Savage Enterprises Publishing
Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

In Conversation


David Shtogryn — (December 1999) I initially met David Shtogryn back in 1995 at Primedia. He was always pleasant and approachable and soon became someone I looked forward on catching up with every year. During Primedia 1999, I had a lot of time to just shoot the breeze with him and we got to talking about a lot of things. After sharing stories and anecdotes, I got to thinking about introducing him to the folks in Comicopia. Seeing as how I haven't held an Interview since June 1998, I figured the best way to do so was to spotlight him in an In Conversation. As a professional Fiction Writer, he gets the dubious honor of being the first non-comics professional I interviewed in these pages :)


Mike Aragona:

David, how about some background information to kick this off? What made you decide to become a writer?

David Shtogryn:

I loved to read since I was knee high. As a teenager I decided that I was going to be a writer and produce material like those that thrilled and entertained me. Alas, I was encouraged to find a "real job" first.

MA:

I see from your Publication History that your first story was printed in 1983 ["Another Morning" - Reader's Choice - Spring 1983]. How did that come about?

DS:

That first story was written on an old electric typewriter. I finally found the time to attack my life-long dream and take a shot at it. I got very lucky early. The editor liked one of the characters from an earlier submission and asked that if I ever do another with this particular motorcycle guy, to send it to her first. After a rewrite, she grabbed it. Further more, I had to learn marketing, etc. and basically practice and refine skills ... which I'm still doing.

MA:

When did you first start submitting work for publication? Did you know the editor from Reader's Choice?

DS:

Several months prior to the acceptance. I did not know the editor, but met her once when we talked about a couple of minor adjustments in the story. I was thrilled. The magazine was very professional and was sold in all of the major book stores in Toronto. Unfortunately, it folded about a year later.

MA:

After 83, your next published work came in 1991. What had you been doing in the interim?

DS:

Ahhh ... major life changes and the stories were stored in a box. The reality of continuing at that time was not possible, but the dream stuck with me.

MA:

Was it after 1991 that the writing bug really hit you and you devoted more time to it, or did you discover a "secret" of some sort?

DS:

The "secret" was marriage to Jennifer Cawthorne, and she had a computer. Not only that, she understood the time and personal requirements of writing. As a first reader she was, and still is, excellent ... the best. A spouse that is interested and supportive is very necessary. So, I bought a good printer, some additional software and supplies. Thus I was ready. Now came decision time. Working full time, if I was going to write, too many other things had to be abandoned. I cut into the socializing and gave up on skiing, motor sport involvement, and numerous other escapades. My good friends also were very helpful and supportive, understanding the commitment it takes to be a writer.

MA:

Thus, she became your Muse and your Partner. I know exactly what you mean (Personal Note: David and I spoke of the positive effect Chantale has had in my life especially in terms of creativity and thus he knows I understand the importance of a supportive partner). How did you take to the life adjustments you had to make? Did it ever anger you to have to give up so much? Did you ever regret it?

DS:

Fortunately I've never regretted it. I'm sure some success plays a role. Even if I failed, I would have been able to look back and say "I gave it a bash." The life adjustments came easy. The only initial difficulties I encountered was when I resigned from a couple of organizations I was involved with. People kept asking me to come back. They didn't seem to understand. Eventually they quit phoning. I never did get angry giving up so much. It was well past time to get away from the crazy life style I was living.

MA:

Before becoming a full-time writer, what was your "day job"?

DS:

A Radiation Technologist by trade. At the time I retired I was the Administrative Director of Diagnostic Imaging and Laboratory Services at the Ajax and Pickering General Hospital. Believe me, the title wasn't all it was crocked up to be.

MA:

"Crocked" up or "Cracked" up? :)

DS:

Both. HAR!!!!

MA:

Do you have an agent? If so, how does he/ she help you?

DS:

Not at this time. I will be seeking one next year.

MA:

What type of Writer do you consider yourself? Are you primarily a "horror" writer? Who are your niche audience?

DS:

I like to consider myself a non-specialist. I've even have had some mainstream published. Funny, I just sit down and write. What comes out could be classified as anything. Horror has been the most successful for me, so I keep coming back to the computer to crank one out every now and then.

MA:

When and why did you start offering your services as a Manuscript Critic?

DS:

I feel comfortable with it and have had a lot of experience in a Writer's group and a couple of courses in creative writing. Cindy Huckle first approached me about trying it out at Primedia.

MA:

Do you do any other type of teaching?

DS:

Only to myself to become a better writer.

MA:

How do you go about doing that? Books? Seminars? Talking with other writers? Holding dialogues with editors?

DS:

All of the above. Funny though, during the first draft of a story, I get carried away and tend to forget a key thing now and then, ie: a sympathetic character, lack of tension in spots. I manage to pick these things up when working on the second draft.

MA:

What do you find most difficult to write? Evil characters? "Heart-string" moments? Dialogue?

DS:

Actually I don't find any of the above difficult. I'm probable stronger in the Evil characters and dialogue. However, the "heart-strings" come pretty easy as well.

MA:

I met you as a fellow Panelist many years ago. I know why I go to conventions. What's your take on them? What draws you to them? What are the highs and lows of a convention for you?

DS:

The highs are the fans and fellow writers' social network. I've met, like yourself, some wonderful and interesting people at conventions. I look at it as an opportunity to make contacts and also to promote myself to the fans. The lows are when a convention runs into bad luck and doesn't attract the fans. The panel rooms can be very empty.

MA:

If we can get more technical, where do you draw your inspiration from?

DS:

A good one. "Sunny Fields", an Aurora Award finalist this year, was based on a dream my wife had. I've done several stories based on her ideas. Ideas also just seem to spin out of my head. In most cases I sit at the computer and start something. Then a lot of things happen and change as the story progresses. The beginning is rarely a problem. When I can see the end of a story, I know I'm on the way. I also get ideas from things and people that I see. For instance, one morning while walking the dog, I saw a car's headlights pan across and light up seeding dandelions. I've made a note of that and a few ideas. It will eventually develop into a story.

MA:

Have you avoided novels or simply prefer short story writing?

DS:

I love writing short stories. It's clearly my preference. However, I have just finished a second draft on a novel that is being test read one more time. A bit of tweaking, then off I go to find an agent. I'm also working with James Baker (Pro-mart Writing Labs) on a novel collaboration, and have another half-finished novel on the shelf waiting to be picked up again. I've found when working on a novel, my available short stories run out, and I have to write a few more to keep on the market.

MA:

Do you find that devoting time to a novel takes away from your short stories either in time to devote to them or in ideas for them?

DS:

Time to devote to short stories vanishes completely. The ideas do stick around. I make a note of any flash of inspiration I get and file it with the bits and pieces of other ideas I've had. I'll either dip into this file when I take a break for short fiction, or just make things up as I go along.

MA:

When you write, do you keep a "generic" reader in mind or a specific audience? Do you write for yourself? Do you write for your wife?

DS:

When a story is based on an idea from my wife, I write for her. When an editor asks for something from me, I'll target the story in whatever genre he/she publishes. Mostly I write for myself, then look for an appropriate market. I'll only target a "generic" reader after a story is finished.

MA:

What is your approach to finishing a story? Do you write straight through, leave it alone when done, and then return to it after a while? Do you rework it while you're creating it?

DS:

While creating a story, I do rework it in progress. When I feel it is finished, it goes off to test readers. I make some final adjustments, then immediately start marketing it.

MA:

Who comprises your test audience? Actual critics? Fans? Friends? Do you get honest enough critiques from them?

DS:

My wife gets the first shot at the story. Believe me she's a tough one. Then the story may, or may not go to a Writer's Workshop depending on how I feel about it. It's funny how you know when you've got a good one. I've bounced a few off a friend on occasion.

MA:

What Word Processing package do you use and why?

DS:

Word 6.0 at present. I feel very comfortable with that software because it's so easy to use with multiple options when/if required.

MA:

What words of wisdom (or words of courage/ inspiration) can you offer those wishing to take the Writing Plunge?

DS:

Write for yourself. Everything comes after that. It's a great feeling to hold in your hand something that you alone have created. Do not be afraid to send it out for publishing. Many great stories have been rejected countless times before finding its niche. Never take criticism personally. Develop a thick skin. Above all be tenacious and never give up. I feel these are essential qualities for a writer.

MA:

If there were something you could have done differently in your career, what would it have been?

DS:

I definitely would have started writing seriously a lot sooner. But I really never look back. Uncontrollable and unexpected circumstances managed to get in the way. If I had studied journalism when I finished High School, I would have ended up in a different time line. How's that for a theory?

MA:

It's the basis of every Sliders episode :) Do you have a specific or particular goal you'd like to achieve in your career?

DS:

It would be wonderful to have a best selling novel. You just never know.

MA:

What do you love most about your career or what stands out as a highlight so far?

DS:

Ahhh ... the ability to create something from my wild imagination. I love doing interviews. By the way, you're a great interviewer. There have been many highlights, from the sale of my second story in 1991, developing a publishing history, an Aurora Award finalist, and many others I won't bore you with. A wonderful feeling comes over me after writing for a few hours and feeling good at what I have accomplished.

MA:

Thank you for the kind words. Truth be told the trade secret to my interviewing style is easy: I am personally interested in the interviewee both as a person and as a creative professional. Thus, they always know my questions are honest and asked for the sake of personal and professional curiosity. Which, I guess, is why I would probably never make it as a professional interviewer :) David, thank you once again for agreeing to this interview. You've been very generous with your words and time. And thank you as well for allowing me to reprint your short story "Sunny Fields" in the pages of Comicopia!

DS:

An absolute pleasure, Mike. Talking to you is always very enjoyable.
David Shtogryn can be reached via email at djac at interlog dot com and via his web page at http://www.angelfire.com/on/Shtogryn/


(In Conversation (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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