A Military Writers Guild Interview with Diane Maye
My sole New Years resolution for 2015 is to use creative metaphors to challenge established schemes. Using an illustration of the futility of voting in Iraq was an appropriate visual of the strength of that promise. My interview with Diane Maye is a good reminder of that commitment.
Diane and I share a number of professional similarities, so I was eager to interview her for the Guild. She is a former Air Force Captain; I am a former Army Captain. We both spent time in Iraq (her time was a little longer); that time continues to shape our reading, writing, studying and teaching. We both are George Mason Patriots. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs; I am a Ph.D. student in the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. We both teach a lot of veterans and current military students. She spends her writing life between warm sunny beaches and the Italian countryside. My dream is to spend my writing life between warm sunny beaches and the Italian countryside.
More than professional similarities, Diane affirmed for me a few patterns of successful writing routines emerging in this interview series. She uses the power of sleep to prime her brain for writing. A notebook comes in handy to capture her random thoughts. She reads fiction to enrich her writing with creative metaphors. She certainly has more discipline than I in cutting the electronic tethers to her work life.
Don’t worry Diane, we can consider chatting on a Saturday morning over a cup of coffee (and Skype) catching up with a friend.
[John DeRosa] What does the first hour of your day look like? What time do you typically wake up? What are some of your daily routines?
[Diane Maye] For many years I would get up at 4:30–5:00am. I had the routine up until about three years ago. It was a function of my time in the military and working in the defense industry. When we moved to Florida I realized that I do not have to wake up at 5:00am anymore. Now I am a tad lazier; I tend to wake up at about 7:00am.
When I am up, I do normal things like make coffee, walk and feed the dog. Then I will start looking at the news online — it is one of my habits. I have found that the local news is quite interesting — you get a real flavor for the place that you live if you get the local newspaper. We stopped getting it though because so much of the news is online these days.
[JD] Do you go straight to reading and writing or do you have other routines?
[DM] I write best in the morning. Sometimes I am catching up on emails and work first thing in the morning. If an idea strikes me or an idea will come to me in the morning after I have thought it out while I am sleeping, I will get it on paper right away. Other times I am not that inspired, and I will dive into work.
[JD] Do you have to set aside a creative space or time for your writing?
[DM] There are times that I know I want to write something and I will isolate myself with my computer and think it out. I carry a red notebook wherever I go. If something inspires me while I am out, I am sure to write it down. If in conversations with people something sparks my imagination, I will make sure I write it down in my notebook.
My notebook has notes for other things as well. It is not just for creative thoughts. It contains things that I have to remember or things that I have to do during the day. I make sure I get those thoughts down, so I do not forget them.
[JD] When you get inspiration, can you describe the writing space that you find?
[DM] I have to be isolated without distractions. Sometimes this means I cannot write in my house, and I will have to go to a library. If the inspirations come fast, I will sit in my house with the vision of what I want to write.
There are different types of writing for me. For example, my professional writing is a little easier than my creative writing. Creative writing is something I am still working on developing. When I first started writing creatively, it was terrible. Looking back on some of the things I wrote in Iraq it reads more like a diary. It was not very creative.
In order to make things more creative I have had to get myself into that space. To do that I try to create metaphors to make my writing come alive. There are times where in this space I am listening to music — sometimes the same music over and over again. That will help inspire my mind to make things more beautiful. It is something I am still working on.
[JD] Can you describe how you are gathering information about what you want to write and any note taking techniques you use?
[DM] I am probably less sophisticated in note taking than other writers. I use the internet a lot. I probably have fifty pages tabbed. There are online libraries that I use to find accurate information.
I also look at blogs. I just found Medium as a platform, and I have about fifteen story ideas drafted there. As inspirations bring ideas for those stories, I will add them there.
On my computer, I have a bunch of file folders with ideas on a number of things. Most things are about my dissertation. My dissertation folder is enormous. Anytime I think something has anything to do with my dissertation, I tab it or save it to my dissertation file. I am starting to do that with other ideas as well.
[JD] How do you determine what you would like to write about?
[DM] I was generally frustrated with seeing or not seeing something on the news. I would ask myself, ‘Why isn’t this in the news? Why isn’t anyone talking about this?’ So I said to myself, ‘I will write about it.’ My current events based articles are about a frustration in the news. It was either the depth of the report or the perspective of the report that disagreed with me. I have a couple ideas in my mind now. They are based on the lack of coverage a topic is getting. That is where I get inspired.
[JD] Can you describe how you gather information and take notes for your dissertation?
[DM] Very sloppily. I have about thirty books on my desk with notes all throughout them. My dissertation is something I have slowly worked on for years. Some of it is research that I did years ago. Other ideas are more current. Some research has been interviews which are more formal.
My dissertation file is a huge mess that only I understand. It is a work in progress. I am constantly refining things as I go along.
[JD] How does your routine change on the weekend to decompress?
[DM] I try to stay away from my computer for the weekend because I am attached to it all week. Sometimes I go on the computer on the weekend for fun. It has to be fun. I won’t do work on the weekend. I try just to do fun stuff on the weekend. Yet sometimes an inspiration will hit me and I will have to get it down on paper.
[JD] So part of your decompression is cutting off the computer.
[DM] Yes. Cutting off work.
[JD] What are some of the things you like to do in that decompression time?
[DM] My husband and I love to work out. We often go to the gym together on the weekends. We love taking our dog to the dog park. There are a lot of beaches around here so we go to the beach. We love visiting with friends and hanging out.
[JD] What are you reading lately?
[DM] I have about thirty books in my pipeline. I have two types of reading. I tend to gravitate towards books that are non-fiction, accurate accounts of the past. A lot of which are biographies, especially of people who have spent time in the Iraq War — most of which are sitting on my shelf.
I also like books about foreign policy in general. A lot of those are informing my dissertation research.
For fun, I tend to read books that are pretty light. I have read all the Game of Thrones books like three times. Any books that are in a series. There are literary books I enjoy reading. Classics I will read over and over again because I love them — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catch-22, or Salmon Rushdie’s works. He is a British-Iranian author that writes beautifully.
I tend to have a pipeline of books. Right now, I am trying to get through a book about Iraqi Kurds. I have a book about Saddam Hussein. Some of the other books I am reading are: Iraq Since 1958, Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood, and The Shi’is of Iraq. All these books inform my research so that I have a good historical framework
[JD] Do you find that reading fiction helps you with your creative writing? Does your metaphorical writing become richer after reading fiction?
[DM] There are a lot of books I read for information. They tend not to give me a feeling about something. They aren’t going to stir my soul. These other fiction books are going to hit you in a different way. So absolutely, I am more creative after reading fictional books.
I constantly go back to game of Game of Thrones. Some of that is pretty interesting. I really love George R.R. Martin. I think he understands how humans act in a state of anarchy. There are a lot of parallels between what goes on in Game of Thrones as what goes on in Iraq. Both [Westeros and Iraq] are in a complete state of anarchy. What the humans do in the Game of Thrones is what humans do in Iraq. Martin has a good insight into what humans are capable of doing to each other.
[JD] How do you find what to read?
[DM] I tend to go on the advice of my friends and family. They may have a new author that they are reading. My husband likes books that you can easily read on a plane. I’ll tend to read those on a plane or if we go on a trip somewhere. I have other friends that are into foreign policy like I am and they will suggest books. I have friends that have gone to the War Colleges and they will suggest books. I have a steady pipeline of books that I just have to read.
[JD ] What is the book you’re most likely to give as a gift or one you’ve given as a gift the most?
[DM] This is a difficult question. I do love giving books as gifts. I love getting them and I love giving them. Yet I feel like the book needs to be personalized. I think about one friend, she really loves Middle Eastern politics. She is fluent in French. She loves poetry. One year I got her a collection of works of Rumi, a medieval Sufi poet. She loved it. Another year I got her Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet, which had been translated into French. She loved that too. Another year I got her the Happiest Baby on the Block — because she was pregnant. So, I tend to select books based on what they are up to.
[JD] What’s the drink of choice?
[DM] Coffee in the morning. Water during the day. My evening drink is red wine. My husband is Italian and has a house in Italy. So when we are there, we tend to drink the local wine. His house is in Umbria. The Sangiovese grape is prominent there and good for Chiantis. In the states we drink Argentinian Malbecs, they are everywhere now. When we are out, I like to drink vodka martinis.
[JD] What bold steps would you like to see the MWG take?
[DM] The next step is collaboration. It would be nice to do something for veterans. I have found that my writing has been cathartic. Once you put your experience on paper, it gives a new definition to that experience. If we could get involved with the veteran community and get them to do more writing, that would be very interesting.
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