Hi, all you suckers for a good writer! Today I’m interviewing Damien Galeone, fellow Prague author excellent of Senseless and blogger extraordinaire. He’s currently in the process of writing his second book and has taken a few moments out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. So you’d better welcome him, or else I’ll find out your IP address!
So, Damien, let’s start simple. Where are you from?
I am from Langhorne, a small town near Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
I just looked up Langhorne on Wikipedia (because I’m nosy like that) and found a few things of note: its population was 1,622 at the 2010 census and it’s home to the Langhorne Peach Nibblers golf club. Any other tidbits you’d like to share about it?
We have an orchard and a cool pub called The Langhorne Hotel. I have done a lot of writing there as it’s across the street from my parent’s house.
A pub across the street – that’s almost like Prague! Of course, with the minor difference that Prague would have another thirty pubs within a two-block radius.
Is there anything new or coming up in your life that you want to share?
Hm…I am thinking of asking a cute lady named Sonya to have a drink…
Aah, yes, Sonyas are always the best to invite for drinks. And if she’s smart (which she will be, because she’s a Sonya), she’ll accept because she knows talented writers are always exceptional company!
When and why did you begin writing?
I have always loved telling stories and tall tales. When I was a kid I used to tell people ridiculous stories about seeing octopus in the woods and eating peanut butter and jelly fish. Then when I started reading books I realized that there was this whole world dedicated to people who like to tell tall tales and it was called fiction. My interest in writing came from that, I think. And I have never stopped loving it.
So at that tender age you’d already displaced a poor aquatic feller and put him in an alien environment without him having even an ‘inking’ of what he was doing there. Ooh, sorry. (*slap*) Bad pun, go away! In any case, you got off to a promising start, already tormenting your characters’ psychoses. But when did you first consider yourself a writer?
This is an excellent question. Are you a writer only when you get paid for it? I don’t think so. I think that when you write a lot and with seriousness, you are a writer. My daily writing goal is 1,000 words a day, so I can say that I am a writer because I do the work, there is no pretense to it in the least. Also, getting paid and published doesn’t hurt either.
Some people differentiate between ‘authors’ and ‘writers’ – ‘authors’ being published and ‘writers’ being unpublished personages who write, but in that case you’d be both. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I wear pajamas when I write. It is a quirk, but it is not one done for sh*ts and giggles, but I need to be 100% comfortable when I write, so if a belt is cutting into my belly, I will only focus on that and eventually will throw my computer off my balcony.
I’m imagining pajamas with cute little cavorting lamb prints on it. But moving on. What does your family think of your writing?
They are totally supportive, they read my blog and have read my book. I think they didn’t really know what to think until my book was published, but that’s just normal. My pajamas are checkered. No lambs, sorry.
No lambs? Aaah, my imagination has been shot down! Okay, then, limping on (thanks to you)… What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read a lot; I love reading. But also I love the procrastination and joy of good TV, which I think is very important as well.
TV? My arch-nemesis? Important? I grudgingly concede that that possibly depends on what you watch…
I do think TV is important, as much sucky stuff as there is on TV, and there is a ton of it, there are some quality shows. I love The West Wing, Grimm, Frasier, and Monk. I love classics like M*A*S*H and Bob Newhart. These shows, aside from being totally enjoyable, can teach a hell of a lot about exposition, story, timing, a better way to word jokes to make them funnier. There’s a lot to learn there and shouldn’t be overlooked. That said, I’d rather make out with Mike Tyson than watch reality TV.
I think this relates to the general concept of ‘expose yourself to as much as you can’ (well, within personal safety measures – and barring the making out with Tyson thing). Because if you want to be a better writer, inspiration and ideas come from experience – even from vicarious ones such as reading and video.
So do you have a favorite book or story that you’ve written? Why that one?
I wrote a memoir style essay called ‘Scaredy Cat’ about the time I went skydiving and I think it’s my favorite. I accomplished everything I wanted and captured the feel I had during the actual event and I find that to be a rare occurrence. I think most writers will tell you that the most frustrating part is getting exactly what’s in your head to the paper; it always comes out less beautiful than it was in your head. So the once in a blue moon that it happens is remarkable.
Is ‘Scaredy Cat’ available anywhere to read?
It is available on my blog, www.damiengaleone.com. And I am tweaking it for publication, so maybe elsewhere in a while.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
On my blog I hear from them, and it’s wonderful. I met a young woman at a ball last week who is a huge fan of mine and I was flabbergasted with joy. It was so nice to meet someone who loves your work and doesn’t “have” to, if you know what I mean…
Oh, yes, fans are the best! (You hear that, my fans and Damien’s fans? We love you! Muah!)
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a ninja. And then there was a time I wanted to be a frog.
Ooh, if you were a ninja you could cure writers block – I’ve heard that if you don’t know what happens next, simply add a ninja! Not sure if it would work with frogs.
If you gave one of your characters an opportunity to speak for themselves, what would they say?
Probably something like “Why the f*ck did I do that?”
Yes, probably exactly what the octopus from your childhood was thinking when it found itself in a forest chowing down on peanut butter and jelly fish – or was that jellyfish?
What books have influenced your writing?
I would say everything to a degree influences my writing. But The Cowards by Josef Skvorecky, Memoir from an Antproof Case by Mark Helprin and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon are three that are on my mind as I am writing this current book.
Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
Mark Helprin, Christopher Moore or Michael Chabon. I am an enormous fan of Mark Helprin’s, but I don’t think he’d like me. I think Chris Moore and Michael Chabon would be great guys to have a beer and a chat with. Also, Michael Chabon and I were taught by the same writer at the University of Pittsburgh – Chuck Kinder – so I think that we’d have a couple old war stories to tell.
Why wouldn’t Mark Helprin like you, do you think?
I just get the idea that he would think I was a dork, which isn’t far from the truth. Like Hemingway would have hated me too, I think, but he would have hated anyone.
I love dorks! Being one myself, of course. And don’t worry about Hemingway hating you – there’s an entire culture of people who hate him right back with the boiling crackle of a thousand suns – or something like that.
Are you a self published (Indie) Author?
My book is, yes. My essays are published through magazines such as Nerve and Žena a život. I had a contract with a publishing company for my first novel, Senseless, and we reworked the manuscript for a year and at the eleventh hour it fell through due to their financial issues. It was incredibly frustrating, but I decided that since I had a manuscript that had been reworked to ‘perfection’ by a publishing company I would put it out myself.
What book would you like to read again?
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. I think I could read that book every month for the rest of my life and still find things in it that would amaze me to tears.
Is there a particular movie that you preferred over the book version?
Jaws. The book, quite frankly, sucked. The movie is my favorite film.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (ebook/paperback/hardcover)?
I have a Kindle and I love it so much I would buy it dinner without the promise of smooching. But I have 52 books in my flat and decide a while ago that I would read all of them before going back to my Kindle. At the moment I am reading Blue Highways by William Least-Moon. It’s a travel memoir of a man who drives around the U.S. on the small and backroads, which are blue on the map. It is beautiful.
Are there any authors that have grasped your interest recently and why?
Josef Skvorecky and Mark Helprin. Skvorecky because he brings great insight into Czechs and Mark Helprin because he does things with language that boggle my mind. I can’t believe his books sometimes. I just finished Refiner’s Fire and wanted to throw my book out the window as I read it. It’s dangerous to read gods when you’re writing.
That it is, but keep faith in your writing! Do you ever get writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I really don’t. And the reason I don’t is because I write a blog twice a week and 1,000 words a day either on my book or on my blog or an essay. Just because the words don’t come easily sometimes is not an excuse, you have to suffer through, but it always comes, in some way or another.
I agree with you there, but writers block is also a very real block for some people.
What challenges did you overcome when getting your first book published?
The writing. I had never written a novel before, so this was a birth by fire. I wouldn’t give up that education for all the MFAs on Earth. It was the most invaluable writing experience there is to have.
What was the worst criticism you’ve gotten?
Someone told me that my book ‘wasn’t me’ and that really cut deep, because I agree with her to some degree.
Are books supposed to ‘be us’ though, if they’re fiction?
I think it was more about the writing, she said that I sort of held back the real me in the writing, I don’t know if that’s true but I have tried to think about that in my current writing. Everything helps you develop, right?
There you go. What doesn’t kill you makes you a better writer.
What was the best compliment you’ve received on your writing or books?
I made someone laugh and I made someone cry.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The extreme need to write a book. I needed to take things to the next level and I did it.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I don’t think so, but people have told me that they know my writing. So I guess I do in some way. This develops though, and I don’t think it is something that remains stable eternally.
How did you come up with the title of your first book?
It was honestly an epiphany. And yes, I was drunk.
Drunk. Senseless. Yeah, that fits! So what books have most influenced your life?
Dirty Job by Christopher Moore and Blood Meridian. Also Tom Sawyer.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I would like to clean Michael Chabon’s floors if he would be my writing mentor. I would also clean Mark Helprin’s toes for the same pleasure. I don’t think either will happen.
I might rethink the toe-cleaning. All that toe-jam to deal with, you know.
So. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The knowledge that I can do this. Sounds corny, doesn’t it? But I think one day I realized ‘holy shit, I can write a book’ and I can and do. It’s truly a matter of just doing it and learning.
Not corny at all. Everyone needs to have faith that they can accomplish something. Without the belief, the strength is hard to come by.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. I love teaching, but I would like to shift my career more to writing and away from teaching eventually.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yes, but I won’t say what!
Party pooper! Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
If I lived in the U.S., I would. But here, not really. Most of my writing related work is done online.
Who designed the covers?
An awesomely talented Czech graphic designer named Michaela Kastlova.
Did you learn anything from writing your (first) book and what was it?
So very much. In a nutshell, I learned how to write a book. Oh yeah, and don’t use adverbs.
I will wage war for the right to keep my adverbs! Just so you know.
Do you have any other advice for writers?
Write. Just. Write. Don’t fuck around. Don’t look for the easier way to do it or look up ways to get around doing the work, just write. Write a lot. Set goals, like 1,000 words a day or 500 words a day, and stick to them. I think we are so interested in what surrounds writing, everyone has a memoir on how to write, but people often overlook the actual writing. You gotta write before you can listen to any advice.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Buy my book. Read my blog. Drink more whiskey.
Advice for life right there! What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Details and cohesion. Everything has to be reliable because if it’s not, you lose the respect of the readers and then it’s all out the window. And cohesion because everything has to work together, there can’t be any loose ends. I think that is overlooked. Plus, to be honest, I had to deal with a lot of personal issues, emotions, etc, that came up while writing the book. It was not an easy thing to do.
Writing a cohesive book is definitely hard work! It doesn’t just pop out fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head.
So on to your work in progress. What is the working title for the book?
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I think it came from relationships and my own life to some degree.
What would your main character think of you if you met in person?
He’d probably think ‘this asshole is a whole lot like me.’
Did you learn anything new and surprising while working on this book?
I am great at writing sex scenes.
Er… Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life (that you’re willing to admit, that is)?
Very vaguely. One of the characters is very thinly based on my mom. But it’s really just a couple of her quirks.
Do you have a favorite scene that you’ve already written and why is that one your favorite?
Yes, there is a scene where the two main characters go to a baseball game and I really hit the mood of the crowd at a baseball game. Well, I hope, anyway.
Darn. I was hoping for some tidbits on the sex scene! Shot down again. So next best thing: which character would you date?
Hm…probably the main female character. She is very tall and loves comedy.
And is she the one in the sex scene? Obviously I have a one-track mind. I must have been a man in a past life. So embarrassing.
Ha – yes, she is one of the people. But the main character has a vivid imagination, and so does she. I think this book will be perfect for your tracked mind!
Then you’d better not make us wait too long!
Which character would you bring home to meet your family?
Probably the main character’s best friend. He is an Indian baseball player.
Which character WOULDN’T you bring home to meet your family?
Probably the main character’s mother.
Which character would you hide in the attic? And why?
Probably the main character. He’s a bit of an old ball and loves horror too much.
Well, I suppose there’s a reason he’s running amok in your book rather than in an attic… Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think so, I think I want to grasp taking part in life, rather than watching it go by you. Also, the need for love in everyone’s life.
Great message! How much of the book is realistic?
I love magical elements to otherwise realistic books. I think it’s very realistic, but with hints of the fantastic.
Like magical realism?
I would say more of the mild supernatural than magical realism.
Can you share an excerpt of your current work with us?
I would love to, but it’s only in the first draft and wouldn’t inspire anyone with its shittiness. Get back to me in about 6 months!
Aah, and I’m shot down again!
Any last words you want to share, or ways to contact you, links to your work or other non-literary masterpieces?
Well, I write a blog that a lot of folks find very funny and I would love it if people went and checked it out. It’s at www.damiengaleone.com. It’s a lot of tidbits about life in general, teaching at a university, writing, living in the Czech Republic.
Alrighty, then, there you have it, folks – Prague writer extraordinaire! Thanks, Damien, for the great interview. Keep writing! And definitely let us know when your book is ready for perusal so we can pounce on it…
And for those of you interested in his first book Senseless, check it out below!