Dan Maurer is an independent author, publisher, theater producer, director, and digital marketer. He is also a proud member of International Thriller Writers, Inc. and the Horror Writers Association. Throughout his career in publishing and marketing, he has been involved in the publication of bestselling titles such as John Grisham’sThe Firm, Richard Price’s Clockers, and Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger’s Lost Moon, which became the film Apollo 13. As a digital marker, he has supported popular publishing brands including Curious George, Peterson Field Guides, and The Polar Express. He has also developed marketing strategies for many corporations, including Citizen, Dun & Bradstreet, RCN and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Dan is a member of an acclaimed New Jersey-based theater company and has won awards for his producing, directing and sound design. He lives with his wife and their daughter in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
Could you please tell us a little about your book?
In my thriller, Snow Day, Billy Stone, a middle-aged father of two sons, has been haunted for decades by nightmares that only come when a blizzard is brewing the evening before a school day. In his personal recollection, written at the suggestion of his doctor, he takes us back to 1975 and that one unforgettable snow day from his childhood that gave birth to his dark dreams. On the surface, it’s a story about how one wrong act, or the failure to act, can have life long consequences. But it’s more than that. It’s also an examination of what many adults like to think of as “the good old days.” We adults often look back at the world as it was then with fondness, and wistful feelings of nostalgia. But when we consider the good old days closely, we come to understand that they were no better, and no more safe for children, than today.
What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?
While on the surface Snow Day is a thriller with horror elements that sometimes get dark and frightful, beneath the surface it’s really about a time and a place and the kinds of people and situations that readers can related to on an emotional level. Readers have told me that while the genre elements are fun and exciting, it’s the characters, particularly the narrator and his situation, that gives them something to think about. And how many thrillers have you read that you can say are (as one customer review put it) “...disturbing, enthralling and ultimately poignant.” This isn’t your typical tale of terror. It offers a little something more.
What inspired you to write Snow Day?
As the father of a teenage daughter, I’m often amazed at the differences between how we raise and supervise children today compared to when I was young. As kids, we always had freedom to roam and play and explore, while today every moment of a young child’s life is scheduled, managed and supervised to keep them safe. It always felt like two different worlds to me, but of course, that wasn’t the case. They had a lot in common, and it was usually the bad stuff. One night, while having dinner with a childhood friend, my buddy said: “We had an idyllic childhood, didn’t we?” I had to agree with him, but only because we were among the lucky ones. In Snow Day, I set out to explore just what kind of childhood we had, and what might have happened if we weren’t so lucky.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I think novelists, filmmakers and theater directors all have the same reaction when they look at their finished work. They always see things they could do better. But they all instinctively know when it’s time to let go and allow the piece stand on its own, warts and all. There are certainly a few lines here or there in Snow Day that I would like to polish a little more, but on the whole, I’m happy to let the piece stand as it is.
What books have influenced your life the most?
Hmmm.... There are so many, but I guess if I had to narrow it down to a manageable number, I would start with The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. I know, it’s not a masterpiece. In fact, what was published as a true story of supernatural horror turned out to be a hoax. But it was the first real adult work of fiction that I read while growing up, and it terrified me. It was like a horrific rollercoaster ride, one that I was eager to hop on for a second and third ride. I never knew a book could do that to me. Although it wasn’t the only factor, that book did find me around the time that I first began to think about becoming a writer. Another influential book for me has to be Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Hands down, I think it’s one of the most honest and beautifully written works of modern fiction. I was instantly amazed and awed by how Lee used expertly crafted language to illuminate characters and deliver meaning without overburdening the story. Her words spoke truth, they were beautiful and they came to life on the page. Mockingbird is probably the reason why today, when I read a novel, the writer’s narrative voice will engage me more fully then any twist of a plot. If the writer has a weak or sterile narrative voice, he doesn’t have me as a reader. I’ve become picky that way thanks to Lee. And a third book that influenced me is Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. Part memoir, part how-to book about writing, I was struck by how King has mined his own life experiences in creative ways. It is also where I discovered King’s philosophy that stories are best when they are found things, when the writer discovers the story as he or she it writing it. It is an approach that I’ve adopted, and which works for me.
You’ve told us about the books that influenced you, can you also tell us about the people who have influenced your writing?
Several people have influenced my writing along the way. Among them have been Bill Hallberg, my college fiction writing teacher and the author of one of my favorite novels, The Rub of the Green. I fell in love with his writing style and his narrative voice. And while I don’t think I could ever emulate it, he gave me encouragement and set me on a path to developing my own voice as a writer. Later, there was also my experience working side-by-side with book editors like David Gernert at Doubleday (now John Grisham’s agent), and John Sterling (Richard Price and David Simon’s Editor) at Houghton Mifflin. Their editorial sensibilities opened my eyes to a variety and quality of fiction and nonfiction that I didn’t truly appreciate until I worked with them. And of course, there is the work of Stephen King. In addition to his engaging narrative voice, he writes with a level of honesty, of truthfulness, that most authors working in the genre don’t approach. I think all of these men – some I’ve known personally, some only through their – taught me the same thing about writing. Whether you’re writing about golfers, lawyers, crack dealers, or ghosts, make sure you’re telling honest stories about people, real people, in an honest way. That’s what I’ve tried to do with Snow Day.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author, and what has been the best compliment you’ve received?
I’m very lucky in that I don’t feel the work has been criticized in any significant way, not yet anyway. Snow Day has receive over 50 reviews from readers and book bloggers and the reaction has been extremely positive. I suppose the best compliment I’ve heard is that people are eager to read my next work. That’s always a great feeling.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on several projects at the moment. I’m writing a novel called How Does Your Garden Grow. It’s a horror thriller that weaves three storylines together, that of a fragile teenage girl, left adrift since the sudden death of her closest friend; a disgraced police detective, shattered by the loss of his daughter and the disintegration of his marriage; and a retired school teacher whose walled garden hides not only a bitter heart, but the dark secret that makes her garden grow. I’m having a lot of fun working with this one. It is set in the same world as Snow Day and is kind of a cross between Wes Craven, Agatha Christie and Stephen King. How Does Your Garden Grow should be finished by early next year. An early peek at the work in progress is available on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/5181008-how-does-your-garden-grow). I’m also co-writing a screenplay for a WWI epic, and I’m co-producing two musicals for the upcoming theater season.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
To borrow a phrase from the Nike ads, just do it. Don’t concern yourself with what people think about your writing, or if it will sell or not. Just write. If you are being true to your characters and infusing your story with honesty, than you are headed in the right direction.