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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Interview with David Dalglish (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read FBC review of "A Dance Of Cloaks"

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reading David Dalglish’s then-standalone book, to my surprise it was a great read and with the book ending the way it did, I was curious to see if there was more to follow. Apparently a lot of readers felt that way and so David decided that the story wasn’t over and there will be more of Aaron in the remaining two books of the Shadowdance trilogy. In this interview, David remarks upon his beginnings, the evolution of his writing and his fascination with George R.R. Martin’s works. Please note, there are a few mild spoilers in the interview, which might be a bit spoilerish for some but overall do not detract much for a new reader. Lastly, on behalf of Fantasy Book Critic, I would like to thank David for agreeing to answer my questions amidst his hectic life. Now on to the interview...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, so to begin with for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? Also could give us a brief bio?

A) Most of my books are in a similar vein to R. A. Salvatore, or the old Dragonlance novels by Weis and Hickman. Just imagine them a little darker, and a few more main characters killed. As for myself, I live in Southwest Missouri, and have a lovely wife and daughter. For the most part, I worked as a Pizza Hut delivery driver, and later manager, while writing all of these stories, except for Dance of Cloaks. By then I was a para-professional for a Spec-Ed student. Far and away the hardest job I ever had.

Q] I believe all your book covers have been done by the same artist, how did you approach him. Or was it the other way around? What was the clinching factor in this partnership? Could you give the readers a brief overview in to the process of making one of the covers?

A) One of the things I noticed was that many indie covers come across as…well, done by themselves. If I was going to try this self-publishing craziness, I knew I had to have something I could be proud of. I wanted people to take me seriously, at least until they could read my writing. So I scoured deviantart, looking at pictures of various fantasy backgrounds and drawings. I came up with a list of ten artists who were open to commissions and sent off emails. Peter Ortiz was my top choice, and when he responded with a reasonable quote, I was ecstatic.

The process is fairly simple. I send him a detailed description of the characters, a rough idea of where they are and what they’re doing, and let Peter fill in the rest. I’ve found the more freedom I give him in positioning the characters, filling in backgrounds, etc, has actually led to better and better pictures. I trust Peter to know what looks good, and what looks idiotic. After he gets a rough done, he sends it to me, and I’ll requests changes here or there. More often than not, the changes are because of stupid ideas by myself.

Q] You have a very interesting back story which led to the development of the Half-Orc series; I believe you even met your wife through it. Could we get a cliff notes version of it?

A) Harruq and Qurrah were originally born on a text-based online game (a MUD for those who know what I’m talking about). I liked the characters and started devising various storylines for them. Along the way, I met a certain elf who I (major Cliffs notes here) imported from Colorado and eventually married. I started writing occasional stories with these characters, trying to get a better feel for them. Eventually a larger storyline grew, one in which these two lowly brothers nearly destroy the entire world, and ran with it.

Q] Both your series set in the world of Dezrel are very gritty and dark. When you started writing your books, what was it that particularly made you mold this world to be such a grim one?

A) I never really thought to make a dark world. Honest. To me it just seems normal that bad things will happen in a fantasy novel. Maybe this was just my personal backlash against Salvatore. When there are hundreds of people swinging swords at each other, well…someone’s got to die, and not come back two books later. On average, I’ve killed off a main character in every book of my Half-Orc series, and several bit the dust in Dance of Cloaks alone. Maybe that’s what makes people feel a little unsafe. Or maybe they just think I’m unhinged.

Q] A Dance Of Cloaks was a book which you decided to write after reading A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, could you perhaps summarize for us your feelings when you finished the book and why did you choose Aaron to be the center of the story.

A) “A Game Of Thrones” just blew me away. There were all these factions against each other, all thinking they were in the right. That felt real to me. That felt perfect. I looked at my own world, so often with just “here’s the good side, here’s the bad side, now FIGHT” and shook my head. Good people can disagree, and it gets all the scarier when a terrible person joins the mix and twists each to his advantage.

With Dance of Cloaks, I took one of my major characters that everyone seemed to love (Haern) and decided to do his back story. Originally this was just a few lines in Cost of Betrayal, discussing a war between thieves and a wealthy organization of merchants and nobles. I took this, expanded upon it, and tried to make many various factions getting involved...

Q] Nowadays there has been a heady discussion involving self-publishing and many of my favorites such as J.A. Konrath and John Rector have also espoused e-books and self releases, What was your reasoning in going the Kindle way for your Half-Orc series, did you make an attempt for the traditional publishing?

A)Never submitted to traditional publishing. Everywhere I read said the same thing: agents aren’t interested with fantasy involving orcs, dwarves, etc. Even elves were becoming suspect, and were getting renamed to stuff like “the eternals” or some nonsense like that. This annoyed me. I like reading stories about elves and orcs and giant fireballs flying everywhere. Surely I’m not alone.

When I first self-published, most of the biggies hadn’t really exploded yet. I’d bought my wife a Kindle, and found both of us reading ten times more than we ever had before. It was just too convenient, the costs of books too low. Well, my wife did a bit of research, then came to me and said that it looked like I could release a digital version of my books for free, and maybe I should see if anyone likes it. So I did. I went in expecting to sell about 5-10 copies my first month.

Q] Originally you envisioned A Dance Of Cloaks (ADOC) as a standalone however when was it during the writing that you realized that the story wouldn’t be able to fit in the confines of a single book?

A) Since I was trying to get so many various factions in ADOC, it started to grow a bit unwieldy. I had a 5 year gap planned halfway through the novel, but by the end, I still hadn’t even hit that yet. Realizing just how many characters I had, and how confusing it had gotten at times, I knew I had to just finalize it with Haern's escape from his father. I thought the ending satisfactory, but a LOT of people didn’t agree....

Well, they’re right. There is more to the story, and I’m more than excited to tell it. ADOC was just supposed to be a little diversion, a break from the Half-Orcs to give some readers a chance to read more of a character they like. Well, it’s my highest seller now, to the point I think most want me to stop messing around with those stupid half-orcs and finish up Haern’s story.

Q] Now that you have completed the Half-Orc series, and with your plans to finish the ShadowDance trilogy as well, what are your plans for the future, will you be writing stories set in the world of Dezrel or will you be inventing newer worlds?

A) So far I have no plans to leave Dezrel. After finishing Shadowdance, I plan on doing a standalone novel for the Paladins (which is what I also said about Haern, and look what happened there). People seem to like Lathaar and Jerico, and I have fun with ‘em as well. After that, I’ve got two novels or so planned with Harruq, Qurrah, and the angels (I sorta left the world of Dezrel in a mess at the end of book 5). Not going to pretend I know what I’ll do after that.

Q] What are the books which you have read & enjoyed recently? Could you tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination & inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right? Similarly any current authors whom you would like to give a shout out to?

A) I devoured Salvatore’s Drizzt books in high school. Read “The Dark Elf Trilogy” at least four times. Only recently did I start trying to really broaden my rather woefully inadequate knowledge of fantasy. David Gemmell was a wonderful surprise (I had an editor, and several fans, all compare me to him, so finally I bought Legend to see what was up with this fellow David). Brent Weeks is a writer after my own heart, ready and willing to go over the top at a moment’s notice. I have a soft spot for those whose logic process when writing goes something like this: well, I nearly blew up a city in book one, so time to destroy a nation in book two, and by book three, let’s see if there’s a world left.

The biggest slap in the face was G. R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It made me look at my own world and suddenly feel very, very, very small.

Q] When you started out did you have an overall plan for the books, did you have a set number of books to be written about the Half-orc series? How much of the plot do you plan out earlier, or to quote George R.R. Martin “are you a Gardner or an Architect” when it comes to your writing?

A) I usually have two or three key scenes in my head, then try to work my way to them. If I ever get stuck, then I’ll sit down and plot out a few more major sections, just to feel that I know the way. But I’ll deviate from this in a heartbeat. I’ve had characters who were supposed to die, live, and characters who were supposed to hang around for several more books die. I killed one character in particular in book 4, and let’s say the emails haven’t been very happy about that. And all I can respond with is “I know! Idiot had to go leaping after the bad guy. Wasn’t my fault, I swear!”

Q] In your Post "Likable Villains and Imperfect Heroes" you stress upon the fact that characters need to have traits, they need to have charisma, certainty and other qualities. Why do you believe that this is so important for any story?

A) One of the worst things you can have your characters be is boring. Get your readers to like them, or even hate them; either is better than apathy. Emotions mean they’re invested. But you need to stay true to who they are. No one is totally evil. No one is totally good. We all have our faults. We all mess up, good and bad. We all have our reasons why we do things, or at least, we think we do.

Too often I see characters being a bastard for the sake of being a bastard, and I want to yell “WHY?” at the top of my lungs. Nothing will endear a good character to a reader’s heart like watching them struggle and fail, yet refuse to give in. Emphasize their decisions, for good or ill. Frodo wasn’t a hero because he walked a long distance carrying a ring. It’s that he chose to carry it in the first place.

Q] David Gemmell had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as "Rick's Bar characters" and described them in the following way: "When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them "Ricks Bar characters," from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all."

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s?

A) I understand completely. It’s usually this way for me with my villains. I love them. I love listening to them talk, watching them work, figuring out how they tick. Qurrah and Tessanna are characters I could write hundreds of thousands of words worth of scenes and not even slow down. I feel like I know them so much better than even they do. But then I have characters like Haern, who I struggle to decide how he’ll react, and what it is he’ll say. Sometimes, though, I wonder if readers like the ones who don’t flow quite so easily, the ones that feel like maybe there’s a bit more hiding in them.

Q] How is your daily writing schedule, do you write best in the morning or evening? Or do you have a schedule like a certain Dan Brown who gets up at 4-4:30 Am & also uses gravity boots to help his writing.

A) I used to not have one, and that just isn’t a good idea. I’d write at night, morning, when my wife was at work, etc. But too often I’d waste time, find excuses, play flash-time-killer7, etc. Lately, however, I hit on something that works wonderfully. I take my laptop, go to the library, plug headphones in and crank up some music. Then for two hours: write. No internet. No distractions. No excuses. No particular word goal, just the time and effort. If I can stay later, I do, but I never leave early. Been averaging about 3500 words a day, six days a week that way; Love it!

Q] You have created a very dark world and therein two religions which espouse two stark ends in the behavior spectrum. I was especially enamored by the Faceless women who though oppressed by their own faith, wear it like a badge of honor. How did you envision these women, do you think they see themselves as forsaken or favored?

A) Count the Faceless women as one of those difficult characters from up above. I never knew what they’d say. Heck, I barely knew what they looked like, and with all of them fully covered, I had to try and create them in my head purely through tiny variances in the way they talked and acted.

As to your question…that’s tough. I think they do see themselves as favored, in a way. Their life is more difficult. They’ve been banished from Karak’s temple, yet are still beholden to it and its ways. They’re forced to separate, and in a way decide for themselves, what exactly Karak wants of them, and what it is that the priests themselves claim. Near the end of Cloaks, there’s a moment where one of the Faceless women realizes that what she had always blamed as foolishness and lies of men might actually be what her deity desired. Was that truly who she served? Was that what she had devoted her life to?

Q] In closing, are there any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers? What can we look forward to you in the future?

A) I just hope I can keep people entertained. I don’t claim to be the best writer (and a few comments will probably chime in with strong agreement there). I’m a storyteller, and so long as people are willing to listen, to allow themselves to become invested in the characters I create and the world I’m trying to build, then I’ll keep going. I’ve said it again and again, I’m currently living a dream, and it is only because of my readers, so thank you!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely loved and enjoyed the Half Orc series. Downloaded all five to my Kindle and never looked back. I hated for it to end. After reading so many authors, this was a refreshing switch for me. I love elves, orcs, dwarves and such and this book was that and more. Kudos to the author.


Febrith said...

I can't recommend these books highly enough, wonderfully drawn characters and page-turning storylines. Stop everything else you're doing and keep writing Mr Dalglish tbh:)

Deion said...

Huge fan. Books are a great read. Don't stop.

Mac said...

Thanks for the interview. It's great seeing what authors are like in 'reality'. Congratulations on the success with the books and hopefully there will be many more to come.


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