The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Authoring Mid-Life Shifts | Madison Brightwell and Don Silver

May 29, 2024 Matt Peiken Episode 163
Authoring Mid-Life Shifts | Madison Brightwell and Don Silver
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
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The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Authoring Mid-Life Shifts | Madison Brightwell and Don Silver
May 29, 2024 Episode 163
Matt Peiken

Madison Brightwell and Don Silver are local novelists who don’t know each other but have similar creative trajectories. Both spent early years behind the scenes—Brightwell in film production, Silver working for music mogul Clive Davis—before turning to more conventional careers. It wasn’t until their 40s that both leaned into writing fiction. 

Silver’s new generation-spanning, coming-of-age book is titled “Scorched.” Our talk is the second half of today’s episode. We begin with my conversation with Brightwell, whose new book, “Under the Redbud Tree,” has a teenage girl heroine and blends fantasy with a certain realism people in Western North Carolina should recognize.

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Show Notes Transcript

Madison Brightwell and Don Silver are local novelists who don’t know each other but have similar creative trajectories. Both spent early years behind the scenes—Brightwell in film production, Silver working for music mogul Clive Davis—before turning to more conventional careers. It wasn’t until their 40s that both leaned into writing fiction. 

Silver’s new generation-spanning, coming-of-age book is titled “Scorched.” Our talk is the second half of today’s episode. We begin with my conversation with Brightwell, whose new book, “Under the Redbud Tree,” has a teenage girl heroine and blends fantasy with a certain realism people in Western North Carolina should recognize.

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Matt Peiken: You're in Weaverville. So why did you pick here of all places to move to? 

Madison Brightwell: Oh my husband and I were both living in Los Angeles. And I'm not from L. A. though, so you can probably tell. Yeah, you're from Britain. I'm from England, yeah. Where in England? That's a question Americans often ask.

I am from the north of England, which is quite different from London, and yet I lived in London for a long time because I was an actress for most of my working life up until 

Matt Peiken: Were you a stage actress? Stage, mostly, yes. In London theatres? 

Madison Brightwell: Yes. Okay. Yes. Yeah, you, when you're an actor, you don't say to yourself, I'm going to be a stage actor, I'm going to be a TV actor, you just say, I'll take whatever people give me, 

Matt Peiken: yeah. And is that what happened? Yes. For you in London? So you did both. Were you on stage and screen? Yeah. 

Madison Brightwell: Yes, but mostly I would say like 95 percent stage because that's what there is in England. Yeah. There's a lot of stage work. So I did lots of Shakespeare and things. But I had actually officially quit acting before I moved to LA.

Matt Peiken: Why did, that's strange to quit acting before you moved to the screen epicenter of America. 

Madison Brightwell: Exactly. 

Matt Peiken: Why did you decide to pull out of acting? 

Madison Brightwell: I like to always do things different from anybody else, that's just the way I am. So I said, I don't want to be this cliche that moves to LA as an actress.

But oddly enough, I moved there when I was not to give too much away, but I was on the cusp of 40. So I'd already had my career as an actor and really, if you don't make it by the time you're 40 or so it's a very difficult profession to carry on saying, okay, I'm going to sacrifice everything for this. You never have any money. You can never go anywhere because you're always waiting for your big break. And I had gotten to that point where I'm like, okay, I just want to do something where I can make a decent salary and have a life basically. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. So many people reach that fork in the road.

Am I going to be artistically slash creatively satisfied, or It's a shame it can't be an and, or it's an or, am I going to earn a stable living? 

Madison Brightwell: Exactly. So you 

Matt Peiken: moved to L. A. with your husband, and what did you think? 

Madison Brightwell: I actually didn't move with my husband. I moved on my own. 

Matt Peiken: So this is a big life pivot then.

Madison Brightwell: Big, huge life pivot. Yeah, I was, I'd say on the cusp of 40 and I was just like, I'm done. I'd actually just gotten divorced from my first husband. And I wanted to make this big shift in my life. I had in fact, moved to the other side of the camera already, three years before that. And I was producing medical training videos, which I loved.

I loved doing that. I had no regrets at all about quitting acting. So I moved to LA more as a person working in film and TV from the other side. I did get work in television and then subsequently in film. So that was great. I had a great time. So worked in TV, worked in film and development, things like that, and I ended up going back to acting briefly, but It was really nice because now I didn't have to worry about it being my bread and butter job. And that makes a huge difference. So now, as I think you probably know, I've done quite a lot of acting here in Asheville. And I still love acting and I love doing it as a sideline.

Matt Peiken: Yeah, but you made the pivot, not only deciding professionally, I'm going to move away from that. But you also were extricating yourself from a marriage and extricating yourself from a country. And so you had really big shift when you decided to move to Los Angeles. And what did you think you were going to do when you were in LA?

Madison Brightwell: Yes. That's a great question. I'm like that. When I make a decision, I just go for it, and I basically just bought a one way ticket and had a suitcase and arrived on the doorstep of a friend who had offered me a room. I didn't have a job or anything. So it was a big leap of faith.

But it really paid off. Basically I'd fallen in love with LA because of the weather. You might think that's a little flippant, but it's really not. 

Matt Peiken: Heck, that's why so many retirees moved to Florida. 

Madison Brightwell: Exactly. I can't stand all that rain in England. I can't. I can't deal with it. And it just rains all the time. It's like Seattle, but year round. And I'm a sunshine person. 

Matt Peiken: Is that when you started, when you got to LA, is that when you decided to become a therapist? 

Madison Brightwell: No, actually that happened a lot later. That was another huge shift. Yeah, my life's been kind of like that. Big shift after big shift. So I moved to LA.

I was still working in entertainment for, wow, a long time, about 10 years or so. And as I said, I loved it, but I found that even working on that side of the camera, it's a little erratic. You can't really rely on anything. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, it's real project to project basis. 

Madison Brightwell: Project to project. Yes. And there's no feeling of continuity or stability.

Plus now I'm on the cusp of 50. So I'm looking for more of a meaningful existence, right? I'm looking to say I'm doing something that gives back and that provides something positive in terms of a contribution. And as soon as I discovered therapy, I knew It was perfect for me.

I basically, I should have always been a therapist. It's just what I do anyway in my personal life, people confide in me all the time. I'm one of those people. I started off as a hypnotherapist. The reason being my friend was also an actress slash hypnotherapist.

And she said, This will be great for you because there's an aspect in hypnotherapy, there's an aspect of performance about it. Not that you're on stage being a hypnotist at all. You don't do that. But what you do is after having your talk with the person, which is more like the, therapy. And you find out a bit more about what their issues are and what they want to work on, then you create on the spot this hypnotic journey for them to go on. 

Matt Peiken: In a way there's, that's like an improv theater in a 

Madison Brightwell: way. It is, yes. Which I've also done and love. It was like it used my creative self, which I very much bring into my therapy.

And so I would be creating this whole little journey for them and using what I knew about psychology, which again, acting psychology, so similar, much more than people realize. Cause you, you have to sort of empathize with the person. You have to get inside their head. Yeah. figure out what's going on inside their head to make them do what they do, say what they say, so I loved it. I was a hypnotherapist exclusively for two years. And then what we had was the 2008 crash. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. The economic crash. 

Madison Brightwell: Economic crash. I lost all my clients overnight and I figured I need to do something to get some more credentials to make me more employable. So I was very pragmatic about it.

I went back to school. I got myself a master's in psychology and then eventually got a doctorate. Also in psychology. Then there was no stopping me after that. I was just like on a roll. And as I got these credentials, it got easier and easier to get work until now. No problem at all.

Matt Peiken: And you're still doing that work. Yeah. So once I can see how potentially all of these would be breadcrumbs en route to becoming a writer. When you were talking about building a story, developing a story through hypnotherapy, your client's story, I imagine that's not too far removed from how you do so in your writing.

I'm wondering, were you doing any fiction writing? 

Madison Brightwell: Oh yeah. 

Matt Peiken: You were, even when you were even pre therapy? You were. 

Madison Brightwell: Actually, my very first book that I ever wrote, I started in 1986. And I started writing it as therapy for me because I had just had a very bad breakup as, we all do one of these times.

Wrote it as therapy and it's basically, it's a psychological crime thriller and I then wrote three other psychological crime thrillers that became my genre. And that's so interesting, isn't it? Because I'd never even thought about being a therapist and yet I'm writing about people who are psychologically damaged in some way.

I'm writing about pathology. Cause all my books, the central character is usually the hero or heroines, usually a heroine is doing bad things and we're figuring out, why are they doing these bad things, right? So I've always been fascinated by them. 

Matt Peiken: That's interesting because you look at your new book beyond the world of the redbud tree that Charlie, the central character, I wouldn't describe as that necessarily.

Madison Brightwell: No, and this is a big departure actually, as I wrote those four books in the 90s because you said, I've been published later in life, but I had already written those books, but I never managed to get them published. I tried to. But that gave me the ability to put together a book, if you like, which is not an easy process.

So I knew I could do it, but I didn't do any writing between then and 2020 when I started this new book. 

Matt Peiken: Now that's quite a long distance of time. 

Madison Brightwell: 20 years. Yeah. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. Beyond just mere Aging, you went from writing one very specific kind of book in a series of them to doing something very different with your new book.

What do you attribute such a shift in terms of topic the makeup of your heroine and the path of the book? What do you attribute such a big shift to? 

Madison Brightwell: For almost 20 years, I've been working. Working as a therapist. And I do think when you're working as a therapist, you're actually working on yourself too.

I feel like I've grown, I've matured. I've become more wise and more interested in the world, if you like, and I'm doing something positive for the world. So that's one aspect of it. Then of course I've grown. I've changed a lot. I've moved from LA to Asheville, which is a very different community, different experience. I got married in 2018, by the way. So fairly recently. So all of these things have created a different person in me, if you like. The reason I chose this genre was partly because we were just going into the pandemic at that time. This is May, 2020.

My husband and I had just bought our house in Weaverville. And So I was affected by what was going on around me. I was affected by the Black Lives Matter stuff and the protests and all that was going on. And I felt like we really needed some hope and inspiration in the world, and So it was affected by where I happened to be geographically, because there's a lot of that in the book and also where we were as a society. And this was also global, the disappointment, the frustration, all of those things that we're feeling as a society.

I remember saying to my husband at that time, wouldn't it be great if we could discover a parallel universe where different choices had been made and where we found ourselves at a different flexion point in society where the society was better, where we actually live together in harmony, where things were more just and fair and all those things.

And he said, great idea. You've got to write this book. He was very encouraging. And he said, people need this book. He said And so I kept writing and writing, it took me about two years to get to the point where I felt like it was ready and then got it published. 

Matt Peiken: It's interesting, you're talking about the elements that led to writing this book and it's set in or I guess in Cherokee, right?

Madison Brightwell: Yeah, well it's set in, in Weaverville, the main character lives in Weaverville, it's called Weaverton in the book. The Cherokee connection. It's really interesting, actually now that you mention it, when I decided to write the book, I said, I'm going to do something completely from my imagination.

I don't want people coming at me and going, Oh, you got that wrong. You got that wrong. You didn't research that so I said, In order to avoid that happening, I just take it from my imagination. It's a fantasy book, so there is no wrong or right, so I get to write anything I want. I wrote this society that I thought 

Matt Peiken: The Qahazi.

Madison Brightwell: The Qahazi, that I thought And I made up that word completely. It's not a real word. 

Matt Peiken: But I want to pause you for a second because you can read into this, that it would be inspired by Native American tribes, right? 

Madison Brightwell: The really interesting thing is that after I wrote the book, I visited Cherokee, the town, I went around the Oconaluftee village and did a little tour and and heard about all the Native American, specifically Cherokee customs, and I'm like, oh my God, this is what I wrote about in my book. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah As I was reading through it. That's what occurred to me Yeah, and I was wondering how much you're saying this was after the fact that you went that's really interesting, isn't it?

Yeah, and but I can see where some people might say Why is this older white woman writing about a young Native American girl. Yeah. 

Madison Brightwell: She's not Native American, but I know she's not a little bit. She's a little bit. 

Matt Peiken: The Qazi is a kind of a, a quasi or hybrid. Yeah. So how did you decide to weave Actual elements of the world we know into what is your fantasy world, because it's not pure, it is, it's fantasy it's fantasy in the way that, look it's pure fiction and you've created these characters and you created this culture, this society of the Qahazi, yet there's so many identifiable elements to the world we know here in Western North Carolina.

That's right. And how did you know how to strike that balance between what's real and what would be fantasy? 

Madison Brightwell: That's a good question. Some people have remarked about the book that they like the way I've balanced those two things, melded them, if you like. When I came up with the character of Charlie, I wanted her to be 16 because I wanted her to be at that age where You're very idealistic, but you're also conflicted.

You're also angsty. You don't know who you are. She's got all that going on inside her. And by the way, I very much based all the characters on people I've met as clients. 

Matt Peiken: That's interesting that everyone, all the characters are based on people as clients.

So they all came to you with some kind of issue. Oh, of course. Yes. But that's interesting to me that you turned those into characters. So all your characters ostensibly would have certain issues to them. 

Madison Brightwell: That's true. Well, I think we all have issues though, don't we? I mean, I was raised by a single mom and that's influenced me a lot and I discovered all my characters in my books have one parent and I'm like, that's interesting, isn't it?

Maybe I'm not able to write about someone with two parents because I don't have that knowledge of There wasn't domestic abuse in my family, but I've heard about it a lot from my clients. and so I know about it. and some people remarked, Oh, what a cliché that you've put this woman with domestic violence.

Maybe it's a cliché, but hello, it happens. People go to therapy and talk to me about it. And it's real.

Matt Peiken: Now this book also seems to straddle the line between young adult fiction and just regular fiction. Did you intend it as a young adult novel? I did not. I, that's, that seems true to me that, because it doesn't read like a young adult novel per se.

Madison Brightwell: No, I didn't want it to be a young adult. When people say, Oh, this is a children's book. I say, it's really not. It's got some mature themes in it, which would be too much for anyone under 16. I do not want children to read it. 16 plus. Yeah, fine. They might be able to connect with some of those themes.

Young people seem to like the book, seem to, it appeals to them, but it also appeals to older people, such as, hello, myself I would love to read this book, because it's got that idealism in it, which some people don't lose, like I haven't lost. Hopefully, some people who are older, who haven't lost that idealism, can respond to the book, can say, There's something in this that speaks to me.

Matt Peiken: I want to make a note here at the end of the book, you have an appendix with deep explanations of kind of the rules of this society, like definitions of things. You would go into a lot of detail at the End, which I thought was interesting.

Sometimes writers who write in fantasy will set things up in the beginning of the book, give people anchor points to this. Why did you leave that for the end? 

Madison Brightwell: Yes a friend of mine called it my manifesto. So I thought it was interesting. I guess I wanted readers to go into it like Charlie goes into it, not knowing anything.

I didn't want them to have extra knowledge about it beforehand. So I wanted them to just experience it like she does. Wow, what's going on? Why are these people behaving like this? And then at the end it's like when you watch one of those kind of mystery movies or TV shows.

And at the end, all the clues that you've been picking up, Oh, it all makes sense. Oh, because now I have this extra information. So it's a bit like that. And I wanted people to have a sense that it's a real world that I've created because also it sets you up for books two and three.

Matt Peiken: And you're also acting still. You've done some productions. Are you active still on local theater?

Madison Brightwell: I'm active. I'm not as active this year as I have been some other years because I had some family stuff going on. But I do plan to be doing some things. I have been cast in a show at the HART. I'll be doing the mousetrap there in October. 

Matt Peiken: And so the path of Charlie and the Qazi will keep you going in a literary sense for at least a couple of novels going forward.

Madison Brightwell: Yes. I'm planning it to be a trilogy. And as I say, the second book, I have written the first draft, so I do know what's going to happen. So it's 10 years on. I can tell you that. It's Charlie, age now, 26. Having grown up into an adult. That's why it's not a YA book. And she has some more adventures, shall we say.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Matt Peiken: You started really focusing on writing later in your life. Is that correct? So tell me about your life in music. I know you worked for a while in the music industry. Was that your first profession? 

Don Silver: I always wanted to be a writer from the time I was a little kid, but I picked up a guitar, like many of my generation, at 13 or so, and in my teens I had bands, and I was the agent or manager for those bands, and that got me through some connections through some artists.

I got a job working for Arista Records in New York. In my early 20s. 

Matt Peiken: Clive Davis? 

Don Silver: Yeah, I worked for Clive. 

Matt Peiken: Wow. Okay, so what was that like? What, did you work directly with him at all? What was that experience like? 

Don Silver: Yeah, Clive was a very charismatic and super intelligent guy and a really good music man. Very commercial ears, he would have said or called it. I was in A& R. 

Matt Peiken: Wow, what a great, I, I've always romanticized being an A& R guy at a record company like in the 80s and 90s when so much great music was happening and I used to just daydream, what if that were my job were to discover artists? Is that what you were doing? 

Don Silver: Yeah, I mean it was, for the first six months or a year, it was just like the dream. He could be overbearing and dismissive and very difficult for a young person. And because he took a personal interest in A& R, he had all his VPs reporting to him, and then I was just the lowly A& R guy, but he would call me into his office two, three times a day sometimes, and play me something, blast it, after one listen he would expect a dissertation basically on it what about the melodic hook, how are the lyrics. Is it going to grab someone? So it was a very high pressure situation, but it was incredibly fun. And at 22 years old, I had an American Express credit card and I could walk into any club I wanted in New York. 

Matt Peiken: Tell me about the artists that you found and you cultivated. 

Don Silver: It's easy because I found no artists that he signed. I found several artists that I would have liked to sign, but he wasn't interested in them. 

Matt Peiken: That must have been really deflating.

Don Silver: Yeah, as a kid, I didn't expect that much, but I found some early new wave, I guess you would call them, acts that could have sold a little bit, and I was into jazz at the time, so I picked up a few jazz albums that I thought, or recordings that I thought would make good albums, but mostly I was a song man.

And that's Clive's great gift is to find songs and cast them for his artists. So we had artists like Dionne Warwick and Barry Manilow and Aretha Franklin and many others who needed to be pitched songs that could be top 40 or top 20 hits from outside. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. So did you connect any of songs from songwriters that you were finding to some of these already major stars?

Don Silver: Yeah, that's what, that was what I did. Oh, yeah. He had put out a call and we'd got 90 days to put together a portfolio of songs. That's in fact how I got my job. Cause I walked in and I was full of confidence, but I had no experience. And he said, just like young people can be right. 

Just every, everybody. But I was bold and up for an assignment. He's, he said, all right, if you can put together a cassette tape with seven songs that could be hits for artists, I'll hire you as an A& R guy. 

Matt Peiken: So you did that for a couple of years. Where did you go after that? 

Don Silver: I left with Michael Friedman, who was Clive's executive assistant.

And we formed a production company called the empire project. And we did rock acts and we produced the last studio recording by the band Orleans. And we had a really nice run for a couple of years. 

Matt Peiken: Did you just eventually get dulled on the business of music? Talk about the your evolution your pivot or if it wasn't a pivot for if it was emerging in any degree From the music industry into your literary career.

Don Silver: Yeah, that's it. So it'll take a little longer, but it was a pivot. It wasn't a merger. I had grown tired of the music industry. I also was You feeling less connected to the kind of music that was really popular. This was the heyday of disco music, and I couldn't connect with that, really the whole culture of it.

And so what drew me to music in the first place as a musician and in the music business was love of basically singer songwriters and the California sound and 

Matt Peiken: yeah, which was the rock and the antithesis of disco 

Don Silver: It felt that way to me, So I didn't have the ear for disco and I didn't want to have the ear for disco 

Matt Peiken: And it's also a cultural thing, right?

You know that when you're talking about songwriters, Musicians, bands, these are artists, creative artists in a different way than disco. Disco, the artists largely didn't write their own music. It almost seemed like it was music by formula or hits by formula.

Don Silver: It was. And I wish I had recognized the artistry that could go into that in the same way that hip hop now has a profoundly deep artistry when you look at live music. layering and sampling. And we did have a few hits, disco hits, where we had a songwriter create a song and then we found two producers and we would fabricate the artist. Just to your point that there really was no artist, right? And we'd have a top 10 disco hit, and 

Matt Peiken: and so when you were assessing yourself in that way, had you already cultivated it? Yeah. A sense of writing. Were you doing any writing at all up until that point? What was your, you said it was a pivot, not emerging. So when did writing even enter your sphere of consciousness?

Don Silver: It never left my sphere of consciousness. From the time I was a little kid, I'd written stories, I wrote poetry through my teen years, I went away to college, and my first semester I took creative writing I didn't like being criticized at the time, so I pivoted from that and studied business, thinking music and business would make a good pairing, and so I was constantly writing, just not very well.

Matt Peiken: It sounds like you had a very pragmatic approach to your life in a certain way. You liked music, and you played music, but you were approaching it from a business standpoint. And this is how you were going to make your way professionally. And when that didn't happen, gel in the way, or at least it didn't last, wasn't sustaining you in the way you had thought.

Writing, I would think, where's the pragmatism in that, in creative writing? That it, for every writer who does happen to get an agent, and even fewer who get a publisher, There are dozens and dozens of scores and scores who don't. So am I correct in saying that you always had a pragmatic approach and when you pivoted to writing in a more concerted way, that, oh wow, what am I going to do for a living? 

Don Silver: Yeah that's really well put. If you're looking for a pragmatic aspect of writing, you're going to look for a long time and not find anything. So I pivoted from writing to music, to business, then music business, I pivoted completely out of music and into straight up business, and I did it almost 20 years of corporate business work.

Matt Peiken: In what capacities?

Don Silver: I worked for a manufacturing company, a ventilation equipment in Pennsylvania, which was a family business. And I did almost every job you could possibly do in one of those. And then in 2000, 1997. We sold the company and I went back and got an MFA in writing from Bennington. And that's when I pivoted into writing full time. 

Matt Peiken: So you already had known what stability was in the corporate world. Why did you go back and get an MFA and dive into that, 'cause you could, you, you said you were always writing, writing never left you. Did you think, I am going to take a risk in terms of making this work as a career? Or did you think I'm just going to get another corporate job and write on the side?

Don Silver: I became le a little less pragmatic and more interested in doing something I loved.

So I was in my, I was, in my 40s, early 40s, and I was tired of doing things I didn't like, and I always loved writing, and I wasn't really very good at it. I just kept doing it. 

Matt Peiken: Now that even itself says something about you. Now did you know you weren't good at it? No. Okay because when we know We don't have a certain skill set or acumen for it, I would imagine be so much more psychologically challenging to say, I'm going to dive in and get an MFA anyway. But you didn't realize that. When did you know you weren't good at it? 

Don Silver: I wrote songs all throughout my young life. You're reminding me of a comment that Clive Davis made to Barry Manilow, I wasn't in the room, but Barry Manilow had always done covers of people's songs, and he wanted to write his own. And Clive said to him Don't you think if you were Irving Berlin we would know by now? Which gives you a little sense of Clive's acerbic wit.

Matt Peiken: Yeah, but what a true statement. 

Don Silver: Yeah, I mean it's kind of, I internalized that, and I'd written songs, and I'd written poems and stories, and I'd shown them to people. And I took a course, actually when I was in business, I drove a couple hours every week to take a course with the poet Stephen Dunn, where we all wrote poetry and submitted it to him. And He was kind enough to tell me that these are not that good. 

Matt Peiken: Gosh, so you didn't have much validation as a poet, you didn't have much validation as a writer at that point, what changed for you? At least in terms of your literary work, was it while you were at Bennington or afterward that you've had these aha moments and broke through creatively in a way that Maybe you hadn't previously? 

Don Silver: No just to give you an idea of the progress the slow progress here, Bennington was the first time in my life. I could actually say to someone i'm a writer that I had the confidence to say that's what I do, not as a profession, but As opposed to i'm just a person who happens to write now and then. So my confidence was not high You Really, until my book got picked up by an agent and sold to a publisher, my first novel.

Matt Peiken: You didn't get into this really in a concerted way until your 40s. When you started shopping, you got an agent for your debut novel and you got published.

Did that all happen rather, or relatively quickly, compared to what many people experience in the publishing world? 

Don Silver: It did. Yeah, it did. The first novel was picked up. I think I sent four manuscripts out to agents whose writers novels I admired, and one of them called me and she said, I just flew to London. I just read most of your book and unless the ending sucks, I think I can sell this. 

Matt Peiken: You found a publisher pretty quickly and you've had some pretty good reviews. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. The New York Times did a small review of your book, right? Did it sell well? 

Don Silver: It didn't sell well. I had gotten a big advance. The key to all this is my agent. I lucked out and got an incredibly powerful agent named Binky Urban who represented Cormac McCarthy and many other huge writers.


Matt Peiken: Binky read your manuscript on the plane? Yeah. Think about the number of manuscripts that this person could be reading and it gets submitted. That's really astounding. 

Don Silver: It is. I totally lucked out because from that moment on, it was all the Binky show. She found, she knew the publisher who picked it up. She probably knew the New York times reviewer. All these doors open.

Matt Peiken: Is she still your agent? 

Don Silver: No. It was a transactional relationship, if you get what I mean, like I went up to New York to see her. I think she was mystified. Why would you come see me? It's not, it wasn't that kind of thing. And she said, the best thing you can do is go home and write your next novel. Don't be calling me and asking you how things are going and so forth.

She's really direct. 

Matt Peiken: Like a Clive Davis of the world.

Don Silver: To me. It was, I was in the same 10 block area. And I, I felt like, Oh yeah I know this drill. So the book came out, we talked a few times afterwards. It didn't sell through or whatever the wording is.

And then I wrote another book and I sent it to her and she said, I'm not handling fiction anymore. I didn't send a book to her. I sent her an email just saying, I finished a new book. She said, I'm not handling fiction anymore. 

Matt Peiken: Boy, had you sent your debut book to her after she wasn't doing fiction anymore, that would have worked.

Don Silver: The world of publishing changed so dramatically since 2003 when I first debuted, yeah. It's radically different. 

Matt Peiken: The second book was not scorched, right? 

Don Silver: No, there was a book in between that's never seen the light of day. 

Matt Peiken: How hard is that? So you, okay, you have some success at least with this great agent.

You get good reviews. Sales weren't happening, but okay, it's your debut novel. That's a great foundation. And then to have nothing happen with your second book. It wasn't picked up. What did that do for you psychologically and spiritually? 

Don Silver: I was here in Asheville at the time. I'd been doing writing and I'd been familiar with art and artists lives for many years. It was disappointing, but it didn't cut to my identity at the time. I just felt like I'd wasted a lot of time. 

Matt Peiken: So you were prepared to put that book on the shelf and then start what turned out to be Scorched. What was the key to you being able to, I guess say, okay, that was, if not a not putting words in your mouth, a waste of time, but it didn't go anywhere.

How did you prepare yourself and put yourself in the place to work on the next book? 

Don Silver: The caveat to all this is that I was making money or had money through other sources. If you're doing writing for a living, which God bless you if you are because it's a tough way. But the other thing is something that writing teachers have told writers all for many years, which is kill your babies.

If you find a favorite phrase, if you find a storyline, a plotline and you fall in love with it, And it's not really working, be prepared to throw it away. 

Matt Peiken: Now let's talk about the new book. The book spans decades. You start out in the seventies, you take us up into 2000, I believe is when the third part of the book happens and it's centered around a group of boys who are like a boys school, like a residential facility, right?

For wayward boys, and what happens is the boys. Eventually they're on a beach together and two of the boys get into a violent encounter with some man, which I felt in the book, you don't spend a lot of time on this episode. It just happens over the course of not even a full page.

Okay, this guy is killed and he's buried in shallow sand and then the boys go on with their lives and you take us through a couple of segments of their lives into Mid adulthood around their 40s or so. Where was the genesis of that idea? A stand by me but brought into a You must have heard that already.

Don Silver: No. No, i'm smiling because it's dead on how you're describing it, But the answer that i'm going to come up with isn't really gonna sound like it relates because I have no idea where that idea or many of the ideas that eventually became Scorched came from. I'm a seat of the pants writer, I don't plot things in an outline form. So this idea came to me, I've had a buddy since 7th grade who's been giving me book ideas ever since we were kids. And one after the other they're, they've been terrible. But he came up with one idea in 2016 or 17 that I thought was fantastic, and that became the genesis of Scorched.

But by the time I finished the manuscript, the book was good, but that idea didn't work. I had to throw that away. 

Matt Peiken: So his idea was the inspiration for you to start writing this, but then it went by the wayside and it became an entirely different thing. I find it interesting that you don't outline.

So you're just going literally in a linear path in your writing, as you're writing the beginning of this book, page one leads to page two and so on. And that's how you write? 

More or less. Yeah. That's really interesting. Cause I, as a journalist, when I'm writing, When I was writing for newspapers, that's how I wrote my articles.

I never outlined anything like that. But when I interview novelists, because the books are so big that, without outlining, it's easy to go off on dead end tangents. You go on and then you realize you're stuck and you've written something that Wait, I don't want to be here.

And then you have to backtrack or completely wipe out, kill your babies as you put it, and go somewhere else. Are you not burdened by that? 

Don Silver: I am. What I do is so inefficient. It's incredible. So there are lots of dead ends and a lot of scraps that get thrown out. But I follow the very simple idea that if it's exciting to write it, it'll be exciting to read.

And if I go out on a tangent and it stops being exciting to write, I just stop. And I dial back to where it was last exciting, and I try something else. 

Matt Peiken: Seems like you easily can detach from things you've created and move on, Seemingly in different directions. 

Don Silver: It's a hard won skill Matt. I am okay at letting go Compared to the way I used to be which was terrible.

I held on to everything and You know, you could extend that to relationships or aspects of identity, but I've worked really hard to be able to let go of things and creative output has been, I've had the most practice. 

Matt Peiken: You said you've worked really hard at it, so you felt you should and had to get to a happier place in your life?

Yeah. To have that, cultivate that ability? 

Yes. The process of living, aging and such is enhanced greatly by being able to let go. 

What do you think is the key to that? How were you able to to turn onto the other side of that hill?

Don Silver: Life gives you ample opportunities through suffering to experience, the pain of not letting go more easily or willingly. And I've read a lot of great writers and listened to a lot of great talks in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness. I've had some great therapy, most recently in the, what's called ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a remarkably simple and short Modality that you can walk yourself through that gets you closer to that.

Matt Peiken: You said you're working on your new novel. Are you otherwise retired? Are you still working? 

Don Silver: I'm retired from the money making you are. Okay. Yes, so you can focus on your writing now Yeah, but the thing I'm focusing now on is tenor sax 

Matt Peiken: Is that so? Really when did you pick that up?

Don Silver: I picked it up about year and a half ago. 

Matt Peiken: Why the tenor sax of all instruments? A lot of people pick up guitar, maybe piano. I've heard, maybe a cello. I haven't heard of too many people later in life picking up the tenor sax. Had you played wind instruments or horns before?

Don Silver: I played alto sax in the marching band in seventh grade for one semester.

But I wasn't even able to form a sound when I picked it up again. There are a couple of reasons. I've played guitar all my life, starting at 13 or 14, and I got to be okay, and I played the same things over and over again. I never developed a knowledge of the fretboard or a musical theory background.

And then I have since shifted my musical listening to jazz. And I love the sound, the tone, the phrasing of saxophones. And I could never understand jazz solos from a structural point of view, but I aspire to play them. 

Matt Peiken: Do you have an aim to play publicly and go to jazz jam nights around here or? 

Don Silver: I would do that if I was ever good enough.

But right now it's just me and my Writing studio and also it's a nice offset to writing because notes, you put them out in the air and they decay. They have a natural decay and you don't have to review the thing you played yesterday because the air is clear, whereas in writing, and this can be hugely exhausting when you do it as inefficiently as I have, you have to face the thing you wrote yesterday.

Edit or amend it. And I'm really enjoying the aspect of music that frees you from that.

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