Allison M. Dickson is a writer of dark contemporary fiction living in Dayton, Ohio. Though STRINGS is her debut novel, she has been writing for a number of years, with several short stories (including “Dust” and “Under the Scotch Broom”) available on Amazon. Two of her stories were featured The Endlands Volume 2 from Hobbes End Publishing. In 2014, Hobbes End will also be releasing her dystopian science fiction novel, THE LAST SUPPER, and she is independently producing her pulpy dieselpunk noir novel, COLT COLTRANE AND THE LOTUS KILLER to be released in November of 2013. When she isn’t writing, she’s one of the co-hosts of the weekly Creative Commoners podcast. She might also be found gaming, watching movies, hiking the local nature preserve with her husband and two kids who also serve as willing guinea pigs for her many culinary experiments.
Welcome to Blogger News, Allison! Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
I was an avid reader, though I made an odd leap from books like Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High to Stephen King when I was about eleven, and I never looked back from that. The whole YA concept was lost on me, I guess. I don’t remember it being a very big genre when I was a kid, though I discovered a lot of them that I liked as an adult. So in some ways, I guess I’ve been backtracking my way to my childhood.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, Strings, and what inspired you to write such a story.
STRINGS is the weaving together of three stories from the points of view of three characters who are all incredibly flawed and/or despicable to varying degrees and all in search of freedom or release from the bonds that are holding them in their predicaments. What inspired me to write it was initially the desire to write a short story so frightening and grim that it pushed my limits, and anyone who has read my story “The Good Girls” is already familiar with how the first couple chapters of this book go. But as the book grew, I was particularly motivated to explore elements of control and freedom. We all think we have it. None of us really do.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
It was almost completely stream-of-consciousness. I had to compartmentalize greatly, because each chapter is from the POV of a different character, so as soon as I slipped on the mask of the Madam or Ramón or Nina, I knew where they were and what they had to do in that given scene. The only time it got a little tricky was toward the end, because eventually all of this building of three narratives has to come to a head. But outlining never entered the equation.
Did your book require a lot of research?
A bit. I had never been to New York or Atlantic City. I spoke with a fellow author and friend Armand Rosamilia, who lived in Jersey for a long while and gave me some aspects of the flavor of the region. Other than that, I gleaned what I could from maps and popular culture. A whole mishmash of things. My hope is my geography isn’t too God awful, though I’m sure people will discover something and pick the nits until they can’t be picked anymore.
What was your goal when writing this book?
I ultimately wanted to see if people could root for a villain. To see if I could populate a book with really horrible or messed up people, but inspire sympathy out of the reader at the same time. Death to the “white hat” hero!
Who is your target audience?
If you like Gillian Flynn or Stephen King, you might want to buy STRINGS. Is that direct enough?
Our acts of good or evil aren’t completely separate from one another. We can be capable of both, depending on our circumstances. When we sympathize with villains, we are essentially identifying with a part of them that is like us in some way. I personally love stories that do this. Breaking Bad exploited the hell out of moral ambiguity, and I think that is one reason why it was so popular. I also highly recommend the writings and TED Talks of psychologist Philip Zimbardo for more on the topic.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
Let’s just say if I experienced any of STRINGS before I wrote it, I’d probably be in a loony bin right now, or dead. I married and had kids young and have led a pretty humble life so far. Sure, there have been some personal challenges and a good bit of my work is informed by my personal experience, or views shaped by those experiences, but part of being a genre writer is being able to think beyond your own experience and trying to speculate on something completely off the wall. Hemingway was a pretty straightforward guy. I tend to be a bit more figurative and theoretical.
Describe your working environment.
I have a formal dining room in my house that I converted into office space (who uses formal dining rooms anymore?). I painted the walls a mossy green, accented it with gold, and filled it with all sorts of oddities I hold dear, like framed pulp magazine covers, my coconut monkey collection, a white board, and my burgeoning collection of rare toys. But as awesome as it sounds, I rarely write in it. I know I know. However, I do write adjacent to it, in my living room, on my couch in front of the window with my laptop. There are a few reasons for this. For one, I can keep my feet elevated, which I prefer to do when sitting for longer periods of time. Second, I like being close to a window when I write. Third, I liked sharing the couch with my cat (who has recently passed on, rest his sweet soul) and now my wonderful dog Fez. One day, when I get to actually choose my office, it will likely have a lot of windows and hopefully will be surrounded either by trees or by water. I do use my office for recording the podcast I co-host (Creative Commoners), and I will often work for short bursts on that computer if I’m busy doing something in the kitchen (because it’s closer), as well as produce trailers and book covers. But for my long-haul daily quota writing, gimme my laptop and my headphones. And my couch.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I seem to gravitate a lot toward themes of loss and redemption, as well as relationships. A good friend of mine calls the latter “haunted marriages.” The things that happen between married couples behind closed doors, the secret things in relationships, really attract me. No one ever knows you like the person who shares your bed night after night.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
I do not currently have an agent. My short stints in trying to acquire one with books that were half-baked didn’t get me off to the greatest start, I have to admit. As of right now, I’m enjoying receiving 100% of my royalties and feel that until things take off into a larger sphere where I can part with that 15% a bit more easily, I can probably get by okay without one. One step at a time.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I might not make any new friends with this, but I have found most critique groups to be a bit of a drain. They’re often filled with jealous people who are desperately seeking approval and validation, and will crush any competition to get it. They’re also filled with people who would rather talk about writing and gossip about other writers than actually put their heads down and do the work. When you’re working, you find you have little time for the whole constant seeking of approval and gossip thing. I think it’s good for novice writers to start forming networks and connections early, because they can serve you very well down the line. Writers help each other in many fantastic ways as far as beta reading, promoting, and commiserating, but be choosy with whom you associate with and make sure you stick with people who aren’t prone to a lot of bitterness should you find success. You may meet a kindred spirit or two in a critique group, and that’s great. But do I think such groups as a whole are vital to the process of becoming a seasoned writer and moving up in the field? No.
Technically speaking, what do you struggle with the most when writing? How do you tackle it?
I struggle most with distractions. Namely, the internet. I’ve employed a number of things to help me combat it, like programs that intercept your internet connection for a set period of time (Freedom is one such product), but I find the only thing that really works is just closing the damn browser. Set a timer if you have to. Whatever it takes, even if it’s only for a half-hour at a time so you can focus. If you give yourself enough time, you eventually find you can turn off that “ooh, check your Facebook” voice.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I am currently working on the follow-up to STRINGS (there is currently a trilogy in mind for it) as well as a crime fiction book called STATIC, and a modern ghost story, THE JADE BOX. It will be a race with my muse to see which gets finished first.
Thanks for stopping by, Allison! It was a pleasure to have you here!