Delilah S. Dawson: The Terribleminds Interview
Delilah Dawson has the ‘d’s down pat — delightful, delirious, and dazzling when it comes to this here author interview. Hard not to love her take on how she deals with rejection, below. Behold her novel, Wicked As They Come, now available. Find her at her website — delilahwrites.blogspot.com — and track her down on the Twittertubes (@DelilahSDawson).
This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.
There was once a little girl who was afraid of the dark for all the wrong reasons. Every night, she clung to her mother’s neck like a wet sloth, begging not to be left alone. Every night she had the same dream. It began happily enough– at a softball game. She sat in the stands drinking a Fanta Grape and cheering. And then, somehow, she found herself on second base. On the home plate stood Abraham Lincoln, austere in his trademark tall hat and black suit. With a ghoulish grin, he began running to first base, elbows flapping like crow bones. And the girl took off for third.
Every night, he chased her around the bases. And every night she ran, lap after lap, huffing and puffing with the sixteenth president’s fetid old man breath rank as hot pennies and old meat on her back.
Not until she grew up did she realize that he wasn’t chasing her because she was a naughty girl and because she kept getting him confused with George Washington.
He was chasing her because he was a vampire.
And not until she was much, much older did she stop to pick up a baseball bat and turn with a wild laugh to chase him instead.
Why do you tell stories?
At first, it was just to prove that I could. Now it’s become both compulsive and obsessive. I get an idea, and it won’t go away. It’s like an itch that has to be scratched. It’s like feeling the need to puke, how that consumes you until you finally puke, but then you stick around whatever you just puked in, waiting for more puke to happen. I mean, have you ever tried to *not* puke? It’s impossible. And I think writing is like that. You can’t fight it. You just have to let it shake you like a rag doll until it’s done with you.
Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:
Never use the phrase “I’m the kind of girl/guy who…” It needs to be so much more subtle than that. If you feel that need, do it in the first draft, and then erase it all. You’re just telling yourself the story, trying to make the character real. But your audience never needs to know about that part. It’s like foundation garments. They should see the effect, the smoothness, the beauty, never the sweaty, stretched-out girdle underneath.
What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?
The greatest thing is that you get to play God. What you make becomes real. You build worlds, create characters, name things. And no one can tell you differently. Readers can critique your style, your plot, your word choice. But if you say the sky is yellow, the sky is goddamn yellow. I kept reading that vampires weren’t selling any more, but my spin on vampires sold. I cobbled together an entire world run on clockworks and magic, and now I talk about it like it actually exists. Anything is possible.
The part that sucks is that rejection is inevitable. I’ve gotten 50k into a story and given up because the seed of the idea was flawed. I’ve written and edited entire books that my agent didn’t think she could sell, and so they just sit on my hard drive like diseased orphans. I’ve had books go all the way to the table with an editor’s heart on it and not get an offer. No matter how great you are, you’re still going to be rejected. And that’s actually a good thing. You always need people in your life to tell you that a story sucks, that a character doesn’t work, that you need to cut 20k words. You’re playing God, but you need people who still have veto power, because megalomaniacs are boring as hell.
What’s the best way to make a character real?
A long time ago, I worked in a gift shop that was known for fancy schmancy gift wrapping. On my first day, I was nearly brought to tears by a cardboard box and a roll of kraft paper, because no matter what I did, my wrapping job looked crappy. The manager told me this. “Paper wants to fold a certain way, and you can’t fight it. You have to find out where it wants to fold and help it do that.” By that afternoon, I was a wrapping pro, which is… possibly the dullest thing ever.
I think characters are like that, too– best when tied up in butcher paper. KIDDING. Each character wants to be a certain way and will flow naturally in that direction. When I get stumped, I often have to backtrack and see if I’m trying to force a character into a direction they wouldn’t go or put words into their mouth, which is why the next step doesn’t happen organically. If you let the characters be exactly themselves, it will shine through. Criminy Stain, for example, pretty much writes himself, the cocky bastard. And I let him.
I also like to think about what a character would be doing at the DMV. Would they tap their feet, chew their nails, be a jerk, chat someone up, or have a book already waiting in their bag? That’s how I figure out their quirks, what they do when there’s no direct action. But the very best characters barge onto the stage when you’re least expecting it and totally steal the scene.
On Rejection: Ah, but does “Can’t sell this” equate to “Story isn’t good?” Are stories not right for a large market still worth putting out there?
I think publishing must be run by a hundred monkeys with a hundred 20-sided dice, because there’s so much luck, timing, and randomness involved as to make it ridiculous. “Can’t sell this” can mean that the story isn’t good, or that the market is over-saturated in Amish zombie verse novels, or that the main character wasn’t likable enough or too ginger, or that prologues/mermaids/Esperanto wasn’t hot this season. If your agent takes your story out and it doesn’t sell, I think the best way to think of it is that you’ve got a big chunk of awesome in your pocket for later. I have two books that I love that didn’t sell, and although I was heartbroken and consoled myself with copious amounts of cake, I still feel that in a few years, I can drag them back out into the light of day, make them even more awesome with my advanced Sith skills, and try to sell them again.
How do you deal with rejection when it happens?
1. Copious amounts of cake.
2. Much flouncing, far from the public eye.
3. Blood oaths about kicking more ass in the future and savoring the sweetness of revenge.
4. Back to writing.
Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?
Perambulator. A long time ago, I was in a Barnes & Noble, just browsing. And this guy walked up and said, all courtly-like, “My lady, a word?” And I said, “PERAMBULATOR.” And he looked all confused. “What does that mean?” he asked, still probably amazed that I hadn’t swooned. “You’re in a bookstore. Look it up,” I said. He returned 30 minutes later and handed me a piece of notebook paper with his name, his number, and a weird, rambling poem that wasn’t actually about perambulators. I never called him. But I still have the poem, and whenever I hear the word perambulator, I grin like a monkey.
Favorite curse word? My kids are 3 and 5, which means I can only throw F-bombs like confetti after bedtime. During the day, it’s all made-up words kind of similar to Annie Wilkes in Misery. People who drive like asshats are noonie birds. When my kids are being jerks, I tell them not to be snoots. But I do squeak out a scheisse every now and then. In my books, I enjoy the word bugger, because it seems like everyone has a British accent and it’s such a cute little word for something most people would consider offensive.
Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)
I’m a simple woman with the taste buds of the sorority girl I never was. I like a good, old-fashioned Amaretto Sour. Half amaretto, preferably a cheap brand, half sour mix. Add a maraschino cherry on a plastic sword if you’re feeling fancy. And I won’t turn down a margarita, especially the hoity-toity kind flavored with prickly pear or blood orange.
Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!
I can’t recommend anything more highly than Joss Whedon’s short-lived Firefly TV series and, by connection, the movie Serenity. Phenomenal characters, an unusual twist, comedy, tragedy, horror. It’s all there and yet entirely new.
What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?
I just got Lasik, so I’ve got excellent vision. I used to wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats after dreams in which the zombies were chasing me and I lost my glasses. I mean, what are you going to do? Break into a LensCrafters and grind your own lenses? I’m a decent enough shot, have excellent skills with horses, know a little muay thai and some jiujitsu chokes. And I read so much historical and dystopian fiction that I feel certain I could skin a rabbit or build a lean-to after ten or twenty failures. But probably, my best skill is my non-girly lack of squeamishness. I’m the one yelling SHOOT HER! SHOOT YOUR SISTER IN THE HEAD AND TAKE HER SHOES, MORON! during The Walking Dead.
You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.
Oh, man. I would eat so much I would die of a ruptured gut long before they pulled out their fancy lightning chair. There would be French baguette with butter, pheasant soup, this amazing duck in plum sauce from Greenwoods in Roswell, GA, my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese and green beans and creamed corn, fish and chips, the rabbit from Canoe in Vinings, a medium rare grassfed filet, emu marsala, tempura shrimp, a Five Guys burger, some samosas, and about twenty different kinds of dessert ranging from cupcakes to chocolate covered strawberries to frozen cream puffs to a hot Krispy Kreme donut. There would be a Pay-Per-View channel just to watch me eat and make foodgasming noises.
So, Wicked As They Come: Sell us on it like your life depended on it.
Tall dark glass of Victorian quasi-vampire circus gypsy adventure kickassery, and if you don’t read it, I’ll set the bludbunnies loose in a preschool.
Why is Wicked As They Come only a book you could’ve written?
Because it’s unruly as hell, dark but optimistic, doesn’t take itself too seriously, defies genre, and follows a spankin’ hot sex scene with a kraken attack.
What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?
I’m going to keep writing until they pry the laptop from my petrified claws. I’m editing an e-novella that will be out between Wicked as They Come and Wicked as She Wants, since there’s a year between books 1 and 2 in the Blud series. Hint: the novella involves a bearded recluse, some hot circus sex, and a badger attack. I’m working with my agent on my first YA, a paranormal based out of Savannah. And I’m finishing up a clockpunk romance spin on Robin Hood. Every time I finish a book, I think, “Jesus, I’m spent. I’ll never be able to write again!” And then some pushy story idea sticks its cold, wet nose up my skirts and just gooses the hell out of me.