David Tish is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist who has won numerous writing awards. He is a Nebraska native and a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He has four sons and nine grandchildren, and he lives on an acreage near Tieton, Washington, with his wife, Mary, and their four dogs.
Literary Juice: Your children’s book, Madame Charmaine, tells the gripping story of four youths who discover a mysterious chest half buried in the Missouri River shore following a flood. After reading the brief description of the story, Madame Charmaine seems like a tale which would not only captivate young readers, but adult readers as well. Where did you find inspiration for writing this book? What aspect of this particular book do you believe appeals most to child and adult readers alike?
David Tish: Well, I’ve been told by several adults that they enjoyed the book, so I’ll take them at their word. I can tell you that I certainly enjoyed writing it. I hope that shined through. When I first was pondering the possibility of writing fiction, after almost five decades of writing for newspapers, children’s books were at the top of my list. I had a wonderful time growing up in a small town in Nebraska. I made lifelong friends. When I returned to Nebraska for a high school reunion several years ago, I saw people I had not seen or heard from in nearly 50 years. My wife, who hails from Washington state, told me after the reunion that she was amazed at how my friends and I “picked up right where you left off all those years ago, as if you had been seeing each other every day.” It was that connection, that bond, that inspired me to write Madame Charmaine. I KNEW those kids I wrote about in the book. They are like brothers and sisters to me.
That bond is responsible for something else, something in the book that I think can appeal to kids as well as adults, and it is this: I did not talk down to those kids, the characters in Madame Charmaine. I treated them as real, intelligent people, just the way I treated them in real life when I was growing up with them.
As a result, I think Madame Charmaine comes across as a “real” story, something that I think can appeal to adults as well as kids. There are no zombies, wizards, or space aliens in Madame Charmaine. I’m not knocking fantasy books; my point is that stories about real people can be kind of refreshing.
My last point also has to do with being real and respecting the people you write about. I spent almost 50 years interviewing people, listening carefully to what they had to say because I had to tell the public what they said, and I had to be as accurate as possible. After all that experience, I know how people talk. That might sound silly. But writing dialogue that is real, literate, convincing, and lively is an art. If the dialogue in Madame Charmaine is all of those things, and I have been told that it is, it is because of that experience. I think kids and adults alike will appreciate that about Madame Charmaine.
LJ: Are there any authors (or specific works), past or present, who have taught you to think differently about storytelling? In what ways, if any, have they influenced your way of writing?
DT: I think the best way to answer that is to quote a character in a play I wrote called Shakespeare Is Dead! (Which, by the way, can be found on Amazon under the pen name David Carmichael.) The character, who is called The Master, is talking at the end of the play to the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov. She says:
“Before you speak, let me say something to you. (Pause) Everything Ibsen said about you is true. You died too young. Your early death robbed the world of so … much. Beyond that, well … I wanted to tell you, I dropped in for a performance of Uncle Vanya not long ago, more than a hundred years after you died – a hundred years! – and all it took was a couple of minutes into the play and I was enthralled, mesmerized. And I remained so for the rest of the play. And I thought, what is it that after a hundred years this play – this man Chekhov – can still punch me in the gut, can still shake me to my very core, can still touch my heart, can still make me laugh, can still make me weep? When I watched and listened, I could somehow see you. I could hear you in a very personal way. I could have been sitting a thousand miles away and I would have known that you were talking to me. You are the simplest of writers, and you are the most complex of writers. You are conservative, and you are radical. You are pessimistic and you are sad, and you are optimistic and you are joyful. Your depth is revealed in your simplicity, and you are to be assimilated slowly, like a fine wine. Even after a century you are new to me every time I read or watch your work. And every time it is as if you are speaking directly to me, and only to me. I see and I feel your presence. You are in the room, and you are holding my hand. We are the only two people in the room. You are precious to me, and I cannot imagine being without you. And now I want to share you with the world, which so desperately needs to hear your song.”
Sometimes as I am writing I like to wonder what it would be like to channel Anton Chekhov. What a wondrous day it would be if that should ever come true.
LJ: What is your writing process like? Are there any special routines you practice before, during, or after the writing process? Do you have any superstitions? What do you do to overcome writer’s block?
DT: My writing process probably is like none other. Now, whether that’s good or bad is for others to decide. But it works for me, and here is more or less how it goes: I take an idea – it could be almost anything coming from almost anywhere – and I internalize it. That is, I think about it, and sometimes the thinking goes so deep as to resemble meditation. Mostly I am looking for characters that I think can realistically and effectively carry out the idea. This process can last a week, two weeks, a month or more. I don’t write a word during this time. I don’t do any research whatsoever. I simply tap into whatever internal resources I have after – at this writing – 74 years of living on this planet. Sometimes the idea will work out and become something that would make a good story. Sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, I first write a short synopsis. I’m not an outliner, but I don’t totally fly by the seat of my pants either. By the time I write the synopsis, I already know my characters so well that I don’t need, much less want, a detailed guide map. My characters will tell the story, so I don’t have to. Any research I might do generally comes as I am writing, that is, when the story requires it. It seldom comes before I begin writing.
Special routines? No. Superstitions? No. Writer’s block? I refuse to accept writer’s block. Therefore, I have never had to overcome it. However, there have been times, rare, but they do occur, when a second cousin twice removed of writer’s block drops by, and the characters are momentarily unsure of their next step. When that happens, I simply leave them alone for a day and go on with other business. When I return, they have made up their minds, and we go on from there. This process has never failed me.
LJ: Have you ever looked back on one of your published books and wished you could have made changes, such as to the ending or to certain characters? Have you ever rewritten a book or created a new book based on these desired changes?
DT: I have never looked back at a published book, but I have looked back at an unpublished one. About 12 years ago, before the age of indie publishing, I wrote a book I called Bury My Heart Along the River: A Nebraska Journey. After it was written, I promptly put it in a box, stored it somewhere and forgot about it until early this year. That’s when I decided I would like to try my hand at writing children’s books. And I remembered that in that old, dusty novel was a story that eventually became Madame Charmaine. I didn’t have to do too much to make Madame Charmaine the story it is today. Incidentally, there are other story ideas in that old book, and I plan to get to them as soon as I can. In fact, I already am at work on a full-length romance novel based on some of the material in Bury My Heart. It has the working title of The Mention of Her Name.
LJ: Have you learned anything surprising about yourself when writing a book?
LJ: What is the harshest criticism you have ever received as a writer? How did you receive that criticism? Additionally, what is the best compliment you have received as a writer?
DT: I haven’t really received any harsh criticism, but I am awfully new to this business, and I fully expect some one of these days. I think it’s inevitable. I am not well known at this point, and as my name becomes familiar to more people, the negative comments are bound to follow. One of the best compliments I’ve gotten since I became a fiction writer came just a week or so ago from a woman when I asked her if she would like to read Madame Charmaine. “Yes,” she wrote, “I want to read ANYTHING you write – grocery lists, a 2,000-page novel, a letter to Santa Claus – just let me know how to get my eyes on it.”
LJ: For aspiring writers who may still be struggling to find their voice, what is the best advice you would give them?
DT: That’s easy. Know thyself. In my opinion, all good writing comes from within. And if you don’t know who you are, it’s going to show up in your writing. Furthermore, know thy characters. If an unexamined life is not worth living, then surely it is not worth writing about. Finally, never, never, never ever give up. Not ever.
Fiction by DAVID TISH
Paperback: 76pp; $8.87
About this Book: Madame Charmaine chronicles the adventures of three boys and a girl, all 12 years old, who discover a “treasure chest” half buried in the sandy shore of the Missouri River following a spring flood. As they play detective and try to find out who buried the chest and what its mysterious content means, they soon find out they are playing a dangerous game and are nearly buried alive in a grave of their own digging.