Interview with David L. Post
Interviewed by Alice Klein
Born in New York City and educated at the University of Chicago and Brandeis University, Dr. David L. Post received his Ph.D. in Psychology and has been a practicing clinical psychologist in the Boston area for the past thirty years. For two years, he served as President of the Massachusetts Society of Clinical Psychologists. He is also a published composer with several commercially available CDs. He has worked with and been commissioned by a number of the top orchestral and chamber groups in the United States and Europe. Still residing in the Boston area, Nothing to See Here is his first novel.
Nothing to See Here is your debut novel. What led you to write this rather dark tragedy?
As a clinical psychologist with more than 30 years experience, I've always been fascinated with the reasons why people behave as they do. Several years ago, there was a gripping murder case in Wellesley, Mass. A well known, respected Harvard allergist was accused and subsequently convicted of murdering his wife. The case was fascinating to me because he was my doctor. It was hard to imagine a man who was, by all the evidence, a superb and caring physician who "had everything" doing such a thing. It raised two very powerful questions for me: a. What kinds of stresses drive people to do things like that and what makes them think they can get away with it? and b. How is it possible to really "know" anyone? Can we really know anyone? Those questions would not let go, and I decided to try to wrestle with them fictionally in a novel. Whether or not I have succeeded is up to the reader to decide, of course.
How long did it take to write? To find a publisher?
The book took about four years to write from the beginning of the first draft to the published work. It took a long time to find a literary agent. I subsequently ended up firing her and finding a publisher myself.
Although your protagonist, Dr. Sarnower, is provoked and prodded until he cracks, he does not arouse instant sympathy in the reader. He is a grown man with a ten year old son, yet he seems obsessed with sex and marijuana and allows his son to literally “guzzle” champagne. Did you mean to give this impression? What did you feel about your main character as you were writing?
No, I did not mean to give that impressions at all. By far, the vast majority of readers I've talked with have found Sarnower quite sympathetic and easy to identify with. When the novel opens, he's under incredible stress. I don't think he's "obsessed" with sex and marijuana as such, but rather, in this frame of mind he won't pass them up when offered, as they provide temporary relief from his situation. He's a good, caring parent, but of course, like all of us, has his limits and doesn't always make the "best" decisions.
Who is Tug patterned after?
Tug, like every other character in the book is fictional and isn't patterned after anyone in particular. He's completely a product of my imagination. But every character in every book is to some extent a composite of people the author has seen or known. How could it be otherwise?
Talk about a dysfunctional family. Is there really, in this day and age, such a thing as a functional family or just different degrees of dysfunctionality?
Sure, every family is dysfunctional to one extent or another. Some (much) more than others. That's my clinical as well as real-life experience. "Father Knows Best" and "Ozzie & Harriet" families exist only on TV--and not even there anymore.
Is this the genre that you will stay with or do you see yourself branching out into other genres? If so, which ones?
It wasn't really my intent to write a "psychological thriller", I just wanted to write the best novel I could. I wasn't thinking in terms of any particular genre or market. A friend of mine termed the novel "modern noir" which I think is pretty apt. The next book I have in mind is completely different. I believe however that every good or great novel has to be a "thriller" in the sense that you are compelled to know what happens next. It tells a gripping story in a gripping way, and somehow leaves you a changed person at the end.
Who did you read growing up? Which authors influenced you the most?
As a young boy, I loved the Hardy Boys, the wonderful "Landmark" series of books covering history and biography (I'm not sure they're even published anymore--I see them occasionally at used book stores and sales). E. B. White's Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web made me aware early on that writing could dazzle and enchant. I liked comic books. I read purely for fun. I would stay up late at night, flashlight under the covers to finish something I was engrossed in. Later, I came to love the great writers: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Dickens, Flaubert, Hemingway, Thomas Mann, Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, to name just a few off the top of my head. Today, the contemporary writers I enjoy and admire are Richard Ford, the late, great Saul Bellow, Isaac Singer, William Styron and Bernard Malamud. Philip Roth, Paul Auster, J. D. Salinger, Ian McEwan, Michael Chabon, T. C. Boyle, John Updike, Garcia Marquez, Patricia Highsmith, Kazuo Ishiguro. These are all virtuosos with phenomenal technique--great stylists and master storytellers from whom I try to learn as much as I can. I come back to them repeatedly. They have all been enormous influences on me, if only to inspire.
Other than professional journals, what do you read now? Favorite authors?
I try to read as few professional journals as possible. By and large, they are terribly written and in the end, rarely repay the effort. I am convinced that our best insights into human nature are found in great fiction and drama. (See answer above)
I noticed that you are a published composer. Tell us about that part of your life.
I have been writing music ever since I was a teenager. I studied musical composition in college at the University of Chicago and for several years afterwards. Several of my pieces have been published and I have several CDs out. I've written chamber music, symphonic music for piano and have scored a short film. My most recent project has been with the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Hawthorne String Quartet. They are completing a recording of four of my string quartets. In March 2008, they are going to premiere a new piece of mine with the phenomenally gifted, rising-star pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
Was it easier to “sell” a musical composition or your book?
The music "business" is a bit different from the publishing world. In music, it's all about personal relationships and networking. If you've written something worthwhile, it's not that difficult to find good musicians who are looking for new challenges. I've been very fortunate in having several sets of superb musicians and orchestras interested in playing my compositions. As with everything else, one thing leads to another. Getting a book published is quite a different matter. Some days it seems as if everyone wants to be a writer. The competition with others, most of whom are not writers at all and have no feel for literature, is very stiff and getting a good agent who can move a book is extremely difficult, especially for fiction. They're conditioned to reject your work or proposal from the time they get it. In publishing, it's all about the bottom line, and whether or not you're the next great overnight literary sensation. Music is a bit different, not that it's any less diffcult!
If you hadn't become a clinical psychologist, what career would you have chosen? Why?
I would probably have started out as a composer. The reality is, though, the rent has to be paid and the lights have to be kept on! I have never forgotten that the great poet Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive during the day.
Is there a special place where you write?
I write in several places. When I write music, since I use a wonderful software package, Sibelius, I write on the computer, which is in a room upstairs. But Nothing to See Here was written in several places. I worked on it one summer in a cottage in Maine, one summer at a house in the Berkshires, but most of the writing took place on our dining room table here in Newton, MA. The first draft was written on a mint condition Royal "Quiet Deluxe" manual typewriter (circa 1958?) that I got at a Goodwill store for $3.00. I always do the first draft on a manual typewriter and then put it on the computer where it's much easier to edit and rewrite. The reason for this is that writing with the cursor blinking is a huge annoyance for me, as is the hum of an electirc typewriter. There's something very satisfying about the plonk-plonk of manual keys hitting paper. You also have to work harder for each letter!
Do you write every day? How long? In spurts?
I don't write every day, but I am thinking about things all the time, every day. I make frequent notes, almost daily, so I guess that's writing of a sort. There are many professional and time pressures, and at times I admit I tend to be pretty undisciplined. I really do need a regular writing place and a regular time during the day. Every writer I've ever spoken with or read has said that. It must be true.
Did you ever have writer's block? If so, how did you conquer it?
I've had "composer's block" but not writer's block (yet!)
Have you started a new book? If so, can you give us a preview?
I have started a new book, but I never talk about a work in progress, as I find it dilutes the energy in my ideas. Sorry.
Will you have any book signings in the near future? If so, where and when?
I have a book signing coming up on October 30th at the Newton Library on Homer Street in Newton MA at 7pm. I've done a few this past spring and summer and have enjoyed them immensely. Audiences have been fascinated and have always asked good, crisp questions.
What advice would you give a writer just starting out?
As a writer myself who is just starting out I'm not sure I have any words of wisdom to offer other than Keep At It. If you're good enough and persistent enough, things will happen. Failure is a certainty if you give up. Read voraciously!
What advice would you give a writer looking for a publisher?
Write the best book you can and the best query letter you can. Write your book, something that has meaning for you, not what you think the market is looking for this month. Watch out for phony, predatory agents. There are lots of them out there. Don't get discouraged by rejection letters. Everyone gets plenty of them. They're not personal.
In your opinion, will hard cover books be still around years from now or will more and more publishers do only e books or the like?
Books will always be around (I hope) Technology has been trying to put e-books in our hands for years and thus far, all the efforts have failed. There is nothing like a book--the feel, the texture, the smell. The cover art, the font. Coming back to a well-loved book after several years, it's like meeting an old friend again. Perhaps a book was given to you by a parent or a good friend, there are memories of that person too. Books have pasts, like people. A book will not let you down if a power source goes out. It's memory can't be wiped away. The disappearance of books as we know them will mark the beginning of a profound erosion in our civilization.
What would be your advice for parents to encourage their children and teenagers to read (rather than play video games, etc.)?
The answer to this question is very simple, but no one will like it. Take the TVs and video games away from children and teens. Don't get them started on them in the first place. Read to young children every day. My family didn't even have a TV until I was 10 years old, and by then I was already hooked on books. Parenthetically, recent research shows that kids who spend inordinate hours with video games and TV are much more apt to develop obesity and attention deficit disorders--real impairments to development and success in later life. I know. I work with several of them in my practice.
Is there anything that I've failed to ask that you'd like to add?
If I've failed to cover anything of interest to you, you are welcome to contact me at Dpost39321@aol.com
Read the review of David Post's Book Nothing to See Here