Saturday, July 2, 2011

Guest Blog: Dawn Deanna Wilson

Me Want Food welcomes Dawn Deanna Wilson as today's guest blogger. If you are interested in a spot on the blog, email kspatwriter at Yahoo. 

Be sure to comment on today's blog for a chance to win Dawn's book. Thanks!

Thank you so much for having me as a part of this blog interview. I’d like to tell you a bit about myself, my two most recent books, what I’m working on, and what I think makes a perfect leading man…

Oh, and free stuff. That’s going on, too.

I’ll be giving away THREE FREE electronic copies of my novel “Leaving the Comfort Café.”

Also, if you sign up to follow my blog (dawn-theyearofwritingdangerously.blogspot.com) and leave a comment to say you came from Kat’s site, when my next book comes out (hopefully in July), I’ll give you a coupon for a FREE copy. Just leave your e-mail address, and I promise I won’t spam you. I don’t know how to do that. And it’s not cool. Seriously.

I’ll be addressing some of the most common questions I get asked as a writer, and feel free to comment / leave other questions, and I’ll answer them as well.

I grew up in the semi-rural Southern Appalachian mountains, and that has a great influence on my writing, particularly on “Leaving the Comfort Café” and “Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina.” If you are from the South (or even if you aren’t) I promise you, you will know these characters. Someone once told me that people in the South will “do anything for you and anything to you,” and I think that’s right.

North Carolina is a wonderful mix of crazy contradictions---ones that I think I didn’t realize had an effect on me until much later. It’s the home of some of the best research universities in the United States, and it is also home of the hollering contest and the largest frying pan in the world (yes, I’ve seen it).


I currently live in an Eastern NC town that was home to the great novelists Alan Gurganus and Kaye Gibbons-----and just the other week, our hometown newspaper ran a front-page story about a guy who stole an elevator. You read that right. An elevator. (I mean, who looks at an elevator and says, “Damn, that’s a fine elevator. Wish it were mine. Earl, you still got that crane I guess any area can claim such contradictions, but it seems very pronounced to me in North Carolina.

So here’s some information about my most recent novel, “Leaving the Comfort Café:”

Blythe Shelley got a 1600 on her SAT and a full scholarship to Cornell University.
But she never went.
Instead, she took a job as a waitress at the Comfort Cafe in Conyers, North Carolina...
Austin Parker wanted to follow his college crush to New York City, but a slumping economy prompted him to take a job as town manager of Conyers, where his master's degree was no match for the well-oiled machine of "good ol' boy" Southern politics.

Austin goes to the Comfort Cafe to sample its famous raspberry pie, but he gets much more than dessert---he gets a dose of Blythe, who brings a splash of color into his gray-flannel world.



And my first published novel, “Saint Jude”

Saint Jude, published in 2001 by Tudor Publishers, chronicles the journey of a teen with bipolar disorder. It was selected as one of the year's best reads for young adults in 2004. Taylor is devastated when her mother commits her to St. Jude's Brick House, an outpatient program for teens with "problems."


High-strung Taylor is convinced her divorced mother is just tired of dealing with her troubled
daughter. Diagnosed as bipolar, Taylor hates her condition, fights depression, and has setbacks. She also begins to question the methods used to treat patients and to wonder why most of the kids seem to be going nowhere in their treatments…

Both of these were “traditionally” published, but since they are out of print now, I’ve moved them over to Kindle and Smashwords, where thankfully, they are both doing well.

And my short story collection “Welcome to Shangri-La North Carolina.”

These short stories were written as a part of my master’s thesis workshops. I have my master’s in English/ creative writing. One of the short stories was a semi-finalist for the Doris Betts Fiction Prize. If you’d like to sample a story from the collection, you can get “This is Not Barcelona” as a single for 99 cents. It’s about this girl supporting her boyfriend’s musical dreams----dreams that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I’ve tied all the short stories together under the fictional town of Shangri-La, North Carolina. And yes, there is a rooster. His name is Mr. Bockers and he darn near took over my story. I put this collection straight onto Kindle because I know that short story collections are notoriously hard to sell.

I might want to point out that although “Café” is a romance novel, it’s not erotica, and it is very character driven. There aren’t any (insert Barry White music here) scenes. They say write what you know, and I was raised Baptist, and as you know, we’re only raised from the neck up J

You can download samples of these from Kindle, and you can also read some of my short stories online for FREE by going towww.dawndeannawilson.com. There’s even a link to a live reading from “Leaving the Comfort Café,” (and I don’t charge extra for the Eastern North Carolina accent ).

But what I’m REALLY excited about is my next upcoming novel. I’m trying to get it out by July but it seems everything is conspiring against me to get it out (family commitments, my day job, my love affair with George Clooney---only two of which are true. I’ll let you guess which two.)

This novel, “Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves,” follows six couples between December 31 and January 1. Some of them are heading to New York, some are headed to their hometowns, but all of them are trying to put their lives back together. The main character, Mallory, has synesthesia, which means that she sees letters in color---even when the letters are in black and white, like a newspaper.

The biggest challenge with this book has been that every other chapter focuses on a different character, and thus, the points of view shift. In addition, all of these characters are closely connected and related in a “six degree of separation” kind of thing, only they don’t know it –only the reader does. There’s even a short chapter done from the point of view of a dog. Because of this, it has been a challenge, because while the manuscript is supposed to be somewhat chaotic, it is NOT supposed to be confusing. The reader “bounces” from character to character, but it has to be absolutely clear at all times where the reader is, who the reader is with, and the thematic continuity needs to be exceptionally strong to connect these pieces and pull it all off.

I start the novel with one of my favorite quotes. It sets the stage for the entire novel.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. What we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

All things are bound together.

All things connect.”


---Chief Seattle

1855


Below is FIRST GLANCE DEBUT excerpt (seriously, excerpts of this have never been posted anywhere, so this is truly a sneak peak, all rights reserved, copyrights, yada, yada, yada)



Mallory

Raleigh, North Carolina

Target Parking Lot


His passport is cool and smooth under my fingers, and I send them dancing along the traces of his chin, his check, the base of his ear. I rub my thumb along the serpentine swirls of his black hair, drawing back nothing but a calm emptiness instead of resistance from his coarse curls. I can barely see the small scar on the right side of his lip where, as a child, he was on the wrong end of a grouchy neighborhood cat; it is faint and there is no way it could be seen in the photograph without knowing it was there beforehand. From there, my thumb moves to my favorite part of the passport, the multicolored letters that dance and swoon in the morning light, intensified by the sunbeams that stream through my windshield. I like the way his name looks. I always have. I told him this the first time we met, but he laughed at me.

“Synesthetes think everything is beautiful,” he told me, and scribbled something in his notebook. “The one before you loved eggs just because the way the purple g and the bright yellow e melded together.”

But my g’s are not purple and my e’s are more of a soft lilac, so soft and flowery I can almost smell it. I told him that and he wrote furiously in his notebook. I don’t know why the department doesn’t get him a laptop or one of those iPads. He likes that my e’s and g’s are different from the last person. At least, he likes it for his research project.

Even his passport number is beautiful. Zero is the only number that is black. Always. Nothingness. Oblivion. My 1 is always red, and David has three of them in his passport number. Blood red. It stands out like a blinking spotlight or fire truck, providing perfect contrast to the zero. And 2 is yellow, a beaming, warm, lemon yellow, so powerful and crisp I can almost taste its sour and bitter brightness on my lips. If his passport number could be improved at all, I would say it needed a few more 3s, which are the same shade of blue as the British Union Jack. My 4 is green, 5 is brown and 6 is purple….but 7, my 7 is interesting.

My number 7 is what got David to notice me. My 7 changes colors depending upon what mood I’m in, like my own neurological mood ring. It ranges from the zero black to burgundy to chartreuse to this strange, sickly shade of gray that is the same color as a bruise when it is trying to heal. My 8 is just a softer version of the 7—the same hue but kind of fuzzy around the edges and about a half a shade lighter. The 7 got me on the radar of the university. On the schedule of Dr. David Yates. He’s even going to try to get them to up my mileage reimbursement because of all the stuff going on in the world that’s screwing with the oil prices. But I don’t mind the drive. Twenty minutes is just the right amount of time to let me gear down from a day of chasing down spreadsheets for Williams and Williams, CPA.

I’m keeping his passport safe for him. He left it on his kitchen counter the other morning, right beside the stove. I saw it through the corner of my eye. I wanted to surprise him with breakfast, eggs over easy, those free-range eggs from happy chickens which I swear taste better than anything you can buy at the store. The back right burner on his stove was the largest one, but closest to the passport and I didn’t want it to get over heated and –who leaves a passport right out in the kitchen like that? You’re supposed to keep it in a safe or something, I mean, really--- and David may be brilliant but he’s a disorganized mess and the passport would disappear beneath the junk mail Mount Everest on his coffee table, so it only made sense for me to slide it into my purse until I could get it to him.

…next session was the week of Christmas, but he wasn’t in his office.

“You should have known he wouldn’t be in the week of Christmas,” Rochelle told me. “No one’s in their office the week of Christmas.”

“He’s Jewish.”

“Well, the Jews go to Christmas parties, too,” she says. “Some of the hardest partying people I know are Jews.”

Rochelle doesn’t like him. She says Dr. Yates will just write a textbook about my unusual seven that will be used in universities across the country and he’ll be nominated for one of those genius grants and fame and fortune without me getting a dollar of it.

Sometimes I’m drawn to the way a name looks the same way some people are drawn to a voice or hairstyle or eye color, which of course, was the whole point of David’s study.

Y = A deep purple, the same shade I imagine the biblical Lydia using for the robes and capes she sold to the Romans

T = A maize yellow—like the crayon that used to come in the Crayola 64 pack.

E = Lilac. My favorite flower.

S = Goldenrod.

Yates. The name reminds me of the poet. His name looks like a lilac-- flowery, fragrant, and dense like the hundreds of scattered wildflowers that bloom deep in the valley. When I came across the ad in the paper, it was his name---not the promise of compensation for furthering the advances of science—that prompted me to participate.

So every Tuesday and Thursday I work through my lunch hour so I can get off an hour early and beat the rush hour traffic to the office on the East Campus of Duke University. He has me fill out forms, watch black-and-white silent films (I see the subtitles in color, even though the movie is black and white) do the whole rat in the maze thing. Push the lever for cheese. Dodge traffic on the beltline outside of Raleigh to get there on time. Every Tuesday and Thursday slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

He thinks I’m the most fascinating person in the world. Especially since I don’t see orange. I mean, I see orange- --I know the color, I understand what it looks like, but it doesn’t have an association with a name or a letter or number. That surprised Dr. Yates. But everything about me surprises him. Just like it surprised me when I learned that most people don’t see numbers and letters in color, that the newspaper was just a binary code of black, white and maybe some gray. Which I guess is why I never got the old joke, ‘what’s black and white and read all over?’ My newspaper was colorful. Not just photos and graphs and headlines, but every letter meshed together to give the story its own personality and song. It was as if I could tell the tone of the story just by looking at the colors.

“I wish I could see what you see,” Dr. Yates told me after our last session. “So dynamic. Such a gift.” When he gets excited about something he runs his fingers through his mop of curly black hair, causing part of it frizz and stand up in back---like a younger and better-looking version of Einstien.

I liked Dr. Yates because he had only just gotten his PhD and was coming out of the starting gate full force like a Kentucky thoroughbred, optimistic and on fire for changing the world, not weaving in shark-like circles around the psychology department like some of those cynical university research fossils that just wanted to publish, publish, and publish so they could get tenure. David –--he lets me call him David, though I don’t think it looks as pretty as Yates---wanted to break new ground, learn about the mysteries of the world around him. Every time I spoke with him, his deep brown eyes lit up with a wondrous spark as if he were a kid at Disneyworld. The jaded world of academia hadn’t reached his psyche yet.

I flip through the passport to once again see all the places he’s been—once to the Bahamas, once to Canada and five stamps for London. Its 10 a.m. and Rochelle was supposed to meet me here an hour ago. I wish I had brought a book to read. She said for me to meet her in the Target parking lot for my birthday present. I was born December 29, so whenever someone makes the extra effort to get me a little something extra even after all the frenzied Christmas over-spending, it’s kind of special. That’s why I put up with her. I put up with a lot from her.

Rochelle’s meeting me in the Target parking lot because the inside, the store it too colorful for me. When I first told Rochelle Target was too colorful for me, she thought I was being metaphorical. Artsy. Been spending too much time in the community college poetry classes. I had to actually explain that it was literally too colorful, a complete smorgasbord of sensory overload, and that I’m not able to go into any big box store without having at least two panic attacks. There isn’t enough Xanax in the world to get me through the Super Wal-Mart. I do a lot of shopping online. That way, the colors are confined to my 15-inch screen; they aren’t jumping and diving and leaping at my face with promises of discounts, buy one get one free and last chance clearance.

Rochelle doesn’t understand. Most people don’t. They don’t realize that you can’t partition your senses like office cubicles—senses are supposed to flow over and around you and through you, like the yellow-lime that hovers about 60 centimeters from my right shoulder whenever I hear the letter ‘s.’

Synesthesia. From the Greek: syn = together. Aesthesia = sensation. The senses cannot be compartmentalized. They should flow around and above and between you, like waves of water, like the mist of rain drizzling on your car windshield, like the syrupy sweet sent of honeysuckle that you smell long before you actually see the flowers.



I hope you’ve enjoyed that. It required me to do some research on synesthesia, which is absolutely fascinating.

And now….

Okay, here’s my TOP TEN QUALITIES of a GREAT leading man / character:

(in no particular order)
1) Handsome --- goes without saying that he should be cute, but if he spends more time in the mirror than you do, he’s in danger of just becoming another “pretty boy.”
2) Manly, yet sensitive--- men and women are different. Nothing wrong with that. He should be sensitive, but still not be so Dr. Phil that he loses some of his manly qualities (both endearing and annoying)
3) Got to be good in a fist fight. And able to swim. I don’t know why I said that, but I can’t imagine a leading man who can’t swim. Imagine if James Bond’s helicopter crashed in the ocean and – “Oh crap! Where’s my bloody floatation device?” Not gonna happen.
4) Different--- We don’t want him to be a stereotype. Give him something unique.
5) Think outside the box—because the status quo doesn’t always work.
6) Have a sense of justice – because, dude, he’s the protagonist.
7) Flawed—and working on it. Any leading man that is all perfect is too good to be true …and I don’t buy him as a true character. Remember, if he’s interesting, he’s got issues. We just don’t want him to be a magazine rack.

8) Smart. I confess, I like geeks. Though even geeks can be cute. (Heck, Indiana Jones is kind of geeky if you think about it. He’s a history buff and a college professor).

9 )It’s not all about him. He knows there’s more to the world than his Xbox (whether or not he’ll admit it)
10) Funny—he doesn’t have to be Ben Stiller, but he does have to have a bit of a sense of humor. A smart man with a sense of humor will get you through a lot.

Examples of my fave leading men in literature and movies: Mr. Darcy, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Heathcliff (though he’s in dire need of some therapy), Neo, Aragorn, and the Chairman (Memoirs of a Geisha).

Examples of leading men that are a bit too much of a leading man (i.e. I like lasagna, I just don’t want it every day): James Bond, Captain Kirk.

I’m often asked what other writers inspire me---who are the guys who really got me hooked on writing?

There are so many. Ray Bradbury short stories and Rod Searling’s original “Twilight Zone” series had a big influence on me, though I don’t write in that genre. I also remember rabidly following the whole Taran Wanderer series by Lloyd Alexander when I was in 4thgrade.


Oh, and the leading man of the classic early film decades I’d love to be romantically involved with?

I was hoping there was a way to squeeze Robert Redford in there, but if you’re talking 30s-50s, I found myself going back to Cary Grant. A classic. I also love the young Marlon Brando, but I just can’t get past that “wife beater” shirt he wore in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and his tore up character in “Apocalypse Now.”

Plus, Cary Grant is a Brit. And I love the Brits. Any single Brits out there, give me a call.

Thanks so much for having me.

Feel free to post questions, etc. and I’ll comment back.

Thanks so much to Kat and all the wonderful indie writers out there.

2 comments:

billie said...

Dawn, love the excerpt!! Can't wait 'til the book is published. I also love your leading man list. :)

Michael said...

I'm with billie, Dawn, except for one detail about your leading man list. I have it on "reliable authority" that Cary Grant had appalling bad breath. Oh, actually, (this is one of my usual semi/non-coherent stream of consciousness rambles) it was Clark Gable I'm thinking of -- all the Hollywood leading ladies of the day wished he had, yes, Gone with the wind. But seriously Dawn, a really great excerpt, original, witty, lyrical, it makes one think of the world in a fresh way. Keep on keeping on!!