Guest author Steven Mayfield, a fellow Regal House Author, graciously answers my questions about his evolution as an author. Read on!
Steven Mayfield is a past recipient of the Mari Sandoz Prize for fiction, a 2021 Silver Medalist for the Benjamin Franklin and Nautilus Book Awards for his novel, Treasure of the Blue Whale (Regal House 2020), and the 2022 winner of the London Book Festival for his novel, Delphic Oracle, U.S.A. (Regal House 2022). His next book, The Penny Mansions, will be released by Regal House in the fall of 2023. A former neonatologist with forty publications in the medical/scientific literature, his short fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies since 1994. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
- Who are your literary influences or inspiration? As a kid, I loved O. Henry, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mark Twain. As a teenager, I added Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. In college, I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, Jean Shepherd, Lillian Hellman, John Updike, Philip Roth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, John Cheever, and Sinclair Lewis. Later in life, I stumbled upon the wonderful work of Muriel Spark, John Irving, and Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. All of it has stuck, but I confess that O. Henry’s irony, Twain’s cynicism, Sinclair Lewis’s sense of social responsibility, Spark’s wit, Shakespeare’s scope of characterization, and Shepherd’s grasp of the absurd are strewn about in everything I write.
- Where do your characters come from? Many of my characters have odd names, something probably arising from youthful admiration of O. Henry and Kurt Vonnegut. I was once asked how I thought of those names and joked that I went off my psych meds for a few days, the names (as well as the characters) subsequently materializing. The books, literally, then wrote themselves. Of course, that was flippant and untrue. One of my daughters, a psychologist, has pointed out that the remark was insensitive to those who benefit from psychotropic medications. This is the dilemma I often face. Do I want to be a smartass or a human being? That said, my characters come from a well that brims with experience and wishful thinking—personality types I’ve observed; those I embrace and would like to inhabit the world in larger numbers; those I avoid and would like to see get their comeuppances.
- At what moment did you decide you were a writer? Many years ago, I was given an assignment to write a book review in a college English class. I was nineteen and had been writing for about ten years, never thinking it would amount to much. The professor took me aside after reading my review and asked, “Have you ever thought about doing this for a living?” I’ve thought of little else since, although I’ve not made much of a living doing it. The latter explains why I went to medical school. Gotta eat!
- Who or what is your muse? Every woman of beauty or substance that I create is based on my wife. Everything I write is an unadulterated effort to impress her.
- How would you like your books to change the world? When I was young, I wanted my writing to dazzle the world. As a middle-aged man, I wanted to expose the world’s ills (as if they weren’t already hiding in plain sight). Now, I simply hope what I write won’t damage the world, preferring that my readers feel better about things when they’re done and won’t realize I was even there.
- When did you first write a story? What was it about? My first works were poems, all epic rhymes based on historical figures. I was nine years old. Subsequently, I wrote little plays for my friends and I to perform, then started a novel at twelve years-old (Here’s a tip for young writers: If you start a novel at twelve, don’t tell the older kids. They’ll break your glasses. I’m not kidding.). My novel was based on the Chip Hilton series written in the 1940s and 1950s by Clair Bee. Chip was a multisport star athlete who lived in a small town. His best friends must have had birth names I would have loved and they hated, because they went by Soapy, Speed, Buzz, and the politically insensitive “Fats” (an offensive lineman, of course). My book was also about a multisport star athlete from a small town. In order to distinguish my story from Bee’s, I named my protagonist Chuck Hinton with best friends Soupy, Dash, and a defensive(clever, huh?) lineman with the equally insensitive nickname, “Chubs.” Neither I nor the thesaurus had a viable option for “Buzz;” hence, he was deleted in my first effort at self-editing. I never finished the book, segueing into short stories based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. One of them, “The Tattle-Tail Heart,” was about a snippy and annoying cardiac organ that I based on the personality of my little brother.
- What would you tell your younger self? Calm down.
- There’s fair bit of interest, scientific and otherwise, in the links between creativity and insanity. How crazy must someone be to be a good author? I think the question should be, “How crazy is it to be an author at all?” The answer: Really crazy.
- Has your education helped you become a better writer? I studied English, History and creative writing when I first attended college, then wrote sketch comedy in Los Angeles for a couple of years before attending medical school. Subsequently, I didn’t write any fiction for about twenty years but did publish around forty scientific/medical articles, abstracts, reviews, and textbook chapters. Scientific writing required more discipline and strict adherence to rules of grammar. Colorful writing or unnecessary words were not acceptable. As a result, when I resumed writing fiction, I had a better sense of composition—beginnings, middles, ends—and knew how to weave theme and story together. Like most writers I occasionally break grammatical rules, but because of my experience with scientific writing, I know why and there’s intent behind it. I also unintentionally break rules of grammar, but my editor for the last three books, Jaynie Royal at Regal House, knows all and fixes things.
- How long did it take you to write your book? Each book takes about twelve to eighteen months. When I begin a new project, I try to write every day, even if it’s 250 words or so. That’s not a tough threshold to cross. Each day, I review and revise what I wrote the previous day, then write new material. I keep a word count log for a project and at the end of a rough draft I’ve averaged about 750 useable words/day. Once a rough draft is done, I revise for about a year. This reflects my creative process. I’m a “swooper.” I swoop through the rough draft, getting the foundation and timeline in place, knowing my patient will require intensive rehabilitation in the revision phase. I have friends who are “plodders.” They write one perfect sentence followed by another perfect sentence. When they’re done, revision is minimal. I try not to hate them. It’s not always easy.