Thursday, June 7, 2012

Interview with author Gray Dourman

Today we are quite lucky, because Gray Dourman, author of Woman of the Century, has taken the time to chat with us. His experience as an author spans decades. He has an interesting story to tell, and in a few days will be following up with a little something on the changes in publishing.

For now, I suggest you grab a cup of tea, coffee or whatever pleases you, so that you may fully enjoy this interview. Relax and read on.

Could you share a little about yourself and what led you to become a writer?

As the Summer of Love had turned to a Canadian Fall,  I left Vancouver and rented a farm near a small town in the Cascade Mountains of British Columbia called Grand Forks.  I was born a few miles up the road but had spent my teen years just outside the ‘big’ city.

The editor of the local newspaper took a liking to me and asked me to write a small piece explaining why I chose to return to the valley when so many young people were leaving.  The piece was a success and became a regular column.  I have made a living from writing in one form or another ever since.

According to your Bio, you now write full time, but just how much of your life is set aside for writing?

I write three hours a day.  No more, no less.  The most important tool in my portfolio is discipline. 

I must admit that I am surprised, because there are days I can't seem to get away from the computer. I think I will use this as an example to aim for.

A long time ago someone told me, ‘If you want to be a cowboy you have to wear a cowboy hat.’ 

If you want to be a writer you have to write, day in and day out.  But writing is a physical business and it is important for a writer to understand his or her physical limits.

I know you have other novels out, but today I want to focus on Woman of the Century.

Could you tell us a little about your novel? Would you take us on a brief tour of your novel and the world you’ve created?

The Twentieth Century was a period of particularly dramatic transition both socially and technologically.  Those who lived through it witnessed dramatic political progress, ordinary people were offered new opportunities and the means to travel and migrate. 

Nowhere did this transformation express itself with more vigour than the arts, especially painting.  It was an exciting, fraught and challenging time for all who lived through it and offered unlimited possibilities for dramatic tension and moral dilemma.

Where does the inspiration for you main character and her story come from?

My mother arrived in Canada from London as a war Bride in 1944 but never let go of the old country.  She yearned for the city of her childhood and the family she left behind.  She talked of little else. 

When she touched on stories of her mother her eyes always filled with tears.  I never met nor knew my Grandmother. Woman of the Century is my imagining of her life.

What is the message behind the story? Was it something you specifically wrote a story around or did it develop as your characters came to life?

The most innocuous person you might pass on the street may have lived an extraordinary life.  Not all greatness results in celebrity or notoriety. 

I knew what I wanted to write about long before I started the book.  All in all it took me more than thirty years to finish it.  I had to wait for my mother to pass and she hung on for a very long time. 

Over the years the characters taught me things I didn’t know and told me things I had not heard before.

Do you work from an outline or just go with the flow? If you use an outline, how detailed is it?

As with most of my work I outlined first, built a foundation timeline, added the broad historical details, then, let the characters loose in the framework, pushing them back when they strayed too far out of context and disciplining them when they didn’t behave in a manner that was true to their background and beliefs.

Your novel spans a century and I am curious about the amount of research involved in such an undertaking.

Could you tell us how you go about it, how you ‘catalogue’ information to make it all work, (since everything from language to clothing changes as well as technology, values, traditions etc.)?

Every day, whatever I’m doing, I collect information about whatever I’m interested in, especially when it bisects specific project that I’m working on.  I have notebooks filled with bits and pieces of this, that and the other. 

When it comes time to insert a given detail into a current work, I acquire as much additional insight as I can, shying away from the well known to the minor facets of an issue. 

It is the fleshing out of the minor that brings the major into focus.

Interesting, that gives us something to think about. 

How does this book differ from what you have written in the past?

Woman of the Century was a much bigger, far more personal story than I have ever told before.  Through most of my career I have written to brief.  With this book, I owned it, from inception to completion.

How long have you been awaiting the release of your novel? How much time has elapsed between having typed the last word, through the editing phase and to print?

About four months.  Waiting for the final edit was the hardest part of the whole process.

How have the changes in present day publishing impacted your schedule as a writer?

Not much.  Writing is writing.  Writing on a computer is very much easier than a manual portable and carbon paper but that also means more people can do it.  In many ways it was sheer physical effort of writing that gave me the edge over the writers who wanted to do it but didn’t have the strength.

How do you handle marketing? Do you have a plan, a publicist or just take one day at a time?

Now, I have to rely on word of mouth and social networking.  The strategy is to find a champion for the book who knows the market and believes in the project.  Someone with whom I can share the critical and financial rewards.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Write.  Write whatever you can, whenever you can.  Writing is much more important than research or marketing.  It is a skill that comes from practice.  Clattering away on the keyboard is equivalent to doing scales on the piano.  However good the research or the marketing, it will all come to nothing if the product doesn’t deliver. 

Could you tell us what you’re working on now?

A piece of non-fiction based on the idea that we carry belief within us, like we carry our genetic code, but we cannot locate where.  I’m looking for that location.

Well I do hope you find it because it sounds fascinating. 

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this. I truly enjoyed talking with you today, and I am looking forward to your post on publishing.

For more info, just look to the previous post. All of Gray's links can be found there.


  1. Awesome interview. I like the idea of setting a time limit on writing. It hardly works, but I like it because it keeps me a little focused. Even though I write every day, I try to separate my time between writing for this amount , illustrating for this amount, and editing for the rest. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I live in Grand Forks, BC right now. I found this interview strange when it pointed out to me how small the world really is. It Really Is! This also proves we both have great taste. :-)

  3. I agree Ey, and someone posted a comment elsewhere that said "If you're going to procrastinate, do something productive (ex: laundry vs. solitaire)" which would make those precious 3 hours even more productive.

    That it is, emaginette :o)