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Author Interview: Dave Riese

Born in Arlington, MA, Dave Riese graduated from Bates College in Maine where he majored in English Literature. During his junior year, he studied in Oxford, England and travelled throughout Europe. He began writing fiction during a four-year enlistment in the US Air Force. Dave retired in 2012 after working in the IT departments of several Boston financial services companies. He lives with his wife, Susan, north of Boston. They have four grandchildren in Rhode Island and Galway, Ireland.

  • : Every morning, I had coffee in a café where I read a book to unwind after commuting to my job in Boston. Riva Weiss, an elderly woman who also stopped at the café before work, introduced herself and asked me what I was reading. Over several years, we discussed authors we liked and swapped favorite books. When I told her I was retiring, she asked about my future plans. I said I wanted to write short stories “and maybe a novel.” Riva began telling me several stories about her childhood in Montreal. When I said they would make great short stories, she encouraged me to ‘write them up.’ I jumped at the chance. Soon after I finished writing two stories which she enjoyed, she beckoned to me as if wanting to tell me a secret. “I know you like dark stories,” she said. “Here’s one I haven’t thought about for sixty years.” For the next half hour, she described the events surrounding her engagement at the age of 18 to a young, wealthy man in Montreal in 1951. I was astounded by her story and couldn’t get it out of my mind. She challenged me to start writing. I also couldn’t wait. She expected it would be another short story; I envisioned it as a novella. Every week I brought in the latest pages for her to read. After two and a half years, the novel reached over 300 pages. Hefting the pages, Riva laughed. “This weighs more than a short story!”
  • : Like many other authors, I didn’t ‘choose’ to be a writer. There’s an urge inside you that compels you to write. I began writing at Bates College in Maine. While studying abroad at Oxford University in England during my junior year, I travelled throughout Europe during term breaks. For my B.A. thesis, I wrote stories, essays and poems based on my travel journals. Like many young writers, I was ‘bitten’ by the poetry bug in my twenties. I was cured, mercifully, within two years. Three poems were good enough to escape the shredder. In my mid-twenties, I began writing short stories. An early story, submitted to the University of Massachusetts literary magazine, was not accepted, but the editor wrote a personal note praising the story and encouraging me to continue writing. I have always treasured that ‘rejection.’ While studying for my MBA at Suffolk University in Boston, I entered stories in the university’s annual short story contests and won a couple of cash prizes. I knew I had to keep my day job. In my thirties, I began writing a novel off-and-on over several years. I finally finished the 400-page novel. It hides in a cardboard box under my desk.
  • : I try to get out of the house by 9 am. I can't concentrate at home where I'm distracted by what I need to do around the house. Instead I hold 'office hours' at one of several coffee shops in the area.
  • : Reading is my main passion, mostly fiction. I love listening to classical music. I work in the garden aned watch shows on cable or movies on Netflix.
  • : When I start writing the first draft, I may have some ideas, observations, bits of dialogue written down, but I never have an outline. When I am well into the writing and have a clearer idea where the novel is going, I will create a list of the scenes that I must complete to finish. Nothing is ever cast in stone. During the editing process I will find scenes that can be omitted or combined with another part of the book. In some cases, I will write the subject of each scene on a Post-it note and use them to rearrange scenes to clarify plot or to have the characters behave consistently. I always keep a list of minor changes or additions I don’t want to forget.
  • : My favorite authors are Irish and English, such as Sebastian Barry, William Trevor, Colm Toibin, Frank O'Connor, Jaime O'Neill, Edna O'Brien, Jane Gardam, Brian Moore, Peter Ackroyd, John LeCarre, Patrick McGrath, Ian McEwan, Magnus Mills, John Mortimer, Roddy Doyle, Virginia Woolf, Michael Frayn, Graham Swift, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Taylor, Hilary Mantel, Charles Dickens, and Evelyn Waugh. My favorite American and Canadian writers are Edith Wharton, Pat Barker, William Maxwell, James Cain, Jim Thompson, Willa Cather, Stewart O'Nan, Bernice Rubens, Mordecai Richler, Alan Furst, Muriel Spark, Patricia Highsmith, Ernest Hemingway (short stories), Scott Turow, Henry James, Eudora Welty, and Tobias Wolff
  • : Kindle Fire, although I prefer reading a physical book. I have over 400 books at home that I haven't read yet and they aren't on any e-reader!
  • : I don't try to do any design work myself. I will tell the designer my ideas and provide a synopsis that highlights the dramatic moments in the book. I'll suggest photographs to use and, of course, supply the text for the back cover. I'll only get involved with the actual design once I see the artist's first draft. Even then I have to trust the designer's vision because my ideas are usually not original but copies of other book covers I've seen.
  • : I never have an outline (let alone a detailed one) before I begin writing. I have some ideas in my head that help me get started. When I sit down to write, I often imagine that I am going to visit friends and spend the day with them. At first I will take charge of the visit to get things started, but eventually the characters exert their influence and I am content to become an observer. As I write, I watch them acting out the scene and listen to what they say. I often feel the ideas go from my subconscious directly onto the page. Things happen that I never imagined. The characters may begin to act out one of my own experiences. They say things I wish I had said at the time. While in this semi-unconscious zone, I let them do what they want and only rein them in when they risk going off the plot’s cliff.
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