His humorous short story, "Writer's Workshop," appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
Dylan, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I got into writing when I was about eleven or twelve. I started writing these humorous stories influenced by Mad magazine and my teacher had me read them to the class. I've been writing on and off ever since, but only got serious about three years ago.
Why do you write?
I've always had a need to express myself creatively, whether through drawing, sculpture, acting, or writing. It's just something inside me that kind of has to be released.
Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
I'm not sure how much I imagined it. I just kind of dove in. I did know, however, that there would be a lot of rejection. I was an actor in my early 20's and I understand that any field related to the arts is fiercely competitive.
What do you think makes a good story?
I think one part is it has to tell some truth that is universal, that people can relate to and maybe even help them see the world and themselves more clearly.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I guess I would say literary fiction, especially work that weaves in social commentary, like Tom Wolf's A Man in Full and T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Flat. I've really enjoyed some non-fiction lately, too, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Warmth of Other Suns. A lot of nonfiction reads more like narrative now. I also enjoy African American literature and magic realism.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
It's a tie between Dostoevsky and Shakespeare. I also love T.C. Boyle, Isabelle Allende, Richard Wright, Murakami, Marquez, and many others.
What books or stories have influenced you the most as a writer?
Some novels where the writing is big and bold and brave and the stories quirky and intense have influenced me, like Drop City, East is East, and Budding Prospects by T.C. Boyle and Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.
Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried has influenced me too. There's this scene where the guys have lost a comrade in battle and no one shares any grief or anything, but one guy just starts slowly blasting away a baby water buffalo. The scene is gruesome and makes you want to put the book down, but brilliant too because this character is expressing his horror and rage through action, not the narrator telling you how he feels. That scene and the whole book helped me better understand how to show where characters are at emotionally through action—and not always the action one might expect.
David Sederis's work has influenced me as a writer too. He's so skilled at finding the absurdity and humor in everyday situations.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of many books that has influenced me as a person because it shows the possibility of growth and change and transformation.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
When I leave town, leave the "to do" lists, and the mundane routines, inspiration usually comes to me. A lot of my inspiration comes from places. When I visit somewhere, the area and the people there often spark a story in my mind. For example, I was in Ashland, Oregon a while back and saw this old guy on a farm and it got me thinking what his life must be like. Ashland is this groovy, new-age, hippie town—I love it. But I wondered what it's like to be an old-timer, someone who was there when there were mills and farms, no food co-ops or crystal shops. So I came up with a story about this lonely old guy who is kind of forced to develop a relationship with his hippie neighbors.
What does your family think of your writing?
My wife and son are very supportive. My three sisters are writers themselves, as is my mom. Everyone in my family digs it, but sometimes I burn them out, especially my wife, constantly asking them to read over my work.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I teach in the day and write in the afternoon and/or evening. Sometimes on the weekends and during the summer I'll shift my writing time to the morning.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I write best when there's things going on around me. Cafes, subways, and park benches are places where I like to write because of the sounds and movements in the environment. It feels like the action moves my ideas along.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finishing. It's almost impossible for me to consider a piece done. I'm too much of a perfectionist and don't trust myself enough to feel like a story is really where it needs to be. I have dozens of short stories and even novellas that are 98% finished. Some have been hanging around for years.
What are your current projects?
I'm in the thick of about half a dozen short stories: "Ashland Man" (mentioned above), "The Dumpster," an experimental piece about a guy who finds relief by throwing away the junk accumulated in his house, "Jimi Talks to Me," a long short story about a guy who is obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, and others.
What are you planning for future projects?
I have a rough draft of a slipstream crime novella titled "The Vision" that I plan to revise and hope to get published. Also, I've begun collaborating with an independent filmmaker adapting one of my short stories, "Rules of the Game," into a screenplay.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
My advice is don't get too bogged down with one piece. When I was in college I wrote a one-act play that I thought could be produced and I got a meeting with a successful playwright to discuss my play. We sat over breakfast at a diner and he shared some things he thought worked well in the writing. When I asked him what I should do with it, he said put it aside and write another one. I was deflated by his response—I thought he would tell me what changes to make or how to get it produced—but now I realize he was right. I had gone as far as I could with that play and it was time to move on.
I've had to learn this lesson many times. I can get so caught up in editing one story or trying to get one particular piece published, that I stop writing new work for long periods of time. I think it's better to keep moving forward and writing new material, and not get stuck trying to perfect one piece.
Where else can we find your work?
I have links to most of my published work on my website: http://dylansstories.weebly.com/.