Max Davine grew up in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs, with the first ten years lived in a house which also accommodated his parents, sister, uncle and grandparents (mother’s side). Davine was always fascinated by the different stories three generations of his Hungarian born family, as well as those of his cousins and family scattered across Europe after the war. Often falling behind in school due to drifting off into the worlds in his mind painted by their fascinating stories, Davine took to his high-school musical productions as a way of mending his shaky academic reputation. Acting and writing became his number one pursuit in the years after.
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Q&A With Max Davine
Q: What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
A: Can’t reach the whisky from there. No, I guess I just want to see where this thing goes. I believe everything that exists does so because it has to, because there’s some purpose to it, including me. Sometimes it seems as though that purpose is to wander through an endless, starless night of loneliness, like the hunchback only able to observe the beauty of life and never really touch it, but as long as that goes on I let it in form my work, because pain’s going to be there anyway so it might as well be put to use, that makes me happy no matter what, the fact that I can take the punches life throws and turn them into stories, making wine of tears you might say. But having said that it isn’t really true at the end of the day because I have amazing friends, people who do listen to me, even though they might not get or understand what’s tearing me up, they listen and let me get it off my chest, and it’s absolutely no hassle or harm to me, in fact it’s an honor, that they can do the same with me, and I can be entrusted to help them feel better when they’re down. I’m not the kind of person who gets close to a lot of people, I have a lot of people I call ‘friend’ but they don’t really know me. I have a handful of really close friends, some I’ve known for decades, others just a few years, it doesn’t matter the time that passes, I don’t think, I feel exactly as happy and comfortable with any one or all of them, and I know they feel the same around me, that’s hugely important, and I think that connection happens almost immediately with people. I can remember the exact moment I met each and every one of them. I wear my heart and my personality on my sleeve, I’m always me, so it takes special people to get close to that, if they do I will give them my heart on a platter. We’re getting personal now…
Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
A: Well, that’s funny because whatever I’m doing I’m open to inspiration. A lot of authors seem paranoid that one day they’re going to wake up and not be able to think of anything to write, and yes that is a nightmare scenario and it does scare me, but in reality we’re not so much dreaming up ideas and opening ourselves to inspiration. It’s like finding love, if you’re being cerebral about it, and hearing that clock ticking away in the back of your mind, you’ll either fail or wind up in a loveless relationship; even if someone falls for you, you won’t be open to them because you’re overthinking it. That’s inspiration, leaving yourself open to it. I have the same philosophy about love; no matter how many times you get burned or the feelings you have for someone are not mutual you have to leave yourself open to it because otherwise you’ll live your life thinking love instead of feeling it. That’s how teenagers end up dating such idiots all the time. They’re thinking love, but they aren’t feeling it because they haven’t learned to love themselves yet. Same works for inspiration; you’ll have bad ideas, I’ve written some Godawful shite, looking back over it, there’s some work in there that you’d never think an author wrote, but it came from a place of inspiration and even though it burned me, I stayed open to it because when the lights did come on for real it was worth all the difficulty. Also there are small things about the stuff that didn’t work that is worth hanging on to. Remember about everything you lose; you loved it once, it’s always worth trying to remember what made you love it, and even though it all went bad for you, you still got to experience love, and that means you owe something in return. So to answer the question, what am I doing? I love the ocean. I love the surf, but I love it flat as well. I have discovered a totem in sharks, but anything really. Especially if it’s in the wild; I was in once off near Cape Shank in a swarming mass of stingrays, they were just beautiful. I’ve come across huge crabs, lots of dolphins, tons of fish and once I even turned around to see a massive whale just slowly coasting by me, that was off Sorrento. But I’m also a fan of the art gallery, walking around the city, either Melbourne or Geelong which is where I live now, going to the movies…I’m used to love the pub but not so much anymore. There’s too many fucking dickheads in the world. It’s too unlikely that I’ll be able to have a conversation with anyone. I spend weekends hanging out with my nephew, Christopher…actually if I had to sum it up the thing I spend the most time doing when not writing is reading.
Q: When did you first start writing?
A: Couldn’t tell you. I have no idea. I know I read Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio when I was very young and was traumatized. That was fun. But I’d already been writing stuff by then, kid stuff of course but all part of the road to wherever I’m going. Whatever it was, I know it was about dinosaurs, so Dino-Hunt owes a lot to it. Yeah, I’m sure there was some dinosaur thing way back when I was very little, and I had this deck of cards with beautiful paintings of dinosaurs on them, I still have them, and on the back was a whole lot of information and statistics about them that was hideously innacurate but…that’s the first time I ever researched for a story. So there! I’ve always been a nerd! I should never have tried to deny it, that was a big mistake, that really derailed my life in a lot of ways, not like I ever tried to be cool but I tried to adopt different character traits and stuff that made me not a nerd. I was never going to fit in though, no matter what I did. Damn it, I never wanted to. All part of learning.
Q: What’s the story behind your latest book?
A: Got a few in the pipeline, bro. There’s The Red Legion, which is the sequel to Angel Valence, and this time she’s off to Mexico to take on a faction of German-financed Fascists cropping up around Veracruz, after they kidnap her daughter. There was actually a Mexican fascist political group that existed at the time, for about fifteen years after the Cristero War, but they were called the Redshirts, and go by that name in the story. I wanted to raise the stakes; in New York, fighting gangsters, Ineke’s got the police on her side, and the crooks have to live a double-life as well, otherwise they’ll be caught. When it’s a government, they can get away with anything; it’s all out in the open, their power has no limits. It really intensified the story, I think, it’s much darker than the first one. Off The Map is another, one which I’ve had to play with for many, many years so it was actually hard to submit because I knew that would be the last time. I grew up with it there to revisit and tweak, an old-school adventure but with the sex tables turned. It’s got all the workings of a romance; period setting (1873), Europe, girl from the gutter, boy from society, and a situation which drives the lovers apart, only this time it’s the girl who has to come to the rescue. I wanted to really focus on empowering women in the roles they play in stories; I’m never happy when I read a book and a woman is described by what she looks like or what she’s wearing. That sucks, unless it’s done for the men too, or if it’s apporpriate, as in if they’re like a model and nothing else to offer but their looks. Chanel Aubry, of Off The Map, is beautiful but gets terribly scarred on her face early on; I wanted her to be more valuable than the sum of her parts. She’s a talented swordfighter, an intelligent girl whose seen the worst in people. Most important, she’s not a ‘type’. I find a lot of women in stories are types; if they cary a gun they’re a tomboy, if, God forbid, they enjoy sex then they’re a femme fatale or a tramp. The most important thing to me was to make Chanel both a hero and a human, who happens to be a woman.
Forget Me Not is one I’m really excited about! Yes! A playbook, it’s set out in the format of a stageplay, but I wrote it so it could be enjoyed by anyone just to read; adding a little flair and prose to stage directions and so on. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story and I can say that because my co-writer, who shares credit with me, was absolutely vital to it. I won’t say who came up with what or who did what, no parents sit down with their kid and go, “right, so the eyes are mine, so I’ll write my name on them” or “he has my feet, I’m going to tatoo my face right here”. I’ll only say that, once we decided on a story, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think about anything else until it was done. It was insane, it possessed me, so I’m really looking forward to what the audience thinks. It’s really never happened to me like that before or since.
Then we have Dino-Hunt. I had a feeling that if we got talking about other works, no matter what I said, Dino-Hunt would surpass the others by way of expectation, because it’s dinosaurs. I feel like a name-dropper just saying I’ve got dinosaurs. So I might as well go into what the actual story is a little bit, huh? Is that what we’re getting at here? It starts off as kind of two stories, because I knew that if I only focused on the human characters it would be far too long before we got to see and hang out with the dinosaurs (ting!) and both of them slowly come together as the pieces of the story add up. On the one hand we have a baby Tyrannosaurus whose mother is killed by hunters who seem to have traveled back in time to the end of the Cretacious period. On the other we have a series of vaguely connected stories set on modern-day Earth; a US commodities giant has been purchasing massive amounts of equipment for mining, and workers have been returning severely mutilated, a rich old lady has been signing cheques to seemingly very different specialists to send them on a mission to save ‘endangered species’. That’s where our heroes come in: two cowboys, a paleontologist, a chopper pilot and a field equipment engineer eventually find out that they’re being sent to an alternate dimension which has become frozen in the Mesozoic Era, and their job is to stop the commodities corporation from pillaging and destroying the world, saving as many dinosaurs as they can along the way. As the novel progresses we follow both the humans and the T-Rex alternately until they finally come together in a really cool climax, I think. The key for me was the human characters; they’re going to struggle for their place on the stage because, that’s right, we’ve got dinosaurs. I really needed some powerful inspiration when it came to my heroes, and I was very careful, nurturing you might say, on how I brought them to the page.
Q: What motivated you to become an author?
A: Storytelling. Pure and simple. It’s telling stories. We’re not owed anything in our lives, regardless of the circumstances we’re born under. It’s our job to go out there and find ways that we can give something back for things, however bad or unwanted, life gives us. I have my collection of things going on inside me, I’ll come across many thousands more before I die. All of us will. It’s up to us what we make of them, and how. The way I see it, all the joys, all the sorrows, all the happy moments and crushing defeats, are things we’ve been given by the universe, they all have to go back to the universe in some way, in form of what we do with them. If we don’t give them back, then they’re wasted. If we make something negative, or more negative if that’s the case, then that is what we shall receive forever, but if we can make something positive and give it back, then I think we’re getting to be on the right track. For me, I’m so blessed that I can give stories back, in the form of novels. That’s my gift in return for everything. A kiss for a kiss and a kiss for the punch in the mouth. I love it.
Q; What are you working on next?
A: Next there will be a third Angel, called Hannah’s Angels, which is awesome, I have a draft and I’m digging it. Ineke Valence sort of becomes part of an ensemble, I realized I’d have to do that. There’s also a real big one I’ve been working on for about eleven years now. It’s not as old as Off The Map but it’s definitely bigger. A true epic. I really wanted to contribute something sprawling, something worthy. It’s a satire, it’s a war story, it’s a romance, it’s complicated, it’s a brick. It’s a little while off yet.