Interview with David H. Keith

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the Kansas City area, smack dab in the middle of the US. I went on to many different places after high school, but that's where I grew up. I lived on 40 acres with my mom and evil little sister until I was about 11, then Mom had to leave the farm and we moved into a house in the south-central part of KC, which was home until I enlisted in the Army. There's no easy way to put this, so I'll be my usual blunt self and say we were poor. Dirt poor. We lived on potatoes for months and, were it not for the generosity of family or neighbors, would have lived on the things pretty much indefinitely.

How did this influence my writing? The obvious answer is that it gave me a perspective many people don't have. Growing up on the farm, I gained a reverence for life and nature and gratitude for simple things. I also learned from my mom to not be afraid to speak my mind - and to handle bullies by fighting back. I guess I learned courage. I'm not a bully, nor do I tolerate the critters.
When did you first start writing?
Other than the requisite "I will not talk in class" about a billion times while in grade school or various papers assigned by teachers, I began writing "seriously" when I was about 15 or so. I began to write the quintessential "Great American Novel." Unfortunately, it would have made even Bulwer-Lytton shudder, and I knew it. I mercifully put the thing out of its misery, and tried to forget about writing, believing myself to be a no-talent - even being a hack would have been an exponential step up.
What's the story behind your latest book?
That would be "Tales from The Painted Door III: Molly's Walk." The whole "Tales from The Painted Door" series just sort of happened; in fact, most of my stories do.

When I was a reporter, I had to write stories "with malice aforethought," but being a fiction author is different. Here, I have the luxury and pleasure to write pretty much what the Muse tells me.

I don't think there's any "story" behind Molly's Walk, per se, as there is to the series itself. The Painted Door (and the word "The" should be capitalized when referring to it as it's part of the establishment's official name) is a fictional neighborhood pub and the tales are the pub owner's stories about his place. It's about the people, both staff and customers, regulars and one-timers. It's sort of like the old "Cheers" television show but not as a situation comedy. At The Door, real life happens, with all its tragedy and sorrow and loss...and fun. Each story in the series is stand-alone, although it does feature recurring characters, just like Cheers had Norm and Cliff and the rest.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
An overwhelming plethora of rejection slips from print publishers. I know I'm a good writer - many people (and not just family or friends) have said so and who am I to argue with the majority? Seriously, I had - and still have - stories to tell and almost a need to. It's not about ego but about wanting to share a version of the world that only I can tell. Each of us has our own unique set of experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, and vision of life and I believe that sharing those things with others helps all of us grow. Who knows, maybe they'll someday help us to quit hating each other.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
That's easy: by giving me a venue to share my visions with others. No rejection slips here, y'see, except when I run afoul of the dreaded Autovetter.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I don't know if I can quantify my writing like that. I mean, which is more important: sharing your story with others, the ego boost one receives by reading all those glowing reviews of one's work, or just a sense of personal fulfillment from bringing another set of characters to life? Each has its place in the equation, but I've not the foggiest idea of their order of importance. I must say, too, that I don't think it really matters. Humans have this pathological need to quantify things - the best, the worst, the biggest, etc. - when all of these things are transitory and, really, irrelevant. It's not about best and biggest; it's about how the thing helps you as a human being. If you read - or write - a 100-word flash fiction that really moves you emotionally, then that's the important thing. If it made you cry or laugh or shudder or have *any* sort of emotional involvement, then that's all that matters.
What do your readers mean to you?
In a word, everything. They're one of the main reasons I sit for hours laboring over a hot computer, gnashing my teeth and agonizing over the next sentence or when (or if) this story will ever end. Sure, I receive a sense of completion and joy with every story I finish, but without my readers, it's all pointless.

I've read that Edna St. Vincent Millay (at least, I think 'twas her) said she wrote only for herself and not to share with others. With all due respect to Ms. Millay, hogwash. Sure, we writers do write for ourselves, to answer a need to create or simply to put down our angst or elation or fears, but what good is writing and never allowing someone else to read our words? The Muse whispers to us and we respond by acting as her hands; it seems horribly disrespectful to then effectively trash her words by not sharing them with others. Besides, I believe that, deep (or not so deep) within every writer's soul lurks a desire for recognition and accolades. So, yes, my readers mean the world to me, and I am profoundly grateful to them all, even the ones who dare to not like my writing.
What are you working on next?
Nothing specific at the moment, but I am brainstorming a fourth installment in "Tales from The Painted Door" as well as coming up with another piece for Top Writers Block.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are so many, from ol' Wild Bill Wigglesword to Hemingway, Poe, Baldacci, Reichs, and others. My reading tastes are somewhat eclectic and I love reading new writers, so today's new writer might become one of my favorites tomorrow or next month.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Oich, primarily the need for sustenance or to go out and earn a living. I'm kidding, sort of, but these *are* deciding factors. I suppose if I were forced to name something specific, it would be to experience life. That's probably not the desired response to this question, but I've always been a contrary fellow, filled with questions and skepticism and a touch of the smart-arse.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Working at the hospital, sleeping, eating, doing my laundry, designing databases or spreadsheets (none of which are particularly complex, but the learning is fun), talking with my wife on the phone: things just like almost everyone else.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Why, primarily by browsing Smashwords, of course. Then there are some fellow-writers, co-workers, and friends who recommend specific books to me.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No, unless you would accept that horrid GAN I mentioned earlier.
What is your writing process?
That depends. With the Top Writers Block, for instance, we're given a theme and then must write a story that fits that in one way or another. For instance, the latest theme was "out of the ashes." Another theme was "poverty."

To write these stories, I did a bunch of free-writing, or (more or less) focused blathering and stream of consciousness. Back in the late-1970s, a woman named Natalie Greenberg wrote this marvelous book, "Writing Down the Bones," that captivated me.

I've lost the book since, sadly, but not the gist of what she said: to just write nonstop whatever comes into your beleaguered head until nothing else shows up. Then go through all this until you find something useful. It's really nothing more than brainstorming but with a nicer name.

That's one main way I begin; unless I'm lucky enough for my Muse to begin whispering to me and smart enough to listen to her. After that, it's just a matter of following up with that blessed lady Muse, of listening to her more and of involving myself with the story - characters, events, plot, theme, and all the rest.

Many writing experts declare it a major sin to edit as you go, saying you should just write the first draft and then go back to do the necessary tweaking. That might work for some, but the editor in me just won't let me do that. Besides, it helps get me back on track if the story's languished for a while. Now, this early editing is usually extremely basic but I'm sure it would give those experts apoplexy to find out I do it. Life's tough all over, guys. It works for me, at any rate.

Once I think the story is finished, I'll set it aside for a week or so and then read it again. Now begins the heavy editing and revising. I didn't have that luxury as a reporter, so I think that's another reason I edit on the fly, as it were.

After I've edited and proofread and tweaked the thing until I'm sick of seeing it, I'll ask my wife to read it and give me her thoughts. She's my writing partner and I benefit immensely from her opinions, y'see.

Another resting period for the story, another reading, and, at last, I format the final manuscript for publication. Somewhere along the way, I'll design the cover and get that ready to go, again per the vendor's requirements, so I can publish with minimal problem.

I know, some recommend setting and sticking to a routine: write for x minutes a day every morning, for instance, but that just doesn't work for me. For one thing, I work night shift, so morning is devoted to shoving some food down my throat and then crashing. I do sometimes have the luxury of writing whilst at my job, but that is not always possible because of job demands. So, I write when I can.
How do you approach cover design?
I'm not sure what the conventional wisdom is here, but, like most of what I do, I have my own way of going about it.

To begin with, I don't even think about the cover until I'm far enough into the story to see exactly what it's all about. Ultimately, I'll form an amorphous idea of what I want the finished cover to look like - what art, font, general layout.

I use Microsoft's Publisher for the actual design and have access to a bunch of fonts, which I'll whittle down to those more-or-less matching this vision I have. Same-same with the art. Is the cover to be gaudy, ornate, busy, or stark? Depends on the story, although I usually use photography, and usually either my own or my wife's - hey, the price is right, yes?

I'll then make conceptual layouts and boxes with the book's title in different type faces and fonts. After that, it's really just a matter of eliminating those I don't care for. If that means trashing the lot and starting over, then so be it.

I don't use a slap-dash approach - either to my writing, editing, or cover design. Each element is as crucial to the book's appeal as the others, so I give all of them serious attention. I will admit, too, that I bounce these ideas off my partner for her input - we *are* a team, after all, and I've benefitted immensely from some of her ideas.

Then, once the overall concept is achieved, it's really just a matter of putting it all together into a visually appealing layout, formatting it per the vendor's standards, and finally saving it as a .jpg.

Another thing I do that helps save time and frustration is that I make a separate file for each book and a subfile for each vendor. Then I file the documents (or shortcuts thereto) in that file so that I don't forget where I stashed the manuscript, cover, and anything else I'll need come publishing day. I'll also write descriptions and keywords, set the price, and anything else I'll need to publish easily and file *that* document in the book's file. Works for me.

By the way, I mentioned I often put shortcuts to various documents in each book's file. I don't put copies because that would defeat the purpose.
Published 2013-09-17.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Tales from The Painted Door V: The Way Home
By David H. Keith
Series: Tales from The Painted Door, Book 5. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 8,880. Language: American English. Published: April 4, 2014. Category: Fiction
Charley Thornton left home ten years ago and is now on his way back to try to reconcile with his family. He and Colleen, his collie companion, show up at The Painted Door one stormy night looking for a bite of food and some water. Charley learns that home begins in the heart. WARNING: Contains harsh language and may not be suitable for readers under 18.
Tales from The Painted Door IV: The Pumpkin Carvers
By David H. Keith
Series: Tales from The Painted Door, Book 4. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,650. Language: American English. Published: March 27, 2014. Category: Fiction
Halloween is always a reason to party at The Painted Door, with costumed patrons and staff, decorations, and abundant food and drink. In the fourth installment of award-winning author David H. Keith’s acclaimed Tales from The Painted Door series, Mike and Shelly, two of The Door’s regulars, will never forget this particular Halloween.
Herbert the Black
By David H. Keith
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,720. Language: American English. Published: October 28, 2013. Category: Fiction
Herbert is a serial killer...of a different sort. He has terrorized a small town in eastern South Dakota for some three years, but the police have done nothing about it. They don’t even know about his murders, but they will. They will, thanks to Sean and Inge O’Malley, who live and run a business in town. WARNING: May not be suitable for children under 18 due to graphic violence.
Tales from The Painted Door III: Molly's Walk
By David H. Keith
Series: Tales from The Painted Door, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 10,700. Language: American English. Published: July 17, 2013. Category: Fiction
An old woman stumbles into The Door and sets off an emotional chain that leaves Chris, Shelly, Mike, and some of the others pondering their own lives and values. That's especially true for Davaidh, who comes face to face with someone from his past and must deal with the ramifications.
The Cabin
By David H. Keith
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 5,940. Language: American English. Published: March 20, 2013. Category: Fiction
When he picked her up for a romantic weekend getaway, she was not prepared for what he had in mind. WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC LANGUAGE AND SEX. NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS.
The Reaper Files
By David H. Keith
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 7,960. Language: American English. Published: March 20, 2013. Category: Fiction
I hereby present five tales of the macabre drawn from the recesses of the files of the Reaper. If you revel in stories of horror with a twist, then this is perfect for you. CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE AND LANGUAGE.
Tales from The Painted Door II: Wallace
By David H. Keith
Series: Tales from The Painted Door, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 5,010. Language: English. Published: February 18, 2013. Category: Fiction
An old man, a semi-regular at the Door, walks in one quiet Thursday evening and begins drinking his usual beverage. Normally, he’d just drink quietly by himself, pay, and leave. Not this night. This night he reveals at least part of the reason he is what he is. Does it free him from his ghosts or does it just bring him a moment of peace? Does it really matter?
Glorious Fools
By David H. Keith
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 1,820. Language: American English. Published: January 3, 2013. Category: Fiction
Some say Paramedics and other public safety workers are fools for doing what they do: rush into places sane people are trying their best to get out of. They may be right. Those people often owe their lives to these fools. This is a story about one of those glorious fools.
The Road to Tucson
By David H. Keith
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 5,420. Language: English. Published: December 3, 2012. Category: Fiction
The love of his life was killed by a drunk driver. Devastated, he set out afoot to disappear into the American desert. The Universe, however, had other ideas for him.
Tales from The Painted Door I: Davaidh & Annie
By David H. Keith
Series: Tales from The Painted Door, Book 1. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 2,220. Language: American English. Published: September 29, 2012. Category: Fiction
The Painted Door is a fictional neighborhood bar. Although set in Wichita, Kansas, it could be in any town or city in the United States. Everyone who enters its door, whether regular or just stopping by for a quick beer, has a story to tell. This is the first in a series of those stories.
Two Dozen Visions
By David H. Keith
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 3,950. Language: English. Published: June 5, 2012. Category: Fiction
In this small collection of poems, arranged as an orchestral symphony, David H. Keith explores love and general observations of the human condition. He even adds a chuckle or two as a bit of respite between these two larger themes.
Loving the Fog
By David H. Keith
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 2,210. Language: English. Published: November 20, 2011. Category: Fiction
In the silence of a foggy, lonely country road, strange things can happen. Was it her imagination, or…?
Cougar
By David H. Keith
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 8,450. Language: English. Published: November 14, 2011. Category: Fiction
Hunger gnaws at the belly of a hunting night-stalker. Even the fiercest predator doesn't always win.
Hero in a Red Suit
By David H. Keith
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,580. Language: English. Published: November 9, 2011. Category: Fiction
The citizens of a small town in the Old West are held virtual captives by a cruel overlord. A Hero arrives one cold winter's day to save them.
Alysse
By David H. Keith
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 1,820. Language: English. Published: September 18, 2011. Category: Fiction
This is a gritty story of love realized too late, and the price some are willing to pay to be with their beloved.