“I like being alone with my thoughts and playing with ideas and scenarios. I’m not sweating and philosophizing—I’m having fun.”
Dean Clayton Edwards is a writer who has just published his first novel, The Hollow Places. Dean grew up in England and currently lives with his family in the Dordogne Valley in France. He has published numerous short stories and is now working on his second novel, Strange Ideas. I love our ongoing conversation about writing and the world of ideas.
Kim Terrell: When did you start writing?
Dean Edwards: I’ve been writing seriously since the age of 11. Around 15, I began to think about publishers and agents and wonder if I could make a living at it. Writing is a constant in my life and always has been.
Kim Terrell: What genre(s) do you write?
Dean Edwards: Well, literary magazines say that I write horror, and horror magazines say that I’m too literary. I’ve found a few magazines that publish what I do, but it seems that I don’t fit into a well-defined category. I was excited to find Transrealism.
Kim Terrell: So it’s not science fiction or horror, and it’s not realism but hovers somewhere in between. Much like life these days.
Dean Edwards: There are things that I love to achieve—especially when something very strange happens in a story and I treat it as normal. I also like to develop characters who exist outside society’s definition of them. Unusual main characters with, say, a physical or mental disability that is simply incidental but not central to the story.
Kim Terrell: Could you elaborate on that?
Dean Edwards: For instance, a character’s physical limitation is often used to further the plot, rather than to explore the character. I’m thinking of a movie where the main character has a friend in a wheelchair, and you expect that reality to somehow shape the story. Why can’t it just be that they are best friends and one of them happens to be in a wheelchair? No message. I’d like to see more balance in terms of how characters are represented. Less focus on what makes us different and more focus on what unites us.
Kim Terrell (laughs): Where’s the dramatic tension in union?
Dean Edwards: There’s lots of dramatic tension in union, trust me.
Kim Terrell: You recently published your first book, The Hollow Places. How does that feel?
Dean Edwards: Great. Publishing it freed me to move forward. That story was holding me back, because it’s been with me for so long. I was about to abandon it . . . it was awful, but somehow worth going up to the attic and rewriting one more time. Now that it is published, I feel lighter. Like my child has grown up and is out in the world making new friends and some enemies, but no longer entirely my responsibility.
Kim Terrell: What’s the best part of finishing a project?
Dean Edwards: Part of the celebration of finishing something is starting something new. I don’t usually take holidays from writing or thinking about writing. If I do, I experience momentary relief but am left without an essential part of myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself to find clients, to work on my own stuff, to achieve certain word counts and make deadlines, and putting that aside allows me to breathe for a moment, but everything else loses its color and meaning. Writing is my structure and my meaning. I find it unusual that I can be so attached to something when I’m into practicing non-attachment—but I have to acknowledge that when I stop writing, I lose my way.
Kim Terrell: Where are you concentrating your efforts these days?
Dean Edwards: I’ve got three dream projects in process that I intend to publish in 2015. One is non-fiction, a guide on how to keep a dream journal, how to remember your dreams. This is great fun to write, and it has shown me how playful things can be. It is also helping me to focus on being present, being aware. If you can do this while awake, why not while asleep?
The second project is an experimental dream journey that I’m doing by turning my dreams into one continuous story, without worrying about structure. I have no idea where it will go. My subconscious mind seems to know that I’m writing this story, so I’m entering into a partnership with my subconscious and conscious mind. It’s fun and the process is helping me to loosen up a bit. I think that our dreams are interesting to us but not necessarily to others. This is the challenge I am enjoying, bringing dreams to life and making them as immediate to the reader as they are to me, the dreamer.
The third dream project is a picture book of dreams. The form is yet to be decided, but it will contain a painting/visual and a verbal description of the dreams. I am collaborating with an artist on this and like what she brings to the project. She reads my descriptions and then puts my words into images. I love the fact that she puts things into the artwork that I didn’t necessarily know were there in the words.
Kim Terrell: Is there anything else you’re working on?
Dean Edwards: I’ve begun editing my next novel, Strange Ideas. I wrote it about five years ago, before moving to France, and it’s only had one draft, but I like it and want to get back to it. With each project, I try to challenge myself more. Strange Ideas has shifts in reality and is a bit more adventurous then The Hollow Places.
I’ve had several false starts . . . like 20,000 words into the first draft, I found myself wondering, “What’s wrong with me!” I thought it was total rubbish but kept going, despite the fact that I was beating myself up. The starting image had come to me in a dream and has remained the same: a father showing his son the world through a window; the baby is crying, and his father appreciates that the world is sometimes a scary place. The main character is the baby, and the story goes out from this image.
Kim Terrell: Talk about your process. How do you work?
Dean Edwards: I like being alone with my thoughts and playing with ideas and scenarios. I’m not sweating and philosophizing—I’m having fun. Lots and lots of ideas fill my internal spaces, and the ideas come with characters who emerge and begin to make connections with one another. I watch them for a while as they become more and more real, then I enter their world and away we go. I never want to abandon them, which can be a problem because my process is long.
Kim Terrell: How many drafts do you do?
Dean Edwards: I do several drafts and tend to leave gaps of anywhere from a couple of weeks for a short story to a couple of months for a novella and up to six months for a novel. That’s why I am revisiting work that already exists. Work that I like and now know how to fix. Work that I want people to read.
Doing the first draft is always the hardest part. I love editing and spend a lot of time editing and honing my work. I’m good at cutting stuff that doesn’t serve the story. If it’s a particularly well-written scene that doesn’t fit, then it becomes a different story or ends up in another place. I normally know when things have gone wrong or when something isn’t working . . . and then I fix it.
Kim Terrell: What about your characters. How do they evolve?
Dean Edwards: I consider myself to be in every character and always try to put myself in their place. That takes a lot of courage, especially when my character is doing something really ignorant or evil—or even good. It’s important to go all the way with my characters and to be honest with them and the story.
Kim Terrell: When you are building a character, how do you get to know them?
Dean Edwards: They exist in my head a lot of the time. Writing happens all the time—and mostly outside the actual writing time . . . as I’m walking, sleeping, shopping. My characters often surprise me by doing something that I am not expecting, but it makes sense. One of the reasons I write is to see what is going to happen.
I like leaving gaps so that people can use their own imaginations, but I am often surprised by what they tell me about my own characters. I’ll think, “Hmmmmm. I didn’t say that. Did I say that?” But it doesn’t matter, because that’s what they heard. Often, what someone else has heard has not even occurred to me, and often I get ideas for stories by mishearing what someone has said to me.
Kim Terrell: Let’s talk about making a living. How does making money factor into all this?
Dean Edwards: Making a living is a huge consideration; that’s one of the reasons I ghost write. My overall goal is to support my family, but some days I feel as though I’m not doing anything well—constantly scrambling for enough time to write, to be a good husband and father, to do everything that life demands—and not getting anywhere in any category.
Kim Terrell: That must be hard?
Dean Edwards: Not as hard as not doing it. After my first daughter was born, I had a revelation: Be happy. If my children have a happy parent who is struggling, then they are better off than they would be with a parent who hates what he’s doing but does it every day “for their sake” and makes them aware of that. I have to keep writing, to keep doing this thing that I love, even if it’s difficult.
Kim Terrell: What inspires you?
Dean Edwards: I’m inspired by other people’s stories. I like the fact that people view things differently, and I love hearing what people take away from a book. Something I really enjoyed was taking life drawing classes. Walking around seeing the variation of drawings on the same subject is inspirational; it’s a variation on the same theme of all the different ways we see things.
Film and music are also inspirations for me. In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is so little dialogue, and the sound track is amazing. The whole movie is beautiful and daring—even by modern standards, or maybe particularly by modern standards. I love the intermission.
I have a friend who does ambient drone music, and I often think that my writing is like his music: something about to happen, something coming . . . and suddenly you’re inside the sound, or the story, or the film.
Kim Terrell: In a perfect world, what would you be working on?
Dean Edwards: Everything at once. I’d be superhuman.
Kim Terrell: Sounds like there is a bit of that going on already. Anything you’d work on that you are not currently doing?
Dean Edwards: I’d be working on an interactive novel where the reader is the hero of the story and the one to decide what happens through the choices that they make. It’s amazing because the technology now exists to take a story like this to levels that were not available when I first started doing this. I’ve been working with “Choice of Games,” where you decide what is important to you, and each decision you make informs later outcomes. It all has meaning, but nothing is set. Everything is dependent on the series of choices that are made.
Kim Terrell: Like life.
Dean Edwards: I guess that’s true.
Kim Terrell: What do you wrestle with on a day-to-day basis?
Dean Edwards: Never enough time.
Kim Terrell: What are you doing about that?
Dean Edwards: I focus on meditating and exercise. I feel more balanced when I do those things. They help me create a foundation, a level playing field on which to build my day.
Kim Terrell: It’s been great talking with you. Thank you. I look forward to seeing more of your work in print.
More about Dean:
Dean Clayton Edwards’ Website