Thursday, 8 September 2011

Words with... Leland Dirks

Thanks to Leland Dirks for this interview

How long have you been writing?

Really since I was a child. I loved writing poetry then. My career of twenty-five years with a large US company involved a lot of technical writing and editing. I’ve been writing for myself and to make a bit of money for about the last two or three years.

Do you have a day job or do you write for a living?

This is my life!

What do you feel is the ideal recipe for a good novel/story/poem?

Well, someone a long time ago said there were only three real stories: Man against Man, Man against Nature, and Man against Self. I think any good novel or story has to have that as a basis. There has to be a transformation of at least one of the characters, and there has to be some ‘bad’ in the story. I took a lot of heat from some reviewers for including a crazy, dog-beating character in Angelo’s Journey, but it’s important to represent the real world in our writing too, and it’s not all rainbows and bunnies out there. I also believe that we, as writers, have a responsibility to hold a mirror up to society so that we can see the beauty to appreciate it, and the ugly so that we can transform it. For poetry, I think there are a lot of different recipes, mostly depending on the type of poems. Haiku is most definitely different than a ballad. In poetry, form is closer to substance than in a novel or story.

What/who inspired you to write and still inspires you?

My oldest brother loved to write. Tragically, he died before he was widely published. I think he planted the seed of the dream. Then I was very fortunate to have some very encouraging teachers who nourished that little seedling of a dream.

What books have you written? Do you stick to one genre?

I think the ‘genrification’ (not a real word, I know) of American literature is a curse and a blessing. It’s a blessing because you can assume that the reader has a lot of knowledge based on the genre. For instance, if you write a vampire novel, you can assume that readers will know that vampires don’t do well with the sun. But that same genre-assumption makes the writer lazy, and she/he doesn’t spell out the rules of the game. I also think that this obsession with genre stifles creativity. When it came time to choose a genre for Angelo’s Journey, I couldn’t find one. There is no ‘dog as hero’ genre. So, the book wound up in 'Short Stories' and in 'Dog Care' on Amazon. If William Faulkner were alive today, where would As I Lay Dying be classified? 'Mortuary Science'?

My published books: 

Angelo’s Journey: A Border Collie’s Quest for Home
Border Collie Haiku, a short collection of thirty-something haikus, written from Angelo’s perspective;
Maggie’s Book of Wisdom, a very short collection of observations and some cute photos of a puppy’s first year;
The Hermitage at Ojito Creek (in three volumes) describes the day-by-day meanderings of building a house in the middle of nowhere. It is a collection of my blog entries from the first six years of owning the property, all the way from finding it through to most of the interior work. Also included are daily observations and a TON of photographs from this beautiful place.

How long did it take you to write your book/s?

Honestly, Angelo’s Journey took about a month of solid writing, and another month of editing, with a huge amount of help from friends.

How long did it take you to get published? Did you take the traditional route or DIY?

It took a couple of days for the Kindle edition. I chose self-publishing. Life is too short for me to spend time fighting my way through the traditional publishing process. They offer huge benefits in terms of marketing, exposure and getting the books on to shelves, and I applaud them for all they do for making good books, but they weren’t for me.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers/those just starting out?

I’ll assume that anyone who wants to write is also an avid reader. I think you have to be. Once you start writing though you’ll also change how you read. Some of the smoke and mirrors of a good writer will become clearer. You’ll understand more of the mechanical devices that a good author uses, and sometimes you’ll discover devices that are not so good. I’ll also assume that even a beginner writer knows that, like a carpenter, she/he must know the tools of the trade. Learn to spell, punctuate and make a complete sentence. Beyond that, the first bit of advice is, ridiculous as it sounds, to write. 

Get your story down on paper (okay, on your monitor) and work it through to the end. Don’t go back and edit until you’ve made it through the book the first time. Don’t give early drafts out to friends while you’re still working your way to the end. Get it done in some form. THEN go back, and edit and share. I also believe in simple outlines. Most often, I just start with chapter titles, and those serve as my outline. On the other hand, if your story takes you somewhere your outline doesn’t go, be willing to adapt. Listen to the story and your characters! 

Finally, get to know your characters. Before you start your story, write a simple biography or thumbnail sketch of your main characters. List their physical attributes, what matters to them and how they see life. In short, interview them. Then keep those notes handy as you write your story. It helps with continuity, and it’s also a way to make sure you let your readers know everything that you consider important about your characters.

Do you have any works in progress?

I always try to have two or three works in progress… not that I’m working on them all the time, but to know what’s coming up next. The next book will be released in September, and it’s called Seven Dogs in Heaven. It’s part memoir, part parable and part fantasy. A man dies and, instead of all the angels and archangels everyone expects in heaven, he meets the dogs that played roles in his life. In no particular order after that, I have a mystery, Angelo’s ‘pawtobiography’, and a fictionalised memoir of my mother.

Which character from your books do you like most/are most like?

I’m most like The Man in Angelo’s Journey. In fact, I am that character. But the character I like the most was the cowboy in Angelo’s Journey.

Where and when do you write – do you have set times during which you write or is it just when the mood takes you?

I try to write every day, after the first couple of walks with the dogs. I get up just before sunrise, take some photographs, spend a little time on Facebook answering readers’ questions and emails, do a little marketing, and then I write. I write anywhere I can… I’ve written under trees, in a tent, in a pick-up cab, on a mountain top. A lot of times I’ll write with pen and paper, and then key it later.

Marketing – the bane of self-publishers - how do you find the experience? Do you have any marketing advice for other writers? Do you use a blog or twitter, etc?

I find the experience both time-consuming and delightful. Time-consuming because it takes time away from putting words on paper, but delightful because the best marketing is a dialogue with one’s readers. I spend an enormous amount of time on Facebook and on email, just talking with readers. I’m continually in awe of how generous and kind readers are, and the suggestions and feedback they offer. I also have a blog that I’m rather intermittent about posting to (shame on me). 

Marketing in our time isn’t about one-way communication… it’s a dialogue. The biggest mistake I see a lot of writers make in marketing their own material is that they just post a blurb and wait for people to buy. Instead, it works better if you ask your readers what they liked or hated about your last book, what they’d do differently, and so on. And, if they answer you, for heaven’s sake, respond to them and THANK them!

Some of your fave things... Animal? Food? Drink? Film? Colour? Band? Song? Place to chill out?

My dogs are with me wherever I go, especially Angelo. He keeps me rooted; he keeps me humble. Maggie reminds me to play. And they’re about the best friends I have.

I love Italian food… everything from the simplest pizza to the more complex dishes.

Drink… a nice merlot or shiraz will always mellow me out, and it’s a delightful conversation starter. I don’t drink a lot of hard liquor, but if I do, it’s usually a vodka tonic.

Favourite film of all time is Rich and Famous, with Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset. It’s a film that everyone who aspires to being a writer should see – the struggles of the serious writer, the accidental bestseller, and the dialogue is rich in humor.

When I’m writing, I’m likely to listen to Mozart or Bach. They really do make me feel smarter, and the words flow better. When I’m not writing, I’m sort of an oldies guy. If you’d told me that I’d ever consider music from the 80s oldies, I would have laughed at you, but there it is.

My favourite place to hang out? At home, or walking around in the outdoors. I live in a really remote area, so it’s fun just to pick a direction and start walking or biking.

One day you’re walking in the forest and you bump into an alien librarian from Mars. He wants five book recommendations from you…

These five would be the only representations of Earth in the Martian library? The first two would be the King James Version of the Bible and, of course, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Both have some of the most beautiful prose and poetry ever written in the English language. I think I’d suggest a copy of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, so that the Martians could laugh at what a twisted perception we had of them, and still recognise that we did it with good writing and imagination. I’d also recommend something from Asia, so that the Martians didn’t become too enamoured with English only. Perhaps Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. And, of course, I’d recommend they make room for a copy of Angelo’s Journey.

Which book do you wish you had written?

Illusions by Richard Bach. It is such a deliciously simple book, with so very much truth in it.

Who is your favourite character from any book and why?

I don’t know that I can actually narrow it to one. Buck, in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Louis, from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, is a perennial favorite as well. Both of them are loners by choice, but forced into a ‘society’ of sorts in order to survive. They hold on to their hermit hearts, and go their own ways while still coping with the demands of others. A dog and a vampire – I wonder what that says about me as an author?

Which three authors (living or not) would you like to take to the pub?

Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker and Thomas Jefferson. Maybe not all at once!

What other hobbies/interests do you have or has writing taken over?

I’ve been building my own house for the last four years. It’s kind of on hold right now, but very livable! I’m completely off grid and in the middle of nowhere. I enjoy photography and, of course, I love to read.

What would you like to achieve in the next five years?

I’d love to have a book on the NYT Bestseller list. I’d love to have the house all done. And I’d really like to win the Lotto, as long as we’re wishing.

If you won the Lotto, what would you do with all it?

Ahhhh… good question! I think I’d like to start a small writers’ and photographers’ community. I live in an area where land is still available at reasonable prices, and I’d love to see some of my friends move into this beautiful, rural area, and support them for a bit while they get to publish their first books and get discovered. Oh, and Angelo says that I would hire a personal assistant for him. Excellent idea. He wouldn’t mind having his own photographer too.

Now for the creative bit… please finish this story in 100 words or less – ‘There once was a small gecko called Fred...’

There once was a small gecko named Fred. He was a very young gecko, and wondered why there were so few geckos on the lanai that he called home. One night, a human sat on the lanai with a book, and read as the sun went down. As the human finished the book, something PLOPPED on to the lanai. Fred was startled. He saw another gecko! The other gecko looked up, and as Fred followed his gaze, he saw hundreds of other geckos on the ceiling! At last, he’d found companions! The two geckos climbed the wall together to gecko heaven.

Finally, what question do you wish I’d asked and, of course, what is the answer?

You didn’t ask me about anything I’m afraid of! I have a secret fear that there are really only five or six really loyal and dedicated friends and fans buying my books, and they’re buying them in large numbers. I hope that’s not true, but knowing the kind of good and loyal people who read my books, and knowing the sorts of kind friends I have, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility either! Thanks so much for such thought-provoking questions!

My blog is available at

Where Angelo’s Journey is available: 

Through independent bookstores at
(please support your local indie!)

In the UK, it’s available on Kindle at

Amazon at in both paperback and Kindle editions

Barnes and Noble at in paperback and nook editions

My Facebook author page is


  1. When's the author community coming :)
    And please can it be somewhere sunny :)

  2. When I win the Lotto, or when I have a million bestseller! And it will be in southern Colorado, where the sun almost always shines... even when it's freezing!

  3. This is a wonderful interview and I can't wait to get round to reading your books! I'm sure I will love them as I am a HUGE Border Collie fan myself and I love anything to do with them.

  4. Thanks again for the interview! Just wanted to let folks know that Seven Dogs in Heaven is released in both Kindle and nook formats, and paperback is coming in the next couple of weeks! Here are the links:

    and nook:

  5. And thanks, LK! Angelo says you're his kind of person!


Thanks for commenting - have a kitty cool day! :)