A Conversation with: John M. Daniel
July 29, 2012
Author, Publisher, and much more[i]…
Today, I’m visiting with John M. Daniel—another “how can he do it all?” person. I electronically met John when we were tour members on one of Anne K. Albert’s “Mystery We Write” blog tours.[ii] Subsequently, I met John and his lovely wife, Susan, in person at Left Coast Crime in Sacramento. What a delight, meeting the author behind the words! So, I know John is an author and publisher, but there’s much more.
Thank you so much for talking with me, John. I know we (tour members) all shared a lot of our writing accomplishments, writing philosophies, and backgrounds during our tour—nonetheless, I do have some more questions!
I’d like to start with a non-writing question. I think California is a beautiful and fascinating state, and I understand you live in Humboldt County—which my husband and I have driven through in years past. But “driving through” isn’t living there. Could you share what it’s like in your neck-of-the state?
The North Coast of California is beautiful, Madeline. Next time you drive through, let us know, and Susan and I will take you on a walk and show off the big trees and the rocky coastline. The redwood forests are thrilling. It’s also nice and quiet up here. There are a few downsides, weather wise, but I’ve adjusted to the fog, the cool temperatures, the rain, the wind. And when it’s warm and sunny (and it is all those things, occasionally), it can’t be beat. We’ve lived here for nine years, and we’ve never regretted moving here.
Sounds very appealing! So nice when you end up in a spot you like. On to writing. During our blog tour, our posts appeared on your blog, The Joy of Story—a great blog title by the way. Since, our tour, I’ve continued to follow your blog, and what I’ve found most interesting is your 99-Word-Stories. I love reading them! What’s the story behind them, and what continues to hold your interest in this writing form?
I used the 99-word story as a writing assignment for my students during the twenty years I was a teacher. I’d let the classes choose a plot or an archetypal story we were all familiar with (such as a fairy tale, a bibles story, a Greek myth, etc.), and we’d all write stories inspired by the classic theme. And every year I’d publish an anthology of stories based on one of those themes. The purpose of the exercise is to show how important these archetypical stories are, and also to show the value of being economical with our words.
You’ve taught Creative Writing everywhere (well maybe not everywhere), but you have done a lot in the educational arena. I’m very impressed that you have such skills, but most importantly the desire to help aspiring authors. Could you share your thoughts on the teaching part of your multifaceted life?
I loved being a teacher of creative writing. I especially loved my adult education class called “The Stories of Our Lives.” It was thrilling to see how people, many of whom had never written a story before, could become good writers as they explored and relived the turning points in their lives. I’m out of the teaching game now, and I don’t really miss it because it was hard work; but I’m hugely grateful for having had the pleasure of watching student writers catch onto the joy of writing. And by the way, I learned a lot from them, too.
Changing directions, I’d love to hear about your publishing endeavor. There are a lot of questions bouncing around in my head, such as—what are your greatest challenges, and greatest rewards (non-monetary)? And how have the changes in the publishing world, i.e. POD, eBooks, etc. affected your business?
The techniques of publishing have changed so fast I can’t hope to keep up with them. Luckily we work with people (designers, printers, distributors, etc.) who enjoy the rapid pace of the changing world. But one thing hasn’t changed: good writing remains good writing. I have resisted each change along the way, such as eBooks, POD, and Amazon; but in time I come to accept and rejoice in what the modern, ever-changing world has to offer. The greatest challenge is making our books receive the attention, sales, and distribution they deserve. We’re sometimes disappointed. The greatest pleasures? One is the excitement that happens when a book and its author get a wonderful review in Publishers Weekly, or Library Journal, and we know we won that round. Another is the thrill of selling a book to a customer and knowing that customer will be pleased.
If writing, teaching, and publishing weren’t enough, I also understand you do editing—all types. What an amazing adventure that must be? Could you share what you enjoy and maybe find frustrating with all the author services you offer?
Yes, I’m a freelance editor and writing consultant, and it’s fun to lend a hand and make a manuscript better. My favorite assignment is ghostwriting fiction. I don’t get to do that often, but when I get that opportunity I revel in it. Imagine: doing what you love to do best, and getting paid for it! But I also enjoy doing manuscript critique. The frustrating part of this occupation is that authors often want me to help them find a publisher or an agent. I have tried very hard to make this happen for them, and I’ve exploited my contacts, but it seldom works. So I now stick with a claim I can make with confidence: I can make your manuscript better, I can even make it worthy of publication, but I can’t guarantee its future.
On one of your recent blogs, I read you and Susan recently celebrated your 25th wedding anniversary. Congratulations! And it sounds like your work is very much a collaborative effort. I would guess there are benefits in having a partner to work with. If not too personal a question, How has working with a family member helped you?
This never ceases to amaze us: Susan and I are together 24 hours a day. We work in our home, with adjoining offices. We’ve been business partners, best friends, and in love for 20-plus years! I can’t believe our good luck. We bring different skills to the business, with Susan in charge of the numbers and me in charge of the words, but we make all our important decisions together. I don’t recommend this 24/7 relationship for all married couples (it wouldn’t have worked in my earlier marriages, or Susan’s earlier marriages), but with the right combo, it’s a remarkable and rewarding ride through life, one we don’t take for granted.
I’m reading Behind the Redwood Door (I know I have had it on my Kindle for a long time!) as this blog appears. Loving it! Particularly like the strong sense of place and your characters—two of my favorite aspects in writing. Thank you, John, what a lovely talk we’ve had.
http://johnmdaniel.blogspot.com/ The Joy of Story
[i] John M. Daniel is a graduate of Stanford University (American Literature), where he also did graduate study as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in the Creative Writing Program. He completed the Radcliffe College Publishing Procedures Course, and was an editor at the Stanford University Press; the buyer for Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park, California; and the sales manager for Capra Press in Santa Barbara, California.
He is the author of ten published books (four mystery novels, two story collections, two cat books, a memoir about small-press publishing, and a writing instruction book) and over seventy-five published articles and short stories.
Poisoned Pen Press published the first of his Guy Mallon mysteries, The Poet’s Funeral, in hardcover in 2005; the second volume, Vanity Fire, was published in hardcover in October 2006, at the same time that the paperback of The Poet’s Funeral was released.
He has taught creative writing at UCLA Extension, UC Irvine Extension, UC Santa Barbara Extension, Santa Barbara Adult Education, and Northern Humboldt County Adult Education; and he was on the faculty of the annual Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference.
John Daniel and his wife Susan are the founders and proprietors of Daniel & Daniel, Publishers, Inc., a small literary press that publishes several high-quality books each year. In addition, John also offers a number of freelance literary services, including editing (copy editing, line editing, developmental editing), writing (assignment pieces and ghostwriting), manuscript submission guidance, and ongoing writing career mentorship.