D.S. Davis envisions The Storyteller Project as “the people’s publication” – one that captures
what it’s like to live in the mainstream, in the margins, and on the fringes of society today.
“I hope that I’m doing people justice and that in reading this, people become a little more aware of what life is like outside of their own,” he says.
The Storyteller Project releases only 4 short months after Scream at the Mirror, a short and eclectic look at American life in the 21 st century, outlining day-to-day banalities and hardships faced by people of various lifestyles.
“Essentially all of my writing comes back to the same point, I’m writing about the people I meet, read about, and listen to music from,” Davis says. “It’s hard to have conversations with folks, to read about them, to hear their stories and not find a few similar strains that seem to flow through us all. That’s the easy part of writing; you just listen and the characters create
themselves. Then it’s all about polishing up the music in your prose, which more or less is a
talent thing; it comes naturally through practice.”
From the start, Davis intended Scream at the Mirror to include something for everyone. Like
most of the collection, the book’s dedication “For the deformed, and the paralyzingly beautiful”, conveys a personal yet relatable point of view; “the dedication is just a poetic way of saying ‘for everyone.” Davis says. In the early days, Davis played the role of frustrated adolescent and early-adult, one portrayed in numerous stories about vanity, privilege, religious dogma, and depression throughout the collection.
“I’m from a place where people have more money than they know what to do with and are
completely miserable. Almost every kid I went to high school with is a product of divorce, and the vast majority of them have never quite processed that; they just covered it up with money. When you have vast amounts of material wealth but don’t have the moral compass to steward it correctly, that’s a recipe for disaster.” Davis goes on about his home town. “I grew up in a place built on systems; financial, religious, social. You worked hard at school, you believed or pretended to believe in God, you went to college, and you made money. All of these systems are fantastic in generating a comfortable and “successful” life for the people who follow them, but they seemed, to me at least, to leave a little much to be desired in terms of the soul.”
Davis grew up in the suburban East Lake community of Tarpon Springs, Florida, his father, a
long-time firefighter and a mother who worked as a nurse. As a boy, he was a committed athlete and devoutly religious follower of the Roman Catholic Church. He absorbed prose and poetry through music early on, devouring country music, punk rock, and mid-90s Hip-Hop as a form of escape for an introverted football captain who more-or-less wanted to be left alone.
After ending a short-lived stint as a low-division college football player, Davis found identity in his schoolwork, learning that he rather enjoyed writing stories, a hobby sparked by a first-year writing assignment.
“I just sort of wrote a short story for class and remember thinking, wow that was enjoyable, I
really got something out of that. It was an odd time for me, football was over, my parents were mid-divorce, I was at a college that quite literally ruined organized religion for me. I found I could write about these things and felt like I wasn’t half-bad at doing so.”
Scream at the Mirror recalls many of these experiences. The first story of the project, “Rogue Sunday,” was written about Davis’s early questioning of the idea of God and his faith in general. “The Prospect” came to life after a long and frustrating process for he and many of his friends during the college recruiting process. “I just think we ruin a lot of good kids by making them out to be gods before they’re ready.” He recalls. “I was a low-level guy of minimal talent and ability, good enough to play in college but nothing beyond that, but I had friends who were big-time prospects being called racial slurs on Twitter for not choosing certain schools. I just don’t think college athletics was ever intended to be that sinister.” On the other hand, “Tallahassee by Tuesday” shines a light on the fun side of the college years, a tale of friendship and lighthearted intoxication. “The story is about the benefit of friendship.” says Davis. “It’s about taking a break from taking yourself too seriously and just being around people whom you don’t have to compete with."
"If there’s one thing I really have going for me it’s the people I have in my corner,” he says. “Not everyone gets that. I think a lot of people in the ‘literary’ world are writing to try and be clever or impressive and I guess that’s just not for me. I’d rather write about what I know and what I want to know, it’s just sort of a way of thinking for me, a way to sort out my own bullshit. Whether I sell 1 copy or 1 million I know I have friends that will still get a beer with me either way.”
Before Scream at the Mirror, Davis published his debut novel Storyteller almost on a whim. “I essentially began writing it at 19 and by 23 had something resembling a full manuscript. A good friend at the time told me that if I didn’t publish it then she would, so I went ahead and self-published not thinking anything of it. The response was cool, people could relate to the story or could tell me of someone it reminded them of. That’s all I really want out of this I guess.” Davis continued about the book. “It’s a story that a marginally-talented 19-year-old tried to write about an ultra-talented 30-something, I don’t know if I did that situation any justice but it was an idea that consumed me at the time so I don’t regret publishing it.”
Meanwhile, due to a lack of funding to properly advertise Storyteller, Davis began gathering old stories to couple with new works, hoping to string together a cohesive collection that would resemble something of a fractured narrative. As he explains, “I looked at this more like I would look at a concept-album in music. There were old stories I’d written over time that I felt I could weave into new ones and still hold true to a common theme. It was sort of like combining old friends with new in a way.” However, he explains, some stories within the set are meant to stand out, deviating slightly from the concept. Sister-stories “Monster” and “Luna” are written as advice to his future children. “They’re love letters to the kids I hope to have. I want them to have something from their dad that tells them you don’t have to be one thing all the time, that it’s okay to be made up of a million different parts.”
The work’s final story, “Robert” is a heartbreaking allusion to the popular character from
Storyteller bearing the story's name. The character is majorly based on his grandfather, Robert Davis, who has always played a significant mythical role in Davis’s life.
“We lost Pop when I was like 12, not really old enough to know him as he really was. He was a big-hearted guy with a lot of demons I didn’t really see as a kid, I only saw the love and care he had for his family. The character Robert is a way for me to have a conversation with him, to sort of bring him back to me to hang out for a while. I never got to have a beer with him but I get to through my work.”
Along with his work on The Storyteller Project, Davis also continues to work on various novels, of which he hopes to finish in the coming years. “Hopefully they’ll get done.” He says. “I don’t know, I think they’re all decent concepts to explore, but I only have so much control over where they’ll go or how complete they’ll turn out. I don’t know where I’m going with all this, but it’s not something I think I’ll ever put down completely.”