20+ Questions for Daria

  1. What made you write your first novel?
When my husband and I decided to sail across the Atlantic, then again to the Caribbean, and finally to Europe, I kept a log of all our experiences. I was going to write a book based on those logs. But when we got home, I realized that so many people had already written accounts of the same sort of experience that there was nothing new and exciting about it. So instead, I decided to write a novel based in those experiences but as a murder mystery. It's called The Naked Truth.
  1. How did you come up with this particular idea?
My husband, Alex, was writing novels and I was editing them. He was just about to start his third when I thought, heck I can do that, too. But what would I write about? That’s when it struck me that a murder mystery set in the sailing world could be really fun to write. I already had the notes, all I had to do was write a story around them
  1. Why did you choose to write about multiple murders?
Well, I wanted my lead characters, Jessica and Xander, to keep sailing not just to get stuck in one place investigating a single murder. And, having worked in the pharmaceutical arena, I wanted to weave my knowledge of medicines into it. That’s all I’ll say.
  1. What was your life like before you started writing?
I’ve always been writing. I wrote poetry and prose as a child and even won a poetry contest for a poem I wrote in Ukrainian. (That was my first language even though I was born in the States.) But an adviser in high school told me I’d never be a writer, so I became a scientist who wrote.

I wrote grant requests in my first research job. Then I became a copywriter in pharma. Last I wrote strategic plans for global marketing of big brands. It’s all a form of writing. But most of my life was spent writing non-fiction articles. The transition came when we decided to write a how to book on boat anchoring and then a cruising guide to the remote west of Ireland. That led me to want to write other things, like fiction.
  1. What are some things you struggled with most?
How to keep it fast paced. Sailing is sort of a slow life. And how to resolve that what is witnessed may not be as it seems.
  1. What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I go for a walk, I write something else, I spend time gardening,I read someone else’s work, I do research online. I never ever run out of things to do. Eventually, something clicks and I start back on the book again. I don’t force it because I just know that some days I won’t write much of anything good. Other days it flows unchecked. I go with the flow.
  1. Where and when do you write most often?
I write in my office upstairs in our house by the sea in the country. I can see the sky moving past me in the roof window overhead. When I stand up I can see the fields behind our house, and we often have horses or donkeys grazing there. It’s very pastoral.

My most productive period is after 3 pm, which is great at this latitude because it gets dark early in the winter. That makes me think it’s time to get to work sooner. But I often write poetry and flash fiction in the morning. That’s when I tend to be more literary.
  1. Do you have any writing style quirks?
I don’t really think so. But I did introduce a device in the book that I found great fun to write. (I can’t tell you about it. You have stumble across it yourself.)
  1. Why did you choose the settings and locations you chose?
While we were sailing, we had a number of funny experiences with nudists. So I set the murders  in those settings, which were only slightly embellished from the original.
  1. Have you been to all the places you describe?
So far, yes. But I do research and add in elements in those settings that I might not have experienced personally and fictionalize others to make them more interesting.
  1. Describe a typical day of writing?
I get to my desk around 10 am. I open the file on my laptop so that the moment I feel the urge to write, I can go right to the page and start. But first I usually look at email, Facebook and Twitter, read the paper to see what’s happened in the world while we were sleeping, pin some things to Pinterest if I want to find them again. Get some marketing done for the various projects we have ongoing.

Then I write. Some days I can do 10,000 words. Other days 200. But I try to write something every day. In between, I might do a blog entry – I have several blogs that I write. Or I may be editing one of Alex's books. We each edit the other's work, which is quite time consuming.
  1. Have you studied creative writing?
I took two creative writing courses. One at the New School in New York when I was in my twenties. That was focused more on advertising copywriting. It forced a creative process and a succinct way of communicating creatively. I took another course in Ireland at the Linenhall in Castlebar with Jean Tuomey. That was brilliant as it taught me to wrap the writing in emotion. Periodically, for inspiration, I go to workshops which are sponsored by literary agencies in Ireland. It's a very literary culture. 
  1. What do you like to do outside writing?
Reading, sailing, skiing, walking, watching nature unfold around me.
  1. Are you planning sequels or any other books?
Not a sequel. The Naked Truth was a test to see if I could write a novel. Sort of a beta testing project. I have just taken a break to write a short story and a proposal for a radio documentary. Being Ukrainian American Irish I have a unique perspective on immigration and multiculturalism. 

My ultimate goal is to write the great short novel – akin to Joseph Conrad’s or Hemingway’s works.  I just need to work out the subject matter in my head. I will not write another entertainment novel until I get this out of me. 
  1. How do you feel about Kindle and e-books?
I love my Kindle because I have loads of books in it and I can throw it in my purse if I’m going to be waiting somewhere or on a train or bus. If I don’t like something I start, I can just go onto the next. Kindle gets books out there and read very inexpensively. It makes self-publishing a little more rewarding financially. Incremental sales via digital downloads make a difference.

But I still love the feel, the smell and the process of reading a printed book. Holding it in my hands, flipping back to a previous page, there is nothing like the experience of a fine book in your hands. And there is the excitement of searching through a library. An electronic library is too utilitarian. Imagine a digital Trinity … the book of Kells made accessible to many, but it wouldn’t come alive as it does in real life. Besides, one day when the lights go out, there will still be books to read in the daytime.
  1. How did you go about editing your book?
I started with just putting it all down. When I was done I had more than 120,000 words. My first cursory edit cut it to 98,000. My next step was to set it aside for a time,then read it from beginning to end, fixing major problems and correcting obvious typographical and grammatical errors. My story is chronological and straightforward, so I don’t have convoluted temporal plot twists to keep track of.

Finally, I turned it over to my husband who edits all my writing. We both edit each other’s work and we do very well with it. We realize that our comments are all to make the best possible outcome for each other’s work and we are very respectful of each other’s points of view. We don’t try to change the work, we clarify and enhance. The editing is the hardest and most important part of writing a book. 

In this edit, I fixed all the disconnects that Alex pointed out that I never saw. That's why you cannot edit your own work. Only when someone else reads it do they find what you glossed over. In that round I also cut more. One thing that writing magazine articles has taught me is that when you’ve written 4000 words and the editor tells you to cut to 2500, you find a lot of extraneous words that can be cut without losing the story. In fact, it makes it much crisper and more pleasing to read.

The next reading after that was out loud to see if there were any technical glitches. When you stumble over something when reading aloud, you know you have to fix it. And in this edit, I searched and replaced all my double spaces. Having learned to type on a manual typewriter, I was taught that two spaces are required at the end of a sentence. Not so in these day of digital typesetting. But changing the habit is worse than quitting smoking!

Alex has tried crowd sourced editing, but I don’t think I want to do that. When I’m happy with the edits, I’ll send it to a few good friends for opinions and written reviews.  That’s when I will be exposed. 

We ordered a printed proof from CreateSpace, the Amazon company through which we self-publish. There I found quite a few more typos, grammatical errors and other things that I didn't like. You eye sees things differently on the screen than on paper. I always find more things to fix on paper .

  1. Why did you decide to self-publish? 
Because my husband is skilled at producing nice books – he was a printer in a prior life. As finding a publisher these days is tough for this kind of book, it’s actually easier to get it out there on our own. We are both skilled marketers so the only thing we won’t have is book store distribution. But with Amazon worldwide and print-on-demand, there is no upfront cost for us.  We write, design, produce and market our books ourselves.
  1. What kind of feedback have you received from your readers?
Well this book is just out, but I get great feedback from readers of my magazine articles. People like the style and pace I use in writing about sailing, and I’m trying to maintain the same here. I’m looking forward to seeing what they think of my plot.

We did expose the back cover copy and cover design to our Facebook friends and got hugely valuable feedback. So much so that we redesigned the cover completely. It is so much better now. Free market research is really useful. 
  1. Do you expect your life to change as a result of this book?
Not because of this book. This is more of an exercise for me to see if I could write a novel and if I liked doing it. What it will change is my ability to write the next one. Which will make me very proud, I know it.  If that’s what I set out to do, that’s what I will do.
  1. Are you promoting your book in any special way?
Yes, I have set up a personal website http://dariablackwell.blogspot.ie/ and I am already well tied in to social media with advance promotions. We also have a publishing website where we promote all of our books, which gives us a slightly bigger footprint. When Naked Truth is ready to launch, I will unleash a media blitz and send out review copies to a few key places. I also have connections with several sailing organizations with publications of their own. I will ask for book reviews from all of them.
  1. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? 
Hmmm, walking down a beach somewhere and all the people are reading my great global short novel and saying, “Wow, what a great story! This is on the line of Hemmingway or Conrad. Beautifully written, too.” Yes, that’s where I’d like to be.

22. What types of books do you like to read for pleasure?

I like to read a wide array of genres. My favorite material is probably historical fiction, but I love spy novels, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy and literary novels. Right now I am reading Springsteen's autobiography and loving it. I grew up in NJ and first heard him play at the Jersey shore in Asbury Park when I was a teenager. I am reliving my childhood through his.

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