Samantha Dunn is a passionate, witty, brilliant big-hearted writer, teacher, woman and friend. After she interviewed me at WEHO Reads Banned Books last weekend, we were looking for a coffee place and Siri wasn't cooperating so Sam growled at her. And then apologized. I said, "That is so you. Even worrying about Siri!" Here's what she tweeted to the world today: "There is only one way to have a big life. Love and serve others." Yep. What a woman!
FLB: You’re a celebrated journalist. How does this inform your fiction in particular? Many of my favorite authors have worked as journalists and I think their work is richer for it.
SD: Thanks for using the word "celebrated." I don't know that any journalist these days feels celebrated--besieged, misunderstood, potentially endangered as a species maybe, but not celebrated. So thank you.I will always believe that journalism is the best school for writers, but not necessarily because it teaches you to put your ass in the chair and tell a story under a deadline--although that does help. The biggest thing it does for you is widen your world and force you to consider the points of view of others you might not ever meet otherwise. How many of us would willingly sit through a meeting of the city council in our home town? How many of us would know about the quiet, wonderful life of a school janitor? A baseball player or a working musician who never got famous? The things I have been forced by the nature of my job to consider have made my world pretty damn big. I've also had access to the richest and the most famous and the most powerful in the nation through my job, and have been made the wiser for it.I see that lack of breadth as a real weakness in a lot of young writers who merely come through the academic mill. Go out. Let life tenderize you.
FLB: What made you decide to become an author? Or did writing choose you? How did you develop your gifts?
SD: Oh cripes. I think we come out of the womb this way, right? But then again I see in my classes a lot of natural writers who come to the craft (don't you love that term, "craft," like witchcraft? That's what I always think of) late in life after pursuing other professions. Why did I chose to do this from day one? It's all I have ever done, expect for a summer in high school spent working in the housekeeping department of a hospital.( I only got the job because my mom was director of nurses.)Anyhow...Well, a couple things. My mom and my grandmother were amazing storytellers. I mean, like, amazing. Relatives still tell me my grandmother's letters to them back East were epic tales they have never forgotten. "Voracious" barely describes the kind of reader my mom was. She could quote long passages of Kipling and Shakespeare, and she loved Dylan Thomas. Also Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Suzanne and James Michner,so don't get the wrong idea that this was some high-brow thing. Sometimes I think I became a writer to get my mom's attention. ("Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud...".) Didn't work though. When she died her favorite author was W. Bruce Cameron, who wrote the wonderfully sweet bestseller, A Dog's Purpose. She'd hold it up to me and say, "Why the f can't you write something happy like this?" Yeah. You get the picture. There's no other way to say it: books saved my soul, if not my life. Books and horses. They gave me a manual for how to dream, for how to be human. God I could talk about this forever, but I guess the point is I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be in that long line of conversation stretching back to the Greeks and perhaps, if we are lucky, to long after we are dead.
FLB: As a teacher, how would you describe your approach? Any quick tips?
SD: Evangelical is my approach. Really. I want you to get it, because writing will change your life and thereby perhaps we will all be uplifted. Writing will make you a teensy weensy less of a shithead, possibly--although there are certainly many brilliant writers who defy that prediction. Let's be real. Still, on the whole, writing is the way we can be better humans. As a species we are up against a clock here, folks.Quick tips: Make people laugh--they can't be afraid when they are laughing. Tease them, gently, but the person you should make the most fun of in any class is yourself. See people. Really see them. The space you are holding is a sacred space that allows them to find their creativity, the creativity they had once naturally and buried. Protect that space fiercely, especially from your own ego.
FLB: What are you currently working on?
SD: NOT YOU TOO? I am actively not working on a book. But I am getting so much peer pressure that it is going to pop out of me soon. Forgive the zit metaphor but it may be apt. Also: Working on raising an awesome human named Benen, age 6, and trying to be a loving partner. Not easy.
FLB: How has this journey of being a wife and mom impacted your writing and your soul? (Besides the sparkle in your eyes that appears when you discuss your family!)
SD: You are totally on to me. I've got a dog in the hunt now. you know? Yes it sucks up every precious moment, allows you no time to think, makes you fat (at least it made me fat), and all manner of horrors. But I don't know--that whole thing I said earlier about it being evangelical? I feel profoundly the deep need for art and literature, as salvation for the species, and I care about that because having a family has wrenched me from being an ironic observer to a passionate participant of life. I don't believe at all that you MUST have a kid and a family to feel that way, but that's what it took for me. FLB: We’re in an anthology together: Emma Forrest's Damage Control. And we did the coolest reading at the Chateau Marmont with Rachel Resnick , Minnie Driver, Rose Mcgowan etc. I don’t usually write personal essays and I found that one (about my experiences with plastic surgery) very emotional to write. How is the experience of writing fiction different from writing essays/memoir for you? Is memoir more emotionally challenging because you don’t have the distance, the scrim between reality and art, that fiction provides?SD: Oh that was a great time! I think that's when I first fell in love with you. Anyway, I always say essays and memoir are like walking the high wire without a net. yes, bone shaking. Although I love fiction, I love the exercise of language, the asking of what if and the inhabiting of other points of view, like a chameleon. But I am always drawn back to that high wire. I like to pick scabs too, if there is any correlation...FLB: When you interviewed me for Weho reads, you said that you think my work was banned not just for content but for an underlying subversive quality having to do with magic and, dare I say, witchcraft. Do you think that in some ways art can be a form of magic?SD: Only when people as skilled and otherworldly as you do it. Truly. Yes, it is the magic we have. Storytelling is world making. What greater power is there?FLB: What’s inspiring you/turning you on currently?SD: Strange to say but it's actually fashion. For my day job as an editor at Coast Magazine (a regional glossy in the OC), I have to edit a lot of fashion and design articles, and I am fascinated by the creativity I am seeing there, a kind of narration through the material world. All people who know me must find it pretty ironic I would say that, as you know how I dress (Let's hear it for Ross Dress for Less!).
FLB: Marry me? Oh, right, you're already hitched! To Jimmy Camp!