Friday Feature: Interview with Daniel Davis
Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Daniel Davis, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.
Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?
It was a short story called “Dry Spell,” published in Eastown Fiction in August, 2009. Same week as my birthday, actually. It was my second accepted story, a coming of age piece set during the Dust Bowl. I was 23, living on my own for the first time, and getting ready to start grad school. So I was pretty stoked. I remember the editors worked with me on it; there was a character who seemed integral to the plot when I wrote it, but ended up getting weeded out altogether, and the story was far stronger for it. Taught me the value of collaboration from the get-go.
What inspired your piece in the Jenny?
“Flyover State” came from a favorite childhood memory: the smell of cornfields on an August night. I assume cornfields. Could be something else entirely. I just remember smelling it at the county fair every summer. Now, combine that with meth, because my county had a serious meth problem at one point in time, and it’s been steadily making a comeback. Along with heroin, because nothing’s ever simple.
What got you into writing?
Other writers. I’ve always told stories, either to myself or others; can’t remember a time I didn’t. I come from a reading family, so it was just natural for me to surround myself with books. Around 5th grade, I read a Goosebumps book about a boy who took pride in writing stories. I thought, “Hey, I do that already; maybe if I do it more, people might like me!” As all writers know, the results of that deduction were hit-and-miss.
What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?
I’m all over the board genre-wise. Most of my writing I classify as “blue collar fiction,” with an emphasis on the darker side of things. But I’ve written (and continue to write) horror, science fiction, and westerns, plus weird stuff that’s hard to classify. I do poetry on occasion, and usually it’s either dark or humorous (or, in glorious moments of absolute perfection, humorously dark). And by humorous, I mean by my standards. Which are pretty low.
What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?
I’m heavily influenced by where I’m from: rural East-Central Illinois, surrounded by corn and soybean fields. The glacier stopped along here, however long ago that was, and just a few miles south of town, the flat land gives way to hills and forests. It’s a blue collar region, but my town is also a college town, which sort of makes it the best of both worlds.
As for writers: Stephen King pretty much got it going for me. I started around age 11 or 12, and I’m still a huge fan. Along the way, I picked up Raymond Carver, the undisputed King of Short Fiction. In college, a friend and I went to see No Country for Old Men, which subsequently introduced me to Cormac McCarthy. I can still remember the first story I wrote after reading McCarthy; somehow I managed to get it published eventually, but it’s a straight-up McCarthy imitation. I weeded a lot of that out (I hope), but he’s still the biggest influence on me.
Movies, too. The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, David Cronenberg. You get the gist. Mel Brooks, because you gotta throw a curveball. (Baseball is a recent love of mine, too, and I’ve found myself writing about it frequently. Americana at its finest.) Also a lot of singer/songwriters I turned onto in high school and still devour: Mellencamp, Springsteen, Kristofferson, Tom Waits. The good ones.
What’s your proudest moment as an author?
I had a weird little flash piece that doesn’t have much in the way of plot, and revolves more around imagery. Really unlike most of my stuff. I sent it to a journal, and the editor responded a day later saying he didn’t think it was right for him. A few hours after that, I received another email from him, stating he hadn’t been able to get the story out of his head, and figured that meant he should accept it, after all, if I was willing. I, um, was.
How has your writing developed over time?
I started out wanting to be a horror writer; blame the King and R.L. Stine. I still write horror fairly regularly, but it’s much more literary (I have a hard time getting some of it published, because it’s not horror enough for genre journals, and too genre for literary mags). But I’ve incorporated the dark vibe of horror into literary fiction. Honestly, I still feel I’m trying to find my voice. And I hope I never find it; I hope my writing stays explorative until I can’t write anymore.
Are you currently working on anything?
Not particularly. I have a couple of novel ideas, but they aren’t fleshed out enough. I spit out a short story now and then, however, and a poem or song on the side. I’ve got a collection out to a couple publishers, and another about ready to throw into the ether. Keep writing, whatever it is. That’s the goal.
What’s your writing process?
I mainly write at night, maybe because I have a full-time job, though I’ve always been more comfortable after dark. I write in spurts; if I’m writing a short story, I’ll finish it in one or two sittings usually, then come back to it in a couple weeks and work it over. I have to step away; it helps me see the flaws. When I fall in love, I fall in love hard, and blindly.
What are you currently reading?
Insomnia by Stephen King. This interview made me nostalgic, and I haven’t read this one for a few years. Usually, I’ve got a random book, fiction or nonfiction, that I’m in the middle of. I have dozens of books stacked on my bookshelves that I haven’t read yet. I’m afraid to count them. I may have a problem.
Have you ever co-written something with another author? If so, what was that experience like?
Outside of all those group papers in college (that I did most of the writing on)? Nah. My writing is…mine. I compare it to cooking: I love food other people cook, and I’ll look at others’ recipes to get an idea of what to cook. But the meal I eventually make is my own. Whatever I do, I want it to be mine. I understand and enjoy collaborations that work well, and don’t rule out ever doing it, but at this point in what you can call my career, it’s almost anathema to what I do. If I put my name on it, I want it to be mine. 100%. “Good, bad, or indifferent,” as John Mellencamp sings.
Have you ever worked with a medium other than writing? Or collaborated with someone in another medium with your writing?
As a kid, I drew a little comic I called The Human Condition that was basically a The Far Side rip-off. The world doesn’t miss it, trust me, except maybe as evidence that I was a twisted little child.
I wrote a lot of songs in high school and college. I play guitar and keyboard (and a little banjo and mandolin, once upon a time), and have had a couple of people cover my songs online. It was a fascinating experience, having someone else reinterpret my work.
I’m the Nonfiction Editor for The Prompt Literary Magazine, a journal started by some grad school friends of mine. The cover of the first issue is a picture I took of a pigeon in my apartment hallway. I went uncredited, but I can still claim to be a published photographer, as well. Let’s all hope this is merely a footnote in my artistic endeavors.
Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.