Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: David Anthony Durham

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 5, 2009

war with the meinAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what your Acacia novels are about?

They’re traditional epic fantasy in some ways: an imagined world, kings and queens, large-scale battles, assassins and pirates, a bit of magic, strange creatures. It’s firmly in the fantasy tradition, but I came to the series with my own interests and outlook.

For one thing, I studied history and wrote three historical novels before getting into fantasy. In a lot of ways I created my imagined world based on things I’d learned in researching the ancient world in my novel Pride of Carthage. I came to writing via the MFA route, and I still have a hand in teaching and judging awards and being part of the mainstream literary world. And I’m person of mixed racial heritage, with a very mixed family. That’s a big part of why I wanted to create a multi-cultural world in Acacia. It’s a fairly serious series, not so much about good vs bad as it is about the good and bad in everyone and the complexity – moral, political, economic – involved in ruling or conquering a nation.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in first getting published?

Ah… Well, I wrote two novels. I’m talking literary coming of age heartfelt poignant type novels. The kinda stuff they like in MFA programs. Got an agent. Waited for several years as those novels accumulated rejections. Waited… Revised… Waited more…

Eventually, I decided to write novel number three. I cut ties with my agent and went to work. What I came up with was still kinda literary, but it was also an action packed Western with a lot of adventure. This one got accepted by the only publisher I talked to about it – Doubleday. They’d turned down those first two novels, so they knew me. But for them Gabriel’s Story was the first book of mine that they wanted to go with.

I’m glad they did. That novel was very well received. Great reviews and award attention and all that. It was a much better launch then if I’d managed to publish one of those early novels first. And I’ve been with Doubleday ever since. They’ve published two novels about African-American history. One epic war novel. And they’re on board for a total of three epic fantasies. Film rights options in three cases. Foreign editions in eight languages…

Moral is: Rejection can be good. Use it. Get better. Right more and come back later. The very folks that rejected you before may be your best friends later.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Dude. I’m embarrassed by this question. I’d like to have gaming credentials, but the only ones I really have date back like… thirty years. I was part of the Atari generation. And Nintendo. And Sega. I first played like… Pong or something. I hung out in arcades in the late 70’s, gaping at the cool kids and pinball wizards.

But, alas, that’s long ago. As an adult I haven’t done much gaming. For a while my time was spent doing things like whitewater kayaking and raft guiding. And then I got into traveling the world. And then I got married, had kids, and still did the traveling/whitewater thing. Any other time I had was spent trying to write books. That’s how it remains.

I will say that I’ve noticed a return to video/computer games because my kids are getting into them. For a while they needed me to help them get going on LOTR or Star Wars games. Now, however, they have surpassed me. And that’s as it should be.

Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Writing often seems to me like chiseling a sculpture out of stone. It’s not particularly fun. It’s a grind. It’s work. And it’s even worse in a way because there isn’t any actual stone to hammer on. There’s no physical satisfaction. You’re both making the sculpture in the stone and your creating the stone from your imagination in the first place. The process can be humbling and clunky, and it’s hard to know if all your effort will amount to anything. It means a lot of time aware that your vision of your greatness may be entirely out of proportion as compared to your actual greatness.

Of course, once the work is done and you have something to show for it – like a book – then it all seems worth it.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Being read. Having people love it and write you and tell you. Having people say they lost a weekend in your world. One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is hearing people say to you the same type of things you’ve said about the books you’ve loved. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s awesome when it does.

When do you find time to write?

Not sure. It’s like finding time to eat, to crap, to pee, to… Well, anyway… It’s hard to schedule, but it’s a thing I have to do. So one way or another it happens.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

The third novel in the Acacia series. It will essentially close out a trilogy, although I may return to write in the universe later. Also, I have a three-part story in the next of George RR Martin’s Wild Cards novels. It’s called Fort Freak and is very much a work in progress. It may go without saying, but I’m thrilled and daunted and excited and scared by writing for George. I really can’t screw this up. So I’m making sure I don’t.

What do you enjoy reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have to read a lot of stuff from all over – including lots of student writing. What I’ve been enjoying most the last couple of years is well-written fantasy and sf, with a little bit of horror thrown in too. I really enjoy GRRM, of course. I think Ken Scholes is off to a great start on a new series with his Lamentation. I dig just about all Neil Gaiman, lots of Neal Stephenson, Dan Simmons, Kay Kenyon, Richard K Morgan, Peter F Hamilton, Octavia Butler, Kelly Link. Enjoyed Naomi Novik’s series too. This list is by no means complete, but those are the first names that pop into my head. Oh… and on the horror side it’s been Stephen King and Joe Hill.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I don’t escape. I enjoy what I have. I toss the Frisbee with my kids. I ride my bike. I cook. I eat. Stuff like that. I do spend a lot of time listening to audiobooks. That’s an escape of sorts, but I’m always listening while doing something else, so it feels grounded. And I’m always listening as a writer, learning things, seeing how others pull stuff off.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

other landsJust know that it can take so much longer than you think it should for things to happen for you. Part of that can be that the powers that be don’t see your brilliance. Part of it can be that you’re not as brilliant as you think you are. Part of it may be that you’re not even that good at all.

Whatever the case is, sticking with it for the long term can/will pay off in some way or another. Publishers may eventually catch on and see your awesomeness. You may grow into that awesomeness more slowly. Or you may never exactly be awesome, but may find the right story to tell at the right time. And that can go a long way.

Bottom line, though, is that nobody is going to roll out the red carpet for you. You’ve got to prove yourself, to work, to write. And then stand – hopefully with some humility – as the carpet rolls.

You wake up to a world where your Acacia novels have been made into a massively multiplayer online role playing game. What kind of character would you roll up and why?

Do you know how awesome that would be? Okay… yeah, you probably do. I’d love it.

What kind of character would I be? As I answer I’m aware that I’m referencing characters that weren’t yet in the first book. So this is new stuff. I’d love to be one of the Sublime Motion from The Other Lands. Tattoed. Motified. Tusked. Trained all their lives to fight as inspired by their animal totems. Essentially gladiator slaves. The best of the best. That could be fun.

Or… I’d be Mena, my favorite warrior princess. Mounted on her flying… Maybe I shouldn’t say. It’s part of what I really like about the new book, and right now it’s not out yet.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

No, I don’t think so. I’d just thank you for the interview and thank them for reading this far.

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