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An Interview with Author Timothy O. Davis

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Timothy O. Davis has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction from Boise State University. Although born in Alabama, he grew up in North Carolina. In 2001, after serving honorably in the Army, he moved to Idaho with his family. His writing has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine, Flash Frontier, The Slag Review, Juste Milieu, and The Del Sol SFF Review. Timothy currently is a Clinical Instructor with the College of Technology at Idaho State University; he lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

Usually, I don’t wait on inspiration. When I was a young(er) writer, I would wait by the window for the Muse to reach down and tap me on the shoulder or something like that, but I have always had an over-active imagination. Even before I started writing things down, I would envision or come up with ideas or just weird things, but didn’t realize I could put those into stories until I was a senior in high school; I was an avid reader, too, but didn’t know I could be a writer. Now, any ideas I have just come to me. Some times I am observing a conversation (READ: eavesdropping) or I hear a song line or my wife will say something or I will read a line in a story or article, and I know that has to be the title or the first line in a story. Sometimes I am just walking into the kitchen and the story idea strikes me like an ice pick to the brain.

One-Man Army happened when I was having lunch with a friend from college. He was in town, and so we went to lunch. During lunch, he was telling me about living with his in-laws, and how his father-in-law only watches 80s action movies. When he said that something sort of “resonated,” and I thought of how those characters were these “one-man armies,” which is where the title comes from. I went home that night and started crafting this story about a guy trying to get to the house of the girl he loves, but there is a problem; traveling at night is restricted because of recent werewolf attacks. What helped, as well, was my car had died, so I was “trapped” at my mother-in-law’s house. The Covid-19 pandemic was going on too (it was around 2021), so this idea of authority and restrictions was floating around in the air.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

One-Man Army is just a reference to those 80s action movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. The characters they played acted as a one-man army. Titles usually come easy for me, that is, I can think of a title before I come up with the content. For example, I was reading a student’s paper and they used the line “it was like an army of dogs.” I looked at the student and told them that term “army of dogs” was my next story title; I went home that night and wrote the story An Army of Dogs. It was published by the Slag Review. So, titles are easy.

What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?

I have a huge To be Read (TBR) pile. I am always trying to read something. Currently, I am reading Camus’s The Plague. I am not sure what I will pick up from the pile next. Either Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh or Aoyama’s What You are Looking for is in the Library or Hogarth’s Mother Thing. I read mostly fiction, but I will read poetry and nonfiction as well.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I served in the Army (1995 to 2001) as an Internment and Resettlement Specialist. I have been a groundskeeper for a school district. As an undergrad, I was hired by a graduate student to “translate” English expressions and idioms. He was from Taiwan and spoke English, but he just wanted clarification. He would give me a floppy disk (3.5 inch floppy), and it would have these documents on it with expressions he had overheard or saw on a billboard, e.g., “She’s hot.” I would then need to define them and use them in a sentence. It was grueling, mentally, but I enjoyed it.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

There are a combination of events in my life that led me to wanting to write. I have always had an overactive imagination, but I didn’t really know how to channel it, that is, I didn’t know how to become a writer. I was an avid reader and had my favorite authors (mostly fantasy or science fiction), but there was no Google to ask, and no one in my family was a writer. I did have a great uncle who had written a book (nonfiction), and he was an influence. Mr. Yokely, my high school creative writing teacher, was influential and encouraging. I took his class in 1994, which was the latter part of my senior year. I would say the top influential authors would have to be (no order of importance):

1. Flannery O’Connor

2. Donna Tartt

3. Robert Jordan

4. Benjamin Percy

5. Lucia Berlin

6. Roger Zelazny

7. Tim O’Brien

The list is too long to include everyone. I am constantly reading and finding wonderful writers and stories out there, which is what all writers should do (hint, hint). I am always looking for a great story even if it, for a moment, breaks me. Jason Mott’s The Returned did that. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life was so heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Mieko Kawakami’s Breast and Eggs was amazing, as well. Atonement by Ian McEwan is a beautiful book.

I had great faculty in my MFA program at Boise State. It is a great program. I really amped up my reading and also discovered some writers. I would go over to the Albertson’s Library after class at night and just grab as many books as I could, which had been mentioned by faculty. Finding one book would lead to more books or stories. Tony Doerr and Alan Heathcock were the best. Al gave me some great advice one semester.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I don’t have a favorite place. I have a desk in my kitchen that acts as an office, but I don’t really write there. Because I am almost constantly bombarded with little bits of stories or poems (even in the middle of a lecture), I need to be able to write anywhere so that is what I strive for. I always try to have a notebook of some kind on me, but I can use the notepad app on my phone if I don’t have a notebook or something to write on. I used to not be able to do that, i.e., I would write everything down on paper and then type it up. At first, this was a matter of necessity since tablets and apps and smartphones did not exist when I first started writing. Then it became a habit. Now, I can sit at a blank computer screen and type away. I see the story unfold before me as I type, but I will still write things down on paper or in a notebook.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I used to. I would have to have complete silence. I needed to wear comfortable clothing (I am a T-shirt and shorts person), and it needed to be cold (I run hot). I would also need coffee or tea or a soda (something to drink) and a snack (like almonds or some kind of candy). Sometimes I write with music, and not just instrumental stuff, but I could listen to Guile’s theme from Street Fighter on a loop while writing, but will usually listen to whiskey blues or the soundtrack from Conan the Barbarian or piano. I like bagpipes, too.

Now, though, I just write. I attribute this to a couple of things. One, experience. I have been writing for nearly 30 years. Second, Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream was a great book that helped. I read it in graduate school (for my MFA), and he describes this time he was living in New York and had to commute via the train to work. At first he couldn’t write; the train was too crowded or too loud, but eventually he got to the point where he could write on his commute there and back despite the distractions. I took that message to heart. I also am less quick to jump on a writing idea. When I was a young(er) writer, I would jump and write down any and all ideas that came to me; now I let them swim around in my mind for a little longer. I am watching them to see if they will grow legs or where they may go. The ideas are always sort of flashes of image or a line of dialogue. It might be a young man staring out an upstairs window as his new wife greets her best friend in a more familiar way. He watches as they hug for longer than he is comfortable with or it is the way their fingers touch as they separate or how the wife turns to watch the friend go, which she never did for the young man when he left for work or the look on her face when she notices she is being watched by him.

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