Wednesday 26 December 2012

Wednesday Words: Interview with D.P. Prior

Flurries of Words (FLOW) was lucky enough to catch up with best-selling Fantasy author D.P Prior for a one on one chat about his work, life  and new novel The Nameless Dwarf .  Here's what he had to say...

FLOW:   I see that you have had many careers--psychiatric nurse, personal trainer, editor, monk, do these varied life experiences influence your writing?

PRIOR:  During my twenty-odd years working in mental health I got to see all kinds of conditions and behaviors. It was mostly the personality disorders that influenced my writing, the cognitive biases we all carry to some extent, one person’s propensity for paranoia, another’s for depression; the image people have of themselves contrasted with how others see them; difficulties people have in relationships, or with self-worth, self-belief, or self-preservation.

My experiences also helped me to look at how different personalities deal with trauma, which was a huge help when writing Rhiannon in Cadman’sGambit, Best Laid Plans, and The Unweaving. Often in fiction, and particularly in fantasy, we are presented with stock character types who have predictable, even cliched, responses to the stresses placed upon them. I think my experiences in mental health have given me a few more options to play with.

The Nameless Dwarf has aspects of his character that were definitely influenced by my mental health work. He has a degree of bi-polar disorder (much more serious in the depressive phase), elements of low self-worth, and occasional explosive outbursts, which are sometimes devastatingly violent. That said, he’s probably the most solid and dependable character in the entire series, something the other characters acknowledge, each in their own way.

The personal training has had a small influence on the physicality of some of my fight scenes. It’s more explicit in The Archon’s Assassin, in which Rhiannon trains in a hardcore gym, with a host of recognizable gym rats.

The editing experience has been extremely helpful with reviewing subsequent drafts. I always do anything up to six layers of self-editing on my books, but this is not enough by itself. I believe you need to have another set of eyes go over the work and so I use external editors, proof readers and beta readers.

In the later 90s I had a five month postulancy with the Carmelite friars in Australia. That involved living with a couple of religious communities, which helped with the Abbey of Pardes characters in the Shader books. I studied theology at Notre Dame in Fremantle, which gave me a lot of material for Shader’s internal conflicts and for some of the moral dilemmas he faces.

I’m not sure how much influence my acting had on my writing, except maybe through my familiarity with classic texts (Shakespeare and Greek and Roman drama). There are little tributes here and there, such as the way the weather sometimes mirrors a character’s internal state (as in Macbeth). Silas references King Lear briefly in The Ebon Staff, and Otto Blightey spouts the philosophy of cruelty found in the works of the French dramatist Antonin Artaud.

I think, though, that the effect of these multifarious careers has been to give me a broad view of human nature in a variety of settings. For me it is the strange idiosyncrasies that make the character recognizably human (even when they are not) and gives the reader something to identify with. There is no “everyman”, no generic human type that we can recognize as ourselves. We see ourselves in the failings and peculiarities of fictional characters. That’s what makes us believe.

FLOW:  Why so many different career paths?  Are they a help or a hindrance with your writing and editing?

PRIOR:  I guess I’m just weird. I don’t like the idea of identifying myself with one role (or at least I didn’t use to). I like to explore the possibilities life has to offer, rather than limit myself to one or two safe choices. I wanted to explore what I could do intellectually, spiritually and even physically, but I’m finally settling into my roles as husband, parent, writer and editor. This combination feels right and it’s where I’ll stay, I reckon. I’ll still keep up with my training, studying, music, film making, acting etc., but the core of my activities will be based around family, faith, writing and editing.

FLOW:  So have you brought any real-life experiences into your writing?  For example, would your family and friends be shocked to see themselves in your books?

PRIOR:  A couple of choice phrases can be attributed to my father (generally anything that involves a toothbrush and a podex). There’s a fair bit of my wife in Cordy, and Magwitch the Meddler has a lot in common with an old friend. Generally, though, similarities are either unconscious or accidental, save maybe for the nomenclature of certain Abyssal fiends.

FLOW:  Is it more difficult to edit your own work than someone else's?  As an editor, is your work held to a higher standard (either by you or by your readers)?

PRIOR: I’m pretty brutal with my own work, often cutting entire paragraphs. I also fuss about word usage to an obsessional degree. If a word doesn’t seem right for a character I ponder it for a while, particularly if I really like it, but I nearly always end up cutting it if I have any doubts.

It is hard to keep perspective, though, and sometimes I just can’t see mistakes because I’ve become too close to the text. This is why the external editors and proof readers are so crucial.

With other people’s works I tend to make copious suggestions in the margins but try to do that tactfully and to allow the writer the choice (after all, as indie writers they are the ones in control). It is sometimes time consuming working with new writers, but once I’ve grown familiar with their writing and with their characteristic mistakes and style the process runs a lot more smoothly. It’s great to work with the same author again and again as we develop a dialogue that brings out the best in both of us.

I’ve not noticed my work being held to a higher standard by readers. I expect it to be perfect, of course, but I know it never can be. I’ve yet to read a book (mainstream or indie) that doesn’t have errors. The goal is to keep them so minimal that they don’t get in the way of the reading and spoil the illusion.

FLOW:   How much of yourself is in your main characters?  Do you identify with any one character more than another?  How? Why?

PRIOR:  Chesterton said that a bad novel tells us more about the author than the characters, so I hope I’m not too prevalent in my works. I think, though, it is inevitable that an author leaves traces of him/herself in every character, but some more than others. I have characters who act as I would wish to act in certain situations, and other characters (maybe Nils, Silas, Ilesa, Shader even at times) who act as I probably would.

I think I identify most with Elias Wolfe from the Shader books, but also with aspects of Dr. Cadman and Shader himself (who both embody extreme versions of some of my personality traits).

FLOW:  I've read how Dungeons and Dragons was a key influence in starting you on the path to writing in that genre.  What made you stick with the fantasy?

PRIOR: My interest in fantasy pre-dated my interest in Dungeons and Dragons. I was introduced to the Conan novels of R.E. Howard at a very early age. I also read Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books, and Michael Moorcock. I started playing D&D in 1979 and continued for a decade and a half. It resurfaced from time to time in later years, but never with the same obsession.

I first started trying to write a fantasy novel at age thirteen. The problem was, the main characters were little guys with hairy feet who insisted were in no way, shape or form hobbits!

David Gemmell’s novels drew me back into fantasy in 1984 when I won a copy of Legend as the prize for English literature. I read all of his subsequent books avidly and I don’t think anyone has quite come up to the mark since his death a few years ago.

I generally dislike the fantasy genre: too many farm boys, too many dragons, and way too much “fantasy speak”. Of course, much of that has changed with the new generation of writers, but here I dislike the move toward naturalism, including lengthy descriptions of the taste of a meal, and a tendency to show human nature in its worst possible light. Gemmell’s books can be brutal, but there’s always a sense of good triumphing over evil, no matter the cost. In some of the new fantasy books, it’s hard to tell the difference between good and evil, and generally the worlds depicted are not worlds I’d like to inhabit.

There are genuinely exciting writers emerging, though. I think Joe Abercrombie has a flair for dialect, which finds its way into the narrative portions as well as dialogue. His character building is also top notch, although he seems about as jolly in his world view as Jean Paul Sartre at times.

I’m more excited about the emerging indie fantasy writers at the present time. There’s such a wealth of talent from writers who are staying the course and who are serious about honing their craft. Those I’ve read and admire are David Dalglish, M.R. Mathias, C.S. Marks, Moses Siregar III, Daniel Arenson, M.S. Verish, Debra L. Martin, Robert J. Duperre, and Dawn McCullough White. There’s a bunch of others I have loaded on my Kindle: Jon Creffield, Gerald L. Black, Carolyn Kephart ...

FLOW:   How do you find time to write with all of your various commitments?  What is your first priority?

PRIOR: My first priority is to my wife and children and to my faith. Once that’s all in place I take care of my editing commitments and make sure I leave enough time to write. When I am working on a novel I like to set aside at least an hour a day, often much more. This tends to be between 4.30 AM and 7 AM, before everyone wakes up. This works well even when I am editing as the commissions tend to occupy the times when the baby is napping during the day and then I can work uninterrupted in the early evening. If I have deadlines to reach, I have been known to work through the night.

I also set aside time for physical training most days and like to get out and about whenever possible (particularly now we live in Florida).

FLOW:  There are pretty deep ethical issues in virtually all of your works.  How has your faith contributed to your storylines?

PRIOR: There’s a thread of redemption running through the Shader books, and it even features in TheNameless Dwarf. It’s not clear cut in either series, though. Shader is a melting pot for some of the contradictions in human nature, especially for those of us striving to follow the Christian ethic. Shader does well up unto a point but he keeps getting pulled back to his violent ways. He can justify it to a point – he’s severely pushed, but worse than that, he’s faced with situations where not to act could cause more harm. There’s no easy spirituality for Shader, nor for any of the other religious characters in the series, and elements of Shader’s journey are definitely drawn from the mysticism of St. John of the Cross, complete with dark nights of the soul. I suppose that could be attributed to my time with the Carmelites.

None of the characters in my books, no matter how evil, are beyond redemption (and that is sometimes part of their tragedy). Even Otto Blightey, the Liche Lord of Verusia, could be redeemed, but for all his theological knowledge he can’t believe it (and neither could his thousands of impaled victims, if they were asked).

FLOW:  Your Nameless Dwarf series has been very successful but it is quite a different flavour from your Shader series, even though both take place in the same universe.  Why the difference?  What explains it?

PRIOR: The Shader series is vast, complex, and involves a large number of point of view characters. The Nameless Dwarf, however, focuses on four point of view characters and gradually reveals them to the reader so that we get to know their most intimate thoughts and desires. Nameless himself is quite a lovable character (when he’s not being violent or depressed). He has elements of Hilaire Belloc, Falstaff, and Oliver Read in his personality, so he’s great fun in a tavern.

I think the humor in The Nameless Dwarf really helps to engage readers. There’s a lot of wordplay between Silas and Nils, innuendo between Nameless and Ilesa (and a sicker kind from Otto Blightey), and Nameless is never short of a one-liner or a song. There’s a fair bit of humor in Shader too, but most of it comes from Dr. Cadman and Elias Wolf, whereas the other characters are much more troubled. I suspect that is the key difference: Nameless is a much more likable character than Shader, although I think Shader is certainly intriguing and has very human flaws to his character. The contrast is a bit like that between Druss the legend and Thomas Covenant.

FLOW:  What one thing would you really like your readers and our audience to know about you and your work?

PRIOR: I have a wonderful family who inspire my writing but also help out: Theo and I bounce ideas around for days on end, usually on a long walk. He also likes to listen to the stories read out loud, which is when I catch most of the errors. Paula picks up on my continuity problems and also formats, proofreads, and helps promote the work. Cordelia is just cute (she’s only 10 months old).

FLOW:  So is it fair to say that your family makes a big contribution?  How do they respond to your work?  Are they really into it?  Politely listen?  Something in between?

PRIOR: They tell me they are really into it! I think my wife is proud and Theo used to really enjoy drawing the characters. He even started putting together some film clips for a proposed Shader book trailer a while back, and he’s made a few comedy Nameless Dwarf animations, which are on Youtube. When I was working on The Scout and the Serpent I used to read aloud to Paula and Theo in the evenings. That’s something we should get back to as it was a really nice use of our time together.

FLOW:  How much research goes into your books?

PRIOR: I try to write about things I already know about -- fantasy, arms and armor, religion, mysticism, magic, and relationships, but occasionally the plot requires that I research a subject to add layers of credibility to the language I use and the descriptions. I did a lot of research on sailing for Best Laid Plans and did the same for blacksmithing for Bane of the Liche Lord. I looked into volcanoes for The Archon’s Assassin, which came in handy for Bane of the LicheLord too.

I tend to make a lot of notes, particularly regarding terminology. I use a lot of this in the first draft but often cut it back to a minimum later as I don’t want to draw too much attention to the research.

FLOW:  You've mentioned a couple of books which haven't been released yet (Unweaving, The Archon's Assassin).  Can you give our readers a general idea of when they will come out?  Are there any spoilers you can share with us?  What's next for Nameless?  For Shader?  Harry Chesterton?

PRIOR:  The Unweaving is about ¼ written and will be my primary focus for the first part of 2013. The Archon’s Assassin is the next book in the series after The Unweaving but it’s already ¾ written and will follow soon after. Archon’s marks a huge shift in style in the Shader series and brings it much closer to The Nameless Dwarf style. Nameless features throughout, although he’s got some serious troubles, and we get to see the notorious Dr. Otto Blightey on his home turf. I have the first ¾ in second draft and can’t wait to get back to working on this book. There’s so much happening, so many things to put ion place for books 5 and 6, and so many new characters to develop.

I’ll take a break from Shader once Archon’s is out but plan on finishing the series in 2014 with Book 5: Rise of the Nameless Dwarf, and Book 6: Saphra. The story arc for the entire series has been ready for nearly two years but it’s not something I want to rush as there is so much to tie together. One thing I have decided for books 5 and 6 is that the focus will narrow down and that there will be 3-4 point of view characters.

I have also started work on a Shader short called The Seventh Horse, which is a prequel to the Shader series. I have notes for a short novel about Shadrak the Unseen tentatively called Wolf on the Hill, as well as plans for another novel called The Nameless Dwarf Wants You, which is likely to feature Shadrak, Ilesa, and possibly even Harry Chesterton.

Regarding Chesterton, I’m planning on him going back to his roots (he was a character I invented at school and turned up in virtually everything I wrote at the time – I guess he’s a bit of a Mr. Benn character (for those in the know). I’ve been planning to re-start the Thanatos series in a much more traditional SF/fantasy/action style rather than the experimental style of Thanatos Rising. I may still keep the first person narrative, though, as a tribute to the John Carter books.

FLOW:  So, what’s with the zombie fetish?

PRIOR: Theo got into Resident Evil and from there went on to Marvel Zombies. We ended up watching Shaun of the Dead together and then went on a six month zombie fest, watching pretty much anything we could find in the genre until we were sick to death (!) of it. All this zombiemania inevitably led to me putting zombies in The Axe of the Dwarf Lords as well as writing a zombie short for The Gate 2 (edited by Robert J. Duperre) called The Indian Rope Trick.

We’ve made a few zombie short films as Dizeazed Productionz (available on Youtube). Most of the time I get to play the zombie so Theo can shoot me in the head (sweet!)

FLOW:  Is there anything else you would like to add or tell our readers?

PRIOR: I’d like to thank everyone for helping to make indie publishing possible through their support. Every purchase, every review, every blog comment or email makes all the hours of writing and editing worthwhile. Writing a book would be meaningless without readers. The process of writing is only complete when a reader is engaging with the story. I’ve received a lot of help and encouragement along the way, mostly from people I’ve never met in the flesh. So don’t be shy. If you’ve read any of my books, send me an email (I always respond), even if it’s just to say hi. Leave a review, comment on my blog. Every bit of feedback is invaluable.

You can find me at or email me at

All the best and have a shogging good holiday.

FLOW:  Thank you very much and have a great holiday too! :-)

D.P. PRIOR's books are available everywhere e-books are sold!  He is also the editor in chief at Homunculus Editing Services

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