Thursday, September 07, 2006

Q&A With Award-Winning Author Ron Dahl

Q. Where did you get the idea for “Just Drive”?

A. Sometimes the easiest way to begin a story is to start with a “What-if.” This is one that started that way. I began to think about the premise, what if you were stopped at a light and someone yanked open the passenger door and hopped in and stuck a gun in your face? I let that percolate in my brain for a while until I came up with the roughed-out characters. I didn’t really have a story, though, until I hit on the idea that she had a bad marriage. Once I realized that, the rest kind of fell into place—after about eight drafts.

Q. How long did it take you to write the story?

A. I actually wrote this story a couple years ago, so it’s a bit hazy as to how long it took. I can tell you that I spend a lot of time walking around with an idea in my head before I get up the gumption to begin writing. At least with short stories, I feel the need to flesh them out a little before I ever sit down to the keyboard… which is the most difficult stage for me. My first drafts are always complete crapola and never bear any resemblance to the finished product. Even with novel-length things I do many drafts and endless revisions. I actually enjoy the revising much more than the original composition.

Q. How does “Just Drive” compare to other things you’ve written, whether it’s subject matter, writing style, etc.?

A. I have to say that the “voice” of this story is pretty similar to most other things I’ve written. I feel most comfortable with stories that stay in a single point of view, but I have written probably as many first-person narratives as I have close third-person. As far as subject matter, that can be all over the map. I just finished a story that takes place during a big earthquake that happened in Yellowstone in 1959. One of my favorite writers, Jim Shepard, finds super-interesting (and little-known) historical settings for his stories. He’s been a big influence on me, and I’ve been drawn to historical settings.

Q. You work full-time as a court reporter. How do you find the time to write?

A. I definitely don’t have a regular writing schedule. My job involves a lot of after-court time sitting at a computer editing transcripts. You’d think I’d come up with a different avocation than writing fiction, but at least I know how to type fast. In court, some assignments are less time-consuming than others, but right now I work in a busy criminal trial court so I haven’t had much time lately. I usually just pick a time to write and do it. I work best when I have a couple undistracted hours because it takes me a while to get into the flow (and then get back out). I wish I had more time.

Q. What’s next on your writing agenda?

A. I’m working sporadically on a complete re-do of a novel I wrote about six years ago that takes place in 1900 up on the Mount Lowe Railroad in Altadena. I’m still hoping to publish another (contemporary) novel that I’ve been submitting for a while. I had a story workshopped this summer at the Tin House Writers Workshop that I’m going to start submitting to magazines, and I am currently hammering out a draft of a new short story.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. As a matter of fact…yes. For me, reading the best way to learn to write. Here are a few (of the many) of my all-time favorite short stories:

"Same Time, Same Place" – Tim Gautreaux
"White Angel" – Michael Cunningham
"The Wamsutter Wolf" – Annie Proulx
"The Love of My Life" – T.C. Boyle
"Love and Hydrogen" – Jim Shepard

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