Hello after a few weeks away and I’d like to introduce Dan Buri to the Thursday Throng. Dan is a writer who has recently published his first collection of short fiction, Pieces Like Pottery. It’s an exploration of heartbreak and redemption and the San Francisco Globe recommended it to readers and saying, “It hits you in the feels.”
What is one thing that no-one would usually know about you?
When I was younger, I used to “play” Star Wars with my three older brothers. My oldest brother would be Luke Skywalker. My second oldest brother would be Han Solo. My brother just older than me would be Chewbacca. They would make me be Princess Leia. I have no idea why I couldn’t have been C-3PO or R2-D2 or Lando Calrissian even. They always made me be Princess Leia. (shaking my head)
What did the best review you ever had say about you and your work?
Great question. No one has ever asked me this before. I have been lucky enough to have some very positive reviews. There was one lovely woman, though, that had some feedback that really touched me. In her review itself she had wonderful things to say, commenting how she wanted to give the book 10 stars instead of 5 and how people will want to read my book again and again; but she contacted me directly as well and shared a wonderful story. She told me that her husband was an Air Force helicopter pilot who died in 2012 in a mid-air collision. She had spoken to him one last time less than 2 hours before he passed away. His last words to her, she says, were nearly identical to the last words in my book. She was so moved and just cried. She told me that she could never thank me enough for bringing her that experience in my writing. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a more beautiful review than that.
What did the worst review you ever had say about you and your work?
I welcome all reviews, good and bad. A good book, in my mind, should have both positive and negative reviews. If every review is good, then it most likely means that the book is “just fine”—the book probably doesn’t challenge the reader at all. There are great minds that love terrible books and great books that are hated by great minds. A book isn’t for everyone and that is perfectly fine. Great books have people debating their merits.
I had one reviewer, though, call my book blasphemous and anti-religious. This really took me by surprise, particularly because the reviewer went so far as to call me anti-religious, rather than just my book or just characters from my book. I am a practicing Catholic myself and the book intentionally has undertones of the Sorrowful Mysteries, so the critique of it being blasphemy left me bewildered. To each his own, though. After a writer completes his work, it becomes the reader’s.
Are the names of your characters important to you?
Yes, in Pieces Like Pottery most everything in the book is intentional. The names are not randomly chosen. The numbers used are intentional. Quotes, songs, artists, etc. Most everything referenced in the book has a purpose, sometimes within the context of that one story and often times within the context of the entire framework of the book. It is no accident that there are five Sorrowful Mysteries in the book and that there are four intermediate stories and poems that break up the five main stories—that all has meaning. There are a lot of easter eggs in the book, so readers should look closely. Hopefully in addition to enjoying the stories on their own merits, your readers will enjoy searching for clues, almost like a mystery novel that challenges the reader to pick up the individual pieces of the story and piece them together into a grander whole. But the short answer to your question is yes, the names of the characters are important.
How did you choose a title for your book?
I wanted a title that would conjure up a number of ideas in the mind of the reader. Pieces Like Pottery references how bits and pits of the stories are pieced together to create a larger novel than each individual story. I wanted to create an image of beautiful art being pieced together. I wanted to invoke emotions of shattered dreams being pieced back together, like a jig-saw puzzle. And I wanted to reference a Bible verse—Isaiah 30:14.
Are there any occupational hazards to being an author?
If you count a life of obscurity in an occupation that doesn’t pay the bills as a hazard, then yes.
Do you think there is any elitism attached to the different genres of books, both in the fiction and non-fiction worlds?
For sure. My first fiction book is a collection of short stories. Short stories are not well received and are usually not looked upon kindly. Despite the fact that the stories in my book are all linked and create a larger story—an entire novel, if you will—it’s just not viewed that way sadly. Probably as impactful or more impactful than the preconceived opinions about genre are the preconceived opinions about indie authors vs. traditionally published authors (published by one of the big six publishers). Ebooks have done wonders for changing the accessibility of indie authors, both from a publishing standpoint as well as from a readership standpoint, but the widespread opinion I’ve found from the larger public outside of the writing community is that if it’s not traditionally published, it’s because it’s not good. This has changed a little bit in the last 3-to-5 years, but it remains an unfortunate reality.
The big six publishers are large corporations and as much as they aim to focus on creativity and great works, it’s difficult for them because they have thousands of people that work for them and that rely on them for a pay check. So the big six are constantly focused on what will be a commercial success. The irony, though, is that they have no idea what will be a commercial success just like you and I have no idea. What do Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, Gone With the Wind, and Twilight have in common? They were all initially rejected by publishers. They just don’t know what’s going to sell. Indie authors have a little bit of freedom from this pressure. We all want our books to do well commercially of course, but we are also able to take creative chances that a big six publisher might be unwilling to take. (And as I step down from the soapbox let me say, please get my book! I need the support of great bloggers and readers like you. $3.99 is less than a cup of coffee! …Ok, I’m done.)
What is the single biggest challenge you faced when writing your book?
Time. Having a very demanding job as an Intellectual Property attorney and raising three-year and three month old children with my beautiful wife, it was very difficult to find the time to write. Once upon a time I thought I needed to write in a particular time and place. I would typically write at night and need to be in the perfect mood to do so. I quickly found, however, that I was not finding much time to write at all. I had to begin writing anytime I could find a free 30 minutes. I was lucky I did too.
I think young writers always wait for the moment of inspiration to strike. These moments are amazing, but they are a great luxury. The truth, in my opinion, is that writing is as much about editing and revising as it is about the writing itself. I have so many pages of Pieces Like Pottery on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Maybe editing is a beautiful and inspiring process for some people, but for most writers I know it is painstaking. There’s nothing inspirational about editing for me. Having very little time to write each day helped me to begin taking my writing to the next level and to learn to hone it as a craft, rather than my writing simply being an inspirational hobby.
Do you have any hints or tips for aspiring writers?
Over the years I have been lucky enough to be offered abundant feedback and to hear excellent commentary from a few creative people that I admire greatly. There are three comments/ideas that have stuck with me throughout all my writing endeavors. (Each of these is summarized in my own words.)
- When asked about the fears and doubts that she had with her writing, Elizabeth Gilbert (best selling author of Eat, Pray, Love) said she finally had an epiphany that her “writing muse” was telling her that this isn’t her story. If she doesn’t tell it, she said, then the muse would move on to someone else who will. Ms. Gilbert discussed how freeing this was for her. She was no longer declaring to the reader: “Listen to me. I have something to say.” It was almost as if she had no other choice but to write. This opened her up to write every day without fear of the result.
- Ira Glass is an American public radio personality and the host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life. He has a great quote for young creatives. In short, he encourages that your work is not going to be good when you’re first starting out. You may have an excitement for your craft and a killer taste for what’s good, but your execution is poor. The only way to improve your work, the only way to close the gap so that your work is as good as your ambitions, is to do a lot of work. Write. Every day. Every week put yourself on a deadline to write something new. It’s going to take awhile, but that’s normal. Good writing doesn’t come the first time you sit down.
- Louis C.K. is one of the most thoughtful and innovative comics alive right now. I once heard him speak about his HBO show, Lucky Louie, which was cancelled after one season in 2006. He was asked if he was disappointed and if he looked back at it as a failure. His answer was unequivocally: “No.” For him it was just another experience that taught him how to hone his craft, which was invaluable.
So those would be my three pieces of (long-winded) advice for young writers. One, don’t worry about whether you have anything important to say. If you are inspired, say it. Two, write constantly. You won’t become a good writer unless you’re writing all the time. Three, take every writing experience and use it to hone your craft. Something is not a failure simply because the public doesn’t receive it the way you would like.
How do you remain sane while working?
Your question presumes that I am in fact sane. I have been called a weirdo and crazy more than a few times. So…pass?
What is the best excuse you have ever come up with for missing a deadline?
This isn’t my excuse, but I have to share this story. When I was a freshman in college, a young man in my dorm felt unprepared for his midterm the next morning. He decided he would drive to the side of the highway and call the professor to tell him he had just been in a bad car accident and couldn’t make it to the test. Another friend, enjoying how clearly distraught this young man was about a simple test, and noticing how much he was overthinking and planning his excuse for missing the test, pointed out that the professor wouldn’t believe him if he didn’t have any sort of scratches to show for it. So, long story just a little bit longer, in an effort to give himself a black eye, the young man concocting this elaborate excuse proceeded to run full speed down the hall while another individual hit him across the face with a textbook. I kid you not, this is an honest to God true story. The moral, clearly, is that college-aged males are a very dumb species.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Great question. Stories constantly bubble up inside of me. As writers, I think the challenge is taking the stories from our head and our heart and putting them on the page. A lot of people have stories, but not everyone can communicate them effectively and clearly. This is the great challenge of the writer.
I find inspiration in my everyday life. I think good writers have a unique gift of empathy. They work hard to understand another person’s pains, hopes, dreams and fears. I really try to understand each person that I encounter in my life. These experiences tend to inspire me and seep into my writing.
What was the most important thing you learned at school?
How to get out of a midterm with elaborate stories about car accidents.
Tea, Coffee, Water, Juice, Wine or Beer … which do you prefer when writing?
Whiskey if I can go off-script. If not, than a good wine.
Finally, I would like to first of all say thank you, Linda, for hosting me on your site. You have a wonderful blog! This is a great place for us all to indulge in our shared love of books. Thank you for your excellent content and book suggestions. I am grateful to be here.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT dan AND HIS BOOK?
You can find Pieces Like Pottery in Kindle format here:
WHY ‘THE THURSDAY THRONG’?
These posts are called The Thursday Throng in honour of the throng that waits eagerly outside the book store when a new author is doing a book signing event or appearance. On this website it takes the form of a ‘Meet the Author‘ online event with some information about our author’s latest book and an interview. If you would like to take part in the Thursday Throng then why not visit Thursday Throng Author Interview Guidelines to find out more.