Daniel Maunz is the author of Questions of Perspective, out today! To read my review of this 5 star book please visit Questions of Perspective.
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Questions about Writing
Do you consider writing to be a hobby or a passion? If you intend for it to be a career what goal must you reach for you to consider yourself successful?
Maunz: It’s a hobby I’m passionate about! And I only call it a “hobby” because I recognize that I have other commitments and obligations that I have to meet first. Writing is something that will always have to give way to my family.
One of my favorite authors once explained in an interview that shortly after the birth of his daughter, he moved away, alone, to a small cottage to write in peace for about a year. He ended up writing an amazing book, but that was a sacrifice I knew I would never be able to make myself. I would much rather be an amazing father and husband, but a mediocre author, than vice versa. But I’m cautiously optimistic that I can pull off a bit more than “mediocre” as a writer while still being there for my family.
Amanja: It’s definitely good to understand your priorities, hopefully you’ll be able to have both in time.
What is your schedule for writing like? How much time does it take to write say 1 chapter?
M: Most of my writing takes place in my head, while I’m out performing mundane tasks or just going for a walk. I will spend weeks without touching a keyboard, just mentally building a story, or even working through the particulars of a specific chapter. By the time I actually sit down to “write,” it doesn’t take very long to put my thoughts on the page. Sometimes I can type out a chapter in only a few hours. I never waste time trying to make a first draft perfect – or even good. I just want to get words on the page. The second draft, where I’m trying to clean up the transcription of the story I have in my mind, is much more intense. I can spend weeks refining the first draft version of a chapter. There were some nights dedicated solely to phrasing one short paragraph.
A: That’s intense! I think people sometimes underestimate how much work goes into writing and that it takes a lot of dedication.
How much planning goes in to writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?
M: As noted, in the first draft, I just forge ahead and resist the many impulses to go back and clean something up. The end result is atrocious, but it’s at least something to work from. I would lose my mind trying to formulate the perfect sentence from scratch – I need something visual to work off of and contemplate as needed.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?
M: I’m by far my own worst critic. I’ve yet to encounter any negative feedback that can even approach what is going on in my own mind.
I will always consider criticism while I’m in the drafting stage. There were a few occasions where my wife read a chapter that I had just written and took issue with something or another, and she was almost always correct in her assessment. Well … always correct. And I would take her feedback to heart, and make the necessary adjustments.
Once the book is done, I really don’t have a problem with brushing off criticism. I doubt that there is a work of art on the planet that connected with everyone. There have been books with near universal appeal that I read and personally disliked, and there have been other books, movies, albums, etc. that I loved with all of my being, where others managed to respond to with an indifferent shrug. I never set out to please everyone. I merely wanted to write a book that could connect with someone, which I think I managed. And hopefully it will end up being more than just a couple of someones.
A: Well I certainly connected with it! I think you do touch on some concepts that are nearly universal, there is a lot of common ground for people to find in Questions of Perspective.
Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?
M: Every now and then, I will see an author or editor announce some “rule” of writing (such as a prohibition on adverbs), which causes me to immediately recall a half dozen books I loved that violated said “rule.” At the end of the day, I think an author should just trust in his or her judgment as to what they would want from a book (and, conversely, what types of things would take them out of the reading experience) and follow those instincts, rather than blindly following a course of conduct that some other authors have announced. In other words, I believe in not treating any particular rule of writing as anything more than a guideline that should be ignored if the story warrants it.
A: It would be a shame if all authors followed the same rules, all the books would be the same!
Questions about Reading
Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?
M: Yes! Even if you’re not actively writing, I think while you read your subconscious is keeping track of what works for you as a reader, and what little things pull you out of the story. Those are all tiny lessons that you can apply when you try to write your own story.
Also, I believe empathy goes hand-in-hand with writing fiction, in that you usually need the ability to dive into the head of multiple characters and have them act in a believable and real manner. It is crucial to be able to fathom another way of looking at the world, other than your own, in order to craft a fictional story. And I can’t think of a better way of exposing yourself to different perspectives than reading a wide variety of authors.
How do you find time to read?
M: It’s hard with a toddler. My wife bought me a Kindle a few years ago, which is great to whip out if I’m sitting around waiting at an airport, or waiting to be called at the DMV. But I’m at a point in my life where the opportunity to just sit in a cozy chair, reading for hours on end, does not present itself often.
A: I love my kindle for that reason, take books with you everywhere just waiting for the time to present itself.
Who are the authors that you most want to emulate?
M: I love Pat Conroy as a writer. The Lords of Discipline is my favorite book. Most of his books have both the ability to make you laugh out loud, and then, a chapter later, having you sobbing over the cruelty of the world … only to come out of the story somehow feeling hopeful. His stories take the reader on such a complex ride of emotions … just like life tends to do. Questions of Perspective has a few distinct tonal shifts, and that was definitely influenced very heavily by Pat Conroy.
A: I noticed that in your book. When it hit it hit hard.
Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?
M: After I finished Questions of Perspective and was querying it to various agents and publishers, a lot of them wanted to know what other books were similar to it. They were looking for answers like: “It’s like if The Dead Zone and The Hunger Games had a child!” But I struggled quite terribly with answering those kinds of questions. I couldn’t think of anything similar to my novel, which struck me as something of a positive in that it was unique … but it made the novel difficult to describe to a potential agent in one sentence.
The only other book I could recall reading that bore some loose similarities to Questions of Perspective was Zone One by Colson Whitehead. I remember picking it up, thinking it would just be a fun zombie story, and I was a bit blown away by how the story used a speculative, fantastical event as a mechanism for diving into questions concerning human nature from a different, interesting angle. A lot of stories have spectacle just for the sake of spectacle, but I have an appreciation for authors that bend reality in some manner in order to take a fresh look at some aspect of our own reality. That is what I sought to do in Questions of Perspective (just with Godhood instead of zombies), but I remember Colson Whitehead pulling that off remarkably well. Based on my experience with that book alone, I think he should be more of a household name than he is.
A: I believe I compared your book to the work of Christopher Moore, it made me think of Lamb specifically. The humanization of a deity and the humor that can be found in it is something I find immensely entertaining.
What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?
M: I remember in sixth grade reading Watchers by Dean Koontz and loving it. It was the first “adult” book I had ever read, and my young innocent mind was blown away by the violence and sex … and the great story on top of that. And, of course, an amazing, genius dog named Einstein.
I reread it a few years ago, doubting I would enjoy it. I figured that it must have been babyish at some level if I was able to enjoy it as an eleven year old. But I was wrong – it is still a great book. I always look back fondly on that novel as my initiation to fiction geared for adults.
(If you’re curious, my next grown-up book to read was The Dead Zone by Stephen King. I still think of it as one of his best.)
A: That’s great, I remember feeling that same way when I discovered Michael Crichton.
Questions about Questions of Perspective
How much of yourself is in the protagonist Dave?
M: A lot. Dave is a lot like I am now; John (the other main character) is a lot like how I was in my younger, more reckless, days. I added personality traits to separate the characters, but I was the starting point for those two.
It was daunting enough to write a novel for the first time that I was not brave enough to try to create a brand new character from scratch and try to jump inside that creation’s head. Now that I have a novel under my belt, I’m looking forward to telling future stories from other perspectives. I have two stories I’m working on now, and both feature female protagonists. But I definitely played it a bit safe with my first narrator.
A: That will definitely be more challenging! I’m sure your wife will be consulted on those as well 😉
What personal experience did you draw on when writing your book? I know you’re a lawyer by day, did that inspire you initially?
M: I spent my first ten years out of law school working as a litigator at a firm that is not that dissimilar from the firm where Dave works at the beginning of Questions of Perspective. Like Dave, that job left me so exhausted on a daily basis that I did not have much time or energy to pursue any creative pursuits outside of work. After taking on a new job that was more 9:00 to 5:00 in nature (and without any billable hour requirements!) I finally had the time to tackle some creative projects outside of work, and the first of those was writing Questions of Perspective. I found it a bit therapeutic to focus the beginning of the story on how easy it is to be trapped in an unfulfilling career, and how liberating it is to free yourself of those self-imposed constraints.
A: It’s a great lesson that so many people will understand and relate too.
Questions of Perspective deals a lot with themes of god and whether or not he’s good or even needs to be. Did you struggle with how to personify a deity? Are you worried about backlash against perceived blasphemy?
M: I spent a lot of time before I wrote a single word thinking about how to personify “God” in my story. A lot of other works that have tackled God as a character have limited his/her powers in some fashion, or portray him/her as a physical being. I knew I did not want to do that – I wanted to at least try to capture the full God experience. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Existing outside of time and reality. I did not think that experience could be adequately captured by having the protagonist/narrator become God (although I do touch upon what that would be like in one of the earlier chapters, which was probably one of the hardest parts of the story to write). But aside from describing the experience of a brush with Godhood, I thought it was best to have the narrator simply be a person who was close to someone who fell into the role of God.
As far as perceived blasphemy goes, there will always be people who are uncomfortable seeing God portrayed in any sort of fictional work. They should stay clear of my novel, just as they presumably avoided Bruce Almighty, or Joan of Arcadia when that was on tv. But once you clear that hurdle, I went to great pains in writing the story not to validate or invalidate any particular religion. I’ve read – and enjoyed – other stories that reimagined standard religious beliefs in new, unflattering lights. Garth Ennis’ Preacher series and His Dark Materials come to mind. But I did not want this particular story to go there.
Instead, I tended to view the narrative as being similar to Marvel Comics’ “What If?” series – just ask the question of “What if a human became God?” and go from there. Because I believe that a lot of interesting questions arise from that basic premise: What should one do with literally infinite power? How could a mortal even potentially help someone with Godlike powers? How would your life be altered following a brush with Godhood/omniscience? Those were the types of questions I wanted to tackle. I wasn’t afraid of offending anyone per se – it just struck me as lazy and boring to have a fictional character become God and arbitrarily declare that certain religions are right or wrong. South Park did something like that in a very funny way, where “God” casually announced that most religions are wrong, and that only the Mormons have it right. That kind of gag works for South Park, but it was something I sought to avoid entirely.
So, I hope that people who read my book will appreciate that it’s just a starting point for looking at some old philosophical questions from a fresh perspective, and not intended as a criticism of any religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs). I’ve gotten positive feedback from both atheists and devout Christians, so if nothing else, I feel like I managed to successfully walk that delicate line.
Peaches the cat is a wonderful character in this book. Do you have cats of your own? What’s a cute story about them?
M: I have two cats, who are brothers, named Admiral Meowy McWhiskers and Captain Cutie (or “Admiral” and “Captain” for short). Peaches, as he is described physically in the book, strongly resembles Captain (in that Captain also has “a peachy face”).
Our cats are strictly indoor cats because we lived an apartment in Queens for the first several years of their life, but I used to feel bad about their limited access to fresh air. While they were kittens, I found, online, a pet stroller that is designed for small dogs, but can also accommodate cats. Captain wasn’t a fan of the stroller, but Admiral loved it, and he and I went for walks often around Queens. On a fairly regular basis, a stranger would run up to the stroller, ready to coo at a baby, only to recoil in horror upon discovering a cat behind a mesh window. I remember one teenager actually falling off his bike after being surprised by Admiral in the stroller (he was not injured). Of course, some of these experiences made their way into Questions of Perspective.
A: That makes me very happy, thank you 😂
Many authors can be very critical of themselves. Are you satisfied with the novel you’ve published? Proud? (you should be!)
M: Thank you! I am very proud of the book, and I am happy with how it all came together. I set out to write a unique novel that I would enjoy, if I had the luxury of being able to read it with fresh eyes, and I really am satisfied with the end result. I can still be overly critical though. Once in a while, I will pick up a copy of the book and flip to a random page, and I will almost immediately find a sentence that I wished I had phrased differently, or a chapter break that I wished was moved by a few paragraphs. But if I gave in to those impulses, the book would have never been completed. I’m sure I could have tinkered with this story for another few decades, if given the chance. You just have to walk away at some point. I am definitely pleased with the novel in its final form though.
Questions about You/ Just for Fun
What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?
M: Questions of Perspective is about 98,000 words, but I could easily double that in responding to this question alone. There is just so much! Off the top of my head, it bothers me when I see people waiting a few minutes for a parking spot, or trying to shove their car into a spot that can barely fit it, when there is a half-empty parking lot about twenty feet away. That kind of laziness – a lot of extra work just to avoid having to take ten additional steps – always leaves me in a state of befuddlement.
And anyone curious about “More Mundane Things That Annoy Dan!” should definitely pick up Questions of Perspective, as pretty much everything that annoys the main character, Dave, annoys me as well.
A: That drives me crazy too! Especially when they’re waiting for your spot but they block you in while waiting.
What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
M: I always love going to Iceland. It’s one of those corners of the world where you have to actually work to not see something breathtakingly beautiful. You can literally just show up, drive around aimlessly or wander through a random town, and experience the most amazing sights you will probably ever see. And it just feels so far away from everything that I find most of my stresses vanish after an hour or so there.
What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?
M: I used to do my writing on an old laptop that would always overheat and inevitably crash, usually right when I was in the middle of a good stretch of writing. That prompted my wife to get me a MacBook Air, with this explanation: “You’re a writer. You need something reliable to write on.” It was something I would never go out and buy for myself, but it’s made my life so much better.
And it’s still a thrill whenever anyone calls me “a writer,” so that was an added perk.
If a stranger wanted to win you over at a bar, how would they start the conversation?
M: I always have trouble hearing over the background noise at bars, so I spend a lot of time in my own head, just people-watching. If someone came up to me with a random observation about a stranger in the bar (“That woman is clearly on a first date that is going poorly and she is looking for her escape route!”) … that would certainly get my interest.
A: That is always fun to speculate about, a true writer, creating stories for everyone around.
What is something you would scream at your younger self until you made sure they heard it?
M: I wasted a fair amount of my youth mired in depression. Sometimes I’d have the strength to try to break that cycle, but other times, I tended to just wallow in it. Depression, in my experience, had a tendency to destroy any hope that things could even conceivably be better. Even though I still have my share of days that are a struggle, I was eventually able to reclaim my life. I’m happy with where I am now, but I can’t help but mourn those lost years. If I could go back, I would scream at younger Dan not to accept depression as an unavoidable aspect of life, but to keep scratching and clawing until it lost its hold.
A: A lot of people need to hear that.
Where can people find you?
My website, www.danielmaunz.com, is a work in progress that I hope to have in place by the time of the book’s publication in May.
I also spout on random nonsense on Twitter: @MaunzDaniel
I can be found on Instagram: @danielmaunz
Finally, I also have a Facebook author page at www.facebook.com/maunzdaniel.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
M: I thought that writing a novel would be the hard part, but I’ve learned in the past year that it can be quite difficult for a debut author with a book being released by an indy publisher to find people (outside of friends and family) to take the plunge and read it. It can even be difficult to gets friends and family to read it sometimes! And that makes sense – it feels like a tremendous leap of faith for me to jump into an unknown author’s work as well.
With that being said, I am very thankful to you for your willingness to check out Questions of Perspective with nothing to go on other than the pretty cover and my name. I’m so pleased you were able to connect with the story and (seemingly) consider reading it time well spent. Hopefully, as others read the story, word will spread and the book will earn something of an audience. But I will always be grateful to reviewers like you who are willing to take the plunge with an unknown novel and help get the ball rolling, so to speak.
A: Thank you! I’m so glad that I got the chance to read Questions of Perspective and I hope I can help it find that audience.
Questions of Perspective is now available and you should all go buy it!