Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about the things which terrify and inspire him. Drawing on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller, Dan’s fiction has appeared in publications such as Plan B Magazine, Nature, and Mad Scientist Journal.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been fascinated by stories for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I really started to get into the nuts and bolts of the craft. Up until then, I’d felt like I didn’t have anything to say. It was only later that I realized my problem wasn’t that I lacked an opinion, it was just that I didn’t truly understand the narrative structure.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
Experiment! Think of yourself as a mad scientist, trying a little bit of everything until you find the perfect combination that truly represents your voice. Try writing a romance, a fantasy, or a thriller. Plot out a novel, write a screenplay, and try a short story with no dialogue– or nothing but dialogue!. Play with extremes in setting and tone, and don’t worry about getting everything perfect right away. Give your first drafts and experiments permission to be less than stellar now, so that when you do find the right ingredients, your story will shine like the sun.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
If you’re trying to find your voice as a new writer, I strongly recommend you try out a flash challenge on a site like Liberty Hall (LibertyHallWriters.com), Shock Totem (shocktotem.nice-board.com). or Show Me Your Lits (www.showmeyourlits.com). These sites host weekly flash challenges. The rules vary, but generally you are provided a prompt, then given a time (anywhere from an hour to a few days) to write a story and turn it in for critique. If that sounds intimidating, remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you. It can actually be very liberating, as you know that everyone is reading your story with the knowledge that it was written in a very short period of time. As a result, a lot of the pressure to perform is lifted, and you can concentrate on your craft.
In fact, “Ceci in the Sky” began life as a Liberty Hall entry, and I’d like to thank everyone over there for their input!
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I’ve got way more favorites that we’ve got time to cover in this interview, but two authors that have been on my mind recently are Harper Lee and Umberto Eco. Both have produced work that I absolutely love, but their voice and style are wildly different.
Sadly, we lost both of them recently, but their work continues to speak for them. If you haven’t already read Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, then go do so immediately. Eco is best known for The Name of the Rose, but I prefer Foucault’s Pendulum or The Island of the Day Before.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Track your production, and see what works for you. I tracked my writing for a year, and I found that if I skipped writing for a single day, I skipped the following day 100% of the time. But if I wrote something even just 25 or 50 words, then there was a good chance that I’d find time to write for an hour or two the next day. It turns out I’m one of those “have to write every day” types, and I didn’t even know it.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
I write short stories on the fly, but for longer works I can’t function without an outline. The longer the story the more moving parts. In a work of short fiction I can keep track of all the characters, motivations, etc, but as the story grows longer and more complex, I just don’t have the ability to keep it straight.
I know some writers can write longer fiction on the fly, and I envy them that ability. But for me, anything over 4,000 words or so needs a pretty detailed road map.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
I’m lucky enough to write for a living, and that means that I send out a lot of story manuscripts and article queries. At a certain point, I just had enough irons in the fire that any single rejection didn’t bother me any more.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
Right now I’m hard at work revising a novel. It’s a noir fantasy thriller that’s a lot of fun, but I’ve been working on for long enough that I’m eager to dive into something else!
9. For the next five years?
I want to keep improving. I want to push my stories into the places that scare me, that make me uncomfortable or uncertain. And I want to do it in a way that’s still fun and thought-provoking for readers.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
If anyone wants to check out my latest projects, they can head over to www.DanStout.com to see what I’m up to. You can join my mailing list there as well, and get occasional updates and amusing ramblings right in your inbox.