Today, I’m pleased to announce that I’m going to be interviewed on Movies Matters by Ken Lee, Vice-President of Michael Wiese Productions regarding my new memoir, Walkabout Undone, now available on Amazon and from HenschelHaus Books. Full confession: I didn’t know exactly what to expect when the tables were turned and I was the subject of the conversation. But I’m pleased to have had this conversation with my associate and publishing contact Ken Lee and it made me think and feel more about my work and my relationship with my writing. Enjoy!
Ken Lee: Dave, let’s start at the beginning. When did you first start thinking about writing this memoir? Was it always intended to be a memoir or did you consider other genres?
Dave Watson: I started writing in 2002, the year after I got back, but tried to craft it into a novel. I got enough feedback at the Pacific Northwest Writer's (PNW) conference that it could work, but it stopped there. It was always in that "could work" category. I met with Steve Fisher, then a literary agent and now a film agent at the Agency for Performing Arts, at the 2003 PNW conference and he suggested I do it as a memoir. I was so excited I called my then-girlfriend-now-wife and she cheered me on from the start.
KL: Like a lot of writers, you demonstrate a lot of tenacity in the development of this project. What kept you motivated to tell this story?
DW: Well, getting rejected gets tiresome. You have to stay confident because you see what's out there, and you cannot think you're better; you just haven't made it sellable yet. What also keeps you motivated is to surround yourself with storytelling, notice what aspects work in books, films, even documentaries. David Mamet said even those are fiction because they are designed for the audience to make an inference. Others always inspire me. Recently it's been people working into their seventies, it motivates you to think there's much time left!
KL: What types of audiences do you think will be drawn to this work?
DW: Any undergraduate or graduate student looking to study abroad will find it interesting. Anyone who's sacrificed for love, whether physically moving, giving up a year of your life, or going to someone else's hometown or country.
KL: In writing this book, was it easy or difficult for you to be so transparent about not only the events in your personal life but also your most inner most thoughts?
DW: I'd say it was easy to write the caustic stuff down because of the experiences described in the book. The irony is I was isolated in a very urban community. My inner most thoughts, well, they're yours and no one else's, and you can't forget that and have to stand by them when writing, editing, and publishing. Many people don't want to reveal their inner-most thoughts, especially at work, which is what makes books so special. They're private, the cinema public, and now the Internet, podcasts and related mediums somewhere in between, or seem to be. How many people do you know share with another what they heard on a Podcast?
KL: What’s the most controversial message of this book? Did you consider leaving it out?
DW: That Australians on a grand scale really do deceive themselves, and when they do look at their racism, they have a way of defending it, explaining it, but fixing it...they never quite get there or talk establishing processes to establish ways to fix it. No way did I consider leaving it out. They relate to us Yanks, too. Aussies and Americans can be stubborn. I remember Michael Wilbon covering the 2000 Olympics and his first reaction was, "They are so much like us!" I took his comment then on their cheering on their patriotism.
KL: How did working on this memoir affect you as a writer? Specifically, did it change the way you thought about memoirs or the value of self reflection?
DW: It made me appreciate how skilled the writers who make it actually are. I'm not very critical of other writers now because I know how hard it is. Some people think I need to be more so, but on my website, I usually try to help the filmmaker. Take Spike Lee for example. People who've worked with him says he gives master classes on storytelling, and he still swings for the fences, but his last two films were not two of his best, or even in the upper echelons of his canon. He'll be back in form hopefully.
Yes, this process did change how I thought of memoirs and self-reflection. You can only tell this story from one point of view, and part of you that's unlikable may, even likely, end up on the page. Or, you risk appearing myopic because it is only from your point of view. You have to take yourself out of the spotlight early, which was hard because this was my first time out. If you write the manuscript years ago and pick it up again, you also forget all the things that happened to you at a particular time. That's refreshing in a way, and then you have to move on because you have moved on since writing it. That was a central message in Woody Allen's Cafe Society last year: that we move on, and once in a while, we look back. That's a tango he dealt with, that we all deal with.
KL: What are your plans to promote the book here in the States and abroad?
DW: I have several dates planned in Madison, where I live, and Eugene, Oregon, where I grew up. Eugene will hopefully be in August at the Smith Family Bookstore, Black Sun Books and in Madison at Mystery to Me Books on July 13th, and A Room of One's Own this summer. Skype, podcasts, and related technologies to virtually go abroad. I'm not sure if I can handle that fourteen-hour flight from L.A. to Australia any more.
KL: Can you describe the feeling of watching your book movie from draft, to manuscript, to
galley to finished book?
DW: Goodness, the feelings out of the gate really were the calm before the calm. I was more stressed writing this thing than at any day job, even working in middle school along the way. It was a good stress though because you are creating. You see your thought processes in print, then you read others' work and think, how do they do this? It felt great to actually have a manuscript and show it around. That's the feeling of accomplishment, then you have to convince others why they should spend their time, in a noisy world, for this story. That's challenging, and it is a time for growth in something I and friends hadn't done before.
KL: In your wildest dreams, what do you hope this book will do for you and your writing career?
DW: Hopefully it calls attention to accountability in institutions. I don't know what kind of Board governs the University of Melbourne. Even local school boards operate secretly. Hopefully the University of Melbourne looks at this era and if things have changed, great. If not, let's hope they ask themselves if they want to change.
For my writing career, I hope to travel and write more! I'd also love to collaborate with someone on a book or screenplay, learn from someone else and complement each other to make a great story that provokes the audience for a long time.
KL: What authors or writing sources provided inspiration for you?
DW: Ironically they weren't memoirists. Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel showed my how big and sprawling ideas in stories can be, even if they are underlying ideas the author gave thought to and somehow barely ended up on the page. Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens weaved principles with a wide variety of sources. Jen Grisanti's Change Your Story, Change Your Life gave me confidence to change direction within stories, and Pamela Jaye Smith's The Power of the Dark Side: Creating Great Villains is fantastic. She knows what lies under the surface of many of us.
KL: And finally, what’s your bit of advice for other writers who are tackling the difficult genre of Memoirs?
DW: It is a hard genre because one book, I believe it was Anne LaMott in Bird by Bird, said not everything that happens to you is interesting. That is so true! You may feel it and think it at the time, but someone outside your shoes may not find it funny, believable, or remotely interesting. You have to adhere to storytelling principles while staying true to yourself so your book feels wholly authentic. Then the storytelling maxim comes into play, that the more specific your choices are, the more universally they apply. Other people out there, somewhere in the seven billion-plus that inhabit this planet, are bound to identify with you on at least one level, sometimes many. I'm not famous, but I want people to think differently about who they are and their places in the world, especially when traveling abroad and seeing a country that's supposed to be like yours. The longer I stayed there, the more I realized how different our two countries are.