As a writer I find it sometimes challenging to sit down and read. Mainly because the books I choose to read, I’m constantly critiquing and it’s easier for me to just write and be done with it. This wasn’t the case with the book Dying Light by author D. Scott Meek, a uniquely written tale of a blood virus and the human race in a post World War 3 era.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Scott and picking his brain over his writing process among other things.
SDA: Your book is about ‘vampyres’ told in a very different light than your typical Twilight or Anne Rice realm, told from a point of view like biological warfare caused it. But in a world where everyone is jumping on the bandwagon for ‘vamps’, what do you tell the nay-sayers that say vamp books are a dime a dozen?
DSM: Honestly? I tell them that they are. But there's nothing wrong with that, especially when your "dime" novel is selling 10 million copies. Some people will tell you that every story has already been told, and that may or may not be true, but for me it's not whether or not the story has been told, it's how it is told and whether or not it connects with the reader. As long as people dream dark dreams and fear death, there will be vampire stories -- some will be horrible trash, and some will be magnificent.
SDA: Well yours was magnificent in my eyes, a great read overall. What made you want to do a story of this style, of this caliber?
DSM: In Hollywood movies, it seems like the good guys always win, and that makes me angry sometimes because it always seems a little too convenient, and if you've ever thought about it, there are always tons of collateral damage and things that never get wrapped up. I wanted to write something that felt real, looked real, tasted real, with all that collateral damage that would actually be dealt with or at least confronted in the end. Things are always pretty, and everyone has demons and pain, and I wanted the reader to feel the pain as much as the glory. If I have one actual goal, I want to make the reader cry. I want you be so in tune with my characters that when a fictional heart gets broken, I want the reader to experience it, too.
SDA: I know as a writer I struggle with that. I’m an emotional sap most days, and my writing makes me cry because I feel so deeply about the characters but do you believe that style or type of passion can be trained? Meaning if you were trying to explain to a fellow writer how to convey that kind of emotion onto a page, how would you?
DSM: Oh, well, I think a lot of it has to do with a person's ability to communicate in all facets of life. I'm a natural communicator as a teacher -- it's very important that I get my point across in a way that others understand so they can take something from the lesson and apply it. Is this something that can be trained? I would say 'no' -- you are either a teacher or you are not. That said, can you improve your ability to communicate? Of course. Can you recognize the things in stories that speak to you, that touch you, that make you laugh or cry or even love the characters? Of course you can. But you have to work at it, you have to recognize it, then you have to put it into practice and hone it until it is razor sharp. The goal is this: when you want the reader to cry, he cries.
SDA: Now another thing that I found interesting and what I think more and more new authors are attempting to do is to tell a story from multiple points of view. You did this beautifully in Dying Light from multiple characters. How hard was it to keep the voices of them sounding individual and not have them run into one voice?
DSM: Well, as some people might know, there's a lot of me in each of the characters, so I just tried to focus on that one aspect that I wanted to inject. Also, I did tons of re-reading, going back to previous chapters for this or that person, reading up to the present and then writing the next piece. I had to be in the flow and get to know each one of them, remind myself what the issues are and what the goal is. Otherwise, I'd say they write themselves, and I don't always know what they are going to say or do next.
SDA: So is it safe to say us as writers all have split personalities? Hahaha.
DSM: Emily's talking to herself was unexpected. It just felt right. What's cool is that a friend who has a Master's in Psychology said it sounded really real. I was just having fun and went with it. We might not all have split personalities, but we all have internal conflicts -- eat the donut because it is delicious; don't eat the donut because it will make you fat. We all do it.
SDA: When you say that the characters wrote themselves, did you have any AH-HA moments while writing that totally took you by surprise?
DSM: Absolutely. Most of my writing is unscripted, and my fiction is considerably more unscripted than my blogging is. There were several major events in the book that were unexpected, that I had no inkling of at all until I was writing it.
SDA: Let’s talk about Charlotte and Michael, two of the characters from the book, personal favorites I might add. What sets them apart from other love interests of today that all seem to face the ‘against-all-odds’ type of lives?
DSM: Yikes. I don't know. I think the reader would be the best person to answer that. And yet, as we have honestly barely gotten to know them, we might have to wait and see. What I will say is this: how many marriages could last more than a century? That said, in most romantic couples, we see a transformation of one character, a developing love that is often predictable -- the nerd gets the girl (Sorcerer's Apprentice) -- but Charlotte and Michael are established and solid, although life has thrown them for a loop. We will see if they survive. I make no promises other than I promise to do my best to keep you guessing.
SDA: You said earlier that these characters all are parts of you, that being said, do you think it will be harder or easier to hear criticism about them?
DSM: Good question. I guess that depends on your self-esteem. A lot of the things that I have injected into my characters are things that I am fine with but in a way enjoy working on or exploring. Loneliness, trust issues, loves lost, fear of this or that. We all have these things, so I'm not so worries that people will indict me with their dislike as they will indict themselves.
SDA: The other thing about this is that you’ve put a lot of reference into real places within the story. What was the significance of putting in little pieces of your real life, places you’ve been? DSM: Yes, I've actually been to every location in the book -- the White House, the Library of Congress, United Methodist Church in Mount Vernon in Baltimore, and even the Oak Alley Plantation in New Orleans. I do that because I like to travel and see things, but put those places in my fictional world because I like making it very real, and I also like the idea that the future is heavily tied to the past. And we see that in how physical places are transformed over centuries; what's interesting is that we don't see that same transformation in the people.
SDA: Was there ever a point when writing any of your characters, or any of the scenes that you sat back and wondered if you were pushing things too far, if you had crossed a line?
DSM: In what way?
SDA: Well for example, there were a few scenes in my novel that made me kind of wring my hands and worry about who was I going to offend or piss off and in the back of my head it’s there that certain people I know are going to read this and wonder if I’m mentally stable to be able to come up with some of the things I did. Was there any of that time where you second guessed yourself?
DSM: No. I don't second guess really. I write a lot of emotionally charged political commentary in my blogs, so I'm used to being very careful about what I say so I can challenge people's beliefs and ideology without being nasty. I did the same in my book, but that is not to say that I haven't edited some things or changed some things -- it's just always been because I thought it made the story better, not because I worried that someone wouldn't like it or might be offended. Science fiction is wonderful in that one can throw up challenging ideas, controversy and outright criticism and yet couch it in a way that it comes across subtly or even invisible to those who don't pay attention. It's also a great place to be overtly critical or radical because it's not you, it's some aliens or future people who don't share the same values. This is one reason science fiction is so wonderful. You can do anything you want, even if it's not a metaphor for today. The only thing I chose not to do was get really raunchy. I write pretty good erotica, but I didn't want it to go that way, even though I wanted it to be hot. I toned some scenes down because of what I needed them to mean, and yet still, even during what was supposed to be a horrifying torture scene, women have told me how hot it was. I guess I didn't do quite a good enough job, but I can't account for the sexual proclivities of others. Or maybe some people just know me better than others. Haha.
SDA: You’ve made it a known fact that Dying Light is the first in a series of books, how many more does this story entail?
DSM: I talk about in the blog and on my Facebook fan page. There are going to be two sequels, of which "Midnight Sun" is one, and a prequel, which will take us back to New Orleans and show us Emily's back story. I'm also working on short stories that take place in New Baltimore, but may not be associated with the novel's events or characters. No telling what else might happen, but I don't want to get into this kind of serialized scenario and crank out a bunch of novels that go on forever.
SDA: Do you have a writing process you have to follow? If so, what happens if you deviate from that?
DSM: No. I just go. I can't say for sure if I have ever written a short story knowing totally where it was going. I certainly had no idea where this novel was going. I just started it and stuck with it, and it did the rest. I like to say I was just along for the ride. There's no process at all that I'm aware of. I just open to a blank sheet of paper, kind of how I'm answering these questions, and it just happens. I might need to set the mood, as I've said, but other than that I may have a vague goal in mind -- nothing more. So many things have happened in my novel that I didn't expect, it's ridiculous. I can't explain it.
SDA: What led you to become a writer?
DSM: Getting divorced and watching my kids driven away in my ex's minivan. I had to have some way to deal with it, so I started blogging. Then came some poetry, then short stories, now novels, more short stories and more blogging, but no real personal blogging. I did the healing I needed to that way.
SDA: So that is what made you start writing but do you believe that all writers are just simply born or are they made due to traumas and events in their lives?
DSM: Oh, I can't answer that one way or the other. I think perhaps though being a good communicator is the basis for being a good writer. You have to be able to get a point across, connect with the audience, whether it be a reader or your kid -- someone's got to get the message, or else you aren't doing your part. As a teacher, I'm quiet good with connecting. As a former personal trainer, I got to know my clients really well quickly from simply observing and them knowing when I was pushing too hard or not enough. You have to be able to read the feedback, which you can't do as a writer so much. So then you just have to trust yourself and go with it. Traumas and events don't lead to creativity or communication, but it can work for some people who perhaps had it in them all along.
SDA: Who has been your best and worst critics, beside yourself?
DSM: Besides me never really being satisfied, my editor actually thought I needed to take some writing classes and spending another several months working on it. I think that was a personal issue between us, but she was very critical and kind of ugly about it. I realize that it isn't perfect, but I've only been writing for about five years now, and this is my first novel, so I wasn't too concerned. I learn by doing, not by reading about it.
SDA: What was the biggest deciding factor in how to publish for you?
DSM: Well, I really wasn't worried about the publishing thing. It turned out that I knew someone who is a publisher at a tiny company that's really just getting started, and I like the idea of having a small little family, so to speak, of authors and the publishers. It's all very personal, like a community. I'm big on community. I could have tried to pimp myself out to a big name house, but I'm not doing this to pay the bills. I'm doing this because this is what I do.
SDA: Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
DSM: Movies and music. Movies and books alike have always given me ideas about what could be, and music sets the tone. Depending on that I think is going to happen in the scene, I run different music. And I don't mean Counting Crows or something like that. I mean movie soundtracks or melancholy songs. They really get my emotions flowing and help me feel my writing. And as I always say, if I can feel it, you can feel it.
SDA: So now to my three top questions I ask almost every writer I’ve met. How do you feel about writer’s block, as it is a constantly debated subject right now with myself and a few people, did you ever struggle with it?
DSM: I have moments when I struggle, but often I go to great lengths to set the mood for myself -- candles, lights off, movie on that sets tone with the right qualities -- on mute so I can play music, reading scenes that lead to the one I need to write so that I can establish flow, and then I just push and write anything until it starts rolling by itself. If I have writer's block, it's really just me procrastinating.
SDA: AMEN! I won’t preach on that any more as this is about you. *winks* Onto another topic as a parent I struggle with the pleading from my oldest daughter who desperately wants to see what I’ve accomplished and I really want to allow her to share in the joy of this process with me as she is very creative herself. Do you let your children read your work, or are you careful about content?
DSM: My kids are well aware that they cannot read my book. It is not "adult" because that has connotations, but it is for grown-ups. My 14 yr old got over it quickly and now she is reading all the vamp books out there for teenagers.
SDA: As someone who has yet to finish the publishing process, so ultimately I’m a mere writer still, what is the biggest piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors such as myself?
DSM: In my humble opinion, there is nothing more important that getting your readers to feel it. If you've written something that made you tear up, they better tear up, too. If you laugh, they must laugh. If you are angry, they must be angry. If you kill off your favorite character and are broken up about it, they must be devastated. If you do that, they will love you. If you don't, you better figure out how.
Well I would like to thank Scott for allowing me to pick his brain with my questions, he is a wonderful inspiration to me, always has a helping hand for any advice needed. Not to mention he is a talented writer too.
If you would like to learn more about the novel Dying Light, as well as how to purchase a copy, check out the links below:
And if you would like learn more about why he put what he put in the book:
Or if you would like to connect with Scott himself, you can follow him on Twitter:
Or his personal blog: