Interview with Dustin Renwick

What's the story behind your latest book?
"Beyond the Gray Leaf" traces the life and writing of a forgotten Civil War poet from Illinois. He grew up in a small town near my hometown, and I wanted to know more. Nobody had heard of him. So I started researching. And researching. And researching. I didn't set out with a book as the goal, but you have to let the material dictate the form. Sometimes the best way to present information is visually or in a list. In this case, the book blends his biography with his poems that I uncovered.
Did you consider a print version necessary?
Absolutely. You can accomplish different things with print formats. There's a beauty in something tangible with all the little adornments you find. Even something simple, like the copyright page. "Beyond the Gray Leaf" is available in digital formats and paperback. I also recorded the audiobook version because why wouldn't you reach out to an audience who loves to read but prefers auditory experiences?
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Deadlines.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I should dig it up -- kindergarten. Can't remember what it was about, but I think it had animals as the main characters. We had a program at my elementary school that would print and bind stories with old wallpaper to give them covers.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
A question like this is always so tough. Similar to favorite movies. The genres could each have their own top-five list, so here's an attempt.

Honey and Salt, Carl Sandburg: This book of poetry hit me in all the right places. Sandburg is a master.
Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The best nonfiction book I've read in the last year. Saint-Ex blends philosophy with harrowing tales of early airplane travel.
Bossypants, Tina Fey: I liked this way more than Amy Poehler's "Yes, Please," which surprised me. Fey's voice is much stronger than Poehler's, probably given her background as a writer.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald: I know, cliched, but I can always identify with Jay and his striving.
The River of Doubt, Candice Millard: Part adventure tale, part biography of Teddy Roosevelt, one of my favorite presidents. Good all around.
Describe your desk.
My "desk" changes with my surroundings. I can write almost anywhere as long as it's quiet. If I have headphones, I can create quiet anywhere I need. Some days my desk is my lap while I sit on the couch. Some days it's a wooden board laid across two sets of plastic drawers.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Although I'd agree your childhood can influence your writing, two other areas are even more crucial. Travel and reading. Both accomplish the same goal: to expand your awareness of the nuances in the world. I grew up in the Midwest, but I've lived on the East Coast and spent months traveling the West. You have to realize your particular situation is one of a thousand possibilities.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
This is easy -- go where your audience lies. That's a trickier proposition with general fiction. For my biography of a Civil War poet, "Beyond the Gray Leaf," I focused on media outlets in cities where he had an influence and where he lived. People in those areas are going to be more interested because he reflects part of their local history.
What are you working on next?
I found so much material -- mostly poems and letters -- that cramming them into his biography didn't seem like a good option. "Beyond the Gray Leaf" presents a curated selection of his work. But I still wanted to share a more comprehensive view of his writings. So the next project is a book that will gather everything I've found, as close to the complete work of J.P. Irvine as I can offer.
What's your advice for aspiring authors?
Write. Write. Write. Publishing in any form doesn't matter if you don't have words and pictures to share.
Published 2016-06-01.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Pens, Plows, & Gunpowder: The Collected Works of J.P. Irvine
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 77,310. Language: English. Published: April 24, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » American poetry, Nonfiction » History » North America
An average government clerk presented a poem to President Ulysses S. Grant and a crowd of 10,000 people. Then J.P. Irvine and his words faded into history. Dustin Renwick, author of Irvine's biography, sifted through more than 20,000 pages of microfilm to uncover this forgotten Civil War poet’s work that illuminates a changing country.
Beyond the Gray Leaf: The Life and Poems of J.P. Irvine
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 20,600. Language: English. Published: June 1, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Literary biography, Fiction » Poetry » American poetry
Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, and J.P. Irvine all worked as clerks in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War. But Irvine, a small-town poet from Illinois, was the one selected to address President Grant and 10,000 spectators. Those words were lost, along with Irvine's legacy. Until now.