The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner Blog Tour 2012Scot Gardner is an author of over a dozen books mostly for young adults and youth but who has garnered a wider following. Scot lives in Australia, is the father of three children, owner of two dogs and plays the didjeridu. He divides his time between writing and speaking to children and youth about writing and giving workshops. The Dead I Know is his first book to be released in Canada, and having read it in one sitting I can only hope we see many more of his books here soon. Scot took some time to answer questions for the readers here at Book Reviews and More, so without further ado Scot in his own words.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
I love building things, gardens, houses, musical instruments and the like. I think if I wasn't writing I'd be self-employed in construction.
2. Who were some of your favorite authors or books in your youth?
I didn't read much as a kid. I loved Tintin by Hergé and Asterix and Obelix by Goscinny and Uderzo. I didn't read a novel of my own volition until I was seventeen. It was My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, about a kid who runs away from home and subsists in the wilderness. I did that every summer and the book seemed real to me. I still wish I had a pet falcon and I haven't stopped reading since.
3. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?
I liked playing with words as a kid. I wrote bad poems and worse short stories. The seed to write for a job was sown while I was hitch hiking with a friend. A magazine editor picked us up after dark and as a passing gesture suggested that I should write something for his organic gardening publication. It was almost eight years later when I got an idea together for him and he was good to his word and paid me for the article I wrote about growing food in our suburban front yard. I thought I'd discovered alchemy. Gold for leaden thoughts. I nurtured my writing by reading everything I could about the craft, selling a few more articles and eventually attending workshops with Australian writing legend John Marsden (the Tomorrow, When the War Began series). I felt my writing change gear after that workshop and knew I had bigger stories to tell.
4. What advice do you wish an artist had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?
I wish someone had been able to model a workable balance between writing and income generation for the early days. All my role models were living solely from their writing and in the small pool that is Australia, that's hard to engineer. I didn't realise how hard back then. You need to find a balance-a day job that will pay the bills but still allow you time to write. Sometimes you have to pay your dues doing what you hate in order to do more of what you love.
5. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
I have the seeds for fifty-two and a half writing ideas humming in my head at any one time. I water them all by engaging with the world-reading, watching films, hanging with friends, traveling. The things I experience that pique my attention (a turn of phrase, a vignette of story, a news article) begin to gravitate towards one of the ideas. Eventually, they morph into something useful and stick to the idea. The idea gains mass and the main character takes shape in my imagination. We become friendly, the character and I, and I begin to imagine their motivations and their problems. Eventually, the planets align and I have to write-longhand notes, then maybe a timeline on index cards, then a chapter at a time on the computer. When the novel is three-quarters done, I feel the loathing rise in me. I hate the work, I hate the characters, the story is stupid and I want to throw it all away. I have a name for that now-Weltschmerz (German, 'world pain'). It's when I realise the reality of the work is nothing like the pyrotechnic vision I had in my head. I look forward to that pain, now. It lets me know I'm on task. I finish the work (small internal fanfare, thank you), print, edit, print, edit, print, edit and then forward it to my agent. I don't sell a work until after it is written, thereby reducing time pressures on writing and setting us in the command seat when shopping the book around. Pippa has found a home for everything I've written in the last ten years. I've worked with five publishers, two extensively, and I've developed relationships with some amazing editors. I love the editing process-it's when the work becomes truly collaborative and fresh eyes get to shape the nebulous strings of words into something palatable. When we're all happy, they print (larger internal fanfare, thank you).
6. One of the greatest strengths in your books are the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?
Most of my characters are composites, though many have a dominant real-world inspiration. In The Dead I Know, John Barton the funeral director is inspired by my godfather, Kevin, also a funeral director. Aaron is a hearty blend of a close friend and a kid I counseled at school many years ago. My wife's mum and her decline with dementia fed me stories and understanding to develop the character of Mam.
7. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
Once the novel is written, I think little about the characters again. Ideas for a new book are already coalescing as I prepare the previous manuscript for publication, however during the writing I live and breathe with them. My wife gets sick of conversations about my imaginary friends.
8. What was your favorite character to write and why?
My favourite character in The Dead I Know is Skye Barton; the precocious daughter of Aaron's employer. I like straight-talking kids and she was the blustering foil for Aaron's carefully constructed world of half-truths and denial. Got to love a kid who can tell a fat person that they're fat and get away with it, huh?
9. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
I write in busy places like cafés and the library at the university. I like to be surrounded (but not interrupted) by quiet conversations and people going about their lives and I rarely listen to music as I write. For me, listening to music is a conscious act, much like writing itself, and I sit to listen like someone might prop to watch his or her favourite TV show. The music has all my attention while I'm listening. Having said that, my books have musical downtime companions-music I play a lot after the day's writing is done. For The Dead I Know, it was Newton Falkner, Mumford and Sons, Iron and Wine and Josh Pyke.
10. Some of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
I consider myself as a digital content provider as well as an author. Ebooks offer exciting opportunities for authors to write more of what they want to write. I love my eReader and think of it as a portable bookcase. I'm in two minds about the whole issue of bootleg distribution-digital sharing feels like transferring light from one candle to another, but I don't want to do myself out of a job.
11. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so are have someone do so for you?
No. Should I?
12. With the release of The Dead I Know in the Canadian Market do you hope to see some other of your books become available here?
I'd love for my other works to become available in Canada-sometimes it feels like Australians and Canadians have a lot in common, particularly our worldview. There's not much 'translation' between Australian English and Canadian English. I think we're global cousins.
13. In the story The Dead I Know Aaron's nightmare and sleep walking goes through progressions successively getting worse. How did you come up with that plot element that continually builds suspense as the book progresses?
My youngest daughter, who was an Olympic-standard sleepwalker, inspired the whole somnambulism aspect of the book. Her nightmares would 'wake' her and we could have complete conversations and she'd never remember a thing about them in the morning. She wasn't really awake. Her eyes were open but my wife and I could tell that she was dreaming. Sometimes, she'd sneak out of the house and wander the streets of the country town where we lived, asleep. Her nightmares were recurrent and we'd get a snippet more of information each time she 'woke' screaming. Those snippets were tantalizing and frustrating at the same time and clear inspiration for the rising tension in The Dead I Know.
14. Aaron Rowe is a very likeable character, even though he seems to be on the fringe or periphery of society. How did you come to develop his character and do you think we will see either him or Skye again in future novels?
They were both stand-alone characters. I doubt I'll revisit them again. A young man I met twenty years ago inspired Aaron. He'd endured the sort of hell Aaron endured but still managed to get up in the morning, to love and be loved. That's the sort of courage I find most inspiring.
15. Your books have now traveled around the world. Are they any plans for translations or any specific languages you would like to see your books in?
Not yet. Canada is my first port abroad.
16. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
I read widely now, but mostly contemporary Australian fiction for adults and teens. I love the works of Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan and my contemporaries in the young adult genre like Markus Zusak, Margo Lanagan, Barry Jonsberg, Phillip Gwynne and John Marsden.
17. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
Higher education should give us tips about what has worked in the past, but we really need to learn how to think for ourselves. Higher education should be a Socratic tease, asking us questions we desire to hunt the answers for.
18. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
Markus Zusak The Book Thief
Tim Winton Breath, Cloudstreet and Dirt Music
Peter Hedges What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Richard Flanagan Gould's Book of Fish, The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Margo Lanagan Black Juice, Red Spikes, White Time, Yellowcake
19. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
Write like crazy, until you're almost crazy. If you still love it, do it again. Get rejected ten times and if you still love it, get rejected again. That's the sort of endurance you might need. Don't give up your night job.
I have read over 800 books in the last 5 years, The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner is the second best of the lot. I desperately hope more of his books are released her in Canada especially in eBook format. And Can only say go get the book read it. As a side note I lent my review copy to my mother in law she read it in one day also. She said she could not put it down and had to find out what would happen next. She reads no young adult and works in the funeral industry and thought it was very well done. So go buy the book read it rave about it!
Books by Scot Gardner:
The Dead I Know
The Detachable Boy
Happy as Larry
One Dead Seagull
White Ute Dreaming
The Other Madonna
The Legend of Kevin the Plumber
One Wheel Drive
The Lost King
Dark Stone Eye
Mainsails 4 The Tunnel (With Dean Proudfoot)
Author Profile and Interview with Scot Gardner