Sharing what we love and value most is most important power of our development. As an independent eBookstore and publishing platform we would like to share with you the joy of discovering a great talent of indie literature, Stanley Laine, whose deep psychological novels are available in our (r)evolutionary eBook distribution model in which readers read eBooks first and than pay what they feel the book is worth.
Monika, OpenBooks.com: In western culture most boys are socialized in a way that makes them detached from their feelings. They’re not allowed to show emotions, and in effect they lose contact with this part of their personality. As I read your novel, my first very strong impression was that it’s all about emotions, which is unusual for a male author - to be interested in, and capable of describing them in the way you do. What made you so exceptionally aware and competent in this topic?
Stanley Laine: It's an interesting question Monika, and you are kind to say that, and I think it is true of both males and females depending upon the kind of environment they grow up in. I feel like most people that seem detached from their emotions are really just very well-trained at hiding them. Those that know me would probably say I'm not a very emotional person but perhaps more adept at observing, recognizing, and processing other people's feelings. My mother had the innate ability to sense what people were feeling even when they didn't express it (or know it themselves) and perhaps she passed a little bit of that on to me, but even as a small child I can recall watching people and trying to understand fully what they were feeling inside by imagining myself as them to see if I could actually feel their emotions. Perhaps it was a way to bury my own sensitivity but I think that is where my interest in fictionalizing the things people endure and how they internalize them started to bloom. Growing up I believed my own self to be so disinteresting and un-extraordinary that I found I could live quite vicariously through the circumstances and emotions of other people. I fantasized a lot about being other people and I think this helped me learn to step outside of my own mind and feel things I might not have otherwise felt. I only wish I could have used this technique better in my life to actually help people, but I was always too afraid to insert myself into other people's lives. Maybe now I think writing helps in some way but I doubt it. It is probably just an excuse for my continued introversion.
“The End of The Line” is a very deep portrayal of teenagers. I have a feeling that you find this stage of life very special - is it true? Was it special for you as well?
S.L.: It makes me happy to hear you say 'deep portrayal' because the way I write my stories, more as imagined movies than true literature I suppose, I am probably often accused of not going deeply enough, but frankly when I reach a point where I get bored with a particular aspect of a character’s development I will simply stop because I figure a reader would feel even more weary than I do about it, and would rather want for more than wish for less. Also, I always like to leave the door open for the reader to fill in some gaps on their own that are not critical to the storyline because then they can relate it back to someone they know which can help them to feel invested in the character. If a writer shows me every wrinkle in a character’s persona, as a reader I tend to lose ownership of them and become disinvested, so when I write I like to leave some blank ‘pages’ for the reader to fill in. Maybe this is just an excuse for bad writing by some ‘expert’ standards on the subject but ultimately since I really only write what I myself want to read I don't care whether it is considered by the literati to be good practice or not.
You are insightful about my perception from the book Monika, as I do find the teenage years to be special because of the effect they can have on the totality of one’s existence in such a brief time span. That is what inspired me to write The End of the Line as I was thinking about Anton Myrer’s The Last Convertible and how these friends had such seemingly noble futures being part of the ‘greatest generation’ and it occurred to me to consider even the ignoble endings to such collections of friends that I have known in my own generation. I was thinking about what a fragile and dangerous period it is where many thresholds are crossed and the way in which you are truly vulnerable, left to decide right from wrong mostly on your own. A lot of teenagers probably feel they are more than qualified to take on this world but depending on the environment into which they are thrown they are generally unprepared. Just consider the insurance rates on teen drivers. (Insert laughing). Most teens believe they are great drivers but the statistics don't support that, so it is probably the one brief stint in your life when perception is farthest from reality which makes it a very treacherous stretch of road, but also makes it intriguing and exciting. It is that naive invincibility we all glamorize as we grow older but in the end are probably better off leaving it far behind us.
As for my personal teenage years, they started out great but then quickly became the worst time in my life. I grew up in a cloistered community much like the one idealized in The End of the Line but due to circumstances at the time I had to leave that world behind to join another one; a giant, cold, and somewhat violent school environment during those sensitive years of my life and I was abjectly miserable. It seemed within that new world everyone around me had been together since birth so I was truly an outsider from the start, plus I was scrawny, homely, un-athletic, awkward and a complete misfit in every respect, even among misfits. I found in order to survive in that environment I had to pretend to be something that I was not, which only made me feel worse about myself, living a lie and hurting other people along the way to cover up for my own inadequacies. The day I graduated I never looked back, never saw a face again from that horrid place, and never regretted running away from it for a single moment.
In The End of the Line I wanted to capture those feelings of walking into a sheltered community and finding a way to fit in but then realizing over time and through changes how everyone in that span matures at a different pace, some grow quickly and some are left behind. Also I wanted to show that very real problems are often hard to see or easy to obscure through the sometimes tunnel vision of our teenage eyes. I tried to capture the feeling about the people in my life really before my teen years in a fictionalized sense and the inevitability of loss as one moves forward through youth amidst uncontrollable circumstances. Personally, I can't recall ever knowing true joy in my heart at that age, only faking it for the sake of my parents, because for me being a teenager was all about feeling ugly, alienation, conflict, bitterness, loneliness, lashing out, and isolation. I felt as though I had to become another person altogether in that world just to remain invisible. There was of course summer and other means of escape that were probably never in my best interest. So yes those years were special for me in the sense that it taught me who I did not want to be when given a choice.
John Irving says that created, made-up characters are more interesting than real, life-inspired ones. Do you agree? Where do you find inspiration for your books (in terms of people and events)?
S.L.: I am not a clever person nor a creative enough writer to just make up characters totally out of the blue. I could never remain interested long enough or stay consistent with their persona if I did not have some kind of source to rely upon to accurately consider their behaviors and emotions in a given situation. I also find there is more than enough fascinating material in the people from your own world if you dig into their lives a little deeper. I especially find this true with the elderly, such a silent, forgotten, too often ignored member of our society here in America, but such a vast untapped resource, so endlessly fascinating, experienced, and wise. I know myself that sometimes I have missed the opportunity because I was afraid of the time and effort it might require to stop and listen, but the things you learn about people simply by asking them is incredible and I especially love finding the dichotomy within individual personalities.
I have an uncle who is nearly a hundred years old now, a WWII veteran that flew in the gun turret on the belly of a B-17. He wears a deep battle scar down his forehead that is the only secret he will reveal about those horrific days he must have faced, bullets piercing the metal skin of the plane around him, the icy cold, claustrophobic conditions and motion sickness he had to endure in hours flying in that little bubble so high above the ground facing his death by the moment, yet I just learned the other week that the reason he never eats chicken, even declining a plate of it at a wedding reception, was because when he was a young boy during the Great Depression his family raised little yellow chicks in their inner city back yard which he loved cradling in his hands but his father joked one evening at the dinner table that their meal was made from one of those chicks that had its neck broken from too much handling and when my uncle refused to eat, thinking the poor creature was on his plate, he had to remain at the table for hours while he cried through every bite until his father saw he finished his entire meal. Ever since then, my uncle, the strong, quiet man that flew in those death defying missions over Europe, will never take a bite of chicken even to this day because he still thinks about those precious baby chicks.
I love seeing these many sides of people, the soft and the hard, the weak and the strong, so my characters are almost always based on a composite of different people I have known in my life because to me they are fascinating enough. I generally like to place them into some actual setting with which I am familiar and use real or imagined events to tell a story. I always compose my books as vignettes like scenes from a movie that I string together within a storyline, so you get flashes of key elements of the characters' involvement within the plot to carry you through to the point of the story. I would say that if you had some kind of emotional reaction from reading my work then I was successful because it means I conveyed it well enough that you could recognize the potential beauty of humanity within it.
Being an indie author is on one hand more demanding, on the other more liberating. How do you feel with it; can you find the right balance? Is the prize worth the effort?
S.L.: Being an indie author is likely the only way that would ever work for me because I'm probably too undeterred to accept story revisions to sell a title, or even open to 'improvements' to make it 'better' in someone else's eyes. I know there are aspects of my books that could be made more literate but then it might not be how I wanted to say it and therefore I would not like it. So this is the crux of my problem. I want my story to be exactly the way I want it to be and if a literary agent or editor wanted me to change something (even if they were ultimately right) my instinct would be to simply say, "Fuck you, go write your own book." I know I’m uncompromising to a serious fault, but if I really thought something I wrote was lousy don't you think I would have already re-written it? If something is wrong in their eyes then in my subjective mind I truly believe they just didn't get it. (Insert laughter here). Am I arrogant? No, I’m not saying it’s perfect, I’m saying it’s how I wanted it. Am I thwarting my own growth as a writer? Yes, probably, but I'm just being honest. It's my book, I'll do what I want with it so I'm the last person you would ever want to use as a role model if you are aspiring to be a traditionally published author. In the end, I only want to have myself to blame for my own choices, like a bad outfit, if I'm the one wearing it why do I care about what anyone else thinks? I know this is a the wrong approach but it's how I am. I can't help it. When it comes to my writing, which ultimately I do for myself anyway, I am uncompromising, even when I'm wrong.
The first chapter of my book The Grand Lady is a perfect example. It's probably the most God-awful boring opening of purple prose and unending description one could ever suffer through reading but I love every single word of it because it captures the mood and setting of that ruinous place exactly as I first perceived it when I was a child. To someone else, they might yawn and skim over it or put down the book entirely but it's precisely how I wanted to convey that moment and for me that is all that matters. So you see? I'm hopelessly far too selfish with my writing to ever change it.
Having this ridiculous attitude of mine likely means I would never fit into a traditional publishing model which ultimately I could care less about except that it also means it is harder to have widespread promotion of my work making it difficult to expand a niche audience who appreciates what I write. Some indie authors are really good at promoting their own work and doing social media, collecting follows and likes and all that but alas I am not one of them, so I am a bit of a hopeless case in that regard as well, meaning I am a bad example of how to be an indie author as well. I would not care if only for my own sake but I do feel this unnatural loyalty to those characters in my books and for their stories to be heard. This is the only reason I even started publishing my work in the first place, for my characters, because in my mind they are as real as you and I so they deserve to exist in our world by being read. If I just kept them to myself then I would feel as though I had effectively smothered them and denied myself the real prize of when I make that connection with a reader who sees them as I do and to know that someone else got something out of my story. That is what makes it worth all the effort and is the real payoff for me.
How did you feel as a beginner writer? What was most difficult thing to deal with? Did you overcome it or are you still fighting against it? Do you regard the future with hope or with fear and why?
S.L.: As a beginning writer I thought every word, every phrase had to be perfect and as a result I found I was trying to write like someone else. I did not believe anything I could write with my own voice would be good enough to justify anyone else reading it, but when I finished my first book and read it for myself I absolutely hated it. It felt forced and completely unnatural to me. So I took the manuscript that I had invested two years of my life to write and I threw it away to start all over again, this time letting go of everything I ever read and admired, everything I was ever taught, and I just wrote from my heart for my own pleasure, allowing my own inner voice to shine through and do the writing for me. Soon I found the words flowed faster than I could get them down and when I was finally done I was truly fulfilled with the finished story. It no longer mattered what anyone thought about it for I knew it came from my heart and was written entirely by, and for, me. I stopped trying to be an author. I stopped following the rules. I stopped caring about anyone’s enjoyment of my work but my own. I became exquisitely selfish in my writing and it helped me learn to love my craft all over again.
That is the key I think to being happily married to your writing. Write for yourself, it’s your creation, so learn to trust your own voice. When you are done and are afraid of being judged and criticized, realize that all art is subjective. Some will like your work, most will hate it, but if you love it, what else matters? There are some pieces Mozart wrote that I personally think are dull, and yet he is considered by many to be the greatest composer to ever live but it does not mean everything he ever composed will be liked by everyone. For every voice there are ears made to hear it. Just use your own voice and know one day that special ear attuned to your writing will hear you, but until then, no matter what, keep writing with your own voice. I know people will read my work and hate it, maybe even consider it bad composition compared to what they know they like and are used to reading, but the experienced writer in me no longer cares about being disliked, for I know my characters and my stories better than anyone, and I trust that some of those who hear my voice will find value in my efforts.
What is your opinion about the future of literature? What would make authors’ lives and writing easier and more fruitful?
S.L.: I feel really optimistic about the future of indie literature and at the same time I hear the death knells of big traditional publishing as we know it today. Because of its design the traditional big publishing model is too commercially homogenous, too reliant on promotion than quality of work in some cases and readers are smarter than that and are now finding ways to disconnect from it, like expanding from network TV to cable. Readers want better choices, more variety, and integrity in their books. That's not to say there aren't good things being traditionally published because there definitely are and that’s not to say traditional publishing will ever go completely away because it won’t, but you are going to see long-standing high dollar earning writers leaving their big name publishers for smaller ones or going independent when they realize they can have more freedom to do it on their own terms, especially in digital, if they just keep their own editors. This is nothing new, look at the music industry as an example. How much of your music comes from a big label these days, and in a physical format? Compare the choices you have in music today to what you had when you were young, or even ten years ago? The book industry is ripe for change and smart readers are demanding it.
I do feel there are mass appeal indie authors who (unlike me) are flexible with their craft who would probably sell very well if given broader exposure. I see some really great authors on OpenBooks.com and am proud to be in their company so the fact that we have a place to land together outside of the our usual marketplaces is wonderful and gives me hope that each of them will continue to expand their audience and that readers will find their new favorite writers outside of what is being fed to them by the big book machine. I think through indie publishing and OpenBooks.com you will find much more purity of work, perhaps less polished, but more diverse and honest. Plus, you will get a direct connection between readers and writers that you might never have imagined through a more traditional model.
For me personally I never know what my writing future holds. I am impulsive and my mood shifts from day to day in this regard. Every time I finish a book I tell myself it will be the last time I ever publish my work because it takes so much commitment to get things into what I consider an acceptable finished version. Often times I am left with the feeling 'why am I still bothering with this?' when I can just write and keep it to myself as I have always done. But I suppose as long as I continue to pen characters I care about and am able to reach readers that see it along with me, then I will remain motivated enough to go through the efforts of editing and formatting, but right now between projects I am exhausted and convinced I am finished with publishing my work. Check back with me later in the year though when I'm knee deep in my next writing project bonding with my characters all over again and I'll probably feel very different.