Monday, May 26, 2014

Interview of Dennis Timothy author of Merry Hell

Dennis lives in the small town of Dodge, north of Lincoln, with a population between 600 and 700 people. He grew up in Nebraska and enjoys sports, gardening, photography, and of course writing.

Dennis Timothy started writing at least twenty years ago. His first works were published when a local paper asked him to do an editorial series.  From there the idea of publishing a monthly called Legendary Iron News, for collectors and restorers of antique farm equipment, flared a desire to write fiction.  One early short story, “Found Them“, was published in the e-magazine Golden Visions. Dennis has since published a book of short stories titled One Heartbeat Past Normal, a novel Merry Hell,  and is working on a series The Whiskey Scrolls he hopes to publish book one this year. The first two books listed above are available on Amazon and both rate five stars.  Dennis’ style contains unexpected twists and at times a nearly poetic pen. He brings the reader into his mind’s eye by using the skills all writers are taught, but not all achieve to the degree Dennis does.

Glenda: Dennis, your style is descriptive in a unique way that engages the reader in what I would define as often poetic. For example from One Heartbeat Past Normal, in your short story “Perspective”, you wrote the following; “I remember the sky then darkened for an instant, as if the sun decided to blink.” Simile is a great tool for writing, but not always in such a way that we can imagine so distinctly. Is there any other writer you consider a model to help find your own inner voice?

Dennis: This was a great catch on your part, Glenda. I turn to prose at some point in all of my writings. This is homage to John Gardner who wrote Grendel, which was the re-telling of the Beowulf legend from the monster’s point of view. The man was a genius at poetic descriptions, and was taken from us far too soon.

I also have a different style of rendering detail in my writing. I describe just enough of the scene for the reader to grasp what is happening, and allow the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. I don’t write a lot of detail unless it drives the story forward, at which point I use dialog to flesh out the finer points of a scene.

At one time I was a voracious reader; and now I find it difficult to find the time to read as much as I would like to.  C.S. Forester, Kenneth Robeson, Robert Heinlein, John Jakes, and Nelson DeMille have probably all had an influence on my writing style. Everyone who has read or reviewed my work usually has the same two comments - “quick paced”, and “it’s like watching a movie in your head”. This is the style I bring to my stories.

Glenda: Most of us, as authors, like to draw from our experiences and then add to these our imagination. You always have more to tell. What are some of the places or events in your life that you’ve drawn from for your stories?

Dennis: In my book Merry Hell, I explore what would happen if family and friends were suddenly trapped together because of a freak snow storm. The setting is rural, and the event is Christmas Dinner where all the characters think they be getting together for a short visit, and have their plans interrupted by Mother Nature.  The humorous family drama that ensues is drawn largely from my own experiences.  However, the idea for the story came from an acquaintance that had this very thing happen to them.

The inspiration for One Heartbeat Past Normal comes from a variety of sources.  I was raised in the country several miles south of Nebraska City.  My brothers and I walked over two miles to a one room country school house. As youngsters, every abandoned building, every odd shaped tree, every owl hoot became the basis of a story we would tell each other as we walked to school. Also, south of Nebraska City are the Seven Sisters Hills.  Legend has it that about a century ago, a man went crazy and hung his seven sisters at seven separate hills.  This area is known for car problems, mysterious screams, ghostly encounters, and even stories of Big Foot.  This certainly influenced my imagination.

In so far as individual stories from One Heartbeat Past Normal, the story “Found Them” was a direct result of the Seven Sisters legend. “The Discovery in the Woods” came from a childhood story my father once told me. “The Brothers” was based on an actual event, as were “Hunting a Haunt” and “Home”.

Readers of One Heartbeat Past Normal will appreciate the variety of the stories. Many collections of short stories follow a formula or a common theme.  In this collection, the fifteen stories are completely different from each other. I build plot, character, and structure quickly; and I vary the perspective from first person to third person depending on the tale.

Glenda: I think the key of the previous question is imagination. From your own experience, do you feel imagination is something we either have or don’t, or is it something that is cultivated throughout life?

DennisI think it depends on the person. Obviously someone like Stephen King had an active imagination at an early age.  Frank McCourt didn’t write his first book Angela’s Ashes until he was 66.  I’ve known people with active imaginations that couldn’t commit one word to paper, and I’ve know those who had little if any imagination.

I consider it my great fortune that I was raised in a day and age without the electronic distractions of today. As a child, I used my imagination for entertainment. Also, my father was a great story teller.  I think it depends, in some part, on a genetic predisposition. My mother taught piano to a great many people, but I was her dismal failure. I have a nephew who at age six could play the piano as though he were classically trained. I think each of us just have different gifts and talents.

In my own writing discipline, I am constantly on the lookout for something unusual or interesting to write about. I’ll come home from work with my pockets stuffed with notes of things I’ve heard or thought about.  I also keep a digital recorder at my writing desk and make verbal notes of potential story lines or scenes I might one day use.

Glenda: You wrote a publication, Legendary Iron News, for people who like to restore old farm machinery. That’s a huge undertaking to target such a specific audience. You must have some interest and experience in refurbishing. Do you still publish that because of a personal interest and articles written by collectors and restorers? How did you go about promoting a publication? Is that any different from your promotional plan for your books?

Dennis: Wow. That’s a huge question - but I’ll do my best to keep the answer manageable. I had a business in which I did freelance graphic design and custom printing on caps, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and school apparel.  One day I was approached by a member of the Nebraska Antique Power Association. His name was Jerry Wymore, and he was interested in getting some apparel with the club’s logo.  As he and I visited, it became clear that a lot of what the club was restoring were the things we used on the farm as I was growing up. I didn’t consider them antiques at the time.

I met with the club, and discovered that there were very few sources who catered to the needs of these individuals.  I developed a line of t-shirts that featured old tractors and began to attend shows where collectors gathered. Then I developed a line of reprinted manuals that these people needed to understand their machinery.

The internet was not as active at that time. Collectors and sellers were limited to shows and magazine ads for the items they needed to restore this antique farm machinery.  That’s when I hit upon the idea of a “buy-sell-trade” publication that would bring all these people together, and help me sell my t-shirts and manuals.

I contacted some of the people I had met at these shows, and they were only too happy to share their knowledge of how things worked in yesteryear.  I had an individual, who called himself “The Tractor Doctor”, who would answer technical questions sent in by subscribers. Another gentleman, Menno Kleiwer, had lived through the depression while living in rural Nebraska, and had many stories to share. I had several regular contributors who shared their experiences of acquiring and restoring equipment.  And, I sold advertising on the back pages of the publication.  I printed two hundred of the first issue, took them to the National Antique Power Show, and passed them out for free. The back page had a subscription order, and the rest was history. 

I became the editor and smoothed out the rough edges of the stories people sent me. I also had a monthly editorial column that I hope people enjoyed. I would comment of the current state of collecting, agriculture in general, and blended the two with my own brand of humor. The publication almost grew beyond me.  I think I had subscribers from thirty of the forty-eight contiguous states. It was a lot of work pasting it up each month, getting it printed, and mailing it out; but it was a lot of fun as well.

The age of my contributors, and the easy access to the internet finally brought an end to the publication.  And any attempt to recreate such a paper probably couldn’t work today.

My current marketing plans for my books are pretty mundane. I use social media and word of mouth to generate sales.  I am gathering something of a hardcore fan base. This helps during those times when you are given to self-doubt (a trait shared by most authors.) I try to target groups on Goodreads, or social media, who would have a specific interest in my stories. The mass market is a myth, so today’s author has to ferret out the niche markets for his product.

My next story, The Whiskey Scrolls, is so epic and so well done that I will probably pitch it to a small press or independent publisher.  It deserves at least that much effort.  The story has been professionally proofed, and the cover art is complete. So, we’ll see where this adventure leads.

Dennis Timothy epitomizes the disciplined technical writer who crosses over to the fiction market in a way most of us only dream. I agree with Dennis that talent for writing comes in many different ways. Some fiction writers develop their imagination, or it was cultivated by parents or teachers such as Dennis’s father. Some are born with a vivid and sometimes disturbing imagination, but where would we be without them to make us jump when gripped by that moment when the story or a character turns.

I’ve said before that every interview I do with other writers is a learning curve for me. I relish the styles, personalities and processes. Most of all, through the progression of asking questions that are sometimes a bit much, I appreciate the willingness of someone like Dennis skillfully answering instead of requesting I break it down. He would have been right to do so. However, he so skillfully put the puzzle together so we could understand the entirety of his essay. There is no one particular way to write a story or a paper that surpasses another. There is the writer and their work the way they do it best.

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