Joe Mynhardt: Before we dive into your backstory, tell us a bit about your upcoming release?
Dino: Dead Reckoning and other stories is a collection inspired to an extent by Stephen King’s penchant for having characters in one story appear in a totally different work, i.e. a connected universe. I’m intrigued by the idea of connectivity—a six-degrees-of-separation world—and I got to wondering what if someone in the distant future were to read a compendium of human existence, that just how many (or few) dots can be connected between people to illustrate not just the common things that made us happy, but those that filled us with fear, worry, pain, desperation, etc. And yet it was never about wallowing in it, but finding the empathy in the hurt. This collection of 16 stories was born from trying to weave connective tissue through time, pretty much from the year I was born to far into the future.
Joe: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, High school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career?
Dino: I grew up (and still live) in Los Angeles, CA. I spent my youth in a northeast town called Eagle Rock, just west of Pasadena. It was located close enough to downtown that the jr./sr. high school I went to was a virtual revolving door of kids from not just different parts of town, but the world. LA has some of the largest—if not the largest—collectives of peoples outside their native countries, specifically China, Korea, and Mexico. My friends growing up came from all kinds of cultures, encompassed all kinds of lifestyles, sexual orientations, races, religions, etc. Part of it was difficult because based on LA’s inherently way-station type make, so many people I grew to like quickly transitioned or relocated out; people would move there for a year or two, not make it in their work (usually the film industry), and return home or go someplace else. There were precious few natives around, and even fewer than I connected with, so basically I made friends quickly as a youth just out of survival. But it was also rewarding getting to know such a big cross-section of people, both American and foreign-born. As cheesy as it might sound, you learn quickly that we have more in common than we don’t. That we both fear and love the same qualities in people. I feel that’s been instrumental in my writing exploration, the commonality we share.
Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out?
Dino: It was never about a new career choice (though I hope it will be!) for me early on so much as heeding the call to creative self-expression. I’ve always written as a kid and teenager, but mostly goofy, serialized choose-your-own-adventure type stories with a friend of mine. I finally got “serious” in my late twenties after really discovering a love for reading, and tried to write a novel. After the 650+ page incomprehensible behemoth, complete with created news articles, magazine clippings, and other assorted ephemera, I realized that I needed to get serious and actually learn some craft, so in my mid-thirties I joined Litreactor, found a peer group, and got to the business of learning writing through short stories. It’s been a love-affair ever since.
Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelmed, which motivated you to even greater heights?
Dino: My first success was both a boon and an eye-opener. I submitted a flash-fiction piece called “Visitation Rights” (included in Dead Reckoning and other stories) to a magazine called The Lascaux Review, for their inaugural flash fiction contest in 2012—and it won! The prize was publication, cash, and what I thought the coolest: a print by the photographer of the abstract piece used as the writing prompt. Of course I foolishly thought that that’s how it was going to be from them on: write, submit, get accepted, and win. WRONG. Not that I didn’t get published anymore after that, but became business as usual like any other writer—a fat, messy struggle of blanket submissions, blanket rejections, and heaps of self-doubt. But it was also huge, and more importantly, EARLY validation, and I’m still propelled by that six years later.
Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family?
Dino: I only kind of “came out” to most friends and family in the last couple of years. Certainly not to equate this coming-out with much more serious and heavy versions faced by many—all my love and respect to them—but the idea of writing as faddish, or a phase, or a time-waster is ever-present and real in many writer’s lives, and it’s a worry many of use face in sharing so intimate a process with our nearest and dearest. I was lucky that almost universally everyone in my life either was stoked by the idea, and some even rolling their eyes and lovingly chiding, “Well what the hell took you so long?” It’s been nothing but support ever since.
Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does?
Dino: Early on it was Stephen King. Period. The first of his I read was “Misery,” after overhearing an older cousin whisper furtively to a friend about this nasty book where a woman holding a man hostage first hacks off his foot with an axe before cauterizing the stump with a blow-torch. I was at Barnes & Nobel the next day when they opened with my chore money and bought a copy. Since then I’ve gone through many of the classics as well as delving into other horror writers like Poe, Rice, Jackson, Straub, then later with Baron, Graham-Jones, Abbott, and Ketchum. But once I discovered the later southern gothic/rural noir writers—Annie Proulx, William Gay, Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, and most importantly, Cormac McCarthy—I’ve discovered my “wheelhouse” as it were. These are the writers that fuel me.
Joe: Instead of just focusing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?
Dino: I would have to say that the opening story of Dead Reckoning, “Entropy,” most captures the element of empathy that drives the collection. It’s about a man trying to capture brief moments of happiness while going in-and-out of prison because of his anger, essentially. In the end he pretty much destroys himself, but it was an act motivated less by anger than by an expression of love he’d never experienced before, and that will fuel him for the rest of his life.
Joe: How do you feel when you don’t make your target words for the day?
Dino: I don’t have a target word count so much as just a feeling of completion for the day. Could be 500-1,000 words (probably what I average), or a perfect 100 word paragraph. I edit as write as opposed to purging it all out on paper in a continuous string.
Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write?
Dino: I would have to say direct visceral violence/gore. I prefer implying and/or ramping up the threat of violence. Much of my violence happens “off-screen” as it were, but sometimes the story or a moment demands it happen in-your-face, and those are the hardest to do. Some of it is just the difficulty of hurting another human being, even if fictional, but a big part of it is not wanting it to sound corny or unbelievable. I figure if I’m going to depict violence, I need to be honest about its reality, which often requires research, which then requires a textual means by which to best depict it.
Joe: What do you do to distract you enough to actually relax a bit? Or do you always think about writing?
Dino: I’m always thinking about writing, and truth be told, I don’t want that to stop. I feel no need to relax from it because the thinking part is not a taxing part of the process.
Joe: Tell us a bit about the people you met while researching a book. Are you still friends with some of them?
Dino: There isn’t any one person that I utilized in the research of these stories. It’s a varied mix of professionals, academics, friends, friends of friends, and research. There’s no one I’m still friends with whom I was friends with already.
Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learnt from being an author?
Dino: For me it’s becoming more comfortable in “people” settings: going to readings, meeting new writers, networking. Getting out of my solitude and general homebody ways, and not being afraid of promotion and getting my work out there. I figure this will serve me in other aspects of life as well.
Joe: How did being author change you as a person?
Dino: I think most of the answer to this lies in the previous question, but I’ll also add here that it’s given me more confidence and opened up my world as a consequence. I feel like I have a tribe now when before I didn’t.
Joe: Which response / comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career?
Dino: I got into an argument with someone online once after they read my story “Entropy” for a critique on Litreactor. After going out of her way to compliment the story, she asked from where in the south I came from (the story takes place in Kentucky), since she was herself, if I remember correctly, from Florida. I replied that I wasn’t from the south—that the only thing “southern” about me was that I was from Southern California (for those of you not from the U.S., NOT the south). Well, she didn’t buy it. She insisted rather vehemently that only someone from the south could’ve captured that voice, and that I was lying to her. It took quite a bit of convincing that I not only grew up in Los Angeles, but I’ve never lived in the south, much less been to Kentucky. To this day her believing the truth of my writing rather than the actual truth of me the author remains the best compliment I ever got, and worth the often contentious hour-long back-and-forth on a chat forum.
Joe: What is your life-long goal as an author?
Dino: To earn enough from it so that it sustains a living and a career. That’s the pipe-dream that comforts me to sleep. I’d be happy though if it becomes a nice supplement.
Joe: What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Dino: I think just to be known as an honest writer who did his best not to judge his characters nor our species in general. I truly believe that most of us are trying to do our best and our intentions are generally honourable and decent, and even if we invariably fail, I want to honor the intentions of the good.