Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Live from Afghanistan

Hey all. Shelly's napping, so I'll take this one. It's another stop on the Houses of Common blog tour. Cynthia Rodriguez is currently serving in the US Army in Afghanistan. She and her agent are seeking a publisher for her novel. In the meantime, she offered to interview me. Here it is!

This being my first time ever interviewing an author, I’m a bit nervous. But I assure you all, DWD is pretty awesome. Don’t worry, I tried to tone down the social awkwardness and keep my questions helpful to you as well as interesting. So, without further ado, let’s grab a seat and get this interview rolling! Mr. Dalton?

We’re a good match, because this is my first time being interviewed as an author. I’m no stranger to fame, though. I got my picture in the paper for the fifth grade science fair, and in high school, I had an interview with a local TV reporter which did not air.

1. I’ve spoken a bit about authors and their wacky inspiration. I know mine came from a Disney coloring page. Another is Stephenie Meyer, revealing the Twilight Saga being inspired by a dream. Where did the inspiration for Houses of Common come from?

Wacky. That’s a good word choice. Two sources congealed the ideas in my head and sparked the urge to start writing Houses of Common. The first was an article I read when I was supposed to be working on my thesis for a master’s degree in education. How’s that for hypocrisy? A teacher not doing his homework. The article was by Robert Zubrin, entitled Getting Space Exploration Right. Here’s a link, because it’s an awesome piece: Zubrin noted the discovery and colonization of North and South America changed the world superpowers, in that those who colonized became the powers, and those who backed out, well Portugal? Who’s that? He predicted the same will occur with colonization of the moon and Mars. See how that’s more interesting than articles on educational law and classroom management?

The other was a botany class. Genetics and medical stuff is what hooks me, not plants. But after a few classes, I changed my attitude. One day in particular, the reproductive cycle of ferns was the topic. The offspring look nothing like the parent fern. It’s more like a miniature water lily. The lily-looking plant’s offspring is the fern. It’s called alternation of generations, it’s really weird, and I started wondering what that would look like in a humanoid. That’s where the main character’s species came from. Thanks Dr. Roberts!

But here’s what I need to know: Did your inspiration come before or after the Disney page was colored?

2. The coloring page remains uncolored. There’s this completely sensible part of me that says if I color it, I may ruin the luck I’ve had so far in writing. Like someone snapping their fingers and I wake up from a dream! Silly, I know. But it’s a small fear of mine. Which brings me to my next question. Something I constantly discuss on this blog is fear. I truly believe the Jack Canfield quote: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” What is your greatest fear as an author?

You do realize you just handed your enemies full knowledge of your kryptonite. All they have to do is locate the the Magic Disney Page of Fortune, and defile it with cadmium red, or more fittingly, mermaid fin green.

My fears? In high school and college when I taught swimming lessons, and when teaching high school biology, I’d occasionally have nightmares about the job. In them, I’d swear in front of a bunch of six-year-olds, and wake up horrified at the pool-time fun wiped off their sweet little faces. Or I’d slip an off-color joke into a biology lecture, and have to explain to parents and the principal. I never did any of those things, but the dream was a recurring and disturbing one. Now, I worry about writing something that could be misinterpreted and interrupt the flow of the story with the similar jolt my nightmares would have given in real life. Hooray for beta readers and editors!

A bigger fear? I have a pact with my sister, Jessica Parsons (she has a completed novel, Time Walker, and is searching for agents right now). We’ve agreed to be brutally honest if we notice the other becoming an arrogant, insufferable jerk. We’re all familiar with authors who lose their personable nature in direct proportion to success. When in doubt, I think WWBWD. What would Bill Watterson do?

3. As my readers know, I cannot write comfortably without music and usually I’ll post a song at the end of each post. Music is something that gives me strength as well as direction and I’ve always wondered if all authors feel this way or if I’m the only one. Do you need absolute silence while writing or do you listen to music? If you listen to music, what does your soundtrack look like?

When I’m writing a first draft, silence is my muse. Sometimes the two together are a salve. Occasionally instrumental music is helpful, my favorite being my Pandora station seeded with “John Williams” as artist. Heroic movie themes for my heroic propaganda. (Hey, could that be a new genre name?) But lyrics at that phase are a killer. Can’t write anything with someone’s voice in my ears. Editing is another story. My kids can even be at the same table asking me questions about homework without throwing me off. So, I sometimes broaden the music when revising drafts. A few songs in particular have helped me with characters:

Ranyk – the protagonist of Houses of Common is a terraformer whose deep respect for life is counterbalanced by issues with authority. The Ramones had Ranyk in mind specifically when they recorded their version of What a Wonderful World. Really. Look it up.

Sckiik – Ranyk’s sister is a former cop and current head of security for her species’ US Embassy. A spiritual person with a violent job, I heard this hymn by the cover band Mishmash and now it’s the soundtrack in my brain during her girl-power scenes.!/s/Do+What+Is+Right/2GOa2P?src=5

Dr. Perinath – She’s Ranyk’s boss, the one authority figure who knows how to wrangle him. This song has personal and historical meaning for her, and it’s one of my favorites, too. Can’t beat 40s big band!

Sean and Qi - Theirs is a Romeo-and-Juliet story with a happier outcome (so far), a conspiracy theorist twist, and a big pile of reality to irk them. That’s all the info you get until book three (wicked laugh) but here’s a great song. The video? Kind of lame. It would be WAY better if it was about Sean and Qi.

4. I’m fairly new to writing and have yet to be published. So for you to have been published and me to be able to ask you questions, the next one is obvious: Any advice for writers/new authors?

As I’ve listened to other writers answer this question, I’ve realized there are almost that many paths to the profession. Advice I’ve been given doesn’t often work for me. It was trial and error in figuring out how to craft a story. So, this may be meaningless to many, but here’s what I’ve learned.

Good feedback is painful and your friend. It’s scrubbing the gravel out of road rash. It’s setting the subluxed ulnar fracture. It’s incising and draining the infected cyst. The most useful feedback I received from editors and beta readers nearly always left a bruise.

Well, wasn’t that pleasant.

5. I agree. The best things in life (and writing) are usually the hardest to do. Something else I find difficult at times? Naming characters. I think naming characters can be one of two things: instantaneous or something absolutely annoying. How did you come up with your characters’ names (Sckiik, Ranyk, etc.)?

You’ll think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not making this up. The alien names are the product of an arcane ritual in which I extend my index fingers, close my eyes, and tap out a rhythm on the keyboard. I never learned to type without looking, so it’s truly random. Then I look for interesting phoneme strings and add a vowel or consonant as needed. I’ll forgive anyone for thinking that’s just cheating. Or for stealing the idea.

When choosing from existing names, sometimes I pick one with a meaning to match their purpose. Sometimes one that sounds like it fits and no other reason. Like your instantaneous method. One of my character’s names sounds like the French translation of a phrase which suggests subterfuge. I found that by accident and couldn’t pass it up. Travers le rideau. Through the curtain.

6. This blog is dedicated to sharing my journey as a writer. From typing the first words of this novel to now; what’s your story?

If I write the rest of my novels like the first, my writing career will be a very short story. But I won’t, so it won’t. Because I’m not going to interrupt any more novels with starting and finishing grad school two different times. I also won’t interrupt the next novel three times for adorable little babies (or unadorable ones). Not going to build my own house again, ever. In short, I’ll have the sequel done in six months instead of ten years.

Maybe I just inadvertently shared some advice. About not giving up or hanging it up or hanging yourself.

Here’s how come I only clicked pause and never stop. I like the process of writing. I like learning new things and letting them loose in my head to see what random connections they’ll make. I like outlining a story and putting it into complete sentences. (Complete sentences? Did anyone else’s internal fourth grader just moan and groan in teacher-mediated torment?) I like walking away for a week and coming back to a chapter that’s a really enjoyable read. None of my other jobs in research or education or medicine can boast that all their facets are enjoyable. Hmm. Maybe it’s the walking away for a week…

It’s been such a pleasure speaking to Derick William Dalton and I sincerely encourage you all pick up his new book, Houses of Common. And if you’re an author, feel free to reach out to me for a spotlight post as well. After all, if authors don’t help authors, who will?

All my love,

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