January 2, 2012
Today I have the pleasure of hosting Davin/Domey Malasarn, co-host and founder of The Literary Lab, and author of the short story collection Wild Grass and Other Stories. Davin's short stories and flash fiction have earned multiple awards, including two Pushcart Prize nominations and the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship.
In Thai culture, everyone has a real name and a familiar name that your intimate friends call you. My real name is Davin Rosario Hufflepuff Malasarn (minus the two middle names) and my familar name is Domey. At one point, when I was blogging under the name Davin and applying for jobs as a scientist, I got worried that, if any potential employers searched for me in the internet, all they would find were fiction references.
So, as a safety I changed my profile name to Domey. It still felt like me since so many people in my personal life call me by that name and I was getting to the point where I was starting to feel that same level of closeness with some people online. Very shortly afterwards, though, I got a job working as a writer and left my research lab life. I felt comfortable again with using Davin. I was proud of my collection, and I wanted to publish it under my real name.
As for what to call me, what usually seems to happen is that people prefer one name over another. I answer to both. Just don't call me Peanut Butter. I hate it when people call me Peanut Butter.
Yet you named the dog Peanut; and I'm sure there has to be a story behind that. I promise not to make any jokes about the Hufflepuff name either :) About that professional degree; wow, a doctorate takes a lot of years of dedication. What is your field of study? What career do you hope to obtain - or are in now professionally - and how does that relate/conflict with your writing?
I got my degrees in biochemistry and biology, always studying organisms like bacteria and algae--little specks that can only be seen under a microscope. A lot of people call these things primitive, but they can be quite sophisticated. (Or am I just a nerd?) What I'm fascinated by is how big of an impact they have on the environment. People always ask me if I've cured cancer yet. No, I haven't.
I pursued science because I was interested in seeking out some sort of truth. I wanted answers. I thought I would become a professor and run my own lab, but over time my enthusiasm for that career path waned. Last year, when I finally admitted to myself that I needed a change, I felt really lost for several months. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and I didn't know if my very narrow focus area would qualify me for any other type of job. On a whim I looked into becoming a scientific writer. I met with the man who would become my boss, and, after a short interview, he gave me a job. That was in April, and I'm still doing it now. I love it!
Science and writing--fictional writing--fit hand in hand quite well. The science made me a more organized writer, and the writing made me a more creative scientist. Both science and writing also depend a lot on logic, clarity, and explanations, so my education has helped me develop those skills. I know it's not entirely accurate to say that fiction writing is honest writing. But to me it often feels that way, and science has taught me how to be honest.
Well said Davin. I love your enthusiasm for writing. Which reminds me, while you were getting your degree, you were also editor of a prestigious e-zine. Can you talk about your involvement with Smoke Long Quarterly, and how you became an editor?
I owe a lot to SmokeLong Quarterly. Before I ever really knew what I was doing, I posted a story called "God In Frogs," which is in the collection, up on an online review site called Zoetrope. Without my knowing, a woman named Kathy Fish (an editor at SmokeLong at the time) saw my story and started telling other people about it. I was shocked to see that it was the third highest rated story on the site after that first month. So, Kathy helped me to become visible.
When I posted my story "I'm Waiting For My Dogs To Die," also in the collection, SmokeLong asked me if they could publish it. I was hesitant because I was worried the piece wasn't good enough. It felt too personal and rough. But they assured me that it had heart. So, they took it, and at the end of that year, they nominated the story for a Pushcart Prize.
Later, the founding editor, Dave Clapper asked me if I would join the staff. I did that for a couple of years, but eventually had to back out because I just didn't have enough time for it. The SmokeLong Group is amazing though. They really have a good thing going there. And, I often include some line about fish in my stories in honor of Kathy.
Waiting For My Dogs To Die was one of the most moving stories in the collection. Alright, how about an easy question to start us on the writing portion of this interview. Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Pantster. I've tried to start with a plot or a story, but whenever I do that I lose interest fast. I have to explore randomly as I write. I have to just get the mess down on a page before I can clearly see the fullness of my original inspiration. The only thing that has changed recently, though, is that I revise more as I go along. Maybe that's bad. I'm not sure yet.
Now, the Wild Grass short story collection is not your first fiction publication. What other stories have you published and where can they be bought/read?
I'm going to interupt this interview for a moment to post my own review, of Wild Grass and hope it encourages you to leave a comment to be entered into the give away:
Yep, definitely an anthology to be read with a glass of wine and lots of time for contemplation. I would give this collection more than 5 stars, but that option isn't available yet.
Ok, I know all my readers are anxious to know; how did Wild Grass come about? Would you tell us about your publication process; how you came up with the Title; what is the overall theme of the publication; how you determined which stories to include (are all your short stories included; and do you have projects you didn’t feel fit the theme?)
Sometimes I wonder if I made two dumb mistakes when I decided to publish my collection. Calling the book Wild Grass might be one of those mistakes. I mean, grass? Of all the things I could have come up with, was grass really the most exciting one? But when I sat there with my collection in front of me, thinking of which story best represented me and what cover image I wanted to use, that story was the one that kept surfacing.
I have a strong emotional attachment to it because it was inspired by my grandmother and because it was a story that taught me a lot. It was the first time I felt successful in describing the supernatural. It was the first story I wrote that had an ending that truly satisfied me. And it was the first time I listened to myself: many of my friends told me the piece didn't work, but I submitted it to literary journals anyway and, as a result, I got paid for my writing for the first time in my life. (So, always listen to your gut!)
To go back to how it started, I actually had been thinking of self publishing for a very long time. That was why I started the Literary Lab blog. Then, I was bombarded by people telling me that self publishing equaled death. So I was paralyzed for a few years, afraid to make the wrong move while also not wanting to follow traditional routes.
Finally, I took the leap, thanks to some fellow writers who really inspired me, like F. P. Adriani and Michelle Davidson Argyle. I knew self-publishing wasn't perfect, but I admired the people who did it. I wanted to be among their ranks.
These aren't all of my stories. I wanted to put together a collection that displayed my work from different angles without being redundant. I wanted to take my readers around the world.
(By the way, the other mistake I may have made was using "The Burning Girl" as the first story. I wonder if it's too inaccessible for people. It's the story of a mysterious experience, but I think the mystery might be too frustrating for some people's taste.)
I don't consider anything about the Wild Grass collection, since it is one of my favorite short story books. The stories for Wild Grass are scattered across the globe. How extensively have you traveled, and has any of your own personal experiences with other cultures influenced your writings?
In the end, the thing I am always trying to do is get to the bottom of what it means to be an emotional being, human or otherwise. That is the truth I'm always seeking. I want to know why we feel. I go about trying to understand that by looking around the world and identifying what's different and what's the same. I've been very lucky in that I've gotten to travel a lot.
My parents are from Thailand, and so I spent a lot of time staying with my farming relatives there. I took a long trip exploring mineral mines and the Amazon in Brazil while I was in graduate school. I lived in Paris for six months as part of a research fellowship. I've also taken a lot of other vacations. In all of those places I saw happiness and sadness, and I love that sense of being just one small part of a much bigger world. I try to capture that as best I can.
I honestly believe you did all you set out to do Davin. These are not the sentiments of your average scientist; but my social worker heart applauds your search.
As a long time follower of The Literary Lab, I know you are involved in the writing of a novel of epic proportions. Can you tell us about the novel’s origins, influences, and your writing process?
My first attempt at a novel resulted in this strange story about a nudist, a traffic jam, and a magic swimming pool. My second attempt was a love story that involved a barber and a witch. My third novel, Rooster, was definitely the first book I wrote that ever got to a presentable state. It was based loosely on my father and uncle and their relationship in Thailand. That thing took me over eight years to finish, and, really, by the time I was done I realized I was a better writer than the book showed. Still, I let some people read it, and I shopped it around. In the end, I didn't publish it, and for the most part I'm glad I didn't. There are some sections in it I really like, but it's not ready yet.
Rooster came about because I equated writing about "me" to writing about Thai culture. I know better now, and my current project feels more multidimensional. It's based on a woman who can live forever. It may sound totally bizarre, but I think what makes it work is that it's still about me, even though I'm not a woman who can live forever. Yet.
Well, you're the scientist, you'd know things about living forever, if not as a woman. Yet (lol). I've mentioned the Literary Lab blog several times, as it is a large part of you personae as an author, and how I "met" you. I'm curious about how you met your blog partners? What chemistry do you feel has kept you three together for so long.
Michelle Davidson Argyle (Lady Glamis) was and is so good about finding other writers on the internet. When I started Literary Lab, I think she must have been one of my first commentors, if not THE first. I went to her blog, The Innocent Flower, and really liked what she had to say. (I still remember the first post I read of hers; it was about purple prose.) Then, I read one of her short stories and also admired her writing. We slowly became friends, and since I always love being part of a team, I finally came out and asked her if she would want to be part of a collaboration. I'm sure I had some roundabout way of asking her, since I was worried she'd say no. But she agreed, and that's how it got started.
Scott GF Bailey (Six Words for a Hat), I think what won me over was his Latin. He doesn't do it so much anymore, but he used to include a lot of Latin in his posts...stuff I never managed to decipher. I also admired how strong his writing was and how passionate he was about literature. So I asked him too, after Michelle said yes.
I guess I had a sense that the three of us would get along. We're all passionate about writing. We're passionate about classical writing. At the same time we're different enough to keep things interesting. I don't think Scott will ever want to self-publish for example. Michelle has a really broad range of what she likes to write. We all approach stories differently without stepping on each others' toes. I think that's important.
Not long ago I saw read on of the Lab posts that wondered if the blog was still worth maintaining. How successful do you feel The Literary Lab blog has been, and where do you see the future of the blog?
When I started the blog, I decided I would mark its success by how many people visited it and found the content useful. That goal was probably useful to me in the beginning because people did start to notice the blog. My definition of success has definitely evolved, though. Now what I appreciate are the long discussions and debates that sometimes go on there. I love it when people post excerpts of their own writing to make a point. And, occasionally, there are these long and random comment threads where everyone is acting zany, and that always makes my day.
For me, now, the future of the blog is hazy. I think the audience has matured a lot, and for the most part people aren't looking to learn how to write anymore. They know that. They can do that. We've all grown together. When I post now, I just try to be sincere, supportive, and interesting. That's ambiguous, I know, and I think Scott's okay with the am biguity along with me.
Here's what Michelle has to say: For me, personally, The Literary Lab has been an important part of my career because it's a place that allows me to explore and love my literary side in a place where other people love literary fiction, as well. As for the future, I'd like to see us keep up the anthologies and posts - even if they slow down a bit. I want the Lit Lab to always be a place where those who love literary fiction can hang out and learn and discuss. You don't see a lot of that in the kind of atmosphere we've created. To me, that's a huge success!
A final question Domey: How do you juggle it all, and when exactly do you sleep?
Ha! Well, I'm pretty good about sleeping. It's the social life that I tend to neglect. That's why I need a puppy.
Donna, you're awesome, and thank you very much for interviewing me and taking the time to read my book. I really appreciate it!
Thanks Davin, for stopping by and sharing your insights, writing processes, and humor with us today. The pleasure has been all mine.
And don't forget Readers, to leave a comment and your e-mail if you like to be entered in the give away.