Flurries of Words (FLOW) was lucky enough to sit down with best-selling Fantasy author David Dalglish for a one on one chat about his work, life and new novel The Broken Pieces. Here's what he had to say...
FLOW: I hear that you have a particular debt of gratitude owed to Mother Nature and her tornadoes. Can you explain for the audience? How have you incorporated that experience into your writing?
DALGLISH: While going to college I got a part-time job delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut. Well, as I continually failed to find any other job, that part-time soon became full-time, as I was there for seven years. Finally, I managed to get a stint as an emergency hire as a para-professional working with Spec Ed students. The pay was great, and was very much looking forward to coming back the following year...except the three other paras who all said they'd be quitting changed their minds, and I was once more out of a job. Now I'd left Pizza Hut on very good terms, and always looked at them as a back-up should things go terrible. But a week before I found out I wouldn't be keeping the para-professional job, a tornado came in and knocked our local Pizza Hut to the ground.
So at this point, I'd been self-publishing for several months, we had several months' worth of savings, and my writing income was creeping toward $800 a month. So my wife and I decided to give writing full-time a shot, see if we could live on that little, and hope sales improved. Well, they did. A lot.
FLOW: So how did the progression work? Instant success? Months of struggle? Was it difficult at first? How did you manage to cope with the change from going to a 'set schedule' to being your own boss? Did you find time management an issue? How did you settle on the idea of going to the library in the end? How do you keep iPhones and the like from distracting you there? What about other patrons? Do they know they have a famous author in their midst? ;-)
It was hardly instant success. There's a thread on Kindleboards.com where I listed my first month's sales. I was crazy excited earning $35 bucks. I didn't really take off until my fourth book, A Dance of Cloaks, which got swept up in a mini-boom of assassin novels and I enjoyed the ride.
I used to write in my spare time, but it was always random and inefficient. Too easy access to the internet, too many distractions. I finally understood why so many people wrote at Starbucks, but at the same time, I'd still rather go somewhere else. Somewhere quieter...hence the library. No internet access for my laptop. Quiet area. Plenty of tables for privacy. Just put my phone on silent and go. And since I drive there, it makes it hard to wimp out without accomplishing anything since, you know, I drove there.
And yes, they know they have an author, though maybe not famous. I give them a copy of every book I publish. I'll soon have an entire shelf of my own ;-)
FLOW: Other than your natural talent for telling an engaging story, to what do you attribute your phenomenal success in Indie Publishing? How much do you think World of Warcraft played a role? Fabulous artwork? Any other factors that you feel were key in getting the word out?
DALGLISH: There's a ton of factors. I got in early, that helped a ton. I managed to ride the early waves of freebies and 99 cents, before they became common-place. World of Warcraft's interesting, because I think it helped bring about what many would consider traditional high-fantasy into a wider audience. People who might not touch a Dragonlance book could still pick up and play WoW, giving them some exposure to a genre they end up thoroughly enjoying. Peter Ortiz's covers certainly helped, especially in the early days. See, when I started, the stigma against self-published books was still pretty high (nothing compared to ten years ago, but still high). And the easiest way to tell a self-published book from a traditional was the cover. Lately, though, it's getting harder and harder to notice the difference. A lot of good artists and photo-manipulators are realizing there's a desperate need for people who know what they're doing.
FLOW: Several of your novels focus on close relationships that end up being highly conflicted--relationships that you portray very genuinely and convincingly. What has been the inspiration for this theme? Are there any experiences that you drew upon in writing these that you can share with us?
DALGLISH: If you asked random people to list what was most important to them, relationships will usually be near the top. Given the choice, most would give up their job over losing their spouse. Most (at least the people I want to associate with) would rather be poor than lose their kids. So if relationships are so important to everyone, then they should be important in the story, right? And when something is important to you, you work for it, you sacrifice for it, sometimes even blindly. When I want solid drama, I try to have people torn between things they love. If you must choose between your wife and your brother, what do you do? If your faith brands your best friend a heretic, what then? There's no obvious solution, and even if there is a clear cut "right" answer, doing it isn't easy. Getting these characters torn up, twisted about, and hurt because of the "right" answer just continues to up the ante.
FLOW: Choice seems to be a particularly strong theme in your work. How do you come up with the dreadful decisions your characters face? How are they influenced by real world experiences and events? Can you give us an example of how you incorporated situations or encounters from real life into your stories?
DALGLISH: The situations generally arise as the natural conclusion to everything I set up. What I tend to do is create the characters, both good and bad. I then screw around for a bit, get a chance to familiarize myself/readers with who they are, put them through some challenges, and start really establishing what the stakes are. I try to have every novel have a nice, solid focal point, a moment where the various story lines come to a head. These are the pivotal scenes readers remember, the ones that define each character.
I tend to not incorporate real life situations and encounters into my work, at least not seriously (I do have tons of little easter eggs, usually of me killing off characters named after author friends). Closest I can think of is when the Joplin tornado just wrecked everything, that day I was writing in the library and decided to have Darius face such a monstrous tornado in a dream sequence. I wasn't in Joplin when the tornado hit, but I tried to put everything I was hearing, all the terror and shock, into that single moment. Hardly a major scene, but I didn't want it to be. As with a lot of these things, I wrote the scene for myself.
FLOW: Now that you've become such a major success, how are you able to strike that important balance between your writing and your family and relationships? What helps you to keep the relationships the main focus? How involved is your family in your work?
DALGLISH: What's great about my job is that I don't need to strike some delicate balance. Whether I was selling 1k books a month or 10k, my routine remains the same. I go to the library, write for 2-3 hours, then come home. That's it. I have the best job ever. As for Sam, she's my sounding board. I ramble off ideas, and she vetoes the ones that are terrible. She's kept plenty of characters alive that would have died otherwise.
FLOW: I've been told that the character Tessanna gives a very accurate and realistic picture of someone with bi-polar disorder. How were you able to bring her and her madness to life so vividly?
DALGLISH: All credit to my wife on this one. Tessanna was her creation, someone she played on an online role-playing game, where I actually first met her. Rapid mood swings, intense emotions, sometimes long periods of apathy, etc. Her character had also been sexually abused as a child, so I made sure her behavior adopted that as well (in her case, an aggressive, non-socially acceptable sexuality). I researched off and on to see if I was keeping her fairly close to realistic (as well as need be in a world where she can snap her fingers and explode a man's brains out his eyeballs) and it seemed I had things down all right. I never actually decided she had bi-polar, interestingly enough. I just wanted her damaged, unpredictable. I don't think it was until the fourth book I fully settled on that for her.
FLOW: Do you and your wife frequently collaborate on your characters then? Do her ideas often find their way into your work? What other influences do you have? Would friends and family be surprised to find themselves somewhere in your stories? Speaking of family and friends, how do they take your chosen profession: are they big fans of your work, just politely interested or something in between? How do you deal with that?
DALGLISH: I basically stole two characters, Aurelia Thyne and Tessanna Delone, from my wife. Beyond that, the rest are mine. Though I do plan on putting in a character just for her in the sixth Half-Orc. She's really been wanting a female archer. The rest of my family's supportive, but don't really read my genre. They know they're in my books, though, all my friends and family. Jerico the pally is based on a protection paladin my friend made for World of Warcraft. Tarlak's from Ultima Online, where my older brother always ran around in a goofy yellow robe and black cape. They know it, they love it, even when I'm poking fun at their characters or even killing them off.
FLOW: Now that you never have to see the inside of a Pizza Hut again unless you want to, what do you miss about it? Do you ever eat their pizza? What's your favourite PH pizza? Would you want your children to eat there?
DALGLISH: I know some people say once they work somewhere they can never eat there, but with Pizza Hut, there's enough variance I never had that happen. I do still eat there, but sadly most of the workers I once knew have all moved on, so I can't get the really oddball pizzas I used to order. My favorite's probably the double-decker, and totally not allowed. We took a thin crust, layered it with sauce and cheese, put a full hand-tossed crust on top of it, and then layered it with cheese, pepperoni, and finally more cheese. Totally worth the pain later.
FLOW: Sounds delicious. :-) Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, the final instalment of the Paladin series, The Broken Pieces? Is this really the end for the Paladins? Sure, it's important to know when to stop with a good story, but won't some of the characters crop up again somewhere else? Any and all spoilers would be greatly appreciated...
DALGLISH: For the series, it is *probably* the end. There's one more key book, The Fall of the Citadel, that takes place pretty much before the rest of the series, involving mostly different characters. I'm not sure if I'll just make it a stand-alone should I ever get to it, number it Paladins #0, whatever. Now the Paladins series in the first place was a spinoff for a major character from the Half-Orcs, so he obviously shows up in that series. I'll also be bringing in two characters from the series into the Watcher's Blade trilogy, particularly the second book I'm about to start. Some characters I just can't let go of...
FLOW: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
DALGLISH: Just that I love 'em. They let me live a dream.
FLOW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.