Interview with David Gordon Burke
This month our WF author interview is with prolific author, David Gordon Burke. David joined WritingForums.com in September 2013 and is one of our esteemed Veteran Members. David’s passion for dogs and animal welfare inspired both fiction and non-fiction books dealing with real issues related to our treatment of man’s best friend.
David also writes tutorials on any subject in which he has expertise.
David, please tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m Canadian by birth and Mexican by choice. I moved to Mexico about 20 years ago, mostly to avoid the brutal Canadian winters. Mexico is a great place to establish a semi-retired lifestyle. It took me years to get the hang of life here and longer to acquire citizenship. I lived a nomadic existence moving back and forth between the two countries for a while but now I’ve mostly cut ties to Canada and consider myself Mexican.
I grew up surrounded by extremely talented people – artists, writers, musicians, actors etc. I won’t drop any names but if a person from Ottawa, Canada made it onto the international stage, I probably knew them (with the exception of Alanis Morrisette …. She went to my High School but I never knew her.) These people set the bar pretty high for me which in many ways has been both a blessing and a curse.
My first attempts at writing were in my teen years while hanging around comic book artists. Those people went on to found Aircel comics which at one point was huge and the principal competition for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I went my own way and followed my other love which was music. Of course music is a young guy’s dream so now I am back to writing.
What inspired you to write your latest book, Mexican Mutts Tequila Pups & Chili Dogs: True Stories of the Dogs of Mexico?
The principal thing that got me moving on Mexican Mutts was the fact that I had been diagnosed with cancer. I had by that time written a memoir and a novel and I thought to myself, “Is that it? I finally get started in the writing game and now I’ve got cancer and I’m going to check out? I’d better hurry up and write something else in case I don’t beat this thing.”
There was no planning or premeditated purpose or goal behind the book except that which I found while I was researching for it. I started out in Jan. 2014, just looking to see what kind of background I could gather from the internet. There wasn’t much but I put together a dozen or so newspaper style reports that had to do with incidents that had happened across the country involving dogs.
I had planned to intersperse these reporter / journalist style pieces between a series of short stories. As the spring and summer passed, the topic heated up and dogs and animal welfare became a hot topic in Mexico.
What is the book about?
The book is all about my observations on the treatment of dogs in Mexico. As I said, it has some short, one or two page pieces that are very much written in the style of a reporter. This was my attempt to prove to myself that I could have been a good journalist or a nasty tabloid writer if I had gone that route. Then there are the fictionalized accounts of things I have seen in person, experienced, read about or seen on television. Obviously, the fact that Mexico is center stage for the book doesn’t mean that these aren’t themes that are played out in every country in the world. It’s a universal topic.
Can you share a short excerpt?
This is a bit from a short story called “Brothers” in which I make an attempt to write what I call First Person Plural POV. The idea was to write from the perspective of two stray dogs at the same time – the existence of the two dogs is so intertwined that they almost consider themselves as one.
We are born on the streets. We have no names. Shelter and food, warmth on a cold winter night, companionship, safety; these are things which decide whether we have comfort or suffering. There is no past and no future. There is only the constant burning flame of hunger or thirst, or the itch of gnats to remind us that we are unwanted, uncared for and despised by all those around us.
There were two of us – each knew the other by a simple title – brother. Two brothers against the world, fighting for survival. Neither had more than a few memories of anything before – it had always been this way. Together we scoured the neighborhood for scraps of food. We had been at it for so long that we knew the rhythms of the street by heart. One would never eat and leave the other hungry. If one fought, the other joined in to protect the brother. If one slept cold and wet, the other did as well.
But it was not all misery and hunger. There were days of plenty when we didn’t have to worry about our next meal. Cool, sunny mornings spent lying in the tall grass of the park; nights spent hunting the vermin that infested the back alleys. The thrill of chasing cats out of our territory just for the joy of it – a complete surrender to our instincts. Brother used to say that despite all the hardships, there was nothing better than being born on this earth as a dog.
Though the days blend together into one long memory, one stands out in my mind as the best we ever had. After a long, cold and rainy winter, the sun broke through the clouds and the streets began to dry. Days had passed since we dared leave our shelter to forage for food. It was fortunate that this was market day – there are always scraps discarded by the people who come to buy and sell.
Brother approached a table from which the smell of cooked pork was impossible to ignore. At that moment a fat, old woman was placing her order into a large bag slung over her shoulder. Brother must have startled her. She screamed when she saw him, took two steps backwards, lost her footing and fell onto the table.
The table collapsed under the lady´s substantial weight. Pieces of meat flew everywhere. The vendor started screaming, people in the market turned to see what was going on, children began to cry, someone rushed over to help the woman to her feet. We saw our opportunity and didn’t waste it. Before anyone had the chance to blame us, we were running down the street, each with a large piece of meat clenched in our mouths.
Did you have a muse or any dogs in particular that inspired your writing?
I have my dog Duchess Desert Rose who is my constant companion and I have my nephew Luciano who I tell all my stories to before I write them.
What else have you published besides, Mexican Mutts Tequila Pups & Chili Dogs: True Stories of the Dogs of Mexico?
I have 8 non-fiction titles that are geared toward teaching English to Spanish speakers, I have the memoir which I mentioned called “A Rose by Any Other Name – Life Lessons from an Unremarkable Dog” and I have a novel called ‘Lobo’ which is about a dog lost on the streets of my adopted hometown, Monterrey, Mexico after the destruction of Hurricane Alex in 2010.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) you experienced in writing these books?
The first attempt was a complete shot in the dark. I had little or no idea what I was doing and did no planning except about half way through I mapped out the chapter titles so I knew where I wanted the book to go. Recently I started to use the book in my English classes and although it’s a tad embarrassing at times, it’s at least as well written as so many other non-fiction dog books out there.
With my novel, someone recommended I try the program ‘Freemind’ which is mind mapping software. I installed it and on a lark mapped out the ideas for a novel. In about 15 minutes I had a plan and I started to write it the next day.
I did a lot of research about Monterrey, Mexico for the book Lobo. Many of my reviews mention the ‘travelogue’ quality of the book. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing but some of the narration does slide almost into a non-fiction mode. Monterrey is like another character in most of my work and I would love to be recognized one day as the principal (ok, only) English language writer to have captured the heart of the city.
What genre are your books?
Damn! You tell me, then we’ll both know. I don’t so much consider it a genre. You have to remember that Genre fiction is a genre in itself. Not everything works that way. The ultimate non-genre is Literary Fiction which is more or less my goal. I have no use for a novel that follows a trend or a style or a formula and even less for a novel that just seems to be a series of consecutive events. It’s got to have something deeper.
What draws you to this genre?
What drew me to writing about dogs is that before I had a chance to think about what I wanted to write, I had already written it. I didn’t plan it this way, it just happened so I assume that it was meant to be. Obviously, many of my favorite books as a kid were of a similar style – “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls, “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” by Jack London and many others.
Did you follow the traditional publishing route or did you self publish?
I don’t believe the traditional publishing route was ever an option for me. Logistically, I have no idea how I would go about getting published and paid seeing as the English language publishing world is in the US and I am in Mexico. Just setting up my taxation codes on Amazon was enough to give me bleeding ulcers so I’ll pass. The best route to traditional for me is to sell a pile of books on Amazon. If it is meant to be, let them come find me.
What is your view on authors using social media to market their books?
Essential. Naysayers and Luddites be damned. You may never sell a book via twitter but if you know how to do it, you might sell tons. It’s now as important to know SEO as it is to know the difference between an adverb and an adjective.
What social media platforms will you use?
Twitter @dbwriterteacher and my Wordpress blog(s) are my main entrance into social media. I also have a popular YouTube page for my Spanish niche. I’ve recently split my Twitter activity into two separate accounts. I also have 3 Facebook pages, a Pinterest account, reddit contributions, an Amazon author page and a Goodreads author page and account.
Many of our members say they experience the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. Do you ever experience writer’s block and if so, how do you overcome it?
I don’t believe in the concept. You are either writing or you are not writing. At the moment I am writing after a three month break in which I wrote exclusively for my social media and my non-fiction projects. Why call it a block? It’s like naming it worditis. Sounds like you have a disease and have to cure it. I write once the idea has gelled in my mind. So many writers state you have to write each day. In the world of have to’s there is breathing, a certain amount of H2O and food. Other than that, keep your personal recommendations and regulations off my keyboard.
Look at Thomas Harris for example. He has written what? Six novels in his life. Hardly prolific. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, look him up on the internet. You’ll be surprised. I’ll bet my next royalty check you have heard of him and his work. So to all the people who have subscribed to the notion that you have to write every day I say ‘Block, Schmock.’
Here’s my alternate concept. Take a damn 4 month vacation from writing. Spend that time reading and hatching an idea for a new novel. Take the next 4 months writing 500 to 1000 words per day. Spend the next 4 months editing the novel. (This is the most important element of writing by a long shot)
What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?
Become Lawyers or Doctors or Accountants or Politicians. It’s a hell of a lot easier, it pays better and besides, I already have enough competition. But seriously, there is more than enough advice here on the forum, much of it my own. Take it all with a grain of salt and read a lot.
If you were a castaway on a desert island and could choose five books to be a washed ashore with you, what would they be and why?
2010 – 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions. Reasoning seems obvious.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
With any luck, some company will come out to give Amazon a run for its money. Other than that, I don’t see big changes. The die has been cast and aside from the various behind closed door deals that will make it harder for Indie authors to sell, I imagine it will remain like this for the foreseeable future.
What are you working on now?
Some of my projects are secret. In the public eye I have four fiction projects in the works. I am attempting to branch out. Three of the four have to do with animals – A novella about a stray dog, another short story collection that will be a part two the Mexican Mutts, a Romance that involves horses and a Young Adult novel called “I was a Teenage Superhero.”
Where and in which formats are your books available?
I am exclusive with Amazon for the moment. I am still waiting to see what will happen once the dust settles after the changes in the KULL/KOL policies but it doesn’t look good. I may expand into the Smashwords world in the next few months.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers?
To thine own self be true.