This interview took place over instant messenger between myself and the author of Sleep Like This, Dayna Ingram on October 22, 2010. The interview has been edited for flow and to fix typos, but for the most part is intact.
Dayna Ingram is a writer and student living in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Antioch College in 2008, and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She works at Half Price Books, where she buys more books than she can reasonably hope to read in a lifetime. She is also the author of Sleep Like This.
LibsLIB: So, you recently decided to self-publish your first novel Sleep Like This. Why did you decide to self-publish instead of going through traditional publishing, and what has your experience with self-publishing been?
Dayna Ingram: I went with self-publishing as a sort of experiment just to see what it was like and how much marketing I could do on my own. No one really tells you when you first set out to study creative writing that the hardest part isn't actually the writing of a story, it's the publishing. It's a whole other ball game that I wanted to skip this first time out, because it intimidates the crap out of me.
I'm still in the early stages with self-publishing, but I have mixed feelings about it just because it is super hard to get over the stigma that a self-published book isn't "good enough" to have been published through conventional channels. So sometimes I am afraid to tell people about the book because I worry they'll reject it based solely on that.
LibsLIB: If that's the case why did you decide to publish under your real name instead of a pen name?
Dayna: Hm. I don't really care for pen names. I mean, I still wrote the story, and I'm still proud of the work, I don't want to erase myself from it. I guess it's my own preconceptions of self-publishing I have to force myself to confront before I can confront anyone else on theirs, and attaching my name will push me into that action. Hopefully. I guess I don't understand pen names, really. It's almost like tacking on "anonymous". If you don't want to be associated with what you wrote, why put it out there in the first place?
Plus it's really cool to see your name printed on the cover/spine of a book.
LibsLIB: Do you think you would enjoy working with a publishing house to see your name printed on a book, or did you think you prefer the amount of control you have by self-publishing your work?
Dayna: I think I would like to work with a publishing house someday. Work with an agent or an editor, or a team, something like that. People scare me though, especially professional people, so once I stop hiding behind my fear, I can attempt the conventional publishing route. Once I have my MFA I might feel more confident.
I really like writing, and I really want people to read my work, but going through the hoops of getting an agent and pitching your stuff to a publishing house, it's more businessy and feels like a lot of bullshit because it's all about money. I don't really care about money at this point, I just want people to read my work. Sleep Like This would've been free but CreateSpace won't let me do that. But the ebook probably will be free.
LibsLIB: You completed Sleep Like This as your senior project at Antioch College, where you also involved a science student to help you with the forensics, can you tell the readers of Libs LIB a little bit about that experience and how you set it up?
Dayna: Sure. Jessica Davis was doing her senior project where she wanted to solve a crime scene so she came to me with the idea to have me write a novel revolving around this murder that she would solve. So I started writing this story that I envisioned as a short story (because it'd be less work for me!), and I would just ask Jessica questions like, how does fingerprinting work? What about gun powder residue? DNA? What are some conceivable poisons? But I couldn't get too detailed because I was trying to set this crime scene up for her to solve, and I wanted to outsmart her a little bit. But of course I didn't.
I remember also the day I had to set up the crime scene for Jess. It was the morning after a huge college party and we were both hung over, as was my friend Brittany who was enlisted to play the dead body. And it took FOREVER. We had to wait around while Jess combed the scene, which was some empty room in the science building, and Brittany just had to lay there for awhile. And I learned it takes something like 50 strands of hair or something ridiculous like that to get DNA from it.
Sleep Like This really began evolving into a novel during NaNoWriMo, which was the only year I ever won that thing (2006, I think). And originally Jessica was actually a character in it, solving the case and everything. And there was a different killer, it was really different.
LibsLIB: Do you think the experience with Jessica Davis made Sleep Like This more accurate or gave you an insight you might not have had otherwise?
Dayna: Well, without her the story never would've been written. But as far as forensically accurate, I think she was working within a school budget/school facilities, so she was more limited to what she could do with certain evidence. So I had to research outside of that to really try to understand what procedures would be used. So I watched a lot of Law and Order: SVU.
LibsLIB: I believe you mentioned you were working on a second novel, what will that one be about?
Dayna: Yes, it's called All Good Children, and it is basically an exploration of family life within a dystopian future in which humans have a natural predator. Well, I guess not natural. Paranatural? I'm really into it, and the first draft is almost done, but I always find it harder to write something the more deeply I'm involved with the story and the characters. It's like I've set this bar and I am afraid I can't reach it, even though I know I can because I'm the one who set it. So I sometimes sabotage myself. But it's coming along. One of my professors called it "literary sci-fi", which felt pretty good.
LibsLIB: Do you think you're drawn more to sci-fi, or do you just write what you're interested in at the time, can we expect a lot of different genre writing from you?
Dayna: I hope you can expect a lot of different genre writing. I like elements of sci-fi and fantasy because they allow me to put my characters into these extreme situations and see what develops. I'm most interested in the psychology of my characters, so sometimes throwing like giant man-eating spiders at them is interesting, and sometimes having them not be able to find a parking space at a BART station is more interesting. It depends on the character.
LibsLIB: So, what's with your fascination with Buffy the Vampire Slayer anyway?
Dayna: Haha! This is my favorite thing ever to talk about. It's just the best writing for a television show I've ever encountered, even with all the hokie demon stuff. It was always about relationships and personal issues and never about demon slaying, even though it was set in that world. It was richer than that. It transcended its genre. Plus Faith is hot.
LibsLIB: I always found the "supporting characters" to actually be more interesting than the lead characters (i.e. Buffy and Angel), who was your favorite character and why?
Dayna: Faith, because she had the classic redemption story. She was the bad girl you just want to hold while she eventually cries because no one's that tough. Spike also had a redemption story, and I'd say his character was the most complex throughout the series. He's a close second for my favorite. I only really like Buffy in relation to the other characters, if that makes sense. Like, I only cared about her because of how she affected her friends and how they all cared about her. But her superiority/inferiority complex got tired after a while. Even though it was called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" it was always an ensemble show, which was great.
LibsLIBS: I was not a big fan of Buffy herself, it was almost as if the show didn't have her it might have been better except everyone in Sunnydale would be un/dead.
Dayna: Yeah, they'd all be slaves to the Master, but Willow would be all vampy hot, so it's a trade-off.
LibsLIBS: You portray lesbian relationships in Sleep Like This, do you think Whedon did an accurate or reasonable job with Willow's sexuality give you have more experience as a lesbian?
Dayna: I think he did a good job, because it was kind of gradual. Willow met someone she connected with who happened to be female and she went for it. She still had feelings for her once boyfriend, Oz, but she recognized and embraced this newness in her sexuality. (which J-Dub did hint at in earlier seasons with her vampire-self). And Tara turned out to be the love of her life, and after that relationship ended, Willow got into another relationship with a woman. So it was never about this one-shot sweeps month deal. It was the natural progression of a character. Now, where J-Dub [Joss Whedon] dropped the ball was Buffy's lesbian experience in the comic books, which doesn't fit her character's progression at all, at least to me.
LibsLIB: It felt like in Sleep Like This you used a lot of experiences that actually happened at Antioch, the stuff with The Couple, the experimenting and uncertainty of new sexual experiences, and even some of the tragedies that happened. How much did Antioch influence your writing of this particular novel and do you think it will continue to influence you?
Dayna: It influenced this novel almost 100%. Antioch was an engrossing place and I wrote most of the novel there, so it was my whole world and it became the whole world in the novel, I think. But I think at least some the experiences I wrote about are universal to the first-year college experience anywhere; they're just amped up on a smaller campus in a small town. My Antioch experience has greatly influenced my worldview, so of course that carries over to my writing. I am much more aware of how I portray women and people of color, and issues of identity and sexuality, which seem to be themes in most of my work.
LibsLIB: Okay, I think we're nearing the end of the interview because I believe you have a date with a raquetball court. Is there a character or story element you would like me to write a Rupert story about?
Dayna: Hm. You should do an Alice in Wonderland story, where Rupert follows a plain old turtle down a hole into our world, where he's excited to encounter all these really dull things, and then he gets tranquilized and taken to a government facility where they do experiments on him and sell his body to a corporation that uses his image to sell hamburgers.
LibsLIB: Hah, done.
Dayna: Ooh, can I say one more thing about the novel?
LibsLIB: Yes, you can say many more things.
Dayna: Not to sound exploit-y, but the sex scene in the car, my professor at the time told our workshop class that it made her want to be a lesbian. I'm just saying.
LibsLIB: I can believe it, it was a pretty hot scene. Was it perhaps based on personal experience?
Dayna: No comment.
LibsLIB: You saucy wench.
Dayna: Can I write a fake blog post for you about how the book reminds me of the one time I accidentally murdered my classmate?**
LibsLIB: hahaha, yes. Danny wants to know why you would want to write about that (but is amused).
Dayna: Because it's highly relatable, who hasn't accidentally murdered someone in this day and age? I mean, come on, it's 2010.
LibsLIB: Danny also wants you to know that he's gay for you, and yes he has seen the YouTube Video.
Dayna: I am blushing. My finest moment! I love that little movie. If it is my only legacy, I will be happy with that.
ANNOUNCEMENT! If you liked this post, you may be interested in reading the book yourself. Dayna Ingram is having a contest for her book over at Goodreads. Just sign up for an account (if you don't have one already) and enter here. Quick! It ends November 12!
**Look for this post tomorrow!