Interview with Daniel Koehler

Q1. What prompted you to become a writer?
To quote Rocky Balboa: “Because I can’t sing or dance.”

In truth, I certainly can’t say (like I see elsewhere on such a topic) that I wrote little stories in crayon or put on neighborhood plays as a kid. I was a typical product of the late 50’s; our family ran a bakery; I went to parochial school and was interested in baseball and sports. Dad went to college but mother didn’t, so he encouraged her to read widely. There were always a lot of books around the house; my dad primarily read nonfiction but liked Hemingway, O. Henry, Spillane, and Harold Robbins. Harold Robbins was kind of my sex primer when I was ten or eleven. My mother read only fiction and was a fan of Michener, Irwin Shaw, John O’Hara, and Taylor Caldwell.

My father had a humorous story published in Boating Magazine when I was twelve and got $300 for it. That got my attention. I wrote for the high school newspaper and they let me write funny stories, which I patterned on Mad Magazine or TV skits. Then, in college as a reporter for the campus rag, I got to interview a couple of famous authors and poets—Gwendolyn Brooks and Beat Poet Alan Ginsberg. I’d never met anyone like them before, and because of them I discovered the expatriate authors of the 1920s—Hemingway; Fitzgerald; Dos Passos; Henry Miller; Anais Nin. I was immediately smitten with the literary lifestyle. I was a foreign exchange student in Austria (like John Irving) and almost didn’t come home. I graduated Notre Dame with a degree in Econ to mollify my father, but really wanted to be either a folksinger or a writer. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War nearly got me and I had to go into the Army, although it was over by the time I finished basic training.

After I got out, I had to get on with the tedious business of making a living. I moved to New York City, got married, and worked in business. The only writing I did was alumni pieces for my college bulletin. I remember “tarting up” the news about my classmates as though they were characters in some sort of noir crime novel.

Afterwards, I moved home to Little Rock, AR, to raise my family, and the writing went dormant. I collaborated with a friend from grad school on a couple of satirical pieces that never got published, but mainly was just a dad who worked for a bank, wrote software on the side, and played keyboards in a rock band on weekends.

When my bank got merged, I formed a software company and sold my prosaic little PC software to bank clients. The good thing about this was that most of the income came from annual license renewals, so once the software was written, I didn’t have to do much work. That gave me the time and income to try my hand at novels. That’s kind of where I am today; I write for pleasure and at my pace, not deadline, since I have other income. My only regret is that I never got to be an expat writer like my heroes of the 1920s.
Q2. Who were the authors you read in your youth?
At school, if you finished your work early, the nuns let you read until the bell rang. I discovered adventure and science fiction in the meager school library. The first memorable books I read were “Fleetfoot the Cave Boy” by Robert Nida; “Wild Animals I Have Known” by Ernest Thompson Seton; “The Adventures of Ulysses” by Gerald Gottlieb; “Five Against Venus” by Phillip Latham. I also read sports books by Clair Bee and Guernsey Van Riper.

One day Dad bought a junior Encyclopedia Britannica and each night I’d take a volume to bed, say A-B, and just flip through until I fell asleep.

Of course, I devoured comic books like DC Action Comics, graduated to "Mad Magazine," Forrest Ackerman’s "Famous Monsters of Filmland," and then "Classics Illustrated." Later, I got into Poe (after seeing the Vincent Price scary movie, “Tales of Terror”) and also classic horror writers like Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and Mary Shelley.
Q3. Favorite authors now?
I’d have to say my favorite author now is Charles Portis (who wrote "True Grit" among others) since I have gotten to know him. He’s not a recluse like the common misconception; he’s a very cordial and humble man who has lived in Little Rock, AR, for many years. I met him via the efforts of a family friend who worked with him at the Arkansas Gazette, and we became kind of drinking buddies since he hangs out at a local bar. I remember he once told me that the worst job he ever had was being a spotter for a local cropduster growing up in Mount Holly, AR. He would stand in the field and mark the last row that was dusted, so he got covered in choking fertilizer dust. Heheheh! He talks a lot about his days at the NY Herald Tribune, where he worked with Tom Wolfe, Louis Lapham, Jimmy Breslin. Nora Ephron was once his girlfriend, and Lynn Nesbitt, now a premier lit agent on 5th Avenue, was just starting out when he became her client.

I also greatly enjoy other Arkansas authors—Donald Harington, Kevin Brockmeier, Ellen Gilchrist, Dusty Richards, Mara Leveritt as well as national names like Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins, James Ellroy, T.C. Boyle, Jonathan Franzen, Jon Krakauer, Kerouac, and Kesey. In the area of SF/horror, I’m a fan of Clive Barker, Phillip K. Dick, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Phillip Jose Farmer, Harlan Ellison, and of course, Stephen King.

My favorite books of all time are Portis’ “The Dog of the South,” J.K. Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces,” McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian,” and Berger’s “Little Big Man.” And, of course, “Fleetfoot the Cave Boy,” which was the first book without pictures that smote me between the eyes in second grade.
Q4. Where do your ideas come from?
Damned if I know. Jung’s collective unconscious, maybe?

It’s funny, but sometimes a title hits me, and I suddenly get the whole setup from that. Or it comes from reading the news. My first novel, "Flyover Country," came from a police blotter article I read about two guys who robbed a bank by hiding inside a Norge/Hotpoint washing machine carton. They hid by the back door until closing time and then nabbed the last person to leave as they locked up.

"The Sleeping Cab," my second novel, was the result of my wife’s very painful periods and how her normally sweet disposition morphed into something quite unpleasant. I thought, “What would be the worst thing that could happen to a person with both OCD and PMS?” The result was my lead character, Jolene Dykes, going on a single-minded revenge rampage.
Q5. What time of day do you do most of your writing?
It depends. I used to write software, so I was accustomed to staying up all night to keep the thread of the idea I was trying to code. Naturally, I seemed to come up with a lot of story ideas at night. But, once I get a head of steam, I write all day. Editing I do better in the morning.
Q6. Do you have any peculiar habits or idiosyncrasies concerning your writing?
I don’t use outlines. I develop a vague progression of the action in my head—first act, second act, third act—that sort of blocked-out thing, but I simply write and rewrite until I can’t bear to look at it any longer. Very organic approach; let the levels of the story accrete over time. Then I put it away for a month and come back fresh. It’s amazing how your subconscious works out all the little links and fills in the plot holes.
I also edit using screenwriting software to read back the sentences to me as I scan the prose. Sound makes the typos and syntax errors stand out in sharp relief. You tend to skip over them visually, I’ve found.
Q7. What genre would you say most of your writing falls into?
Suspense with a liberal dash of humor.
Can you remember the first thing you wrote?
Yes, a stupid high school piece for the student newspaper. It was a spoof on Rowan and Martin’s "Laugh-In" TV program where the audience draws sidearms and shoots the players on stage who aren’t funny. Puerile derivative humor trying to be sarcastic. Good thing my audience was as clueless as I.
Q9. Writers have many names for themselves; screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist, poet. What do you consider yourself?
Novelist. I’ve written screenplays—in fact, "The Sleeping Cab" actually began as a screenplay that I converted into a novel. To me, a screenplay is much easier to write than a novel—all action, dialog, and scene setting. It’s really, to me, a 80-100 page detailed outline for a novel. But I quickly found out that screenplays are even more of a crapshoot than novels. I mean, hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, but there’s—what?—a couple of hundred films produced annually? Do the math.
Q10. What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a writer?
Do it before life grinds you down too much.

You “become” a writer by writing. Like Faulkner said, “Write until the pencil breaks.” Write to please yourself. If you’re pleased with it, chances are others will be, too. But learn your craft; don’t just try to show off. Read Hemingway and Portis to learn how to write clear, unadorned prose fiction. Like Elmore Leonard says, “Write a good story and characters and leave out the boring parts" or "If what I write sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Start your story out with a lot of action. I like to use the "in medias res" (in the midst of things) technique to get the reader curious and then come back in later chapters to flesh out the characters and background.

Join a critique group and show your stuff to other authors. They’ll thicken your skin and teach you how to avoid the amateur mistakes of style. But don’t make a hobby of the critique group. Get out after a year and start submitting you work. And don’t enter contests. Nobody cares that you won an award from the Fiction Writers of East Jesus, Texas. Besides, judging is subjective. Let professional editors judge you, not a bunch of sweet old biddies. I won one contest where the little old lady judges didn’t like some of my, uh, “colorful choices of words,” so they demoted it to “honorable mention.”
Published 2013-08-22.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Second Derivative of Irony
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 58,820. Language: English. Published: January 4, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author
Eighteen stories about people in prisons of their own devise—childhood awakenings; coming-of-age quandaries; ironical comeuppances; criminal excesses; personal compulsions. "The Second Derivative of Irony" is a compendium of the author's "Three Stories about..." series with six additional stories to boot
Unbankerly Behavior
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 28,780. Language: English. Published: September 3, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Plays & Screenplays, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
Bank president Henry Potts has a sweet deal. He is looting his bank under the guise of a cost-cutting “Unbank” marketing campaign concocted by John Jimpson, his son-in-law with a roving eye for bank secretaries. Enter Clydine Clumm, a honky-tonk angel on the rebound, and all hell breaks loose.
The Sleeping Cab
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 96,010. Language: English. Published: August 2, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
(5.00 from 1 review)
To FBI senior agent, JOE MAC ADAMS, the Atonement Killer is a psychopath who scrawls the word in blood across his victims' torsos, but to rookie cop, JOLENE DYKES, he is a routine vice sting gone terribly wrong. A nasty thriller about nasty people: serial killers, whores, religious cults, and the FBI.
Flyover Country
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 115,020. Language: English. Published: July 30, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Alternative history, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
(5.00 from 1 review)
In 1962, three intersecting crimes—a patricide, a bank robbery, and a kidnapping—lead to tragedy, secret-sharing, redemption, and a May/September romance in Flyover Country.
Splitting Washington
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 103,400. Language: English. Published: July 20, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
J.D. CROWELL, the President's campaign manager, is fired after an indiscreet dalliance with a beautiful biracial White House staffer. He soon discovers he has become a very inconvenient person for both the corrupt GOP President and the popular biracial Democratic challenger. Using every political dirty trick in the book, J.D. makes history while saving himself, his family, and his mistress.