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Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Interview with David T. List (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic David. For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What inspired you to write and describe your journey to becoming a self-published author.

DTL: I’ve been interested in story telling forever, but it wasn’t until I read the Wise Man’s Fear that the idea of writing occurred to me. Pat’s writing felt so lyrical and ambiguous and clever I had to try it. By then I had a pile of maps, monsters, and histories of my fantasy world – Silexare. It was the perfect landscape to brew stories from and only needed characters with goals. I wrote a story called A Sawmill’s Hope. We’ll not get into that one too much here. It is, perhaps, the one I should have let die.

I started plotting VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE shortly thereafter. Around 2014 I found a book called The Blade Itself, which blew my mind. I learned that third person stories can be just as intimate as first, and that unreliable narrators are the best narrators. Sometimes thereafter I read Kings Of The Wyld, which convinced me I can be exactly as hilarious as I want to. Fantasy doesn’t have to be a stick in the mud. After that came Red Rising, which at first felt gimmicky with its intense (at times melodramatic) present-tense telling but soon gripped me tightly. It made every past-tense book I tried to read feel dusty and dated. Red Rising is why VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE is in present-tense.

In 2015 my four-month-old daughter passed away in her sleep, during what should have been just another afternoon nap. As you might imagine, VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE grew darker after that. I struggled with VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE for some time, starting over repeatedly, throwing around the idea of immortality and death and grief.

It wasn’t until 2017 when my work friend Ben and I started a writing group that the book began to truly pick up steam. Turns out weekly deadlines were exactly what I needed to push forward.

I queried literary agents in the attempts to traditionally publish, but hated the idea of it. I’m blessed with a healthy portion of delusional optimism, and I just knew I had something worth reading. I didn’t need to grovel at someone’s feet or sit on my hands awaiting a response that may never come. I couldn’t leave my entire fate up to someone else.

My band plays fairly regularly and I’ve been saving our earnings for years, specifically to cover the costs of self-publishing. When the time came to finance editing and cover art, I was ready.
Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

DTL: I’m definitely some flavor of “plotter”. I collect ideas as they occur to me, and they strike with no warning. I can be inspired by a song as readily as a view of rolling, green hills out the car window. Unsure what to call the feeling, or emotion, but when it strikes, I jot something down. Eventually a pile of notes I’ve collected come together like puzzle pieces. I suppose that may be an epiphany.

For writing, a clear head and no distractions are all I need. Inner turmoil is tough on the muse. But if all goes as it should, by the time I’m sitting down to write, I already know the scene and just have to get it out.
Q] What was the main inspiration for Violence & Vigilance and the world within? Where did the idea come from and what compelled you to see it through to the end?

DTL: It’s such an old idea and has changed so much. At the start, I think there were three main ingredients:
-Wizards versus warriors. As tired as that idea is, I was stuck on the idea of an island for both, and a war between them.
-UFC. I liked the idea of arena fighters, returning champions, grudge matches, crowd favorites.
-Super Mario bros. Weird, I know, but I was into the idea of undeath. Coming back after you die. This was probably the wrinkliest of the inputs and was eventually phased out. I won’t go into detail on the ridiculous scenarios I tried to accomplish in the name of “dying without dying”.


Q] Let’s talk about the stunning cover for Violence & Vigilance. Can you reveal how you and your cover artist worked together to create it?

DTL: I reached out to Felix in April of 2019. It was quite out of order, considering VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE was not finished, much less edited, but I knew better than to wait too long. Felix started sketching ideas then. Thankfully, he had the sense to change up what I originally asked for. I’d wanted a scene that represented the monks of the western island, Ausgan, versus the barbarians of the east, Fohrvylda. With each of his attempts I’d say “Okay now change that person’s helmet. That’s Jeret and he should be in blue.” Or “Okay give him black hair and a scowl. That’s Magus Kalderys.”

Finally Felix, in his ultimate wisdom, realized it was the characters he should focus on, not some arbitrary ocean/mountain battlefield packed with details.

Q] What was your first reaction when you saw it? How does it hold up (in your opinion) to what the main story is about?

DTL: Call me soft, but even when paying for art, I am hopelessly humbled at the site of any artwork based on my writing. I love the art he made. He captured Basalt Kale, who has had enough and wants to die. Irdessa, who may as well have one boot on her fallen foe and is basking in the glory of the crowd. Kalderys, marching forward and looking sidelong but never distracted in his mission to see Intemrus’ Will be done. Captain Jeret, who is so happy when the story starts but succumbs to rage. Kraus the Thirsty Bandit, who probably just made a joke and is hoping you’ll take a swing at him.

If I could change anything, I wouldn’t! But if I could, I’d want to also see Magister Obsydia, Prime Sentinel Selu, Vyker with his spear, Papu the Falconer, Otto the Rain Catcher, Sura the Shield, and a hundred others. I’d want to see His Presence Intemrus and His Might Vretos, staring each other down across the Faithless Sea!

Maybe we’ll see some of them on the cover of book two, assuming they survive VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE.
Q] Let’s talk about Violence & Vigilance, a lot of authors have a harder time writing a second book after their debuts? How was the experience for you? This is a completely different genre as compared to your debut from 2014. How difficult was it as compared to writing your debut?

DTL: Frankly, this one came more naturally (*ahem* That is, after I worked out the mechanics of the magic and plot over the course of half a decade).

I mentioned that Joe Abercrombie and Nick Eames had a hand in my writerly inspiration. A Sawmill’s Hope (2014) tried to be something for someone. I’m not sure what or whom. Violence & Vigilance feels like freedom from those weird expectations. I wrote it for me. If I want Vyker to stab a murder-ostrich right up its ass, done. If I want Kraus the Carcass to try and fight the most murderous thing in sight, done. If I want Magister Obsydia to prefer nudity and wear it comfortably at all times, done.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the creation process of ASH, particularly the world and the beasts and the underlying fairy tale, but the protagonists were kids. Most of the protagonists in VIOLENCE & VIGILANCE are already murderers when we meet them. It’s just so much more freedom.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Turesia Untamed series is set in and some of the story’s major characters? What are the curiosities of this world?

DTL: Oh man. That’s a big rock to flip over. I’ll try to be succinct.

Turesia is an island archipelago in the South Sea of Silexare. There are other continents upon which other stories will take place. Some are mentioned in this book such as Tiasa (where A Sawmill’s Hope did/will take place), and Halandor (where future stories will take place).
For the sake of succintivity, the archipelago Turesia was claimed to have come about long ago as a connecting ramp from the heavens down to the ocean, a means for the Great Beast, aka the south island, to arrive.

Regarding characters, lets stick to the two mains:
Irdessa the Undying, seen on the cover, is the daughter of a military strategist who maintained peace and order on the east side of Fohrvylda. When the story starts, she has already been arrested alongside her friend Torvald the Tactician, and they are crowd favorites in the arena Keswal. Her father’s already been killed.

To paraphrase her with two sentences from the book, “The only intimacy she had time for was the sort only one party survived. She’s never considered that a bad thing.

Basalt Kale is a consonant monk who lacks any noticeable consonant gifts. He lives in Erudition, the capital of Ausgan. He’s a decade older than others of his rank and shows no sign of improving, ever. We open the book with him plotting suicide.

His line: “When life fails to entice you, consider alternatives.” Very uplifting, I know.
Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for Violence & Vigilance?

DTL: My focus is on Silexare as a world, with its histories and magic and religions and beasts and oddities! But those can only matter if the characters matter, and so it’s from their lens that I observe and record the world. This is surely why I try to smash in as many points of view as my editor will allow.

Violence & Vigilance asks: What if the monks who were sacked by Vikings had been able to defend themselves with elemental magic?
Q] So what can readers expect from Violence & Vigilance and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

DTL: Violence & Vigilance is, in its heart, a story about loss and grief, and the horrible ways those twist us. The awful things we justify. I’m a comedian at heart, so those despicable deeds cannot go down without some jokes.
Q] Violence & Vigilance is the first book in The Turesia Untamed series. How many books are you planning to write in this series?

DTL: Two. Book 2 is 100% plotted out, and about 35% written.
Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

DTL: I do. This book isn’t for everyone. There is brutality and course language. I am sorry if this alienates you as a reader, but I understand. I didn’t expect the book to end up this way. But I didn’t plan to end up this way either. Turesia Untamed is my attempt to payback a cruel world. To spit in its fucking face before it kills me too.


David T List said...

Thanks for having me and letting me ramble, Mihir! Sure is an honor to be here.

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