Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces by Dawn Davies
1- The Pushcart Prize, the most honored literary project in America, gave you a Special Mention. That's amazing! Were you aware you were nominated?
I did not know that I had been nominated for a Pushcart Special Mention! Someone on social media told me by taking a photo of the special mention section in the book and posting it. Sometimes editors of journals, who are the ones to nominate works for the prize, will tell you that they nominate you, and sometimes they don’t. I don’t recall knowing if Brain, Child Magazine nominated me (they may have!). I’ve gotten several nominations, and although I am extremely grateful for them, I don’t hold my breath. It was a surprise when I found out, which I think made it more fun!
2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words
Introspective, loyal, intuitive, nesty, funny
3- What ignited your passion for writing?
I was a serious, early reader, and reading has always been one of my favorite things to do. I’m talking tote bags of books from the local library as a kid. I ate my way through the library. I started thinking about the decisions writers made when I was in high school, though I am certain I was not aware that I was thinking of “craft.” I just started copying the writers I liked, to see if I could capture some element of these writers’ styles that others would notice. I would turn in papers in “the style of Kurt Vonnegut,” or “the style of Douglas Adams.” Thinking this way helped me to “prime the pump” so to speak, and from that point, I continued thinking about craft until I started to explore what my own style would be, probably around age 19 or 20. That’s when I started writing a lot of really bad stuff.
4- How did you come up with the title "Mothers of Sparta"?
I like history, especially war/battle history, though not in a romantic way. I think war is atrocious, but I am fascinated by war psychology, the regular guy who goes to fight, and military logistics. I really like logistics. I became fascinated with the Battle of Thermopylae as a kid. The ridiculous odds, the fact that they ferociously fought anyway, defending their land while knowing that they were going to perish. That battle is a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds, and the feeling I get when I think about it is how I felt when I was writing “Mothers of Sparta” the essay, which is the title piece of my book. The essay is about parenting a special needs child without any real help from schools, doctors, or the community. It feels like a battle that I am not sure I will ever win, though I refuse to stop fighting.
5- When you're "growing your hair and chopping it off," do you ever donate it charity (such as Locks of Love)?
I wish I did! My friend has a hair factory on top of her head and she seems to do it every year. I am so fickle with my hair that I usually end up buzzing it with clippers, then growing it for two years, but since my hair is very curly, I always wear it layered and I can’t ever seem to get 10” that they need. They also don’t like my henna conditioner that I use, as it lightly dyes my hair a red you can’t color over.
6- Would you share a picture with us of your book in popular Florida place?
7- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?
Short-term goals: finishing a few final edits of my first novel so my agent can sell my next book!
Long-term goals: finishing my three-book detective series about a single mother of three kids who falls into private investigation. Also, to finish my second collection of essays, which is about half done, but essays need to simmer. I can’t just bang those out. They give themselves to me when they are ready, so they take longer than fiction to write.
8- What are your favorite books by Julie Marie Wade and John Dufresne, and what do you love most about those books?
I love all Julie Marie Wade’s and John Dufresne’s books, so picking a favorite is difficult. I think Wishbone and When I Was Straight are beautiful and I hope everyone who reads this will read those. Julie is a remarkable, unique writer. Her lens is like no one else’s, and she is also so lyrical and lovely with her language.
I read John’s Love Warps the Mind a Little when I was a teen and I sobbed at the end and wasn’t the same after. John makes you forget you are you when you read, and it’s rare to get that kind of escape. It might be one of the first books that made me want to be a writer, too. John made me feel so much, and I wanted to do that for readers, too.
9- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?
I don’t know about fans, but I have a good reader, Pamela Klinger-Horn, who read an ARC of Mothers of Sparta, and became my Twitter champion and sung the praises of my book to anyone who would listen. She is influential in the independent bookstore world, which was wonderful, because people listened. Her kindness came during a time when I had no confidence in how my book would be received, so it was touching. I’ll never forget that she did that for me, and we have since become friends. She is a lovely person. I think what she likes is that my book is relatable and she could identify with it.
10- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?
I’m all about the bittersweet. I think life is both lovely and horrifying, thrilling and mind-numbing, hilarious and heartbreaking. When I think of how life works, I can see and feel both, so I like to capture that. It’s why I write humor essays about excruciatingly painful events, like kidney stones. It’s why I write about a failing marriage, which is incredibly sad and tragic, with more than just melodrama and pathos. It’s why I write about the pain of kids growing up and leaving their parents (a success story, really, though sad to leave that life behind when it is over) with as much humor as I can stand. Because the essays are stand-alone pieces, I hope there is something in each of them that resonates with readers.
11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?
I should say grad school, because that helped, but I think if I hadn’t read so many books and copied my favorite writers using little writing exercises I gave myself, I would have been far behind where I started out in grad school. I am a believer in re-reading. I would read a writer’s entire works chronologically, then start over and read them again, seeing if I could identify what gave them their unique fingerprint, to speak, and how they developed as writers. I recall doing this with John Irving, Evelyn Waugh, Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Ford, and many others. Identifying these elements allowed me to think of writing craft for many years before I started writing myself, so by the time I did it seriously in adulthood, I think I had a bit of a head start.
12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?
Since Mothers of Sparta is a memoir, real people had to become characters, which is weird. The character of the narrator (myself) needed to become a persona before I could put her out into the world. I think the narrator’s insight, which is quirky and often unexpected, is what readers respond to. I deliberately do not mention many visual characteristics of characters in my book.
13- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? https://diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks
The characters in my book (my family) are “diverse” in the way that any group of people can be diverse. Not all of us are heterosexual, not all are white, some of us have disabilities, at least one of us has OCD (me!) and chronic medical issues (me again). I don’t write about anyone in this book using a label, except for my son who has autism, as the autism is part of the subject of the essay, so I used it.
14- Does your book hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?
I think my book holds a mirror up to society. As a memoir, it is largely a story by a regular person about regular people. I hope my feelings, insights, and actions are not different than anyone else who might be reading the book. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I have success. Sometimes I’m afraid. Sometimes I misunderstand things. I have regrets, I have simple joys. I’m no different than my readers, I like to think.
15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?
I like to do things for others. I am actually planning a series of YouTube videos on creative writing, with topics of interest to people who are trying to get their first publications. Stay tuned for that!
16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?
I am not the must vigorous consumer of new work, unfortunately, as I tend to go down the author rabbit hole by reading the writers that writers I like read. Sometimes these lists include new work, and sometimes it contains list of previously published writers I have not yet gotten to. I get a lot of my reading material from biographies and interviews, actually. I am also not a picky reader, so I tend to read whatever falls into my hands. Sometimes it’s Dostoyevsky. Sometimes it’s a detective pulp.
17- How will you measure your publishing performance?
This is going to sound bad, but I plan on measuring my publishing performance in three ways: if publishers will publish my future work, if I make any award lists, and if readers end up happy that they spent their time reading me. Making my readers happy is the most important thing to me. I don’t write for myself. I write because I have been moved by reading, and I want to do for people what other writers have done for me.
18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?
I told myself I would “try” traditional publishing, but as an unknown memoirist with no public platform, I doubted that it would happen. Fortunately, I got an agent quickly and she sold my manuscript quickly, so traditional publishing became my path for this book. I respect both small presses and self-published states of matter, though. I can see doing either (or both!) at some point.
19- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
I learned that the author needs to contribute to the marketing process, even if s/he has a traditional publisher and a publicist. Authors don’t always get book tours, and it’s the nature of the beast for the publisher to sort of let you flutter to the ground after launch, as they have a publishing schedule with more new releases coming down the pike and you won’t always be the flavor of the month. I don’t know anything about marketing, but I care about my readers, and I care about connecting with them. I can tell when an author doesn’t care about me, but instead simply wants me to buy their book. It always feels a little forced and I don’t like that. I hope to always put my relationship with my readers before the sales of my book.
20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Blurb: “Mothers of Sparta is a superbly written book, at times gently poetic, at times devastating. I was spellbound from start to finish.” Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried.
Blurb 2: “I don’t remember crying that hard since I watched Bridges of Madison County.” Megyn Kelly, on Megyn Kelly Today.
Bio: Dawn Davies is the author of Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces. Mothers of Sparta has been an Indies Introduces Title, and was an Indies Next List in February, 2018. Her essays and stories have been Pushcart Special Mentions, and finalists for The Best American Essays. Her work can be found in The Missouri Review, Arts & Letters, Fourth Genre, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere, as well as various anthologies. She has also appeared on Megyn Kelly Today
Facebook author page: facebook.com/writerdawndavies
Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces by Dawn Davies