative yet, I understood how important it was for people to communicate from the heart. That need to communicate got me started. I see writing as part of a bigger dialog.
Eric: Wow, what an interesting way to find your way into the writing world. Having studied a few other languages (and having gone to the relevant countries), I sympathize with the difficulties you had with English. The Wild Grass is an intriguing jaunt through your cultural background. And while I enjoyed every story, there were aspects of some I had difficulty relating to. Did you have any concerns in this regard as you were writing them?
Davin: As a teenager--and if I'm honest I still do it now--I would always answer "America" when people asked where I was from. Some of those people thought I answered that way to show that I somehow escaped my parents' impoverished life in Thailand. But the truth was that I knew so little about my culture that I felt like I was offending Thailand when I said I was from there.
Though I've made more of an effort to familiarize myself with my Thai roots, I still feel far away from it. That puts me in an odd place when I write about Thai culture, or any culture, for that matter. Sometimes I bring my lack of understanding to my stories because that sense of confusion is part of the story's experience for me. Sometimes I present different cultures in a more matter-of-fact way, or in a ridiculous way in the case of "Red Man, Blue Man", because I'm curious to see if the heart of the story can still come through, even if specific details about time and place are unfamiliar. So, the cultural aspect is something I'm concerned about, but I'm still experimenting with it to see what works and what doesn't.
Eric: I really have to respect your honesty and the fact that you didn't feel it would be right to attribute who you are to being raised in Thailand. That is a mark of distinction. Speaking of experimenting though, this is your first journey into self publishing, right? Any horror stories, laughs or tips you can share with us?
Davin: I kind of feel like I'm fumbling the entire self-publishing thing. I'm not very good at it. (Hey, buy my book!) My goal when I published was to let people know that the book existed. I figured once that happened people could decide on their own whether they want to buy the book or not. I didn't ask for reviews. I didn't organize a blog tour. I was insecure and shy.
I realize now that people need much more information as they decide on what books they want to read. There are so many options out there! I wish I had more visibility so that I could let people know what was inside the book. That visibility is hard to come by. At this point, I'm just grateful that the people who have read it are sending me really personal and touching emails about it. I'm grateful when people give my books to other people or let other people borrow them. Going in, I didn't expect to sell many copies, so I'm also grateful that at least some people are giving it a chance.
The one thing I think I did right, though, was that I set an actual goal of how many books I wanted to sell. I was aiming for 100 books sold, and I'm content that I reached that goal. I calmed down a lot after that. Now, I just really value every additional sale. If or when I do this again, I do plan to put more energy up front into the promotion. I haven't yet figured out how I can do that well and in a way that's not annoying, but I'm working on it.
Eric: Self-publication is a bit scary for me to be honest. You really are opening yourself up to celebration and/or criticism, especially given the expectation pushed on us to publish traditionally only. You've done a great job however, achieving the goal you set. And I can vouch that the book is exactly what one should expect from a published work, no matter how it gets there. Now that you've gone the route of self publication though, do you think you'll continue in this vein or do you see yourself embracing both traditional and self publishing?
Davin: You know, given everything I just said, I have to say the idea of self-publishing my future books is still really tempting. I love the idea of being in control of the entire process, from the cover design, to the layout, to the editorial decisions. I'm interested in trying some different approaches as far as how I will make my books available. I have some crime-based novellas, for example, that are pretty dark and quite a departure from what I usually write. I thought I'd just give them to whoever asked me for them rather than putting them up for sale in any official way. (Although I haven't committed to that yet.) Self-publishing gives me that freedom to be creative in how the books are released. But there are two big obstacles that I am still dealing with. The first is that I haven't figured out how to self-promote my work very well yet. I think I'll be frustrated if none of my books sell. Second, I'm not completely happy with the print quality of self-published books. The cutting and gluing aren't always as clean. I'd really love to be able to self-publish a book that is of higher quality physically. I also want the ability to do things like matte covers or box sets. I don't mind paying for those things, but I sense that visibility will be an even bigger issue if I leave the main self-publishing companies. Traditional publishing is still a great way to do things, so I'm not closed to it at all. I just haven't been in the mood to submit anything to agents or small presses lately.
Eric: Well, I can definitely see the appeal to controlling all those aspects of your book. It's a daring move in some respects, but if you're successful (as you seem to be so far), it's worth it. Now that I've read a taste of your works though, I'm dying to read more. Care to provide any hints of what you're working on now?
Davin: As far as writing goes, I'm working on a novel about a group of people who are selected to live forever. It has a sci-fi aspect to it that lets me use a bit of my scientific background (yes, the 11 years of extra schooling are finally paying off!). It's narrated by a very direct woman named Jacqueline, and it includes a lot of scenes with a fictional Dalai Lama. What I'm liking most about the book is that I'm getting to discuss a lot of issues that the world is currently dealing with: religion, terrorism, the internet, scientific advancement, conservation. At the same time I'm able to mix these issues up with more day-to-day issues like not getting enough sleep and being around the same people for years and years and years--the slice-of-life material that I love to read myself. It's a mish mash, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.
Eric: It sounds like an interesting story. Including the Dalai Lama really puts a neat cultural spin on things. The inclusion of those worldly issues will make for some interesting reading too. I'm always interested in seeing how different writers approach those topics because the perspectives can be so unique. Well, I'd like to thank you for stopping by. It has been fun dancing through your world for a bit.
Davin is a writer from Los Angeles, CA. In 2008, he was a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. He has been a finalist for Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Contest, first runner-up in Opium Magazine's 500-word Memoir Contest, and two of his stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes. He is also a staff editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.
As for all my readers, you're in luck today. Davin has graciously agreed to gift two lucky individuals with a copy of his book The Wild Grass. Since I've never been one to shy away from holding a contest, I jumped at the chance. And as always, this one is easy to enter. Just drop a comment below and you'll be entered. The contest will run until midnight on August 30th. The following day I will announce two randomly drawn winners and we'll get your respective details over to Davin. Good luck to everyone. You don't want to miss out on a copy of this book. It is a true pleasure to read.