The Best of Youth cover
The Best of Youth
by Michael Dahlie

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Michael Dahlie,
Author of The Best of Youth

By Diane Slocum

February, 2013

In Michael Dahlie’s second novel, The Best of Youth, Henry Lang is trying to find his way in life after his parents die and leave him 15 million dollars. Henry is not quite sure how to handle much of anything including his fourth cousin Abby, a million-dollar herd of heirloom goats and some inherited pistols. He does have some success as writer, which brings him into contact with celebrated actor Jonathan Kipling and his young adult novel. Ultimately, Henry has to decide how much he is willing to risk to stand up for what is right.

“. . . putting my own name on such a thing seemed so strange that I came up with the pseudonym “Amanda Pennychurch.””

AUTHORLINK: Without risking your family fortune – have you ever been a ghost writer? Would you have taken on an assignment like Henry’s before you published in your own name?

DAHLIE: I’ve written a few things that others have put their name to, but most were inconspicuous and low-grade and no one was trading on the material, as Jonathan Kipling does in The Best of Youth. My ghost writing work was mostly for young readers and I never felt like the audience had any interest in the author – his fame, future, personality etc. I got into it when a boss at a publishing house where I was a freelancer was short on time and asked if I’d write a “book” for him that he was on deadline for. It was called, “Mandy Moore: A Candy-Coated Scrapbook,” so obviously it was fairly crass and nothing that was going to lead to a write up in the New York Review of Books. After I finished, my boss said I could put my name on it along with his (out of kindness or his own shame, I don’t know) but putting my own name on such a thing seemed so strange that I came up with the pseudonym “Amanda Pennychurch.”

AUTHORLINK: How do you make a story succeed when it is centered on a character who is somewhat nerdy and inept?

DAHLIE: I’m often asked this and my answer is usually a bit of a counter-question, namely, “how does a parent love a child who’s socially inept, or not a good student, or a failure as an athlete?” To any decent parent, the question makes no sense – you love your kid desperately in spite of all, and I think that kind of love is what I’m trying to get my readers to feel for Henry in The Best of Youth. He’s quite lost in the world but I feel I love him, and I work hard to make the reader love him like I do.

“I’d say that the narrator of the story, even though it’s in third person, works a little like a character as well . . .”

AUTHORLINK: The story often uses narrative. Why is this a good choice for this story?

DAHLIE: If you’re referring to my long authorial reflection and description (minus dialog and so-called action) I’d say that the narrator of the story, even though it’s in third person, works a little like a character as well – a character that’s not me, that is. I think this lets me get away with longer passages since it works a little like dialog as well. It’s a third person novel but it might as well be a long first-person monolog, although the story teller doesn’t play a role in the story.

AUTHORLINK: Not to sound a bit like Kipling – but do you have a special fondness for parenthesis? Does this technique serve a particular purpose?

DAHLIE: Parenthesis helps manage rhythm, but also, on a more technical and philosophical level, I think it captures the difficulty of ever really getting to the thing you’re trying to say. My narrators, again, even in third person, back track, stumble, and qualify their statements all the time – parenthesis is part of this.

“I’m a little calmer and more fatalistic now because I realize how much is out of my hands once the final version is printed.”

AUTHORLINK: How did writing and publishing your second novel differ from the first? Did you have any doubts about being able to publish a second?

DAHLIE: I’m a little calmer and more fatalistic now because I realize how much is out of my hands once the final version is printed. I’m still doing as much as I can to help the book along, but novels really lead lives of their own. I remember the first review I got for my debut novel, A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living: It was from Kirkuk and was something along the lines of “This is the worst book ever published.” I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a negative review. The next reviews were entirely different, but didn’t come along for a while after that. And the book didn’t win the PEN/Hemingway till nearly a year had passed. Anyway, those weeks after the Kirkus review were really grim – I’m not sure who wrote the review, but what I wonder most is why a reviewer would be so casual and cruel regarding something that clearly involves so many years of labor and care. I’m not sure the world of literature benefits from that sort of short, ugly notice. Anyway, that’s a different matter I suppose (although clearly it does still bother me), but the point is that I no longer have such an intense desire to shoot myself when someone takes issue with my work since the process unfolds slowly and there are many voices chiming in.

AUTHORLINK: What advice do you have for writers trying to sell their first or second novel?

DAHLIE: There are many accounts of writers making big sales on short excerpts or rough drafts of novels – the diamonds in the rough, as they say. This happens and some of the work ends up being very good. But this is very rare. In my opinion, the best thing a writer can do is hide out, live cheap, and work as hard as they can until they’ve completed something they feel is finished and great. It will still go through editing, but the chances of catching an editor’s eye in the first place are much higher and the final editorial process will be much smoother.

About Michael Dahlie:

Dahlie is the Booth-Tarkington Writer in Residence at Butler University in Indianapolis and is currently finishing up his next novel which he is not ready to describe

Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.