My guest today is author Wayne Clark.
Wayne Clark is a Montreal writer. Throughout his life, he has made his living almost entirely from words, from journalism to copywriting. He wrote fiction throughout most of those years, when he was sure no one was looking. he & She is the first novel that he convinced himself to publish.
Wayne, how did you get into writing? – I’ve always been writing, but not necessarily fiction. When I was 14 I decided I wanted to be a newspaperman and began creating my own newspaper on scrapbook paper by rewriting news items I’d heard on the radio, or writing accounts of ballgames I’d listened to. I would paste the articles onto the scrapbook sheets, laying them out like a newspaper. My only readers were my parents. I also kept journals, but I don’t recall taking a real run at fiction until my early 20s, when I wrote an hour-long radio play for Canada’s public broadcasting network, the CBC. However it was never produced because there were far more characters — 20 or so — than the show’s budget allowed for, even with actors doubling.
What genre do you write? The book I’ve recently published, he & She, is literary fiction.
What is your target audience? Unlike books that fall into specific genres, such as mystery, suspense, erotica and so on, the target audience for a piece of literary or general fiction is hard to nail down. I think publishers have liked literary fiction because it allows for very original writing but it’s never been easy to market unless the author is already well known. You just hope to produce a compelling story. In my case, I think my book will resonate with readers who wonder about the effects of aging on sexuality, on relationships, or the lack of them, and the loneliness that increases for a lot of people as time goes by. I think the book also speaks to young people, who I think are a lot more open and have a much broader definition of sexuality than people who grew up when I did.
What have you published to date? Do you write under a pseudonym? he & She is the only fiction I’ve published. I’ve written most of, or a good portion of, three other novels but I ended up hating them. At the moment I’m actively considering publishing a short story under a pseudonym. It deals with BDSM, so there would be no problem identifying a genre. In my novel the protagonist reaches out to a young dominatrix in a desperate attempt at feeling alive one more time. The idea for the short story grew from that.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? I ended up self-publishing when I ran out of patience after about eight months of approaching agents and traditional publishers. The more I read that traditional publishers nowadays offer most authors almost nothing with regard to promotion, and very little with regard to royalties, going the traditional route no longer made sense to me. I wrote a good book and I wanted it out there.
How would you review your book for readers who might be considering it? I decline to do so on the grounds I would use too many superlatives. However, seriously, if I may, I’d like to quote from a review from Red City that comes very close to how I see the book:
“…Clark uses the narrative to explore how diverse and intricate sexuality can be. The BDSM scenes are raw and realistic without being too much for newcomers who haven’t read erotic books like this before. The story builds upon itself aggressively, never veering away from the gritty conclusion that barrels ahead as the final pages come to an end. All in all, this is a delectable novel about a man exploring his unknown sexual fantasies at the price of possibly losing his true self along the way.”.
Is your book available as an e-book? Any other formats? Yes, it’s available in all digital formats.
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? This doesn’t really answer your question, but there’s a secondary character in he & She, named LeBron, whom I grew very fond of as he evolved during the writing of the book. He was created out of whole cloth. I used him to I counter the protagonist’s negativity and to represent what the protagonist wished he were like. I was delighted when two people who later read the book in manuscript said I should write a second book based on LeBron.
If your book(s) were to be made into films, who would you have as the lead actor(s)? I have actually tried to play casting director and gone looking for photos of actors on the Internet who might fit the images I had in my mind for my characters. Those characters are clear in my mind, too much so, and I ended up ruling out every candidate I found. For the dominatrix, though, I did think I found her in Penelope Cruz as she appeared in Volver, although I’d knock a couple of years off. Though another movie, Head in the Clouds, was set in the 1930s, there were moments where I thought she might be the one. A young Sophia Loren has also entered my imagination, but I can’t place a particular role, except that it wasn’t a glamor role. The film was black and white and there was something fiercely beautiful about her. As for K, the protagonist, I would dearly love to see what the incredible John Malkovich would make of the role. As for LeBron, all I can say is that as he aged in the book, his voice started sounding more and more like Morgan Freeman’s in my head. However, in my mind he doesn’t look at all like Freeman.
Which author(s) would you say influence your writing? That’s really hard to answer. I’m not young and there have been too many books that have left me saying, “My God, what a writer!” However, in recent years, Philip Roth got to me a couple of times, in The Humbling and The Dying Animal. Both books deal with aging, relationships, sexuality, the fragility of the images we have of ourselves.
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? Besides the fact that the book is primarily about two people, the title he & She came from a practice in the BDSM community whereby dominants get a capital “D” and submissives are referred to with a lower-case “s”. The juxtaposition of the words “he” and “She” was the idea of the graphic designer who created the cover, Nell Chitty. I think the cover is of extreme importance because it says clearly and simply the story must revolve around a very particular relationship.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you planning on another book? I read that this was so, but didn’t believe it: marketing your book takes as much time and energy as writing it. However, it’s true. My book was published only recently, late October 2013, so I’m still very busy learning the ropes life after publication. As for another book, I can’t say I’m planning one but I am toying with resurrecting an idea I worked on many years ago for a totally different kind of book, a novel set in New France in the 17th or 18th century. I researched that idea for several years. I probably didn’t write it at the time because I had too much research. Boxes full of it. It froze me.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? With he & She I wrote seven days a week, starting first thing in the morning. There are certainly days when what you write seems all wrong. I hate to call it writer’s block because I believe in keeping your fingers typing even if you don’t know where you’re going. You might have to discard that day’s work but you might also find yourself going down a road you’d never thought of before.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? After the experience I mentioned about over-researching and plotting, I think my nature is better suited to “running with it” because there is more discovery in the writing process, and that can be exhilarating.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names, and what do you think makes them believable? No method. As for names of characters I start with whatever pops into my head at the beginning but as their character develops other names frequently occur to me, although who’s to say what the right name is? It’s subjective. Emotions make characters believable, conflict, doubt, fear. You create situations to flush out their reactions.
Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed? My inclination has always been to perfect each sentence and paragraph as I go along, but I now believe keeping the creative flood gates open is more important. Also, the deeper you get into your book you recognize more quickly what doesn’t work, what doesn’t sound right for that character and you make adjustments. I try to leave the nit-picking for later. Having a story, becoming more sure of that as you write, is more important than the fine-tuning. With the help of an editor, I made major changes in subsequent drafts.
How much research do you do? Not an enormous amount for this book, apart from geographical details that make the story seem more real and some general research into society’s increasing interest in BDSM and in experimenting with the power dynamic between men and women. It think that’s a very interesting phenomenon, especially if you link it back to the early days of the feminist movement. The Internet has played a big role in this exploration.
What point of view do you usually write in: first person or third person? Third, but I would be interested in trying to write with two points of view, the third person recounting what had been described in first person.
Do you have pieces you’ve written that you think should never see the light of day? The three other novels, plus some short stories.
Have you had any rejections from publishing houses? If so, how do you deal with them? More than 70 actual rejections or simply no response to my queries. I never actually counted. As for dealing with them, I did what a lot of writers do, they research examples of rejections received by unquestionably great writers. What also helped a lot was reminding myself that none of them read much of the manuscript, if any. They ask for a pitch letter, a few pages, or if you’re lucky, one to three chapters. There was no way they could form a valid judgement. Rejection is never pleasant but I knew from reading how difficult it is to land an agent, especially when you know your book does not qualify as commercial fiction. I consider myself lucky to be writing at a time when there is always the self-publishing option. I also had shown my manuscript to several people whose judgment I respect and they confirmed my faith in my book.
Do you have an agent? Do you believe they are vital to an author’s success? No, although I tried to get one for some time. I no longer think they’re vital to success.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published work or for yourself as a ‘brand’? What types of marketing have you found to be the most successful? If I were young, I might think of brand marketing, but I’m not. As for other marketing, I’m beginning to accept that, at least for people who can’t afford a big advertising budget, building relationships with readers one by one is the route to go, and that means having a lot of patience. There’s a famous example of John Grisham once handing out one of his books to passersby on the street. Not much has changed except you now approach potential readers on the Internet, at book sites and through blogs, and interviews like this one.
What is your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything about your writing surprised you? My favorite aspect of writing is experiencing the excitement that comes from intense focus — this is true for other endeavors besides writing. What pops out on my screen often seems miraculous. “Where the hell did that come from?” I sometimes ask myself. What I hate is getting started on a writing project. Once I have momentum, I’m fine, but finding the discipline to get that far can require a real leap of faith.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Write for yourself. Don’t censor yourself while writing. Let yourself feel what you want your characters to feel. That way you will sometimes be moved by what you’ve written, and your readers will too. If I didn’t like writing, I wouldn’t do it. When I’m writing I am never thinking ahead to actually publishing. That’s a tedious mechanical process. The creative part is the fulfilling part.
If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and why? What would you serve your guests or where would you dine? The three people I would chose come from different time periods and very different experiences. They are Pancho Villa, Henry Miller and Lady Gaga. All three are/were straight shooters with no patience for political and social hypocrisy. Despite living worlds apart, I think they would soon bond over that great common characteristic. The only real difference between them would be the medium they used to spread their message. To avoid the pretension my guests abhor, I would serve Tex-Mex food, although Villa would probably be quick to cast doubts about its authenticity.
Do you have a favorite phrase or quote? The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. — Anaïs Nin
Do you have any hobbies? How do you think they enhance your creativity? I love music and play a little flute and sax. I definitely want to be a jazz musician in my next life. There I go again, choosing careers that don’t pay much. I have used music during the writing process to wordlessly encapsulate, in a way that only music or a painting can, a feeling or an attitude that colors a character’s view of his world. If while writing I go off track, I go back to the piece of music.
Are you on any forums or networking sites? I am on Twitter and Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing and others.
What do you think the future holds for writers? On one hand, there is more opportunity than ever thanks to incredibly rapid growth of the self-publishing. However, I am very concerned by increasing focus on making money. The big traditional publishers seem increasingly interested only in mega-sellers at the expense of the all the great midlist authors and new authors. And if you look at all the marketing-help books on the Internet for indie authors, the focus is on helping writers choose a genre that will make them lots of money. If your reason for writing is to make a lot of money I wonder whether “author” is really the right term for you. There’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money through writing, but that can’t be your reason for writing.
Here’s a brief synopsis of he & She:
A man makes a last-ditch attempt to fight off encroaching loneliness, addiction and aging in the hope of feeling truly alive one more time, any way he can, even if it kills him. His only way out, he decides, lies in an image he finds of a beautiful young dominatrix.
Growing numb to life, to his on-and-off girlfriend of many years, his career, even Scotch, a man turns fifty. He is a translator who can no longer dream of translating beautiful works of fiction. He is an amateur musician who can no longer dream of expressing his life on a higher plane, without words. As he glares inside himself he sees little but his declining sexuality, his crumbling hold on life, a growing list of failed relationships, and a darkening well of loneliness.
Stumbling upon an image on the Internet one night, he suddenly hears cell doors sliding open. He stares at a young woman, in profile, beautiful, unblinking, regal. Instinctively he knows that by lingering on that image he will shatter a relationship that has kept him on the sane side of loneliness as surely as if he stepped in front of a speeding eighteen-wheeler. But desperate to feel alive again before time runs out, he knows he must see the stranger behind the pixels on his laptop screen.
Although it is her image that first transfixes him, his eye afterwards chances on a handful of words on the Internet page. She is a dominatrix. The word triggers something inside him, blows the dust off fantasies trickling back to adolescence, and slowly begins to re-choreograph his decades of sexual memories. Was he ever really the dominant male he thought he was? Did he have a sexual alter-ego? Was this the last card he had to play in life? The face on the screen held the answer. He would find out even if it killed him.