Scott Driscoll, an award-winning writing instructor at UW, Continuing and Professional Education, took several years to finish Better You Go Home (October 2013, Coffeetown Press), a novel that grew out of the exploration of the Czech side of his family in the 1990s after Eastern Europe was liberated. Driscoll keeps busy freelancing stories to airline magazines.
Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?
I am a planner. I need to have a very clear sense of the characters and their situation before I would even attempt to write chapters. I also do research and elaborate character profiles. I would only “let the story flow” when fully engaged in a dramatic sequence wherein a main character is pursuing a desire in anticipation of opposition.
Do your characters ever want to take over the story?
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, I pay attention. For example, I spent much time writing and rewriting what to me is a critical chapter in the story. The protagonist is with a town historian digging up family information. His escort, a local, has reason to hate the historian. Near the end of this long scene, the historian finally insults the escort in a way that is for her just too unforgiveable. Her reaction actually changes the course of story action that follows and causes the protagonist to have to rethink his own goal. When writing this chapter I did not know in advance that she would do what she did. It simply happened in the writing of that segment of the scene. Once I’d got it down, I realized, yes, that makes total sense, he would say that, and she would react that way and now my protagonist must pay the price.
What is your favorite food?
Sauerkraut. Fermented cabbage is like a life secret. It is funky, it is smelly, it tastes good, and it has health benefits that outstrip almost all other foods. And it doesn’t spoil. It is in effect, spoiled. What could be better?
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Night owl, no doubt. I wait for morning people to get out of the way, then I can settle into my day. But late at night, when the world is more or less quiet, when the phone won’t ring and it is possible to ignore email or text messages (I don’t do them anyway, not yet), then I can indulge my interior world (my son asleep, my wife in bed reading and headed to sleep). I have learned the hard way that nothing creatively good comes out of this, but, I have also learned that this indulgent late night isolation is critical to refueling my imagination so I am ready to do good work in the morning (never early).
Where do you dream of traveling to and why?
I’ve already traveled extensively. Now it’s more like, where would I most like to ride my bicycle? Or, where would I most like to shop for wine? Or, where would I most like to spend several quiet days outdoors? That said, I would like to spend more time in Eastern Europe. That is where I think some of our best stories reside.
Do distant places feature in your books?
In Better You Go Home, my debut novel, much of the action takes place in the Czech Republic. Some in Prague, but mostly in towns in eastern Bohemia. I have a family connection to this place. I traveled there a couple of times and talked to people (using an interpreter) and listened to stories and took careful and extensive notes. My next novel will be set in Latvia. Her family is Latvian. I have been there, but I really would like to go back, test impressions, see more, take more notes. A small country whose identity was nearly subsumed by the Soviets, a country that saved itself through music, a country that is struggling to survive economically today, that country has rich stories to tell. Should life be a struggle? No, but when it is, how do we behave? Who are we under pressure? This is what I want to explore.
Do you listen to music while writing?
I used to. Always. Classical. Sometimes opera. I have to get back in the habit. And I very certainly will while writing about a character who is a Latvian composer.
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
Writing gets harder and harder as there are ever more distractions on our time. What I have learned is that it is critical to make the time to write a priority. Also, if you find yourself floundering, find a good instructor and take writing classes. Writers needn’t invent the craft from scratch. Save time. Learn tricks from others, then find your own way. Also, learn by imitation. You will never actually write like the one you imitate, but through imitation you will learn how the writing gets done, from the building of sentences right up to the voice and rhythm and language.
About publishing, it is a good time to be a novelist if you are willing to go with independent presses. Digitizing book publication has make it possible for small or independent presses to compete. Often this means it is also possible to avoid the time waste that can be an agent search. That said, the imprint of a reputable press on your book matters so I feel it is worthwhile to search out a press that will produce a book you can be proud of and that others will take seriously.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I hear nothing but complaints about the photo I sent in to have on the inside. I wanted a non-comfortable, tortured look. Well, apparently I succeeded. The moral of the story is, if you want to have your photo on the book, send in a photo that makes you look like someone who has succeeded at something, not like someone whose arm is being twisted out of its socket.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?
Samuel Beckett, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Willa Cather, V. S. Naipaul (I don’t write like any of them but I have learned from them). My evolving writer group friends. An agent who gave me a good piece of advice. One of the editors at Coffeetown Press, Jennifer McCord, who helped me take the monster that was my novel into the realm a story someone might actually enjoy reading.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?
Be a good observer. Train yourself to observe and record dispassionately. Don’t take sides. Just see, hear, smell, taste, feel what is and get it down. This is a very good place to start.
What are three words that describe you?
Inquisitive, determined, bicycle.
What’s your favorite book or who is your favorite writer?
I don’t have a favorite author. I like various authors for different reasons. For a long time it was Willa Cather, then V.S. Naipaul, then Christopher Isherwood, then Andre Dubus (the elder). Most recently, Mark Slouka or Per Peterson. For a time I read lots by J.M. Coetzee, but I was so put off by Elizabeth Costello and some remarks he made re: another book I very much do not admire that I stopped with him. I have certainly learned from Flaubert. I could not possibly recommend one book. When I was in grad school it was Angle of Repose. The book I have most admired recently would be Mark Slouka’s The Visible World.
Any websites/places readers can find you on the web?
CONTACT: Book It Northwest
Gail DiRe, firstname.lastname@example.org, (206) 227-1866
You can find out more about Scott Driscoll, his books and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/kpdm5fk