Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Dayna Hester Interview
4/19/2010 8:22:47 PM
Debut author, Dayna Hester talks about her novel 'Speaking Truths' and the highs and lows of the publishing business.
Dayna Hester Interview:
LTS: With the publishing world’s fast and ever changing landscape, aspiring authors standing at the crossroads of whether to publish the traditional route or to opt for self-publishing have so much to consider. For today’s guest blog, I’d like to introduce you to the lovely and talented author, Dayna Hester.
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. Where is home and what do you do when you are not writing?
DH: I live in Los Angeles, California. Aside from being at the complete disposal of my family (whether by loving choice or obligation), I take time to fuel my entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, I’m working on my own invention - The HairLoom – and dedicating a lot of mental thought to my son’s website ShankMeister.com (the e-bay for golf equipment).
In the spare moments of summer days, though, I enjoy golf and a competitive game of Scrabble.
LTS: Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
DH: Yes and no … it has been a life-long dream to be an author yet it wasn’t until several years ago that I realized I was entitled to pursue this dream. For many years, I fell prey to my insecurities, thinking my intellect was not good enough, my knowledge not expanded enough, my perceptions about human nature not interesting enough … these thoughts changed as my insecurities dwindled.
LTS: Let’s talk about your debut novel, ‘Speaking Truths’. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Landon Starker?
DH: My inspiration springs from a fascination with psychological theories and a strong desire to learn about how brain patterns develop. Meaning, why it is we do what we do and feel the way we do.
As for Landon Starker, I wanted to start with a protagonist that was unsympathetic: internal reasoning that was disorganized and chaotic and dialogue that is anger-imbued and manipulative. I wanted readers to wonder, “How will I ever like this character?” By Chapter 4, I start to peel the layers of the onion away, giving glimpses of who Landon is at his core. I see the layers as unhealthy brain patterns that weigh him down … much like my insecurity that I wasn’t entitled to be an author.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘Speaking Truths’?
DH: My current writing style is swift prose and unexpected twists, and I think I successfully delivered this in ‘Speaking Truths’. I haven’t had a reader tell me yet that they knew for sure what the ending would be. On a deeper level, I wanted to enlighten people on the traumas of abduction, why it is that a child who is abducted stays with their abductor – what is that bond that the abuser has over the abused? I think my readers will come close to hearing the voice of these victims who were once abducted and have traveled the road to transitioning back into a normal life.
LTS: Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of this guest blog! The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
DH: I think it’s important for writers to understand, at least generally, how the publishing world works and what it takes to successfully market a book—at the very least time and money (editors, cover design, proofreaders, ARCs, press releases, PR firms, and the list goes on).
When you’re searching for representation, understand that by definition you are a high-risk investment no matter how great your book is (especially fiction). When you approach agents, traditional publishing houses and/or small presses, you are essentially asking these individuals/companies to invest in a speculative venture. Traditional publishing houses have big overheads; therefore, their potential for return is based on formulaic spreadsheets not necessarily creative potential.
If you want an agent that fights for you, then adopt the theory that one agent only has so much time in a day and therefore they have to be selective about what authors to take on. When looking for representation from an agent, consider whether you’re a fit for that agent. Most literary agency web pages give an outline of what material agents are interested in. Don’t send form letters, but instead let agents know that you found them so that they can “find you.”
And for small presses, learn what kind of books they specialize in and feel passionate about. When a small press releases three to five titles a year, you can’t help but acknowledge how much time and dedication they must give to each title. I think by understanding more about the publishing world, a writer can start to define what a rejection means minus the ego (i.e. “you’re manuscript is simply not a fit in our family; therefore, we would not be able to best serve you, the writer”).
LTS: Excellent advice, Dayna! Now, becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, what made you decide to become an indie author?
DH: I believe in large part it was due the consequence of being impatient and not fully understanding the answer I gave above.
There’s a distinction here that I must draw: indie author vs. self-publishing with a subsidy press. I started out my “self-publishing” journey with a subsidy press (e.g. iUniverse, Publish America, Xlibiris, etc.). I made a mistake in this regard, and I am fixing it. If a reader is considering the subsidy press route, RECONSIDER. My next blog (found at DaynaHester.com) will be fleshing out this caveat. On the other hand, indie publishing, to me, means you are finding the printer, having the cover designed yourself, developing your own marketing plan … said another way, you are your own publisher/marketer/promoter.
LTS: What are some of the benefits and pitfalls of going indie?
DH: The benefit no doubt has been the level of control over my work. I’m not so much talking about cover design, the level of content editing and so on; in fact, I’d like more guidance in these areas. The control I speak of is on a larger magnitude. For instance, I based my character development on the testimonials of www.TakeRoot.org, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to help abducted individuals psychologically heal from their traumatic plight.
When the Take Root organization said they would like to write an Afterword for my book, in the moment, on the phone, I simply said, “That would be wonderful. Send it over.” I see it this way: at my core, I believe that my novel serves a purpose, and along the way, because I am the one focusing on the success of my work, the purpose has become clearer. I think by allowing me to keep this level of intimacy, I moved from the author of “Speaking Truths” to the main advocate for the book.
The pitfall is something I referred to above--Guidance. I was a writer six months ago. Now I’m learning about book marketing/promoting and at times wondering where the writer inside me went.
LTS: I believe all writers, whether publishing the traditional route or going self-published, should do their homework. For writers considering this route to publication, can you give them some advice to help them should they decide to become self-published?
DH: First, ask yourself the question, “What is the end result that I am after?” Once you have this question answered, define for yourself what you need to do to materialize such goal.
As an example, if my answer were,” I want to be a commercially successful author and make money,” in my decision whether to self-publish, I would research what the retail price of the book would be set at. Could I self-publish my book and have it competitively priced?
Or, if my answer were: “I’m not so much interested in making money as I am in wanting my message to reach people. I want people to read my work and know they are not alone in their thoughts,” in my decision to self-publish, I would ask, “How would the self-publishing company or myself as an indie-publisher help my book reach its intended audience.”
In other words, my advice would be to figure out the path that will lead you to your end goal, then ask hard questions and do not mistake excuses for truthful answers. To me, an excuse is never an answer.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
DH: I am a disciplined writer. I don’t hold myself to a word count per day but do dedicate so many hours per day, on average six days a week. My pattern is to write two to three chapters in a day or two after I visually see them in my mind. Once the chapters are on paper, it can take upwards of two weeks to edit, revise and revise just one of those two to three chapters.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
DH: Very organic. I have the bigger picture fleshed out in mind. For instance, my next novel explores Fetus Psychology (Go figure!). So I painfully research the theories of what a fetus “goes through” while in the womb. The next stage is to put myself in the character; I write what the character feels, senses, realizes, etc. in a very organic, stream of conscious way. After several edits, I start reading the chapter out loud, trying to capture a rhythmic cadence to my dialogue and prose.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
DH: This is a funny question. I’ve tried meditating and listening to music as a ritual to “get in the mood.” Remembering back, I think I talked to a couple of writers, they said this is what they do, I tried it … or tried to try such things, I guess. Didn’t work for me. Honestly, I never think of my writing as a “writing session.” Instead, I consider it my job. I leave my house in the morning, saying, “I’m going to work.” It would never occur to me not to show up to my job. I start out my day with a cup of coffee, though.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
DH: I don’t buy into my writer’s block too much. I simply relax and tell myself, “Dayna, you’ve been living with your current mind for a long time … it would be weird if the ideas or natural flow of expression just stopped forever. Don’t worry about it. Come back to the blank paper later.”
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
DH: Fortunately for me, I went to the university as an adult. While at the university, I reveled in Shakespeare. By no means am I a Shakespearean academic, but to this day I remain inspired by Shakespeare’s gift of exploring human nature. In addition, as mentioned earlier, I feel drawn to understanding how the brain processes information, how we interpret our perceptions; hence, I read a lot of psychology books whether pop psychology of the day or textbooks.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
DH: My most profound discovery was recognizing how much trust the reader puts into the author upon reading a book. I felt a little overwhelmed when I first sensed this, wondering if it was a responsibility I was up for. When I interviewed my first reader for “Speaking Truths,” she was excitedly referring to a point in the book where she just didn’t know what was going to happen next. Her statement indicated that I had developed anticipation and expectations. The pressure of course was whether I would be delivering as she finished the last chapter. I realized in that moment that my readers are trusting in me that I will not waste their time—time is very valuable.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
DH: Most important lesson: only work with people who have skin in the game. Smart people do not engage in business relationships unless they think it will benefit them. If they do engage in a business relationship but say, “It’s okay, I don’t need to benefit from it in that way … I am here to help,” they are not smart business people so why engage with them?
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
DH: I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” and am half way through “Game Change” by Heilemann and Halperin (I’m so impressed with their vocabulary useage). I enjoy books that talk about why people do the things they do and give insight into their decision-making and disposition. On my nightstand is a lot of guilt (“Don Quixote,””Mao,” “Autobiography of a Yogi,” to name a few); these books sit there, and I never seem to give them the priority they deserve.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out into other genres?
DH: I am open to other genres definitely. I will have my second novel completed in the next five years, and I hope to have a fan base that shares with me what they’d like to see … come out of my mind.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to share in your wisdom and for telling us about your debut novel, Dayna. I wish you great success in all your endeavors!
For more information about Dayna Hester and her debut novel: ‘Speaking Truths’ check out:
Follow Dayna on Twitter: .DaynaHester
Where to buy the book: Due to be released May 30, 2010
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