An Interview with Max Davine, author of Mighty Mary, Off the Map, and other novels.
Max Davine was born in Victoria, Australia in 1989, to an eclectic mix of backgrounds. His father’s family had immigrated from Ireland during the Potato Famine, and are a mix of Irish, Norwegian and Spanish ancestry. His mother’s family escaped from Hungary, Austria and Germany during the Soviet takeover, and subsequent revolutions, after the Second World War. Members of his grandfather’s extended family fought both for the Nazis and for the partisans who rebelled against them. This unique lineage, and the rather unusual stories passed onto him by way of living relatives, informs both his writing and philosophical perspectives of history and where the world is headed.
Who is your favourite Dragon in literature?
Puff, the Magic Dragon. Such a simple yet beautiful story. It reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Block City; that same sort of message and just delivered in such a profound and simple way.
I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
Aside from Mighty Mary, I would have to say Off The Map. It is probably the least known of my books and yet it means so much to me. I had it for thirteen years. Thirteen years of writing and rewriting. I had to make it seem like it was written in the year it was set. I guess the sales figures are an indication as to why you shouldn’t do it but I’m glad I did because there’s a real big piece of my life out there and maybe people will rediscover it one day.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
Oh, the first one I wrote? Eek. No. There is no saving that. That’s dead and buried. Having said that, it did go through a few hundred incarnations over the years and I may yet try again, but for all intents and purposes it is as dead as the dodo.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
Everything. Every aspect of it. I look back on my old work and it’s like looking at myself learning to walk. There’s literally nothing that hasn’t been affected either by my continuing to study at University or by my acting lessons or just by the sheer amount of reading I do.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
It’s always different. After Dino Hunt was released I went quiet. There wasn’t much that grabbed me until about 2016 or ’17, about two years later when I started working on one I haven’t finished yet. Then I stopped that to write Mighty Mary and that took about a year to get right. And then there’s another big one, a real epic, that I’ve been working on about fifteen years. But this year has been productive. I’ve put down two first drafts this year and I’ve got one more to go. Then I’ll go back and do rewrites and whichever one strikes me as the best will be the one I publish next. The rest, it takes what it takes. One might be ready in six month, the other might take another decade. You never know. There are manuscripts I’ve never finished after years and years.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
It all starts with a pen and paper. But for proper drafting I go digital. I use a desktop computer with a big, thick keyboard because I break keyboards and that’s why I can’t use laptops. If you break the keyboard on a laptop, it’s goodnight, Charlie.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I’m fortunate enough to be traditionally published by Tamarind Hill Press and they’ve got an amazing team of editors and cover artists. Jesse McGun worked with me on Mighty Mary and he was just fantastic and I love a cover designer who just tells me if my ideas aren’t going to work because I’ve had ones before who just went on and tried to bend to my wishes and it hasn’t come out too well.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
The Strand in New York City is not only the greatest bookshop in the world, it is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s like Roald Dahl’s chocolate factory to me. I’d live there just to be close to it. I’ve never read an ebook but I guess they’d be handy while travelling. It does get challenging to carry an accumulation of books around on long trips, especially if you’re a backpacker! … my material comes from old photographs, mostly. Obviously there is that famous one of Mary, for example, but I love old pictures and that’s an Actor’s Lab thing. We were always taught to go to pictures of real life first for characters, then find them in that place. I still do that. Although it might be a painting or a statue or just being in a certain place and thinking wow, what happened here that we don’t know about?
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
I don’t have a specific genre to read. I write a lot of historical fiction, but I deviate into unconventional Sci-Fi or fantasy, but it’s always with real-world settings. I think our world is too fascinating to replicate in a Westeros or a Middle Earth. I mean, what for? A Song of Fire and Ice is an astonishing achievement but it’ll never be what the real War of the Roses was, for me. I appreciate and admire what Martin did with that very much, it’s just I couldn’t do it myself. I’d want the real thing. Having said that, one of my favorite authors is Robert E. Howard and I know Stephen King – among others – doesn’t like him but I wish he’d give the guy another chance! Yes, there are retrospective social issues to be found in his works and the works of Lovecraft but Howard’s prose was just dreamlike. Otherworldly in its visceral beauty.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
I have help. I manage it myself because who’s going to take pictures for me? But I do need to be kicked into doing it. It’s just not something that occurs to me during my day. I’ll be working or something, probably working, and get an email like your blog is due, you haven’t posted anything today, or whatever. I know it’s important. I’m very grateful I’m looked after in that sense.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
No! Most of my interviews are in-person so I can’t do that anyway because I’d never remember what I’d said to the last interviewer.