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Friday, February 15, 2008

Interview with David Keck

Official David Keck Website
Order “In A Time of TreasonHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’s Reviews of “In the Eye of Heaven” + "In a Time of Treason"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “In the Eye of Heaven” + “In a Time of Treason

Way back in September 2007, Colleen Lindsay—aka La Gringa of The Swivet and newly hired literary agent for FinePrint Literary Management—sent out press kits to numerous SF/fantasy blogs promoting author David Keck, his debut novel “In the Eye of the Heaven”, and his forthcoming sequel “In a Time of Treason”. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to interview the writer, and because of Colleen’s considerable experience—over twenty-three years—in the book publishing industry and the many fabulous titles she’s already introduced me to, I wholeheartedly agreed. What I decided to do though—taking a page from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist—was ask some of my fellow bloggers that also received David’s books, to engage in a little collaborative Q&A which Mr. Keck was more than willing to participate in :) So many thanks goes out to Aidan from A Dribble of Ink, Graeme from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review and Tia from Fantasy Debut for joining me in what turned out to be a very fun and insightful interview:

Q: Why do you write?

David: I’ve always written. When I was a kid, I filled pads and pads of paper with drawings. Most of these would have been the childhood equivalent of storyboards or comic strips. For a while, a friend and I used to draw stories together. (I remember when the first erasable pens hit the market that we were quite excited about the potential for vaporizing each other’s drawings). It was an extension of playing with toys, I expect, and I suppose that play must be an important element in every author’s desire to create. I still love the feeling of discovery that you get when some invented being or situation suddenly feels right. It’s a great thing.

Q. Steven Erikson (of Malazan fame) mentioned that he had a hand in your debut novel, “In the Eye of Heaven”. Can you expand on the relationship you two have and how that relationship helped “In the Eye of Heaven” see the light of day?

David: I was an inadvertent founder of a writers group back on the prairies in the early nineties. I knew some people from courses at the University of Manitoba and others from volunteering at the Manitoba Writer’s Guild (which eventually gave me a grant to work on my first book, by the way). Steven Erikson and I ended up on the same reading series. He liked what I read and approached me after the reading.

His first Malazan book went through that writers group. We accidentally moved to England at the same time and really became friends over there. We worked on a screenplay sitting in Gatwick airport coffee shops – because the Gatwick stop was halfway between his place and mine. In the end, he gave my first draft(s) a very close look. (Neither one of us plays around with a critique, I should add).

I think we write quite differently, but there are clear similarities. (It may come from rooting for a hapless hockey team and living in an isolated city with hard winters). Who knows?

Q. So how has “In the Eye of Heaven” been doing, sales-wise? How many translations? Any other brags?

David: My favourite little brag about “In the Eye of Heaven” is that it popped to the top of the hardcover list in the Winnipeg Free Press. (I’m from Winnipeg, if you hadn’t guessed). I had a big, glorious reading with two stories of friends beaming down, I did a few interviews for the paper and the local media, and the book bobbed to the top of the list. (It spent a few weeks bouncing around up there among international bestsellers – and the more Canadian and more literary works). Best week ever.

Q: One of the biggest criticisms aimed at your debut was the writing particularly problems with the prose, how confusing certain passages can be, and the lack of descriptions and infodumping. So did you pay much attention to readers / reviewers’ remarks and use that input when writing “In a Time of Treason”? I was just wondering because I felt the prose and structure of your sequel was much more accomplished.

David: The response to "In the Eye of Heaven" has been fascinating. There have been a gratifying number of raves, but, as anyone who checks Amazon reviews could tell you, some readers have struggled. My suspicion is that the readership breaks on stylistic lines. I want to write tight, economical prose. (You’ll notice short sentences in short paragraphs). I have a mortal dread of exposition and ping-pong dialogue. (I read Elmore Leonard after too much lyricism). I want terse descriptions that pick out scenes in quick, flashbulb splashes. As a reader, I like the charge of catching implications, of feeling the pieces snap together, of seeing the wry little truths that even the characters don’t quite get.

If you’re up for it (and I’m really on my game), that’s what I want you to find in Eye of Heaven.

If you’re not up for it (or I’m off my game), my poor Eye might leave you baffled.

When writing "In a Time of Treason", I went back over the text underscoring what mattered most and anchoring characters and scenes in hopes that the book would retain its clarity even at a brisk read.

And I’ve always liked the review that wondered if it was too soon to label me a “visionary.” (It was the first one I read, and from a Canadian literary publication, so it’s got a special place in my fragile ego).

Q: Another area of concern was the difficulty in connecting with the characters especially the protagonist Durand. Personally, this wasn’t really an issue for me but I was wondering why you chose to write in a third-person narrative rather than through multiple viewpoints or the much more intimate first-person, which I thought would have worked extremely well with the series?

David: I chose to attach the story to a single third person narration for two main reasons. I like the relentlessness you can squeeze from a single character remorselessly followed through every trial. I’m not a great fan of the old cliff-hanger and switch 3rd person merry-go-round. (I remember reading The Two Towers as an utterly hooked adolescent and feeling something near fury as the narrative fractured and left characters behind). I find that when such narratives aren’t tuned precisely, I am dislodged from the drama and forced to puzzle my way back in. (And then dislodged again). Some great work is written this way, but I think there are advantages to other techniques.

As for the first person narration, I find them a little restrictive. When every word must be spoken in the viewpoint character’s voice, a writer’s hands can be tied. (Sometimes in very interesting ways, mind you). You will often find that first person narrators tell their stories a little like the wry and self-aware authors themselves. (Of course, if you’ve ever reading something like Trainspotting, you’ll have seen the power of throwing yourself whole-heartedly into the bewildering mind of a back-street addict – a rough ride, but fascinating).

Q: Besides the exciting action sequences and the authentic realism of the setting, what I liked best about your books was the mythology. However, I admit that it took me a while to understand the relationship between the High King, the Banished, the Lost Ones, the sanctuaries and the land itself. Could you just expand a bit more about this relationship, Saerdan’s voyage, any influences, and what you were trying to accomplish with this fascinating concept?

David: I’m a fool for world building. You have no idea. The novels take place in Creation: the world and everything in it. But, more importantly, Durand and his friends (and enemies) are alive in a very real, very old and somewhat mossy nation called “Errest the Old.” This old nation and its web of cathedrals, temples, monasteries, and shrines pins down the more unruly and more ancient world beneath their civilization. The king of Errest is, like kings the world over, tied to his land. As in most places, a king is at the epicenter of the rituals of his people. And the web of cathedrals, temples, monasteries and whatnot that keep Errest livable are bound to him and the oaths and rituals of his coronation. (There is a great ceremony where he must spend “three days under stone” in a deep cist among the bones of his ancestors before he can be crowned – there are few weak kings of Errest).

The moments between one king and another are, of course, perilous with a great deal of praying required to keep things from slipping into Errest from the Otherworld below and beyond before a new king rules.

Oh. And Saerdan is a founding king. He sailed to Errest on a ship called the Cradle from a broken island kingdom at the end of an unspeakable war. (And he’s a bit of a culture hero). The Lost are, of course, the hungry dead who’ve yet to find their way to the Gates of Heaven. And the Banished are Neverborn spirits who came to Creation uninvited (and must creep between calendars and countries to retain their jealous existences among the living).

Q. What kind of things did you learn while writing “In the Eye of Heaven” that made you a better writer when it came time to sit down and write the sequel?

David: I learned a lot while working on “In the Eye of Heaven.” But I’ll tell you, first and foremost, that I learned to listen to my mum. She read an early draft and, with a certain reticence, approached me afterward with a question. She doesn’t read a lot of fantasy. But she wondered, “Isn’t there any romance in these things?” And I am still rewriting the whole trilogy (Eye is the first of three) in the aftermath of the little question.

Q: Speaking of your sequel, “In a Time of Treason” comes out February 19, 2008. What can readers expect?

David:In a Time of Treason” is when everything really goes wild in poor Durand’s life. There is open war in Errest the Old. The sky teems with carrion crows. Cities burn. Lands are laid waste. Good people die. And people are pushed to do things they must regret. There is also a nice bit where people row down a cold river and across a stormy lake in a perilously open boat. (An excuse to combine my limited canoeing experience, my memory of the Canadian reality program Quest for the Bay, and my love for nautical fiction).

Really, “In a Time of Treason” is the book where things go out of control and it’s all our poor hero can do to hang on. Sturm und Drang, the Germans call it.

Q. Two books into the series, are things still going the way you planned or are you finding that characters and situations are developing a mind of their own?

David: My earliest conception of the series was much more modest. I sat down to write a nice little prequel to the story of a bitter (and battered) knight who’d popped up in a short story I was playing with. The character was heading off to save a duke’s daughter from a terrible monster, but he really didn’t want to do it. (He didn’t feel the part was right for him).

I thought that I could tell the story in a single novel, but, really, the story opened up when I looked closely. There was actually a day when I split the first planned novel into two books and redesigned both to solidify the plots. And another (rather complicated day) when the love story in the third book required that I rewrite the first two novels entirely.

Fortunately, I think there’s little danger of the third book running away. It might take a little while to write, but it doesn’t show signs of multiplying. (And I will be very stern with it, should it begin to do so).

Q: What can you tell us about book three?

David:A King in Cobwebs” is the final volume in the story of Durand Col. Unless the book gets away from me, a jaded Durand will finally get a real chance at happiness. And the cobwebbed king of the title will make his scuttling way onto the stage after two volumes lurking very much in the wings.

Things get far worse before there’s a chance of their getting better, of course. Seething nasties will arise in a southern forest. The dead will walk. The poor old kingdom will be pushed to the very brink of annihilation—and Durand will probably have to learn to talk to the love of his life.

Q. Sounds great! Now if you could go back and change one thing in your books, what would it be?

David: If I could go back in time and change one thing, I’d get the capitalization down. I can’t tell you how complex the capitalization of silly invented clergyman’s titles gets. (Yes, that’s what’s under my skin. You might want more on-stage romance or larger doses of magic, but I want to get the capital letters squared away). Sigh.

Q: Are you involved in any other writing projects? If so, could you share some details?

David: I played with a short story recently. There were monks in it. It all concerned a dangerous and secret book – and a typographical error. Before that, I’d been struggling with a group of Winnipeg buddies to get a little science fiction idea off the ground. (Sadly, the project met the fate of most underfunded film ideas, though not for want of trying from many of those buddies I mentioned).

Q. What about any unpublished novels lying around in a trunk or elsewhere? If so, how many are there and do you have plans to pursue publication for them?

David: My trunk novels are all short stories. I’ve got a great many of them lurking on outmoded floppy disks and in peculiar corners of my hard drives. Once upon a time, I made a conscious decision to move from short work to the great long novel. It took a while to get it right, but I made the rookie mistake of working all of my demons out in the first full length novel I tried. (Do not try this at home, I must warn you all).

Q. Growing up in a sleepy little Canadian city like Winnipeg must have been a very different life than life you have now living in the bustling, non-stop city of New York. How has life changed since first being published?

David: It’s funny, I grew up in Winnipeg. But I actually spent the five years leading up to my move living and teaching in a small town an hour away. All of this means that the contrast between tiny Manitoba farm town and large American metropolis couldn’t have been greater.

New York can be intimidating, however, it’s quite safe (as American cities go). And, once you get used to the place, it’s easier to navigate the place and its people.

Oh. And I now find myself carrying a messenger bag everywhere. There weren’t too many “murses” back home, as I recall.

Q. Like many of my favorite authors, you’ve taken up the nasty (but addictive) habit of blogging. What’s your opinion of the blogosphere (and the Internet in general) and how has it affected your career as a novelist?

David: The blogosphere has been very little like I guessed. I find that it’s become a way for me to keep in touch with a broad circle of acquaintances. It’s possible that, eventually, the site will become overloaded with curious fans, but at this moment, I’ve found that it’s better bait for luring long lost friends out of the ether. (Not a bad thing, I think).

Q. There’s a guy in a bookshop wondering whether to take a chance on your book, sell it to him in ten words or less!

David: Oh, how ‘bout: The blood-curdling medieval as they really thought it was!

Q. What were you doing at the exact moment that the inspiration for ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ hit you?

David: Clearly, a wonderful story is wanted here. But I haven’t the foggiest! I’m a real notebook guy. There are heaps of the things stuffed in odd corners everywhere I’ve been. Watching TV. Attending a lecture. Reading a magazine. Or drawing faces. I’m always drawing faces. (Most pages in my notebooks look a little like the ten most wanted). An obsessed archivist could probably go back among the faces and the scribbled notes to find the first traces of my wrong knight in not-shining armour story.

Q. Durand, Lamoric and Heremund have gone out for a few beers. By the end of the evening which one has…
a) Hit on someone else’s woman?
b) Accidentally broken something very valuable?
c) Been ‘escorted’ home in a police car?


David: I love that you remember the characters’ names! At first I was going to say that Heremund (a bit of a rascal with a sense of humour and a broken nose) would have jumped in and done it all. But, seeing as I’m God in this little universe, it would have been our hero, poor Durand. For perfectly innocent reasons, stalwart Sir Durand would certainly have hit on someone else’s woman, broken something valuable, and been taken off by the police. (It’s entirely possibly that it would have been Lamoric’s woman, the girl’s prized possession, and that poor Lamoric’s dad would be town sheriff too).

Q. Your recent blog post mentions that while you were at the World Fantasy Convention, you got to tease an editor who rejected your novel. Do you recall how many queries or rejections that it took before you sold “In the Eye of Heaven”? Could you tell us a little about your publishing story?

David:In the Eye of Heaven” started out as a much weaker book in about 1997 when it first attracted the attention of a UK agent (who eventually lost track of his interest and gave the book a miss). These days, I can’t help but think that this bit of misfortune was actually a lucky break. “In the Eye of Heaven” has a lot more going for it than that ancient draft – called “Childe” actually. (A very pretentious name, I think, now).

The version that actually sold attracted the first agent who read it and sold to Tor the first time around. Apparently, it also appealed to the Germans and the Russians (as the book made its way to Europe).

Q. Your bio mentions that you are a middle school teacher. This makes you, in our mind, a very brave man. Do you plan to remain a teacher or do you hope to one day become a full time writer?

David: I’d love to write full time, but, as many a writer will tell you, it’s increasingly difficult just now. It is difficult to keep two consuming creative endeavours alive in one brain and middle school teaching in the inner city can be physically and psychologically exhausting. Still, I wonder whether I might miss the thousand random interactions of day-to-day life in a busy workplace should I ever have the option to leave the day job behind.

Q: Does working as a teacher and having degrees in English Literature/History & Education have any bearing on the way you write? If so, in what ways?

David: When I went to school, I followed my interests (unless they gave me no choice). I’m a great fan of social history and I’m building a rather silly library of books on subjects ranging from medieval horse archaeology to first hand accounts of fairy beliefs in rural Ireland. I ended up writing a lot of poetry in a lot of courses. I’ve read nearly as much as anyone else with a degree in English Lit. I’m sure it all comes out on the page as my hero tramps through just the right sort of field with just the right type of mud and is menaced by just the right supernatural oddity. (All described with just the right metaphor too, eh?)

Q: Personally, I really like the jacket artwork for both of your books which are provided by artist David Grove. It’s a very elegant and realistic approach. Did you get to provide any input for the design and how do you feel about your covers compared to other fantasy cover art?

David: David Grove is a dab hand with a paint brush. I liked the first cover so much, I hunted David down and bought the painting. (He was very concerned that I knew how small the panel was and that I liked the way he’d framed it). The picture is staring at me from the living room wall as I write, actually.

As far as getting input into the cover is concerned, I’ll be a little cagey. Suffice it to say that an artist must take his direction from the art director, the editor, and marketing professionals. It’s a very lucky writer who is approached for a secret word, and he must be discrete.

Q: I think it’s safe to say that any writer would love to have their books turned into a movie, television series or whatnot. Regarding “In the Eye of Heaven” has anyone approached you about adapting the novel?

David: So far, “In the Eye of Heaven” has not slipped the bonds of its format. I had a quite word from a film friend, however, that the cover appeared on an executive’s blackberry one day after a particularly prominent review. I wouldn’t say no.

Q: Let’s fantasize. How would you adapt your book?

David: Personally, I’d love to see a film. Yes. Perhaps Guillermo Del Toro will call. And, seeing as I’m an excellent armchair director, he’d need me to collaborate. Yes. That’s clearly what must happen.

Q: Last year was tough for writers of speculative fiction. Several authors passed away including Robert Jordan, Madeline L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Leigh Eddings, Fred Saberhagen, Jack Williamson, Alice Borchardt, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. while Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Did any of this affect you and is there anything you would like to say?

David: It was indeed a bad year for luminaries and those of us who idolized them. Your list includes writers of nearly every stripe: weavers of childhood magic, the writers of the broadest epics, rebels most irascible, and comics bright enough to make any reader weep. Every one of them will be missed. And I hope that Mr. Pratchett keeps scrapping for years to come.

Q: If I came to you looking for something to read, a novel or an author who you feel has been criminally overlooked, what would you suggest?

David: I just finished J.J. Connolly’sLayer Cake” (after watching the movie) which does a marvellous number in incomprehensible slang and I’m reading another of Patrick O’Brian’s nautical novels, which should be read by anyone with even a vague interest in things historical. It’s lovely, unabashedly nautical and utterly unpredictable.

Q: In closing, what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2008?

David: Write!

3 comments:

J Scott Savage said...

Great interview! It's funny how many authors started out drawing pictures. Seems like we look for the creative outlet and for some it takes a while to realize it is the written word.

I will put this on my list for the next late night B&N run.

Great blog by the way.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Very cool interview everyone! Sorry I've been quite commenting, been having bad Internet access, then the latest Feist (which I've just reviewed) showed up and kept my attention! ;)

Best,
~Chris

Robert said...

J Scott, thanks for the compliments and I hope you enjoy David's books!

Chris, it's all good ;) I know I've been slacking too when it comes to commenting. Just so many books to read, and so little time...

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