Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with true crime author Chris Dahl. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Chris. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Chris: Hello. My name is Chris Dahl and I am now based in sunny Florida, right off of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a sunny a place for me, a guy with morose tastes. But I love the sun, and if you were to ask any of my high school students they would probably not believe the subject matter I deal with in my books. I have always written, even at the age of six when I wrote a book about my father saving New York City from a sea monster. He was an editor back when people read books on paper, so I came to se that smart people read books – and even smarter people wrote books. Well, of course, I just had to write books. The Death Row Stories – my latest – are based on letters exchanged with Death Row inmates in Florida. It is morbid and bloody stuff, but it sure is fascinating.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Chris: I started off wanting to be Beat poet and generally robbed Ginsberg and Kerouac of what I could. Then, I wanted to be Hemingway. None of that worked out. I got into non-fiction by chance. I published Except Education after people at the bar told me I should write my teaching stories down; then I just happened to start writing letters to Death Row and… stories appeared. So now it’s all about true crime.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Chris: Except Education (2006), Night of the Beast (2010), The Death Row Stories: Meet the Devil, Circumstances of Offense and Blood Calls to Blood and Killer Art (2012).
Morgen: You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Chris: I have published traditionally and self-published. I self-published only because the editors said they were unable to handle the material in a visceral sense. The Death Row Stories are not for the meek. One publisher actually got halfway through formatting and called beggin me to release him from the contract because he couldn’t handle the imagery. So, I started Death Row Stories.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Chris: I publish my books as both e-books and paperback only because I acknowledge the age in which I live. I’m still all about a paper copy of a story –it’s comforting. But I have two e-readers; my students read as much off of their cell phones as I used to read in the library. The e-book process is very easy byt the way. It can be as simple as a PDF, in fact. Check out the product on my amazon author page amazon.com/author/chrisdahl
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Chris: Love this question. Meet the Devil is my favorite book. It’s based on the life of Loran Cole, the guy who killed the nephew of Senator John Edwards and raped tht man’s niece. His story is the one that made that editor’s (previously mentioned) conscience bleed and beg to be released from the contract. Just read it and you will see. Go to www.death-row-stories.com for some free tastes. Now as for a leading man, Cole would be played by a young John Malkovich or Robert Deniro circa 1975.
Morgen: Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Chris: The subject matter is very unique to tell you the truth. I don’t know of many people who have tapped into this. I do like Nick Pileggi (Wiseguys and Casino) and my favorite journalist was jimmy Breslin. So, as I write, I think of them. And here I thought I would be Jack Kerouac.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Chris: Titles and covers are huge, just like your first impression on a boss. I have been lucky since I have been able to control them completely … well, almost completely.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Chris: I am working on a book based on my mother’s madness. She died a few years ago after years of undiagnosed mental illness. My father found her journals and sent them to me. I am trying to find out what exacy happened in those last few years. It’s a wild investigative piece I am tentatively calling Finding Mary.I put up a part of it on www.death-row-stories.com.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Chris: No. I guess I’m lucky. I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s diarehhea. I can’t stop. But that’s mostly because I am more about acquiring unique content and shaping it into a story than creating out of thin air. Life is wild and there is always content for the observanrt eye.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Chris: I write on legal pads – all kinds of notes. I research and print out tons of stuff. Then, I sort of shape it physically into piles and then the mental notion of a book takes place after I have physically moved stuff around. But that’s me: action. Then the form of the book takes place.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Chris: Either I write directly from reality or I derive my characters in some sense from reality. Someone I have known from a bar, a former student, a former team-mate – whatever. I hear their voices. I see how they hold a scotch and water; I see how the cigarette dangles from their fingers. Then, I rob reality and try to sell it to the next available buyer quite honestly.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Chris: Oh no! My old man has been editing books since the 1960’s when they did it with a pencil and a typewriter and a pack of cigarettes. He would never let anything go out that wasn’t “clean”. My third-grade essays had semi-colons for crying out loud. So, yeah, editing is key.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Chris: Research is crucial to my type of writing. I have to know the person, the family, the city, the year, the car, the clothes, the gang, the gun, the drugs – and so on. That’s what lends authenticity to me as a writer. Otherwise, I’m just some guy with some letters from killers, which is a weird thing to be able to say, granted. And the credibility of sources is crucial given what I’m asking people to read. So yeah – a lot.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Chris: First person is best for me and my subject matter because you get drawn into a killer’s world. Imagine that. Third person would be my next choice – but why if you can go through the killer’s eyes?
Morgen: Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Chris: I wanted to be a poet first and actually studied with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and some other Beat poets / writers. I wrote one really good long poem and the sucked. So I had to tame my ADD and figure out prose. My short stories were horrible. My early fiction won some prizes but didn’t make me any money. Then I fell into this true crime thing.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Chris: Probably my favorite piece is the originally draft of the book I am working on now about my mother and her insanity. It was part fiction, which was made up from my hypothesis about what happened to my family and the reality of her journals. I was poetic and powerful and got great reviews in the rejection letters it received.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Chris: Look, you get more rejections than you get acceptance. So, face it. Most publishers are honest and say, “Hey, good stuff but I can’t sell it.” or, “I read the whole thing but we’re looking for fiction.” So move on. Girls breakup with you, beers are emptied and publishers say no thanks.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Chris: Just one. Won it.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Chris: Don’t have an agent, but I have the advantage of my old man having been a New Yowk City editor for a few decades. They work, but people have success without them. If you don’t have an agent, then you have to be savvy and charismatic. If you have that, skip the agent.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Chris: Every day. As much as possible. Every way possible. The internet is a gold mine – that’s all I can say. Oh and radio stations are always looking for someone to fill a slot.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Chris: I love everything about the writing life. I’m going to go out like Lou Gehrig who played first base for the Yankees and said he was the luckiest man alive. I even like the rejections and the martyrdom.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Chris: I only started getting published when I started writing as I would speak. The corny phrase is rthat I found my “voice”. Just say what you have to offer and put it in a cogent format. If it’s interesting in some way, people will read it.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Chris: Well, Kerouac but hide the whisky. Hemingway but hide the shotguns. Faulkner but sit him away from Hemingway. Marilyn Monroe – no explanation needed. Marlon Brando just to get people irritated and Mike Wallace to mediate everything. Alice B. Toklas could cook the brownies for dessert. We won’t need food with this crew, just an open bar.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Chris: None. Regret is nonsense. Nostalgia is foolish. Mistakes are necessary. Good times are yet to be had. I like to move forward.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Chris: Fate lead those who are willing and drags those who are not. Think about it. You’re going to end end where you belong, doing what you need to do with the people you deserve no matter what you do.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Chris: I teach high school English, which reminds of Frank McCourt book all too much. There I am loving every syllable and they ask why we have to read these dumb stories from 500 years ago. I say it’s Macbeth for crying out loud! He says “I lived a charmed life” and then gets his head cut off – don’t you see the tragedy. No, they want to go surfing and drink beer, which I can identify with on some level.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Chris: I work out. I read. I collect baseball cards. I work with wood. I garden.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Chris: I’m on as many as I have been able to find; they are invaluable. Here are a few:
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Chris: A little more non-fiction and then some killer fiction. I have vowed to be the next Hemingway up to an including the shotgun if necessary.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Chris: http://www.death-row-stories.com is the quickest way.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Chris: Reading separates us from apes – that’s about it.
Morgen: Oh, I don’t know. There are some clever apes out there. 🙂 Thank you, Chris. It’s been great having you join me today.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on the mixed blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
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