Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!
In this episode, I chat with author, book coach, and writing retreat host, David Rocklin. Some of the topics we discuss in this episode include:
- Why David’s drawn to hosting writing retreats and what’s in store for you if you join his writing retreat in France in 2024.
- Why being a part of a writing community is so important.
- David’s take on writing block and how you can overcome it.
- The importance of story intimacy and how to really get to know your characters.
- Why writing your way into a corner can be a good thing.
- The pros of switching publishers.
- Where the inspiration for David’s latest book, The Electric Love Song of Fleischl Berger, came from.
- How to know when it’s time to start writing your book.
This episode is guaranteed to get you inspired to attend a retreat, read David’s books, and reconsider your relationship to your story and your characters. When you’re ready, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show!
Learn more about David and check out his novels here: https://davidrocklinauthor.com/
Purchase a copy of David’s craft book, The Write Formula, here.
To learn more about David’s writing retreats connect with David on Instagram or Facebook:
Listen to Alchemy for Authors Episode 50: Storytelling with David Rocklin here.
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review. You can also support the show by buying me a coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jobuer. Your support helps me keep this podcast going.
Join my Alchemy for Authors newsletter and download your FREE copy of Manifestation for Authors here.
Purchase my new Paranormal Cozy Hades’s Haunt here: https://books2read.com/hadesshaunt
Find the full transcript of this episode below.
Episode 59: Writing Retreats & Story Intimacy with David Rocklin
Jo: Hello, my friends. Thank you for joining me for Episode 59 of Alchemy for Authors. So I hope you’ve been having a productive and joyful writing week. I have another wonderful show for you today with the return guest, David Rocklin, who will be sharing about the amazing bespoke writing retreats he has coming up in both California and in the south of France. Of which there are still places available on the writing retreat in France for next year. So if you are as tempted as I was after listening to this episode, check out the info in the show notes to connect with David and to learn more about them.
David also shares his take on story intimacy and getting to know your characters and how this can work to overcome writer’s block. David is just so knowledgeable in both the craft and mindset when it comes to writing, and he is always so much fun to talk to, so I know you’re going to get a lot out of this episode.
One thing to note though, David was having to use a different mic during the recording of this episode, so you will notice a slightly different quality to the audio. I did try my best in editing as much of the background noise as I could out, but I am definitely no audio engineer. It shouldn’t really take away anything from this episode because what he shares, despite the quality of the audio, is still gold, I promise.
First though, I just thought I’d give just a little bit of a personal update or a bit of reflection anyway. You might notice from my voice that I’m still not over my winter ills yet. It is becoming really frustrating, to say the least. So everything’s been moving at a bit more of a slower pace for me lately on the book front. However, my paranormal cozy, Hades’s Haunt, is still selling, which is wonderful. It hasn’t died off like I’m kind of used to seeing with my books after a launch. And I’m still getting a trickle of reviews through, which are mostly really awesome. And so this is one of the things I wanted to reflect on with you.
I had my first, for Hades’s Haunt, my first less than stellar, I guess, review. It was 2.5 stars today, and it was obviously a reader whom, I think this reader also said themselves that this wasn’t really their genre. And yet, what I was really stoked for in reading this review was just how respectful the review was despite only being 2.5 stars. And I may not have agreed with some of her critique, but like I said, it really did seem that she was really not my target audience for my book. And despite a momentary stomach drop in seeing the review, I really am thankful for how respectfully it was worded.
And I think that is so important at the moment. So this is my reflection that I just wanted to share because there might be more of you out there that are kind of feeling similar. But I am seeing recently, and maybe it was catalysed by the pandemic, but there is so much black and white thinking in our society at the moment where when people disagree or dislike something, they can be really, really harsh in sharing their thoughts and opinions. And I’m sure we’ve probably all read reviews for other books or maybe we’ve received them ourselves, where the reviewer has just absolutely assassinated the author, and there’s really no need for it. If you dislike something, there are ways to politely say why you disagree or don’t like something. And then there are ways that are just really quite nasty, and I’m seeing a little bit of that nastiness creep into aspects of the author world at the moment. And it hasn’t affected me directly per se, but it is a little bit worrying, seeing that in this wonderful author sphere that we have, that things tend to be getting a little bit ugly on different forums, like on social media and things like that at the moment.
And one of the topics that has really, I think, catalysed some of this nastiness is people’s thoughts on AI and artificial intelligence in the realm of writing. And I’m definitely, this is not my reflection on how I feel about this. I have very mixed feelings about this myself, but I’m also really not wanting to be judgmental of other people’s thoughts because I can see pros and lots of cons, and lots of things that obviously need to be worked out in the space of ethics and what should be legal and what shouldn’t that are really just, I’m not knowledgeable enough to really have a strong opinion on at the moment. But I am seeing that the topic of AI has spurred some really nasty levels of toxicity towards others. And this is coming from both sides of the argument. Those people who are all for the use of AI and those people who are not. And I know part of this is spurred on, I think by the strikes in Hollywood and everything going on at the moment, but it really is a hot topic in the author realm too.
And one of the ways that this has kind of filtered down into my world is that I had the most amazing guest lined up for this show, somebody that I have so much respect for and could not wait to have on the show, who is well known for being very, very well informed, and who was able to speak really well about the pros and of course the very real cons of AI use within the author community. And I was hoping to have her on the show for an informative discussion that would maybe allow myself and those of you who are listening to learn more about both sides of the argument, for and against, and the predictions as to how AI is going to potentially affect the writing community in the future as well. And the reason that I wanted this person on here was just because I want us all to be able to make some really informed decisions about this topic, whether we ultimately choose to disagree with the use of AI or whether we decide to embrace it. Regardless of that, I just want those decisions to be made from a really well informed platform. And so that was why I had wanted this person on the show to talk about it. Not to talk us into taking a particular perspective on it or stance on it, but just so that we could stay in the know a bit better then, yeah. I know for myself, I kind of buried my head in the sand a little bit with it for a long time, and I just don’t think that’s going to work anymore. Whether we want to ignore the fact that AI’s out there or not, I don’t think it is going to be able to be put back in the box. From my personal stance, I hope it at least is gonna come with some tighter legal boundaries as to its use and all that. But I’m not informed enough to really speak about the ins and outs, and so that’s why I wanted somebody who could speak from a more mutual ground about the pros and cons and where it sits in the author community at the moment.
One of the unfortunate things though, is that this wonderful podcast guest that I was going to have on, has had to pull out twice now, and we’ll try again in autumn and see if things have improved any out there in the world. But what has me really saddened is that the reason this guest had to cancel is that I think they’re feeling that for their own safety and their own mental health they no longer felt safe talking about it and have put a little bit of a stop on all of their media interviews and everything in regards to AI. And I think that’s really sad that regardless of your stance on the matter, and to my knowledge, they’re not necessarily an advocate for or against, they’re just incredibly well informed about AI. But I think it’s really sad when people start to feel that they could be attacked for even mentioning AI.
And I have to admit, even in this opening sequence here, I was a little bit nervous because people seem to be very, very polarized on this, even mentioning AI, if this would, um, get me torn down. Because I’m seeing a little bit of that out in the author community right now, which is really, really sad because nobody understands writers, like writers do. And so we kind of need each other, and regardless of our own opinions and what sits right with us, I think we can still treat each other with respect even if we disagree.
Which brings me back around to this long tangent that I went off on, of what does this have to do with my two and a half star review? Just that on reflection, I am so thankful that I received this two and a half star review and that there are people out there in the reading and author community who know how to disagree or critique something in a respectful manner. Of course, I had that little ouch moment when my story obviously was not a good fit for this reader, but they weren’t nasty about it. They really weren’t. And in fact, I think they ended the review with something about, don’t let this deter you from maybe giving this book a go or something. Which I thought was really nice.
Yeah, so I don’t know if you’re a little bit like me, but writing like anything creative I think can be, not only is it tough, but we put a little bit of ourselves into our stories and our poems and our books and whatever we write. And for many of us being authors or being writers, becomes part of our identity. And so when critiques are thrown our way or shade is thrown our way, we can take it really personally. And I know for myself, I am prone to being a little oversensitive when it comes to negativity or criticism thrown my way. And so, although of course I would love to just have primarily four or five star reviews, I really am thankful that this reviewer who gave me a two and a half star review, proved that there still is room for respectful disagreement in the world.
And yeah, so that’s my little reflection. And as you’ll see in this show, my guest David actually talks a little bit about something similar in today’s episode, and just the importance of us in the writing sphere supporting each other because nobody gets what we do, like we do. So nobody gets what it’s like to be a writer, the same as another writer. And so we all have that in common regardless of our perspectives and opinions and beliefs on other aspects. Yeah. So here we are. Thank you to my 2.5 star reviewer today.
And so one last thing while we’re speaking of, you know, being kind, and before we get on with the show, I’m also just like super excited to share that today’s episode is sponsored by my wonderful listeners who actually donate to this show through the Buy Me a Coffee app. And in particular, a big shout out to Christine, a listener who this week not only brought me coffees, but also left a lovely note that she just loves this positive podcast. And so thank you so much, Christine. You honestly made my week.
As do all of you who listen and share and review or send me DMs, it really does mean the world to me. And you know, like we all have those tough days and so you wonderful people are really why this show exists and continues, so thank you so much.
All right. Okay, well that’s enough talking from me. It is time to get on with the show, so grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.
Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. Today I’m chatting with David Rocklin. David was a guest on the show in Episode 50. So for those who haven’t heard of David, David is the author of the novels, The Luminist, and the Foreward award-winning novel, the Night Language. His new novel, The Electric Love Song of Fleischl Berger, will be published in May 2024. He is the author of The Write Formula, a comprehensive craft book offering guidance, inspiration, and practical advice on all aspects of fiction writing, including the generation and expansion of ideas, character and plot structure, setting, and point of view choices, outlining and revision strategy, and navigating criticism and rejection. David’s Los Angeles based reading series, Roar Shack, is one of the city’s longest running and is considered an exclusive hub within the LA literary community. David has led workshops, spoken on panels, and has been interviewed in numerous publications.
I’m so excited to have you back here joining me again, David. Welcome to the show.
David: Oh, thank you so much for having me back. I had such a great time last time. It’s really cool to be back with you again.
Jo: Yeah, me too. I, yeah, really enjoyed myself. I’m excited to be talking to you and you’ve got some really exciting things on the horizon here, which is the whole purpose of today’s show – sharing that with my lovely audience. So let’s just start though with you sharing just a little bit about what you’ve been up to since we last chatted, which I think was in February this year.
David: Yeah, it, you know, it’s so funny how February is not that long ago, and then when you think about all the things that can happen that you’re working on, suddenly it feels like it was forever ago. So there’s been a lot of developments. First and foremost, my new novel, which you so graciously pronounced correctly, which is not easy because of that name. But it’s The Electric Love Song of Fleischl Berger, that is going to be coming out in May of 2024. It’ll be out in hardcover, later in paperback as well as audio. And I’m super excited and it’s a lovely literary imprint home. And I’ve already started research on the next novel, which is super tentative, and right now I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be precisely, but I have a decent sense of what it’s about. We can kind of chat about that. So thrilled that the novel found a home, and thrilled that folks will get another chance to read me. And of course, as always, if folks ever feel like reaching out to me just to say, Hey, I’ve read your book. What was this about? I’m always happy to hear from people.
I also have two retreats coming up. The first one, the soonest one, at the end of September of this year, is going to be taking place in Idyllwild, California, which is a beautiful, beautiful mountain community, about two hours outside of L.A. It’s a 6,000 feet elevation. Gorgeous forest. Cute, cute little town. And it’s going to be just an intimate setting writing retreat for no more than three or four writers. I’ll be doing that periodically, but the first one will take place at the end of September. And you know, structurally it’ll be, you know, a morning of just craft talks based upon where the attendees are in their own writing journey. I’ll speak with folks well before the retreat, kind of find out how I can be of the most assistance to them. So it’s more of a bespoke kind of writing retreat instead of like a generalized conference where you go and you hope you find a meeting that pertains to you but might not. I’m going to be very tailored in terms of what the writers need. Food, hikes, massage breaks, a massage therapist who’s just in town. Just, you know, fun evening plans and perhaps a planned reading at the local bookstore at the end of the retreat. So I’m super excited about that. And it’s a lovely, lovely space right in the mountains with a gorgeous view. And it’s very cozy.
And then the big retreat which I’m very excited about. And if your listeners have any questions, would love for them to reach out to me. This will be taking place in April of 2024 in the South of France at a belle epoque mansion with a view of the Mediterranean. It’s just spectacular. I am really, really pleased and honored to be a part of it. That’s gonna be for no more than seven, maybe eight writers maximum. Where you stay in the mansion, on the property. There are tours of the local village, including, because this is taking place in Grasse, in the South of France and in Cote d’Azur. We will be going to a perfume maker where you can make your own personalized scent just as one of the activities that’ll be there along with the retreat itself. Curated food, wine, gorgeous views. In the company of writers in France. It’s going to be amazing.
Jo: Oh my gosh, that really does just sound so fantastic. I have so many questions for you about both those retreats. Amazing. So I think when we last spoke, you had mentioned the one in Idyllwild. Yeah, so that’s really cool. And then I have seen your posts on Instagram and everything of the beautiful pictures of your one scheduled for next year in France, and yeah, it honestly just looks amazing. So, so beautiful. Very cool.
David: Yeah, it’s really, I mean, this is, you know, it clearly it’s going to be a little bit more expensive, Absolutely in comparison to Idyllwild, depending upon how far you’re traveling from. But I actually, once the organizer reached out to me and asked me to lead this, which was really just the coolest thing, I took the liberty of pricing out the trip just to figure out, is this too expensive? In which case, I don’t want to even offer myself as part of the retreat because it’s not fair. If I felt that it was priced too expensively, I wouldn’t really hold it out as something that I would be, you know, asking writers to consider, because I don’t wanna put anybody in the position of spending, you know, money that I can’t reasonably think is appropriate based upon what’s there. So I priced out how much would it cost to stay in a mansion like this and get sort of personalized chef created food, three meals a day. The tours. You know, putting the whole thing together, and I realized there’s no way that I could recreate this trip for the price that is set for the retreat. It would be not quite twice as much, but pretty close.
So, you know, what I would say is this is, you know, any retreat, any writing conference, any panel that we go to, like AWP, things like that, these are all investments in ourselves as writers. This is kind of a gift that writers can give themselves. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be writing in just a place of extraordinary beauty with other people who were there for the same reason, who get the struggles of being a writer who were there to work, but at the same time, they’re there to replenish, to reenergize, and to be inspired by where you are. Which all of us as writers, you know, working on all of your books, most of the time you’re hoping to take inspiration in between things you gotta do for your kids, things you gotta do for your family. You’re within the same four walls of your house. So the chance to put yourself in a setting, which is just sort of instantaneously inspiring in a really rare kind of way, I just couldn’t pass up the chance to make this available to folks.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah. That is so amazing. So, so cool. So you were approached about doing this retreat in France, but you’d already had in mind to do the one in California. So what is it about retreats, other than you, you’ve said, the beautiful surroundings and that sense of community, but as a busy person yourself, with all these different things that you’ve got going on with writing books and your day job and the Roar Shack, and family and all that, what drew you to wanting to put on these beautiful retreats?
David: Yeah, no, that’s a great question, and I think the answer is really no more complex than I love being the person for other writers that nobody was for me. Ah, and I think maybe as writers, we all sort of can relate to this, right? You know, writing by definition, it’s a very solitary, uh, you know, vocation, avocation, whatever place in your life writing occupies. Maybe writing is something you enjoy doing, all the way towards more where I am, which is writing is just who I’m, it’s what I am essentially. But you’re usually are a little isolated when you’re writing. At the end of the day, it’s you and the screen, it’s you and the pad of paper. And although you can talk to people who love you, who care about you, who support you, about what you’re doing. You can kind of run pieces of your story past people. You can kind of tell them about the challenges or the joys of it. You know, unless they’re right there with you doing it, or unless they are writers themselves, they may not always fully appreciate it and they can’t really help you with it. You know, they can be sounding boards, but at the end of the day, once you’ve run those ideas past somebody, you’re back to your corner. You’re back to your room with the door closed, or you know, the door open and people are just running past you all day, or you’re sitting in a coffee shop and it’s just you and your work. And there’s nobody there for far too many of us who will say, I believe in you. I know right now it just feels like a long stretch before you even have this idea complete. I know that you have no idea if it’s good. I know that you have no idea if it’ll ever be published, if anybody’s gonna like it, if anybody’s gonna relate to it, I get all that. But I believe in you. I know you’ll finish. I know this is good. I’ve read you. Your words are extraordinary. Things like that. I certainly didn’t have that. So like many of us, I was a one man band when it came to believing in myself, when it came to telling myself, don’t stop, keep going. There was nobody there for me like that.
And when I became very fortunate, very lucky to be published, traditionally published, to have book tours, to be able to read for people and have that sort of feedback where somebody comes up and says, wow, it really mattered to me that I was here to hear your reading tonight. Or I see myself in what you wrote and I really appreciate that. And I realized that far too few of us from just a percentage basis get to have that experience. Let alone the experience of somebody saying, I am here for you when you don’t believe in yourself, I will remind you that I believe in you. I will remind you that your words are important, and that if you don’t pursue them, the world is a lesser place for not having your words in it.
All of us need someone like that to believe in us, to tell us, Hey, I love that idea, or that’s a pretty cool idea. What if you did this? What if you turned it this way? Somebody who’s just there in that capacity. I really enjoy being that person, even as I’m doing my own work and I can kind of be that for myself. But I’m pretty relentless. Not everybody I know is like that. I really enjoy being that for other people. And so to create a comfortable space, to create an inclusive space, to create hopefully an inspiring space where we can all kind of be in our best spot when it’s time to kind of turn to the work. I love being that person and so I’m really excited about the chance to be that person in cool spaces for anybody who wants to be there.
Jo: I think that is just such a wonderful gift to give back to the author community, really, because you’re absolutely right. There are so many people that, yeah, do feel quite isolated and we have to be our own cheerleaders all the way through. And that can get a little draining too. You know? It’s nice to have a little bit of that.
David: Oh yeah.
Jo: Yeah, that external support and stuff too. So that’s really cool. Now, I’m talking about the retreat in France in April next year, but you’re opened it up to maybe seven to eight writers. Now, who in your mind is the type of writer or the type of person that you would like to see come along on this retreat, because you’ve said, you know, you want it to be really inclusive and comfortable and that, so do you have in your mind who this retreat really is best suited for?
David: Yeah, so I think based upon the nature of this kind of retreat, I think that there is space for pretty much anyone, no matter where you are in your writing journey. If you’re a highly experienced writer who’s already been published, whether traditionally or self-published, you already know the ins and outs of getting from the beginning to the end of your story, and you’re either just looking for fellow creative types to bounce ideas off of, or you’re just looking for space, beautiful space, inspirational space to do your work, there’s a hundred percent a place for you. If you’re somebody who has had an idea for a long time, doesn’t really know what to do with it, has gotten started, stopped, started, stopped many, many times, just really not sure how to kind of sustain the pace, let alone begin the pace. There’s absolutely a place for you at the retreat. If you’ve always wanted to write, but you just never really sat down, life always got in the way, and you find yourself now at a place where you’re like, you know, I really just want to do this, but I really just don’t even know what this is. What does it look like? What am I trying to say? What do I wanna write? I don’t even know that. There’s a hundred percent of space for you in, in this type of retreat.
You know, I would say the only type of writer who I might, you know, if they reached out to me on this and I would say let’s talk about this. Let’s think about this. Would be somebody who’s more of like a business writer. You know, I’m trying to write trade proposal. I’m trying to write a grant application. I’m probably just not gonna be of assistance to you. It’s just not my area. I don’t know how to guide you in any way. So I don’t want anybody to waste their time or their funds if it’s not going to be directly impactful upon them.
But for everybody else, in my personal work with writers as a book coach, as a developmental editor, as a guide, I’ve worked with people obviously on fiction because that’s what I do. But I also have worked with memoirs and I deeply love that because at the end of the day it is a form of storytelling. It’s a form of finding kind of the beating heart of the piece and then trying to figure out how best to structure it, how best to present it, what are we trying to say with this? What is being communicated with various pieces of it? And so, you know, somebody who’s working on short fiction, novel length fiction, memoir, one of the folks who’s interested is primarily a poet who is dipping their toe into prose. So that is, you know, and no matter where they are in terms of just how much they’ve written, even if they haven’t written a word or how much they’ve written historically, this is the first book they’ve ever tried, or they just feel like they’re ready to try a book, but they haven’t done anything. It’s for you. A hundred percent for you. If it’s, you know, you’re on your fifth book and you know exactly what to do, you’re just looking for a gorgeous place to do it, and some people to hang out with. This is for you.
Jo: That is cool. And I really do recommend for people to go stalk your Instagram and Facebook and that and look at the beautiful pictures because it is just, yeah, just absolutely… yeah. I would think being there, you couldn’t not be inspired to write, to get something done on paper. For sure. For sure.
David: I just simply cannot wait to be there to see it for myself. It’s gonna be so extraordinary. And if anybody sees, you know, a couple of the pictures or they just wanna find me on Instagram or Facebook and just DM me, I will send you a full PDF that’s got a bunch of pictures and a full description of, of all that will be, will be happening during the six days that the retreat spans. I’m happy to hear from folks.
Jo: So amazing. So is this going to be a bit of a bespoke experience, like you said about the Idyllwild, where you’ll chat with the writers who are coming along to it first, and kind of get a sense of where they’re at and what they’re wanting to get out of it?
David: Yeah, absolutely. You know, we’ve all been to retreats. We’ve all been to residencies or conferences where it is kind of a one size fits all approach. And that’s fun if for no other reason you’re in the company of writers, so you’re already kind of inspired because there are other people who get it. They get the journey and it’s important to be with folks of like mind, folks who speak that short hand, so that if you look at someone across the room and say “revision”, they look at you and they go, oh yeah, I feel you. You know? As opposed to if you talk to your spouse or your partner and you say “revisions” and they’re not a writer, they’ll be like, okay, well that sounds challenging and that’s about all you get in terms of empathy. So even just on that basis, it is great.
But what I wanna do with these retreats is speak to everybody one-on-one, and then we’ll probably have a group call just preliminarily to introduce ourselves to each other, so that by the time we get there we’ve already had some contacts, we’ve already been in communication. So you’re not just simply stepping into a beautiful space with a bunch of strangers. I wanna remove that kind of social anxiety right away and you know, make sure everybody sits well, and is going to be supportive of each other and open to each other’s ideas. But I will be speaking with folks just in terms of what are you working on? Where are you? And how do you think I could help you? Like, if you could just jot down the menu of what I would be doing for you, without regard to anybody else, what is it that you think you need?
The first person who reached out developmentally, they’ve been through an entire draft of their memoir, and right now they’re in the restructuring process. So that lets me know how I can be of assistance. Somebody else, the poet who is dipping their toe into the prose waters for the first time, that’s gonna be more in the way of idea generation and trying to kind of, you know, frame your writing mindset from sort of individual line communication to the story phase. Where is this going? What ultimately are you trying to achieve with the story? What is it about, you know, and how can we determine how best to communicate? What in your mind is, is what this story is about?
So being able to kind of be bespoke to each individual writer, over a six-day period, there’s gonna be plenty of time to touch on points that are germane to everyone, but also have a lot of one-on-one time with people who want it. Certainly, never gonna invade anybody’s privacy. You’ve come all the way to France, I want you to have an extraordinary experience, whatever that is to you. But for folks who want one-on-one, just time to bounce ideas around, time to brainstorm, plenty of time for that. And it’ll be very personalized because I’ll already know precisely what you’re doing and precisely where you find the challenges.
Jo: Yeah. Oh, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. So I love that it is six days, and I love some of those other things that you’ve talked about too, with the, you know, the specially prepared meals, and the make a perfume and all that really cool stuff.
David: Oh, I was just gonna say, next to the property is a French couple who will be personally chef preparing all the meals and just making sure that everybody has everything they need. It’s like living with a butler and a maid. It’s gonna be insane.
Jo: That is cool. That is such a cool investment in just yourself as a writer and to give yourself that kind of boost of confidence too, that you deserve. You deserve that as an author. You deserve that as a writer. And you deserve to treat yourself in that way too. So I think that’s just gonna be such an amazing experience for sure.
David: Yeah, I’m excited. I’m excited. And just a last thing on it, there are discounts available if people choose to share a room and if they refer somebody who also registers, I’ll kick in an extra discount of my own.
Jo: That’s really, really cool. We’re gonna have to make sure I get all those details in the show notes for sure. I just have another question about it too. I love that you are making time for that one-on-one time and everything. Is there little mini workshops or anything as well, or is more of the focus on just that sense of community and people spending time on their own or whatnot, doing the actual writing or what’s the format like?
David: I think the answer is yes to all. So I think the way I kind of picture it is after everybody, you know, has a lovely sumptuous breakfast, which will probably take place depending upon, you know, where people feel like being. There’s sort of a large open area patio. There’s also a saline pool, so if we can be poolside or we can be on this sort of on this upper deck patio overlooking the Mediterranean, which is like, inconceivable to me right now how beautiful that will be. But after that, there’ll probably be a general craft discussion. So again, based upon my one-on-ones with folks, I’ll be able to determine what might be germane for everyone. What is a common challenge? What are some common questions? And that can be everything from sort of, the writing process. We can talk about setting. We can talk about pace. We can talk about conflict and how that may drop in and out depending upon what type of story you are telling. But we can also talk about sort of common issues that we have all faced, like criticism, like rejection, like navigating the dreaded hated wait. Whether what you’re waiting for is a beta reader or an editor or an agent. We all know that quiet where you just have to sit there and manage your way through it and keep yourself believing and keep your spirits up. So there’ll be plenty of time for sort of group discussions on a daily basis that will just be kind of, you know, sort of gentle and guided and inclusive and bonding.
I always like to do fun little writing exercises. They’re really more like games, just to get everybody going. Because they’re just fun to do and they, you know, your first thought when you hear that is, oh my God, we’re gonna do those trust exercises. Please don’t make me fall backwards to people. I’m not doing it. But, you know, they’re more like writing exercises and they’re super fun.
So I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to writing, and that is that the story you’re writing, the people you’re writing about, you have to know them as if they were your friends and as if these events happened to you. That’s the intimacy with your story that you have to reach before you can really write in a comfortable way. And that ties into things like Writer’s Block and my own take on Writer’s Block, which everybody has their own view of what Writer’s Block is. I have my own, I’ve always believed that it really arises from the level of intimacy you’ve created with your characters. And so the example I use is if you take, for example, a context of you’re coming up to an intersection and there’s a light and it turns yellow. What does your character do? That seems like a very simple question to answer until you realize that until you know that character so well, like you know them like your mother, or you know them like your best friend, you can answer that question with no hesitation, if you know them well. If you don’t know them that well. You have to think about it or you just have to make up an answer and hope it fits whatever the narrative is. That’s the difference between sort of outlining your story when you don’t really know who your character is and thinking about the events in your story when you really know who your character is. Because in the second situation, your character’s gonna tell you, I would not really do that. I wouldn’t pick up a gun, you know? I wouldn’t know how to use it. I would be afraid of confrontation because… and you would be able to say, you’re right, I know you well enough. I know exactly how you’d be. So, exercises like that, that introduce the notion of intimacy with your character and your story, just to get folks going.
So the mornings will be kind of a group thing. Then it’ll be everybody break off, be where you wanna be. Be in a group if you want. Be by yourself if you want. Pure writing time, you know, just be with your work. I will be moving around. If people want to pre-schedule one-on-ones. Definitely. Otherwise, I’ll be bouncing around making sure that everybody has what they need, that, you know, they’re kind of moving through the work that they brought there that they really wanted to be able to generate. Into the afternoon, we’ll always be coming back together to talk about what’s the experience been like of writing today. If anybody wants to share pages. I’m gonna create a very inclusive, open listening kind of space so that it doesn’t devolve into one of those writer’s workshops where everybody decides to practice how sarcastic they can be. No, no, no. We’re not doing that. You know, we’re gonna be talking about what, what did your piece communicate? Is that what you intended? And, you know, hopefully take some good pointers from it. And then into afternoon activities and dinner and just relaxing and enjoying the company of writers.
Jo: Oh, honestly, it just sounds so divine. It sounds so lovely.
David: I told you I would tempt you.
Jo: Oh no, definitely, definitely tempted for sure. That is so cool. So, I’m really interested, I know this is kind of going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I love your idea around writer’s block being a lack of intimacy with character. And I love the whole idea of those little writing kind of, um, a fast-write kind of almost game style things to kind of get your creativity flowing in that. But yeah, I really just wanna go back to that idea of intimacy of character, and like what are some tips that you would give for us to create that intimacy with character, to really get to know our characters well? Do you have some kind of go-to tips that you would recommend if that’s something that we might be struggling with?
David: Yeah, I do. And what it really kind of amounts to is becoming friends with them. Asking them questions, you know? And obviously the questions may flow from your story. But if you went to a party, and you saw somebody across the room who was, who seemed interesting and you wanted to meet them, you wouldn’t go up to them and say, I have an outline of everything you’re going to be doing for the next year between now and then. So here’s, here’s exactly what you have to be doing on a daily basis. You know, that would be creepy and they would run away from you. You would find out, you know, whether you use this material or not, and it’s a little bit like doing a character map, but you wanna inquire of the character. You wanna not quite interrogate the character. But you wanna find out from them where are they from? What are their circumstances? You know? Contextually where your character is in the world that you’re creating is different depending upon, for example, you know, what race are they? What demographic do they occupy? How old are they? How wealthy are they? How healthy are they?
So for example, if your setting is New York and it’s present day and your character is a 25 year old who identifies female, who is heterosexual, who is just out of graduate school and is just beginning her first job. The way that she relates to the city, no matter what the story is, is going to be very, very different than if your character is 75, white male, identifies as gay, but recently lost his partner and is, is having health challenges and financial challenges. How they view Grand Central Station, how they view buying a ticket to a concert at Madison Square Garden, how they view getting in a lift and heading uptown, all those experiences are different for them. You’re not on the same streets. You’re not in the same city, you’re not having the same experience at a restaurant or in anything you have to pay for. So interrogating them to find out all those attributes, you’re gonna start getting to know them. And I do have fun exercises where we basically ask questions of the characters. We find out a little bit about them. We put them in different situations to see how they’d react. It’s a little bit like getting to know an actual person. And you know, you just met somebody yesterday, so today you go to a waterpark and you find out they’re afraid of heights. Or tomorrow you go shopping and you find out that their credit card’s maxed. Or you wanna go to the beach, but you find out that they’ve just had a skin cancer scare and they really wanna stay in the shade, and they don’t wanna be, you know, a damper on your good time, but they, they’re not willing to kind of go into the sun for any length of time. Or they’re terrified of water, and then you find out it’s because they had a relative who drowned, and then you find out that it’s because they weren’t the ones who could rescue them, but they shoulda have been.
So all of the inquiries you make of your character start leading to open possibilities of why are they that way? Why are they poor? Why are they sick? Why are they in that city? Why are they not in a different city? Where are their parents? Do they speak with them? Why or why not? And again, all of that may make its way into your story if it’s germane. But you’re getting to know them. You’re becoming familiar with them as people. So now when you put them into your story and in the story, they have to essentially lead an attack against whatever, depending upon your genre, right? Or they, they need to lead a sort of magic based attack against the antagonist. Now, you know, depending upon where they are in their story, well, how would they act? And it’s not always just gonna be based upon the outline that you created before you ever met them. Where you were like, look, by page 30, I need to have a fight between the main wizard and the main warlock, you know, whatever it might be. You’re getting to know them to find out that’s just not what they would do. They’re becoming your friend. Which is not to say don’t kill them. If that’s what the story calls for, go ahead. But you’re getting intimate enough with them that you know how they would act in that situation. That’s when your story starts to come to life. Is when you put that trust in them, that now that you’ve gotten to know them, they’re making certain decisions, those decisions may be at odds with what you thought the story was going to be. That’s okay. How do I get to know people? I take long walks with them. I may get lost with them. I may go down a blind alley with them. I may end up someplace I had no intention of being, but during that process, we’re talking. We’re hanging out. I’m observing. The same thing with your writing. Write your way into a corner. Write your way into a blind alley. You may never use it. It doesn’t matter. You spent time with the character and with the setting and with the situation, and now you know it that much better.
Jo: Yeah. I think that’s so important and I think it’s good too for people not to get hung up on you… you need to know your characters, but you don’t need to know everything about your characters because part of that magic is discovering who they are in the story. That is one of my favourite parts-
David: Totally agree.
Jo: -of writing.
David: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. But do you remember when you were like a baby writer? You know, like all of us were at one point, and the notion of I don’t really know how this ends or I kind of don’t really know what the third act is gonna be, was terrifying. Yeah. And it almost made you feel like, well I can’t start until I come up with an idea. It takes some time and some practice and some repetition before you realize the way you’re gonna come up with that idea is just to start writing. You may write five pages and decide that all five of them need to go in the trash, but in those five pages, there was one sentence that’s gonna hang with you tonight, and by tomorrow it will have germinated into a whole other idea. And now you’re ready to roll. So it’s just, you know, ultimately, how do I get to know you? I sit down and I speak with you. How do I get to know my characters? I sit down and I write. I don’t worry about where it’s even gonna go.
Jo: I think that’s really true. I know I had that with my last book where – I’m a discovery writer really. So I have maybe a scene or I know who the main character is or some things that are gonna happen before I start writing, but I don’t have the whole thing plotted out. And I tried with my last novel to have it a lot more plotted out. Like I was like, okay, it was a murder mystery. I know who the murderer is gonna be. I know who the victim’s gonna be, and I know how it’s gonna round off at the end. And then as I’m writing, my characters really argued against me with that. I tried and it just didn’t work. And it wasn’t until I kind of tuned into my characters and listened to them that the murderer, whom I had in mind was not the murderer, the victim whom I had in mind was not the victim. And I think it’s a much better story for it, and I enjoyed it more too, because I was surprised as I was going along getting to know the characters better.
David: It’s a beautiful feeling, when you give yourself over to it. When you allow yourself to go, you know what, I’m gonna trust myself that the worst that happens is I throw some pages away. We will all survive that. I’m not gonna die. I’m not going to give up writing. I’m going to trust this process and just see what happens. It’s pretty exciting when you put down the laptop, when you put down the pen at the end of the day and you’re like, I didn’t see that coming. That was kind of cool. Yeah, that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff. And you know it when you hit it and it’s intoxicating.
Jo: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Absolutely. Now there’s something that we discussed a little bit last time you’re on the show, but when we talked about your books and that you have this real talent for really getting to know your characters. And you were talking before how you actually quite enjoy helping other authors and that who are writing memoir, and I can kind of see a sense of that in your fiction stories that you write, because even though they’re not memoir, you really get to that core sense of your characters and stuff, which I think really brings your stories alive. Talking to you last time, that was really visible to me that that’s obviously like a real talent that you have for going deep with your character. Can you talk a little bit then about your latest book that is going to be out May next year? Which, you know, with the way the year flies, it’s not gonna be too far away. But yeah, The Electric Love Song of Fleischl Berger. Can you talk a little bit about that?
David: Sure. I have yet to really come up with a good elevator pitch for what this is about, so bear with me. So really what it is at the end of the day, I’ve been thinking about it as it is the extraordinary story of an ordinary man. And that’s kind of what, in a weird way, all of my books have been in one way or another, in that I’m always drawn to these small moments, small historical moments that are lost now. Because the feeling of excavating just these little forgotten moments that maybe nobody even noticed or thought about much at the time. But in hindsight, we look at it and we realize how that little moment was sort of like the hub of an entire life. That’s always the most exciting feeling to me, and that’s really where this started. What it’s about at its heart is a young man in Germany before the turn of the 20th century, who undergoes a life-changing experience. He has a near death experience that he cannot explain, and he spends the rest of his life trying to understand whether it was real, how it happened, and what it meant. And in the chase for that he finds himself moving through the silent film era, both World Wars, and begins to realize that that experience is inextricably tied to the love of his life. And that at the end of the day, the two things that are so powerful that they can transcend what we think of when we think of sort of normality and what is possible, are just the power of love and the power of death, and how those things are very twined together.
So it’s based extremely, extremely loosely, I fictionalized the living hell out of it, I promise you, but it’s based very, very loosely on the fact that the German psychiatrist who is popularly credited with the discovery of the electroencephalogram had a near death experience, and the electroencephalogram was really just a bystander of his chase to try to prove that what happened to him was real. So that story just struck me as so odd and so small and lost, but at the same time, so momentous, that this person literally devoted his life trying to prove something that seems impossible. And so I was just immediately attracted to that. And so this is kind of a garb like sort of humorous, yet serious, reimagined historical fiction about an ordinary man who is far from ordinary. Who is actually extraordinary, and by the later part of his life finally comes to realize that.
Jo: Sounds so good. So how did you come across this, ’cause you said your inspiration was about this man who had a near death experience and then was trying to prove it as real and that, how did you stumble across that? Where did you come across that?
David: I’m a sucker for footnotes. So I always have this feeling that if somebody went to the trouble of footnoting something, I must go read that footnote because, you know, look at all the trouble they went through that would just be rude not to read it.
And so I was actually, I’ve always been kind of interested in the whole near-death experience phenomenon because I kind of wanna believe it’s true. It just seems so cool. And so I was reading, with no thought really of a book, but I was reading an article about a woman who had just an impossible to explain experience in the, I think early to mid-nineties, like 1990s where she had a brain aneurysm. And after she was brought out of surgery, was able to describe exactly what they were doing, the time they were doing it because of the clock on the wall, and the instruments they were using because she said she was floating above herself watching the whole thing. There’s no way she was awake during the surgery, so there was just simply no rational explanation for how she could have experienced this. And I thought, oh my God, it’s a cool story. I don’t really know what I would do with it. Some ideas you run across are very cool, but they’re already kind of large and fully formed. So it’s like, where’s the novel? Where’s the meaning? Where’s the background? Who’s the population around this? But the idea was super cool.
And in the middle of the article there was a footnote. And I’m like, well, I must follow this. What is this? So the footnote talked about this gentleman who was credited with creating the EEG, and that he did it because he had his own near death experience. I’m like, well, I’ve gotta look into him. That’s just this vague little note. I gotta find out what that’s about. And it was his story that really drew me in and it becomes sort of the inciting event for what happens in the book. So kind of taking what happens in the book from the book as opposed to from his life, because I very much kind of changed and played with it. But basically, he is a little bit lost, doesn’t really know what to do with life. Has had some really rough experiences, is far away from his family, from his home, from the girl who he has come to think of as the love of his life and he is watching army maneuvers at a seaside city in Germany. And there’s an accident involving a cannon that topples off of a cliff, and it almost hits him. And so he should have been killed, but as luck would have it, he narrowly escapes. But all the emotions, all the fear and the terror come out. When he is brought back to the barracks there’s a telegram waiting for him, and the telegram says, “Did you die?”. And it was sent pretty much at the same exact time that the accident took place. It’s just not possible. Nobody knows about it. This is, you know, it’s the late 1800s. There’s, you know, it’s not like you have internet. Nobody’s aware of this, and yet this telegram is there. The telegram, as it turns out, it’s from the love of his life, saying that at the time of this accident, she heard him scream. She knew that it was happening. It’s impossible, and that’s the jumping off point for the rest of the book, as he tries to understand why this happened, how this happened, as was it real, what does it mean?
Jo: Oh, wow. I’m totally drawn in already. That is so cool. I’m gonna be super impatient now waiting for May next year.
David: Oh, I’ll send you a copy the moment it’s available.
Jo: Oh, that’d be amazing. I love those stories where, yeah, the love, life and death, that concept. And I’ve got a bit of an interest in the whole near-death experience thing. I haven’t experienced it myself, but you know, I’m definitely really intrigued by people who say that they have, and the concept of what happens to us when we pass. And then historical fiction too. I love that. So, for myself, I can’t wait to read your book. It’s gonna be amazing. So cool.
David: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
Jo: And did you go with a different publisher for this book than your other ones? Or have you swapped different publishers all the way through?
David: All the way through. Yeah. Yeah. All the way through. I’ve never signed the contract for more than one book. And so this’ll be my third home and I sort of like that. I mean, you know, I’ll be honest, it can be nerve wracking as you wait to see if you’re gonna have a home. As we all know. The way I like to think about writing is if you are writing, you know, you may feel the way I do, which is, it’s not a choice, it’s who you are. You have to do it. It’s how you understand the world. However, if you are writing and then publishing or trying to get published, putting it out there in some way, that’s not an imperative, a part of you. That is a decision you’ve made. It’s a choice you’ve made. And so with that choice comes all the pitfalls, all the obstacles, all the stumbling blocks, like rejection, like criticism, like hearing the word no over and over until you finally get the yes. And just the emotional aspect of it. Waiting, sending it out, trying to keep your hopes up, trying to keep belief alive. All those things that I talk about with my one-on-one writing clients and, and at retreats as well. Because it’s a thing. It’s a real thing. We all know it. All of us who are published, we know it. We know what it is. And for every success story you read about, like in the New York Times, what you don’t always hear about or maybe you hear about it in a sentence or two, is how long it took them to get there. How many times they heard no until they heard yes. And what it was like to sustain yourself during that journey, and that’s not easy.
So even though moving from publisher to publisher means that each time it’s like I’m starting over. And with it comes all of those things. It has been so fascinating and so educational to see how different publishers support their writers, support the titles, believe in them, finding your fit, finding you know, your tribe, so to speak. And so I’ve really benefited from the experience. Nerve wracking though it can be.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah. I just, I thought that was just really cool. There’d be a lot of learning, I think, like background learning behind the scenes of how different publishers work and that. And with each of the publishers that you’ve gone with, did you first go through an agent? Was it an agent that sought them out?
David: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Jo: Yeah. That’s cool. And now you are – I don’t know how you do all this, you’re such a busy person – but you are already beginning to brainstorm another story or starting another story, is that right?
David: I am, yeah. Yeah. I’m kind of in the midst of the very beginnings of research right now, trying to figure out what might the story be? What might it look like? What I do know is it is probably a murder mystery. It will be set in 1930s, Paris.
Jo: Oh, very cool. Very cool. Is this one that you’re maybe going to play with yourself a little bit when you are on the retreat in France?
David: Oh, if there’s time, for sure. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. You know, don’t be surprised if when that book finally does come out, when it’s finished and has a home and it comes out, the characters take a side trip to Cote d’Azur in the south of France. Don’t be surprised. They’ll find their way there.
Jo: Yeah. So a lot of your, well I think all of your books, they’re all historical, like they’re all based in different times and different countries and things like that, which would make for a huge amount of research. How do you know when to stop researching?
David: Um, I don’t. It’s sort of like how do we know when to stop editing? We don’t. It’s when someone takes it out of our hands and says, it’s good, it’s fine. Just enough, already! And if somebody handed you one of your earlier books, you’d probably want to have a red pen in your hand. You know, just say, oh, you know what, looking back on it, I might change that sentence. I might change that character a bit. We never really stop. But for me when it comes to research, it’s not so much that I’ve stopped researching, it’s that I start writing. The research may be continuing right alongside, but that opening period of just pure research and just jotting down ideas and thoughts and you know, sort of little schemes and, oh, I could start here. Here’s something that, you know, could be in there somewhere. Just stray ideas. All that research I start moving to writing alongside it when I get that feeling that we talked about earlier, that this isn’t the story I’m making up, but a memory of something that happened to me, and I know that feeling when I have it. So when I feel that level of kind of intimacy and connection to it, where it really does kind of feel like that was me walking down that street that night. That was me having that conversation. I was there. You know that level of, oh, this is just like something from my life that I was remembering. Then it’s probably time to start writing.
The research is gonna continue because every time you write something, a question’s gonna pop up, like, oh, you know, how much would a croissant have cost in the year 1870, you know? Or would they even have had it? What would they have been eating at that time of year in that region? I better quickly do some research to answer that question for me. Oftentimes one of the biggest like spot research questions is how would they have gotten from that city to that city, and how long would that have taken? I’m always pausing to go try to figure out, okay, how much would that voyage have cost? How long would that have been, how long would they have been at sea? It’s that time of year would they have hit storms? You just start thinking of more and more questions, and that’s kind of the fun of it. You’re just taking a deep, deep dive.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I love that whole, writing historical fiction or you know, fiction that’s based in different times and things like that, it does require so much work, but it’s so fascinating on so many levels because you’re learning alongside with your story, which is really cool.
Jo: Well then, can you give us the details of how people can connect with you? Because I’m hoping they’re feeling really inspired with the retreat in France, in South France that we’ve been talking about, and also your books and that. So where can they find you? How can they connect with you?
David: Absolutely. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram both under my name, David Rocklin and also under the Write Formula, W R I T E Formula. That’s the name of my writing craft book and it’s also the name of pages I have both on Instagram and Facebook. So DM me there, drop me a line there. And I would love to hear from anybody who either just wants to talk about writing, wants to talk about the retreats, wants to bounce around ideas, or even just wants to share with me, oh, here’s what I’m working on. Love to hear it. Well, you’ll always hear back from me. I’m not that person who gets messages and doesn’t return them. I will return every message I get.
Jo: Awesome. Well, that is just so cool. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, David. It’s just so inspiring hearing about the stories you’re writing, how you’re giving back to the writing community, through the retreats and everything. It’s been so good talking with you.
David: Oh, you too. It’s always a joy talking to you, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Jo: Takeaways from today’s show:
1. Consider attending a retreat as an investment in yourself and in your writing, as well as an opportunity to connect with others.
2. Increase your intimacy with your stories and characters to banish writer’s block.
3. Don’t be afraid of writing yourself into a corner. It helps you get to know your characters and story better.
4. Write through writer’s block. The worst that may happen is you have to throw a few pages away, but also there might be one idea or sentence that could inspire you and get you back on track.
5. In making the choice of publishing your work, be aware that such a choice will require from you the resilience to move through the pitfalls, obstacles, rejection and criticism that often comes with putting your work out into the world. But also, don’t let those things hold you back.
I always enjoy my conversations with David, and I hope you enjoyed this episode too. I love David’s philosophy on being a cheerleader for others. It’s definitely something I strive for in my own life. And going back to my intro of this episode, I hope it is something that we, as an author and writing community can continue to do to look after each other.
And in listening to this episode, how amazing does David’s writing retreat in France sound? Oh my gosh. I know, right? And if it’s something that interests you, make sure to connect with David by following the links in the show notes to learn more. And if you’re like me and you enjoyed hearing David’s synopsis on his upcoming book, The Electric Love Song of Fleischl Berger, check out his other books, The Luminist and The Night Language, while you wait for its release.
If you enjoyed the show, and I really hope you did, I am always super grateful if you’d support it by rating, reviewing, sharing it with a friend, or of course by buying me a coffee, and you can do that at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jobuer. Your support really does mean the world to me and helps keep this show going.
Right. Well, I’m going to leave you now with the wish of a wonderful writing week ahead. Bye for now my friends.