As an author, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting other creative people – many who are also authors. From time to time, I like to introduce you to one of them as well.
My guest today is Charley Daveler, a speculative fiction writer whose short stories can be found in a variety of literary journals. Her plays feature a more satirical side, several premiering in the Los Angeles area. She currently lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with an inappropriate number of high heels—inappropriate in Wyoming being more than none. Her most known work is her ongoing series of short stories, Stories of the Wyrd, available for reading at www.CharleyDaveler.com.
- You’ve written a number of plays, short stories and even novels. Which is your favorite (published or not) and why?
My medium of preference is novel writing. Short stories, I believe, require more precision. Plays less so, but they are limited by predominantly being shown in “real-time” and limited in-world space. You can play around with it, but it takes major creativity. Yet there are so many literary journals and theatres looking for work who aren’t being inundated with options that my short stories and plays could find buyers before my novels.
My favorite manuscript is split between two—one of which (The Dying Breed) I love and have been working on for several years, but hasn’t been receiving a great reaction. It isn’t published yet, but very few of the beta-readers seemed as enthused as I am. The novel I wrote directly after finishing the first draft of Dying (The Vicarious Saving of the World) was the opposite. It has received immense excitement from betas, the first manuscript people begged me to read, and I feel it has a much stronger pitch and hook. I still prefer Dying, but it’s hard not to let other people’s opinion affect you. (And I do like Vicarious.)
My favorite short story that you can read is “A Test of Humanity” in 365 Tomorrows. It was my first published work.
- Given the time you have spent in the theater, do you have an all-time favorite play and/or musical?
I really enjoy The Book of Mormon, a modern work, and Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. I find that I like shows written after 1980 or before 1900’s because I’m not too much into the existential movement, Absurdist pieces, or experimental theatre. I respect them and the difficulty it is to produce that kind of work, but I prefer things with storylines and character arcs.
- Seattle has been home to many original theatrical and musical theater works. Our season tickets are directly in front of the “house seats” where the playwright typically sits. What is it like to be in the audience when one of your plays is being performed? Are you watching the play, the audience, what?
Generally speaking, I’ve been behind the scenes where most of my plays are being performed. The real money—and the way to get your work in a theatre via nepotism—tends to be in tech work, so I’m stage managing or working lights. The first time I was ever able to actually sit in like an audience member, without any jobs or responsibilities myself, it was actually kind of difficult. You have to give all your trust to your fellow artists… and also aren’t able to distract yourself with work, so just have to listen and watch. You can ignore the audience’s lack of response when you’re calling cues, but you can be hypersensitive to every little thing when you’re right in the thick of it.
Once, I remember an actor got so overzealous, he threw a table across the stage and it broke in two. I had to run out of there in tears I was laughing so hard—mostly, I think, because of nerves.
- With the ever rising costs of theatrical production, do you find it harder to place your stage work? What changes do you see that will improve this or make it worse going forward?
I’ve found it so much easier to work with for profits than non-profits because for profits usually only have one “owner” and you merely have to convince them it won’t cost them anything. Especially in my hometown community where there is a lot of money and artistic support, the problem of getting work produced has more to do with reputation than funding; a sort of “Yes, but how will this play make me look?” attitude. And they have boards, often filled with rich people who don’t actually know much about theatre, so you now have to convince ten people that it will make them look good, make money, and stage directions are normal.
The good news about theatre is that you can produce it cheaply if you’re willing to be creative, work hard, and aren’t too proud to beg. Of course, if you believe artists deserve to be paid, you have a problem. People are expensive, which is why you see so many modern plays with less than five actors.
I personally hate abstract sets (black boxes, jeans and t-shirts. I even made fun of it in a one-act, The Vanishing Theatre, in which the self-aware characters are becoming more and more aware of budget cuts). But, by participating in a community (spending a lot of time helping other people with their productions), I managed to get a lot of space for free, and raid their wardrobes/set storage. And, by doing a lot of work myself, plus finding starting artists who are looking to up their portfolio (be prepared for them to bail), I am very good at working with a minimal budget.
- You were born and raised in Wyoming, went away to college and returned to Wyoming. Ever give any consideration to living somewhere else? If so, where and why? If not, why not?
Oh, yes, yes, yes. I was actually all packed to leave for New York City last spring when, in essence, I fell in love and so on and so forth.
Now, we’re looking to move again, and I’ve examined all kinds of places. In fact, I’m kind of wishing an answer would plop into my lap. I’d like to go to a bigger city with more options like New York, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, or even Los Angeles again.
My hometown, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is beautiful and with straightforward and kind people, yet it also has no fabric store, art store, electronics store, or hobby shop. And there is definitely a ceiling on the kind of work you can do. I’ve worked with every theatre group here. They’re fun people with great vision and work ethic, but it’s still limited.
- Who has been your biggest inspiration/role-model/mentor – whatever you prefer to call it?
I see the way those comics have influenced me all the time in little ways. My writing can be criticized for using “too big of words” and not explaining enough. (And sometimes, complimented for it.) Because I was so young when I was reading Calvin and Hobbes, I believe it strongly affected how I tackle works I don’t understand, and that has directly influenced my writing style. I write how I read, and many times I’ll tell people my books are meant to be skimmed. If it doesn’t make sense now, then screw it and move on. It’ll make sense later.
That usually doesn’t go over very well.
- How do you come up with the stories and plays you write? Do you have a specific creative process? Do you sit by a stream with pen and paper? Stare at a starry sky?
I constantly toy with my process, but there are some common trends. I tend to see scenes before me and then learn what I can from what witness. I also tend to take my fantasies too seriously.
For example, I mulled over the idea for a new book when I was playing Fallout Shelter—an iPad app in which you are living in a vault in a dystopian world, trying to survive. After a while, I started to systematically go through and impregnate every female character because I needed more workers. In doing so, I felt bad, but I told myself, “They don’t have to care for them though! They can still work,” and, “It’s for the good of the vault!” Things I could see someone actually saying to legitimize the process.
A character emerged from that vision, a young girl who wouldn’t want to get pregnant. A conversation between her and an authority figure trying to convince her came from that. Through that dialogue, I tried to legitimize my callously impregnating everyone, the morality of doing so, and her reasoning behind not wanting to do so.
Even though it was only a scene, in that scene I needed to answer so many questions, and a whole world, lifestyle, and character developed from it.
So, yes, I mostly write as I go. It’s hard for me to figure out what I don’t know when outlining, though I have outlined in the past to excellent results.
- I typically write with a good cigar. Do you have a writing routine of X hours per day, a favorite place to write, a must-have beverage or anything?
I try to write early in the morning, and aim for about five pages. I have a check list because the visualization helps. I like page count versus word count because it varies how long it actually takes you, and better than scheduling a number of hours because I spend a lot of time getting distracted, and it’s not as productive as it could be.
As for other writing routines, I often require change. If I’m struggling, I’ve found that by switching from typing to handwriting, one notebook to a yellow tablet, going to the library, Starbucks, or my work, altering fonts or programs I type in, help keep it novel.
- Of all the characters you’ve created, which one is most like you? In what ways?
That’s difficult. I’m a very empathetic person and I would argue my writing ability all depends on that trait, so normally I understand and see the perspective of the majority of my characters anyway. Many of them have characteristics I see in myself, but there isn’t anyone that I really “see myself as.”
I’ve been told that the main character of The Dying Breed, Libra, is similar to me—A brainwashed member of a cult (flattering guys), she is quiet and thoughtful when you first meet her, not showing a clear personality, but then reveals a confident sense of her own thoughts when you finally manage to get her to speak. One person told me she is good at seeing both sides of the situation, which was not intended, but I kind of see it to, and I can definitely relate to that.
But if I had to discuss who I relate to the most, it would actually be her love interest, Raiden. He is withdrawn, hurting, distrusting, with an admiration for a brother who doesn’t return the favor, but intelligent with a sarcastic sense of humor he mostly keeps to himself.
- What’s your “guilty pleasure”?
Reading bad reviews.
I don’t like bad reviews as a whole, I don’t like leaving them myself, and don’t get me wrong, it’s really not a schadenfreude sort of thing, or isn’t meant to be.
It’s that I love to see a story told with passion and perception, and many one-star reviews have that. A lot of books have great ideas told in mundane ways, for someone with a chip on their shoulder explain them to you, it can take a mediocre story and blow it out of the water.
I will also say that many a time it’s been because of the bad reviews that interested me into actually buying a book.
- What is the biggest misconception people seem to have about what you do?
That I’m not getting conflicting opinions. Many people assume that their experience and perspective is the same for everyone, and it will prevent them from providing explanation and arguments; they don’t need to be, their viewpoint is obvious.
But when you have 20 people read a manuscript, and only one person commenting on how, “you absolutely must change this specific word,” it helps the author to explain why it’s important to you, and why other people might care, not just assume everyone cares. Because they don’t always. You will have lots of beta-readers who don’t agree on anything.
Sometimes you can find a common denominator. Sometimes, a succinct and simplified argument won’t be as true as the long-winded version. It can be hard for an author to determine whose advice is best, and if a piece of advice is bad, or the writer just doesn’t understand it.
There are many times they actually state completely contradictory “solutions.” Yet, sometimes, the “why” being the change is the same. Explain why a change should be made, and the writer can take both your changes into consideration, combining them, or just better equipped to pick the better one. People can take offense when you don’t just automatically take their word for it, but on many occasions, it would be stupid to do so, especially if you’re not sure you see it and no one else has mentioned it. Because it’s entirely possible that it’s still valid, it just is easier if the reader does their best to prove it’s valid and not be offended the writer didn’t see its validity on the first go.
- I’ve traveled the world, all 7 continents. Is there a place you would like to go that you have never been? If so, where and why?
I’d like to travel a great deal more anyway, but “everywhere” is a tedious answer.
The one place I’ve always wanted to go was Japan, Tokyo specifically… which shouldn’t exactly be shock as a science-fiction writer. I was a huge anime fan as a child—still am, and a big video game fantastic, though I’ve given it up to make more time for writing. Japanese history and culture fascinates me.
- I write Science Fiction, if you had the chance to go to the moon or another planet, would you go? If so, what would you take with you?
Absolutely. The only time I’ve felt a limitation was the unlikelihood I will ever go to the moon or be in outer space. If we were going there to start a colony or something in which I’d never come back.
- What do you see next for Charley? What’s on your horizon?
The Dying Breed is in its seventh draft. I would like to begin the pitching process within the next month. After producing plays for so long, I’ve long learned I prefer working with a team and not being in charge of every aspect, so I am looking through the traditional route first. I have 14 manuscripts to go through if Dying doesn’t get picked up, but it’s possible I’ll consider self-publishing if I can’t find an agent in the next two years.
Truth be told, I haven’t pitched my novels really. For me, the short stories and plays were less of a risk and more for fun. It wasn’t as important as they got picked up so I was more willing to put them out there.
- What advice would you share with others who would like to write? Is the advice different for short-stories vs. plays?
Focus on becoming aware before becoming “good.” Primarily, self-aware, then aware of the world around you, literary and otherwise. Once a writer understands himself—what he’s inclined to do, what he wants to do, what he wants to change—then he is better able to determine how to improve his writing. If he tries to advance himself before he knows how he writes or what other people are doing, he’s essentially working blind, and it’s ineffective. Storytelling is a personal experience that requires a unique voice and perspective, but with tactics that inspire trust—i.e. meeting some expectation. By determining your natural tendencies then comparing them to how the world sees those tendencies, you will have an effective method of finding the right balance of personality and professionalism. Writing is too subjective and personal to try and focus on “not making mistakes,” and “being a writer people like,” especially when it’s not cut and dry what a mistake is or what things people like. And it doesn’t work to have someone tell you what you’re supposed to be doing and just trust them, or just wing it and hope something happens. That isn’t successful in even more cut and dry fields. Instead, consider what you’re doing and if it is resulting in the responses you want; do this by writing a lot and paying attention.
By developing understanding and a philosophy about writing, primarily your writing, you’ll be better equipped to deal with contradicting opinions, what to do about the market, what direction to take a book, a scene, or your career, and how to make your book “good” when no one agrees on what that is.
If you would like to purchase any of her writing, you can find my short stories listed at www.charleydaveler.com/works.html, or you can read my most popular work for free at, Stories of the Wyrd, at www.charleydaveler.com/storiesofthewyrd.html.