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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Interview with Daniel Abraham

Official Daniel Abraham Website
Pre-Order “A Betrayal In WinterHERE

For me, one of the more pleasant surprises and enjoyable reads of 2006 was the debut of Daniel Abraham’sA Shadow In Summer”. While many readers, myself included, were probably turned on to Mr. Abraham by the George R. R. Martin recommendation, by no means was the book A Song Of Ice & Fire clone. On the contrary, Daniel Abraham possesses his own unique style and with volume II of the Long Price Quartet set for release this summer, I thought it prudent to do a little interview to hopefully shed some light on an up-and-coming writer that deserves to be read:

Q: Your first novel “A Shadow In Summer” was published in March 2006, just a little over a year ago. Can you tell us what kind of experiences you went through in finding a publisher?

Daniel: Most of it was actually making my agent reassure me. There wasn’t a lot that I could do apart from wait. We sent the book out to five different publishers, and as the rejections started rolling in, I was feeling pretty sure I was sunk. Shawna didn’t worry about it much, though. I think she had more faith in the book than I did at that point.

Q: How did you feel when the book was finally on the shelves?

Daniel: It was weirdly anti-climactic. I mean here was this thing I’ve been working toward for almost as long as I can remember. But by the time it actually hit the shelves, I was already working n the third book in the series. Seeing the first one felt a little like seeing someone I used to know. It was gratifying and I was very pleased, but I was also thinking about this other, newer, nifty thing. When it hit the shelves, that meant it was over with.

Q: Now that you have a little time to reflect on it, what are your overall thoughts on how “A Shadow In Summer” turned out? Would you change anything if you had the chance?

Daniel: I’m pleased with the book, but there is a point I would have made clearer. It’s a common problem. I know what happened in the story: everyone’s motives, everyone’s schemes and hopes and plans. And sometimes I think I’ve made something clear that’s actually pretty obscure. I did that in “A Shadow In Summer.” When I started reading the reviews on Amazon, people kept coming back to this problem with the plot, and it was incredibly frustrating, because I knew the answer, and I thought I’d made it clear in the book. But I didn’t. And if it’s not on the page, it’s just plain not on the page. I’ll do better next time.

Q: “A Shadow In Summer” got a glowing blurb from George R. R. Martin who claims you as a “good friend and sometime collaborator.” Can you tell us how this friendship came about, what you’ve learned from Mr. Martin, and the projects that you’ve worked on together?

Daniel: I met George before I went to Clarion West. I did some volunteer work with the Nebula award weekend when it was in Santa Fe. Then, when I went to Clarion West, George was one of my instructors. He liked my work. We live about an hour from each other, and when I got back and got into a writer’s workshop, we wound up with a bunch of friends in common. We both played in Walter Jon Williams’s role playing campaign set in ancient Rome…we went to the same parties. And I guess he still liked what I was doing, because he invited me in on some projects.

As far as the craft, George is one of the best writers there is for creating a totally compelling, immersive scene. When I first read “A Game of Thrones”, the thing that blew my mind was that I’d just spent something like 800 pages totally in the moment the whole time. That’s a superpower. Writers can’t do that, but he does. I hope I’ve gotten a little better at it by watching him.

And projects we’ve worked on together. Let me think about that. We collaborated with Gardner Dozois on a novella called “Shadow Twin”, and then expanded that out to a novel called “Hunter’s Run” that’s coming out in January of ’08. I’m part of his (GRRM) Wild Cards project that’s also started back up, and I’ve adapted some of his work into comic book scripts.

Q: “A Shadow In Summer” is a very character-driven world. How much do you draw from your own experiences when creating your characters? Is there a favorite character and why?

Daniel: Well, I pull from my own experiences in creating characters all the time, because that’s really all I have to draw from. I want to make them plausible and recognizable, and the only way I can do that is take what I think people are like – myself included – and go from there.

My favorite character, though, is Seedless. I have a real fondness for my villains, and he has a combination of ruthlessness, hatred, compassion, and sorrow that I spark to.

Q: What about the world itself, the different cultures and magic system that populates the “Long Price Quartet”. Where did the inspiration come from in creating this unique world?

Daniel: Well, there were two things, really. One of them is pretty straightforward. I got tired of fantasy that smelled like Europe. Kings, knights, barons, dukes. So the decision to use different window dressings was pretty easy.

The other thing was the magic system. That actually started with a friend of mine, many years ago, running a role playing game in which people’s names were all ideas. The one I use in the books is Water-Moving-Down. The character wasn’t named with those words, but that idea, so you could identify him by pouring out a cup of water. That sat in the back of my head for maybe a decade, and then cross-pollinated with some research I was doing on Cabbala for another project. I wound up with this idea of elemental beings, but instead of wrapping them around, y’know, elements, I’d put them around abstract ideas. If the elemental isn’t fire, but the idea of fire, you wind up with this incredible diversity of supernatural beasties capable of interesting things. Not just Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but Three-Bound-as-One (called Trinity or Braided) and Water-Moving-Down (called Rain or Seaward) and on and on like that.

Q: The second volume in the “Long Price Quartet” series is due for release this August. What can readers expect with “A Betrayal In Winter”.

Daniel: Well, hopefully they aren’t expecting to pick up three minutes after the end of “A Shadow In Summer”. There’s a pretty big jump in time between each book in the series, and things have happened in between that we’ll refer to, but never particularly see dramatized. So the characters are going to be slightly different people than the ones we knew in the first book, in a different situation. Winter is another near stand-alone novel that fits into this larger frame. Hopefully you could pick it up without seeing the first book, “A Shadow In Summer”, as a prequel, and have the whole thing work just fine.

A Betrayal in Winter” is, I think, a slightly better book.

Q: Originally the second book was titled “Winter Cities”. Why the name change?

Daniel: Well, it turned out we were only spending time in one of the Winter Cities, and my editor over at Tor thought it might be better to keep the titles of the books a little more self-similar. So marketing. The name change was for marketing.

Q: On your website you have four volumes listed for the “Long Price Quartet” series. How do these books fit together? Will they conclude the story that you started in “A Shadow Of Summer?” Or, will we see the series continue after the fourth volume or do you have plans for something different?

Daniel: The Long Price books are a single story arc, and they end. I think it’s an interesting world, and there are going to be places in it that I haven’t explored, so there may be other books set in other parts of the world and in other historical epochs, but this story ends.

It’s risky ending something, because a lot of people follow the series more than the writer. Look at what happened to Stephen Donaldson. When he went from the Thomas Covenant books, he lost a lot of folks even when he was only shifting over to a different fantasy universe. The really long-lived fantasy writers have found a way to interleave different stories in the same world. Look at Robin Hobb and Terry Pratchett. So I may well follow their lead.

And there are other novels that I have brewing in the back of my head that aren’t really suited all that well to the particular world. So I may try a couple other universes too…

Q: Before your first novel was published you started out writing short fiction, which appeared in the “Vanishing Acts”, “Bones of the World”, and “The Dark” anthologies, among others. How did this experience help you in preparing for the novel? How different is it writing short fiction opposed to a series?

Daniel: The nice thing about short fiction is that you can fail quickly. Short stories are great for working on a lot of points of craft – dialog, descriptions, tone, narrative voice. Stuff like that. It’s not so good for figuring out structure, because a lot of the structural tricks that work well at 7000 words feel ponderous and unsatisfying at 70,000. You have to actually write novels to learn that part.

The biggest difference I’ve found in writing longer work is that I can’t hold the whole thing in my mind at once. In a short story, there are maybe ten or fifteen scenes, and I can usually keep in mind how they all fit together and support one another. The Long Price books are going to wind up at about the same word count as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. My head just isn’t that big. So I wind up looking back at what I’ve done to remind myself where I am and how I got here. And fortunately, the back of my head is really good about leaving clues even in the earliest parts that relate to where the whole thing ends. It’s a lot more about faith in my ability, and a lot less about being a control freak.

Q: Do you have any plans for returning to short fiction and can you share them?

Daniel: As a matter of fact, I have some short fiction coming out. I’ve never really stopped, so much as got distracted. I have a story in the new Wild Cards book coming out in January of 2008, and a novelette I’m particularly fond of in John Klima’s "Logorrhea" anthology coming out in May.

Q: How do you think you’ve improved as a writer from your earliest works? Anything else you want to improve upon?

Daniel: Good God. I think I’m occasionally publishable, for one thing. No, I’m a *lot* better than I used to be, and the stories I’m doing now are, I think, better crafted than the ones I first had published. But you have to remember, there were over fifteen years of genuinely wretched crap that I wrote and never published for good damn reason. If you look at the first things I ever did – and may it please the holder-uppers that no one ever does – it’s awful stuff.

And yes, there are a lot of things I want to get better at. Right now, I’m really fascinated by information control. There are ways to take the reader through a story so that they figure things out just when you want them to. That’s the real strength of the Harry Potter books, for instance. I want to be able to do that. And I also aspire to be hard to put down. I’m learning some of the structural and technical tricks that help with that too, apart from the ubiquitous “write interesting stories.”

Writing is an impossibly large thing. I hope to be learning how to do it better until I die.

Q: In today’s climate there’s a lot of cross-pollination between different mediums: literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. Regarding your works, has there been interest or anything optioned for adaptation, and if so, can you give us some details?

Daniel: My works, not so much. The Long Price books would be pretty hard to put into another medium, partly because I’m using a lot of physical language that would look pretty silly on screen or in a comic book. I have had a short story podcast, but that was hardly an adaptation so much as a good dramatic reading.

I have gotten a couple gigs translating work from prose into comic book scripts, though. George’s novel “Fevre Dream” and his novella “Skin Trade” are both in the pipe over at Avatar Press with scripts I’ve done.

Q: Staying on this subject, let’s fantasize for a bit. What would be your dream adaptation?

Daniel: Hard call. There are a few stories I’ve done that might make good movies, but I probably wouldn’t want to sit through them. “Leviathan Wept” and “Flat Diane” were both pretty filmable, but damned unpleasant.

Actually, the one that would, I think, be the most fun is a story from Realms of Fantasy – the one that got Shawna McCarthy interested in being my agent. It was called “As Sweet”, and it was my final comment on Romeo and Juliet. The directors I most admire are Steven Soderberg and Christopher Nolan, and I would write any story necessary to cast David Bowie, Christopher Walken and Kate Winslett. Especially Kate Winslett. I admire quite a few beautiful women for their beauty, but only a few for their sanity and courage.

Q: One last question in this area. Beside the comic book scripts you mentioned, any plans at writing something different like movie scripts, television or videogames?

Daniel: Well, apart from the adaptations I talked about before, I’m signed up right now for a six-issue comic book through the Dabel Brothers and Marvel. It’s an original story set in the Wild Cards universe. My hope is that I’ll get enough credit in that field that I can pitch a story that I have in mind as a graphic novel. It’s one of those ideas that’s powerfully visual, and wouldn’t work as well in just prose. So yes, I have a cunning plan. . .

Q: You've mentioned George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards project a few times. For those that may not know, can you give us some info on what exactly the Wild Cards project is and what kind of story your contributing to the upcoming book & comic adaptation?

Daniel: The Wild Cards book is a series of shared world super hero books that date back to the 80s. George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass edit the series, and it's had stories by a whole host of folks. Howard Waldrop, Walter Jon Williams, Vic Milan, and probably over a dozen other folks. The eighteenth volume of the series is kind of a reset. New writers, new characters, no previous knowledge of the world required, and that's coming out from Tor next January. There's actually a sample up at George's website. You can check out HERE.

The comic book is actually a spin off. It's set in the same shared world, and it uses some of the classic characters, but it's a different,stand-alone story. It's not an adaptation of any of the old stories that have been published. I'm hoping that there will be a line of these from a bunch of the Wild Card writers. Mine's just the first. Kind of like sending the new kid out to see if the prototype airplane will actually fly.

Q: You won the “International Horror Writers Association” award for “Best Short Fiction” for your story "Flat Diane." How did you feel about winning this award? If you had to choose between being an award-winner and a NY Times bestseller, which would it be and why?

Daniel: It was great to be given the IHG award. Really delightful. And I’ve been nominated for the Nebula and the Crawford awards, which was also pretty gratifying. Given the choice, though, I’d take the NY Times bestseller. There’s more money in it. And I wouldn’t want to write something I didn’t have fun with to achieve either.

Q: Are there any preconceived notions that you’d like to dispel about being an author?

Daniel: The one that comes to mind is that it’s a good job. It can be amazingly fun, but every author I know – all of them, including the award-winners and NYT bestsellers – are insecure and afraid that they’ll be shown up as untalented frauds. Short on money and certain that you are at heart a failure is the standard fiscal and psychological state for this profession. Get into it for the dinner conversations, or don’t do it.

Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Daniel: Fifth grade was the first evidence of the writing part. But I’d play pretend games with my mother when I was younger than that. So pretty much out of the womb.

Q: What are some of your influences?

Daniel: Dorothy Sayers, Enrique Anderson Imbert, David Eddings, Dorothy Dunnett, Josephine Tey, Jonathan Carroll, Fred Saberhagen. The movies of Steven Soderberg – especially sex, lies, and videotape, but not particularly Ocean’s Twelve. Diva (the film, not the book). My father.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Daniel: Read what you enjoy reading, write what you enjoy writing, and accept that you’re going to screw up a lot on the way to getting good. That, and marry rich.

Q: What are some of your personal favorite authors and books? What are you looking forward to reading in 2007?

Daniel: Another hard question. Off the top of my head, the books that have stuck out the most and demanded to be re-read were Walter Tevis’sThe Queen’s Gambit”, Hofstadter’sGodel, Escher, Bach”, Maureen McHugh’sChina Mountain Zhang”, and Dorothy Sayer’sMurder Must Advertise”. And, if you’re 15 years old, Edding’s Belgariad books. I haven’t read them since then, so I don’t know how they hold up, but I re-read them until the spines all broke when I was in high school.

This coming year, I’m dearly hoping to read “The Devil You Know” by Mike Carey (of Hellblazer fame), the second Orphan’s Tales book, and the last Harry Potter book, same as everyone else.

Q: Are there any up-and-coming writers that we should check out?

Daniel: I don’t know if she counts as up-and-coming, but Catherynne Valente is doing some really interesting work right now with The Orphan’s Tales. Tobias Buckell’s science fiction is new and interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing more. And he isn’t out yet, but in about three or four years, there’s a guy named Ian Tregillis who I predict will be making some noise.

Q: What other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Daniel: Between writing and childcare, I don’t have lots of time for other hobbies, but once I do, I’m hoping to get back to taking piano lessons and learning to draw. I also have this recurring itch to go back to college. I’m two classes away from all that I’d need to apply to the physician’s assistant program at the medical school, which would be so much *fun* . . . but even if I can do anything, I can’t do everything. Pity about the life being finite thing.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your fans?

Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.” -- W. H. Auden

I just want to personally thank Daniel for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for me and hope that you, the reader, enjoyed the interview. Thanks again to all, and much love & respect…



Blue Tyson said...

New Wild Cards comics coming? Didn't know that.

senseichow said...

Interesting. Hadn't heard of this author before. Don't think I've even seen the book on the shelves in the UK.

Amazon seems to have a few in stock though - will check it out :)

Anonymous said...

I just bid and won a copy of each of his series and look forward to reading them.

Take care,

P.S. Great interview.

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