Dan Flanigan: An Open Book
By Carin Chea
We are all familiar with the adage, "The eyes are the windows to the soul." But, for flourishing author and novelist, Dan Flanigan, his writings are an intimate glimpse into his bare soul.
Transparent by nature, Flanigan knew at a young age he had an artist's soul that expressed itself through the written word. Though he is a successful lawyer and known by many as "master strategist," Flanigan is also an accomplished literary author, who has penned novels and plays as well as a book of poems.
I had the opportunity to chat with a writer whose content is as honest and raw as a child's heart.
You are a lawyer by trade and training. How did the transition to professional writer come about?
In a way, it's not a transition. It's been in me all the time. I've wanted to be a writer since high school and I feel like I kind of strayed onto the wrong path, although that path has been very good to me. It's always been there.
In the 1980s, I was able to be in a situation for a while where I was able to write a number of things. But then, one thing led to another, and I just gave it up. But, you know, if something's in you like that, it stays in you.
It came roaring back on a sabbatical I took a couple of years ago, and I thought I'd "follow my bliss". I've reached a point in life where there's really no excuse to not give myself more over to it now.
You have a book of stories coming out. Tell us about that.
I currently have three books out or coming out. One is Mink Eyes, which is a serious novel in a detective format. Another is a book of poetry, though some might call it a memoir. This new work (which I'm finalizing right now) is a novella in the center with 2 rather long short stories bracketing it. These were things I initially drafted long ago and returned to more recently.
This new book is called Dewdrops. I'm also a playwright. In the 1980s, I had a staged reading of a play called Dewdrops in New York. It was well received but didn't go anywhere after that. I've reworked the play into a novella that is the centerpiece of the book.
A story called Some Cold War Blues, is the opening story in this collection. Dew Drops, the novella, is in the middle, and then the final story is called On the Last Frontier, which is about a woman in her 60s living alone in Juneau, Alaska.
You also have a book of poetry called Tenebrae. How did this collection of poetry originate?
My wife died in 2011. I started writing this a couple of years later. It goes back, some places, to the history of our relationship, but most of it focuses on her last illness and death. It's not typical in that it's not about the "good death" if you will. It's very much on the mournful side of things.
There are a few other poems in it as well. Many of the poems are verse poems but some are what you are called prose poems.
The funny thing is: My wife and I fought quite a lot of our 45 years together, but I'm building her quite a pedestal now that I know what I'm missing. We were opposites. We fought a lot, but we also didn't fight a lot of the time. It was a passionate relationship all around, a great romance. It's a "sleeper" book because poetry isn't popular.
But I don't think it's obscure poetry. It's in language that people deal with every day. I think it's my best work but will also probably be the least-read.
Your list of talents never ends! Tell me more about your work as a playwright.
That was in the 1980s when I had the time to write these things. I'm a recovering alcoholic who hasn't had a drink for over 35 years. My wife and I are founders of Sierra Tucson, in Tucson, AZ. I had plenty of vision but not enough cash so I had to sell it to keep it alive. It became one of the leading treatment centers in the country.
Having said that, this play is not about conditions in any particular treatment center or treatment centers in general. It's a tragedy that happens to be set in a treatment center, around a counselor and his patients. It's really about the existential struggle of addicts to survive, if you will, to recover and stay recovered, and the things that may keep them from recovering.
Dan, you are so transparent. That is very refreshing.
It's so second nature. I don't think of it that way. That's how I got sober, which was in part about not hiding the truth anymore. Addiction is all throughout everything I write, I can't avoid it.
I'd love to talk about your book Mink Eyes, which is a mystery novel set in 1986. What was the inspiration behind this book?
When I was a young lawyer, I was in Kansas City. One of the main settings in the books is the Missouri Ozarks, which has now become famous because of the TV series [Ozark]. It's for decades been a place where people in Kansas City and St. Louis went on weekends and vacations - lakes and boats and all that. It is largely a rural area with a lot of forest.
I had a case involving a mink farm. I no idea what a mink farm was when I first heard about it. I went down there and investigated it, and it was an investment scheme that went bad. The kernel of that provides the inciting incident of Mink Eyes.
The plot, of course, is very different than my actual experience. It has such an exotic aspect to it, a mink farm -- raising minks to breed in cages and then kill them to pelt them for their fur. Lots of themes in that.
The 80s are very similar to our present time in many ways: Evangelicals, right wing movements, changing gender dynamics, cocaine was the headline drug then, today it's opioids and meth but cocaine is making a comeback.
What is your creative process? How was the process of writing Mink Eyelike?
I've been asked that question before. It's hard for me to give a coherent answer. First of all, I was able to write many of these things back when I had a hiatus and I wasn't practicing law for a while.
The first drafts of these things - not the book about my wife though - were done a long time ago. In fact an early version of Mink Eyes was accepted for publication but the publishing house went bankrupt before I could be published!
When other lawyers are playing or whatever they do on their time off, I do this. And I do it in spurts. I go long periods of time where I can't do anything about it just because the day job is dominating. And, that's one reason why I've decided I'm going to transition into full-time writing.
How did your work as a lawyer inform and create the world you built in Mink Eyes?
Mink Eyes is about investment scams, financial manipulation, and things like that. That's the legal area I have worked in the most, that is I've been a financial and banking lawyer my whole life. There are things that I can make very authentic just because I've lived it and know it.
This book - the core of it - is the relationship between two childhood friends - a lawyer and a private detective. The private detective is a Vietnam veteran who fell into drug addiction after he returned home from the war. The lawyer picks up this private detective "out of the gutter" that he fell into after the war. The private detective is the main protagonist.
It's about kind of a fool, a compassionate fool, like Parsifal in the Arthurian romances. He's someone who has some notions about life that are wrong, and they lead him into the wrong places. It really does follow the Joseph Campbell hero's journey.
It's about someone who goes through some trials and comes out with a different spiritual vision and attitude toward life. And my own struggle with and recovery from alcoholism has elements of that in it. It's about people overcoming the challenges in their lives, including the ones they've created themselves.
Do you think you'll write a book series?
I can't say that I have a great plot in my head, but it'd be good to take these characters through our country's various financial scams all the way from the 80s to the present day.
As a writer, where do you pull your inspiration from?
My troubled childhood probably.
The people I consider inspirations are so "up there," and good, on a plane so far above me that I hate to even mention them. It's Shakespeare, it's Yeats, it's Joyce. It's also Robert Stone and E.L. Doctorow. It's not direct - I don't think I'm writing like those people.
When I was young, I was a huge fan of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald and still am to a large extent.
To keep up to date on Dan Flanigan's latest and upcoming works, please visit DanFlaniganBooks.com
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