It's always a thrill to meet a reader and online supporter of your work in person and it's even more exciting when you discover that person to be an author themselves! This past weekend, I had the pleasure of 'meeting' David Sayre at a reading with Alex Segura at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Sayre is the author of the Miami crime novel Some Are Shadows- a classic mystery tale of a detective searching for a singer's killer- and was gracious enough to stop by and answer a few questions.
What drew you to the genre you write in?
I've always felt that the stuff I write should be something I would want to read. I'm always the first person whose interest I want to pique and crime fiction, mysteries, that's the genre I tend to read most. There's also something intriguing in the fact that, in life I want absolutely no part of crime or violence, but fiction allows writers, and readers, to explore that world.
How do you handle writer's block?
Well, first I have to determine if I just have writer's laziness. In which case I shame myself into sitting in front of the laptop, or the legal pad, and doing some work.
If it's writer's block, I have to get outside. While I don't really experience fear of the blank page, I believe staring at the blank page isn't really productive. I'll drive around, go for a walk, visit other parts of town (get out of the suburbs and into the city), anything. Think about my characters, think about my story. Inspiration is anywhere and everywhere in this world. I will walk around Downtown Miami, go to the public library, sit in a coffee shop and people watch or overhear conversations (which is one of those creepy things that I think writers just have to accept that they do). Ultimately a spark will happen, I'll stumble into something. I always keep a journal or some sort of writing pad with me because I never know when an idea is going to pop up.
The worst thing to do with writer's block is to let it consume you and create a whole other level of anxiety. Writing is a very psychological exercise. The last thing I need is to complicate neurosis by beating myself up for a temporary struggle with creativity.
What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?
At the moment I would have to say my second novel, Dirty Side of the Storm, which has been written, but not yet published. I think because I attempted a story that was larger in scope, intertwining several stories that ultimately come together around one particular incident. I played a little bit with time as it pertains to the narrative, using flashback chapters to tell the stories of these characters that led them to this cross section in their lives and then what happens in the aftermath. Just the fact that I was able to pull it off felt like a great accomplishment. It's certainly a proud moment, as a writer, when you can actually recognize how you have grown in your storytelling.
Another reason that story is particularly meaningful to me is because I had written much of it in the year after my father had passed and there is a thematic element of fathers and sons in it that I didn't fully comprehend until I'd read through it to rewrite subsequent drafts. That realization was a special epiphany that I cherish.
How important is the setting in your novel?
It's pretty significant, especially from a historical perspective. In 1952 Miami was something of a boomtown, on the verge of becoming very rich with tourism and entertainment dollars. But it was also in a segregated state and Miami certainly had those racial separations at the time. The diversity in the history of Miami neighborhoods like Overtown, Richmond Heights, South Miami, Miami Beach, Brownsville and the banks of the Miami River all play into one of the key questions in the story... Are these boundaries that society sets for itself really that important, and what happens when we choose to reach across those perceived borders?
What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
I love this question because it's hard to answer. If I had to choose one it would be "A Firing Offense" by George Pelecanos. It was the first of his Nick Stefanos books and the novel that introduced me to his writing. I think it's one of the best origin story private detective novels I have ever read.
It's personal significance to me is that it's the first crime fiction book I can remember reading where the author included everyday life experience. There are basic, unglamorous actions that have nothing at all to do with plot that Pelecanos describes throughout his work. But it allows the reader to really get to know Nick Stefanos, warts and all. We therefore understand him better, relate to him more. Almost as if the reader is observing Nick's life and then we happen to go along for the ride when the action starts. I appreciate that kind of slow build. Seeing that, as a writer, gave me much needed confidence to let my characters live and breathe. Before I may have doubted myself, thinking, "Will anybody really care about this little thing that doesn't pertain to the plot or the investigation?" But the lesson I learned from Pelecanos' work is that you can take the time to let your characters be people and not just servants to your storyline.
I've always maintained that no amount of car chases and explosions can be more fascinating than the absolutely crazy dynamics of a human being. I think the genre is evolving now where we see more and more writers are developing and growing their characters for the long haul, not just putting the emphasis on the ABCs of the mystery plot.
It's a very exciting time to be a crime fiction writer.