Dave Hassler Interview
First some fun trivia – give me some juicy details…! What is your favorite place to eat? Why? Why? The Original Taco House on 36th and Powell in Portland. Arguably, it’s in the bottom third for “quality cuisine,” but I love it – classic American-style Mexican food straight from the Sixties, with the décor to match. I have a lot of fond memories of the place from childhood, and, family myth has it, my parents had a date there once.
What is your favorite junk food vice? Gotta be nachos.
What does a typical day look like for you? If I’m not at my part-time job, I get up late, around 8:30 or so, drink some tea, and putter. Then, I tackle personal projects, scan the writing/editing boards, fool around with my ham radio gear, run errands, read, write, watch some TV. If I’m at the job, the day looks like this: get up early, go in, process/shelve returns, help patrons, come home, eat, TV, sleep. The weekends could be anything from taking a walk or easy hike (I’m no kid anymore), going out to the movies, hanging out with friends, going to see a sporting event. Beer and wine are often involved. I’m usually with my girlfriend, Sarah.
Favorite book or film? Why? For a book, it’s a toss-up between The Brothers K by David Duncan and Almost Famous by David Small. They’re both “baseball books,” but really more about dreams and what can happen to people when the dreams get shattered, twisted, or derailed. For a movie, I have to agree with that eminent arbiter of culture, Peter Griffin: “Roadhouse.”
Any movies that you really want to see? Nope.
What’s on your reading list right now? I’m a fairly random reader. Usually, I’ll go to the library or a bookstore with a topic or person in mind and then browse until I find something that looks satisfactory. Lately, it’s been 20th century political biography, physics and biology for the layman, and there’s always a little science fiction brain candy close at hand.
We all have our little things when it comes to reading that bug us. What makes you cranky when you read a novel? Dialogue that over-uses characters’ names. No one speaks like that. We know who we’re talking to (to whom we’re talking). Also, dialogue in perfect, grammatically correct English. Again, no one speaks like that.
Besides writing and reading, what is your most favorite thing to do? I have several hobbies, but my main one is amateur radio. I have a station set up here at home, and I can talk to people all over the world. And yes, some of those radios have vacuum tubes. I also have a rotary-dial phone, so there you go.
What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun? If it’s strictly for fun, I like a novel with a fast pace, a definite problem for the protagonist to solve or overcome, and (preferably) laser pistols and hyperdrive.
Who are your favorite authors? Mike Reznick, Verner Vinge, Harry Harrison, Harry Turtledove and Poul Anderson for science fiction (John Scalzi is quickly becoming a favorite); Hemingway, Plath, Carver (poetry and stories), Kundera; Richard Dawkins.
What 7 words would you use to describe yourself? Task-oriented, willing, curious, cynical, humorous, careful, thoughtful.
When you walk into a bookstore, where do you head to first? Why? The bargain bin, because it may have a great book in it, and I’m cheap (just go ahead and make that the eighth word that describes me).
Did you get to quit your day job and become an author or do you still have a day job and writing is something you do for fun? If you still have a day job, what is it? I quit my job at an insurance company — talk about soul-killing! — to set up my editing business and between clients I get to write.
What has been the strangest thing that a reader has asked you? “Are you trying to tell me that I should put one piece of pipe inside of another?” For context, this came from a chapter on building a portable antenna mast.
What are your tips and tricks for other independent authors to get the word out about their books? Just talk to people. Be genuinely interested in what they’re doing and what they have to say. There’s no magic bullet.
What are some of your favorite genres to read and to write? To read, sci-fi; to write, poetry.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What was the biggest compliment? Did those change how or what you did in your next novel? I was once told that I was out of my mind to think that anyone would be interested in my story, and that I couldn’t tell it “right” anyway. Another person told me that the exact same collection had touched her very deeply, that she was moved to tears. This experience taught me that I should trust myself and write what I need to write. Some people will get it, some people won’t. You can’t please everyone, and it’s foolish to try. But if you can reach someone, make that connection, you’ve done something good.
What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite? I love creating and communicating my view of the world, of the human condition. When I can do that with a well-crafted sentence and/or paragraph, so much the better. What I don’t like is the pounding my fingers take. After 15 years in journalism and not being a touch typist, I’m more than ready for voice recognition software.
What is the most frustrating thing you have had to deal with as a writer? Most exciting? Not getting instant results is frustrating, another artifact of my journalism career. I’m still used to writing a story in the afternoon and seeing it in print the next morning. As for exciting, I’ve won peer-judged awards for political commentary and sports columns.
When you sit down to write, do you do it the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or do you use a computer? Do you prefer one way or the other? The short answer is, “The computer, mostly.” For almost every kind of writing I want to use the computer — it’s efficient, and I have a wealth of tools at my immediate disposal, both in apps and online. But when writing a poem, I always want pen and paper. It makes me feel closer to the work. I usually do my first rewrite of a poem on the original, scratching out, adding in, drawing arrows and brackets all over the place.
What do you do when you are not writing? I enjoy getting out and walking around, reading, camping, travel, my ham radios, and watching sports.
Compared to when you first started writing, have you noticed any big changes in your writing style or how you write compared from then to now? Not really. At heart, I’m still a pen-n-paper guy.
What draws you to your genre(s)? I’ve written in a number of genres, but in non-fiction, what I really like is the opportunity to discover truth — to write about a subject in a factual way. Come to think of it, I feel exactly the same way about poetry.
For our writer friends: What advice do you have for authors looking to find and connect with a wider base of fans? I don’t feel I can speak on this with any authority. I write because that’s the impulse I feel. I certainly don’t try to gauge the public’s interest and write to its tastes. I understand that social media is the currently accepted way to expand one’s base, but I’m not a blogger or heavy self-promoter.
Along the same lines, what advice do you have for writers about the writing process and their development as writers? It’s the old “write what you know.” Yada yada yada. Yeah, it’s totally cliché, but I don’t know of any other avenue that produces authentic results. I would say to a beginning author to bash out a first-draft manuscript, non-stop, then look it over, maybe after three or four weeks. Fool around with it, play with it, and make the voices of your characters sound like people you know.
What advice would you give to a younger you? How has reading influenced you? I would tell my 25-year-old self to keep reading, and to be a little more brave when it came to sharing his work — with the public, with agents, with publishers, with magazines, with fellow writers … everyone. I feel I’ve really missed an opportunity to have my writing read by more people than has been the case.
Are you a plotter/planner or do you prefer to dive right in? I plan. An outline is essential for longer work. Even with a poem, I like to think about the topic for a while before diving in.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I’m more willing now to take on different kinds of writing, more open to new (to me) ways and forms of expression.
What do you listen to when you write? Do you find one type of music over another that inspires you to write? Why? I will often put on the local classical station, because I like some background noise and it’s the least distracting. But if I’m writing poetry, I like it quiet.
Did you have any teacher in school that encouraged you to write? Did you take their advice? My freshman English teacher encouraged me. His only advice was to keep writing, so I did.
Please tell me about your novel. The novel is set in 2053 Tacoma, Washington, and concerns a young man who becomes disillusioned with the U.S.’s authoritarian government. Through a series of misfortunes, he ends up in a prison camp and later has to rebuild his life.
Which is your favorite character in your book and why? My favorite character is Beck, the domestic security officer who hounds the protagonist. She’s got a whole trainload of baggage, and it makes her a very interesting character to explore. If there’s another novel in that universe, it’ll be with her as the protagonist.
What authors inspired you to write this particular novel? No particular author inspired me, but I’ve been reading sci-fi since I was 7 years old, so I’m sure there’s plenty of influence. If I had to peg one of those authors of my youth, I’d say Ben Bova.
Dream big… Your book has been purchased to be turned into a movie script and you have been asked to list the people you would most like to play each role. Who do you choose? Fun question! Mike (my protagonist) would be played by Zach Quinto or Kunal Nyaar, Beck would be played by Sarah Shahi (but she’s have to go blonde), Syd would go to Kirsten Dunst, and Ansel would be either Steve Martin or Bill Murray.
What else do you have in the pipeline? A non-fiction book about a prominent athletic contest that, I think, was the last of its kind.
Links – Where can people learn more about you and your work?
www.vanportmedia.com — there and amazon.com, of course! www.amazon.com/Triple-Charlies-Advice-Recipes-Bachelor-ebook/dp/B01N0OEARU and www.amazon.com/Propagation-Dave-Hassler-ebook/dp/B01M8IKBGZ