Five Questions: David Anthony Durham

 

cover-acacia.jpgIn the last several years the fantasy genre has had some amazing talents step forward and give us great books—Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Vicki Pettersson, Brandon Sanderson, to name a few.
David Anthony Durham is cozy right in the middle of them.
Acacia, Book One of The War With the Mein, was released in June 2007 to a great many excellent reviews—much deserved positive reviews, I might add. Since that time David has continued to work as a writing instructor, developed a well-read blog, and all the while spent a great deal of time writing the second book in his series, The Other Lands.
What appeals to me about Acacia and what David is doing is he didn’t start out as a fantasy writer. He’s written several award-winning historical fiction novels and he made the transition to fantasy writing quite smoothly. Not sure how he feels about that… perhaps a new set of questions are needed. At any rate, he has seen much, moving between genres, and being a learned man has helped him create a historical-type fantasy world with real, true depth that is quite simply fun to read.
If you haven’t read Acacia, do so. It is now out in paperback.
Below is Five Questions with David Anthony Durham. Enjoy!


Unbound Worlds: When did you start writing? Why do you write?
David Anthony Durham: I wrote my first fiction when I was thirteen. A novel actually, about battle-axe-carrying warrior turtles. Awesome stuff.
Why do I write? Geez, I don’t know. Lots of reasons, everything from changing the world for the better to making lots of dosh. Thing is, there are lots of different ways to achieve those things. Writing isn’t a very reliable one. It is, however, the one that compels me. I don’t really think I have any choice. Stories roll around in my head. The best way to exorcize them is to get them on paper. I think I’d be a rather disturbed person if I didn’t write.
UW: Describe your writing day? How many words/pages do you write a day on average? Breaks? How much time do you spend editing and how do you go about it?


DAD: I don’t have an average writing day anymore. My writing schedule at the moment fits in and around my commitments to the two different writing programs I teach in, not to mention commitments to my wife and two kids. So, for the last couple of years I’ve written when and how I could, which makes for different outcomes each day.
I will say this, though… There was once a time when I was a full-time writer. Back then I aimed to write 2,000 words a day. That was usually spread throughout the day, with lots of breaks and interruptions. On occasion I would reach 3,000 words in a day, and I’ve done as much as 4,000 when under pressure.
I will also say this… The time will soon come when I’m a full-time writer again. When I am, I’ll be writing at least 2,000 words a day. I might set the bar higher, actually.
As for editing… I do a great deal of it while I’m writing. By the time I get to the end of a narrative I have a fairly polished book. Or, I feel like I do. Then I give it to my editor and he promptly informs me otherwise. So it goes…
UW: How many books did you write before you signed your first book contract? How did you get that contract? Via agent? Industry friend? Writer’s retreat? Slushpile? Other?
DAD: Two novels. A handful of short stories also. The route to my first contract is a little convoluted. It begins when the young woman that was reading slush for my first agent read my first novel, Cicada. She loved it and got that agent to sign me. But that agent never managed to sell that book, nor could she get a publisher to bite on my second one. Eventually, I parted ways with that agent.
That slush reader, though, decided to change sides and become an editor. She got an entry-level job at Doubleday and, as soon as she became an editorial assistant, she had me submit that first novel directly to her. She wanted to publish it; her senior editors didn’t. We went back and forth a few times, over a few years, but she couldn’t convince them.
So I went ahead and wrote third novel, called Gabriel’s Story. This one was historical and had a good deal more adventure in it – although it was still pretty literary in style. The editor liked it, and this time the Doubleday higher ups did agree. They bought it. They also bought a second book that I hadn’t written. Only after we had the basic terms in writing did they point me toward the guy that’s now my agent. I thought that was unusual, but actually it’s not. My agent is kind of a big wig, and he doesn’t even accept submissions anymore. He will, though, consider a book when someone like the Editor and Chief of Doubleday calls him and recommends it.
UW: What advice would you give beginning writers? What is the best way to break into the industry?
DAD: I don’t think there is any one best way. Every writer will tell you a slightly different story. Certainly, you have to begin by putting in the hard work, and you have to be willing to toil away for years with no guarantee that you’ll get published and applauded for it. There’s no way around that – at least no way that you can plan and implement with success certain.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that writing can, of course, be richly rewarding and it’s worth every miserable day and each rejection and all the times you rush out to check the mail or wonder if it’s an agent calling when the phone rings. (I go through all these things every day. Have for years. Will for years, I hope.)
How to get some of that goodness for yourself? Write well. Revise. Write more. Revise. Get feedback from people you trust to give it honestly, either in formal writing programs or from writer’s groups or just among friends. Read a ton. Read widely – not just the exact stuff you want to write, but other folks, too. Go to cons. Meet writers. Meet aspiring writers. Shake hands. Buy drinks. Go home from cons and write. Get your best work on the page and then send things out – stories to the mags that you think might be interested – longer works to agents/editors that you’ve looked into and think might be interested. Expect rejection. Accept it. Move on. Revise if need be. Write more. Send. Get rejected. Send more.
Repeat all of the above until you get a break. AND then know that you’re just at the beginning. What matters then is what you do with that break.
For the vast majority of successful writers it’s a long road. But, again, it’s worth it. I get emails from people that say they stayed up all night reading one of my books. Emails from overseas. From people that tell me things about what my characters meant to them that I wasn’t even aware of as I wrote. In so many ways, I’m awed that I’m getting away with providing people experiences similar to those I had when I was discovering my favorite authors. That’s quite a blessing; and – as with most good things – it takes time and resilience, hard work and blind faith to get achieve.
So, somewhere in that rant is my advice to beginning writers.
UW: What are you currently working on? When can we expect it?
DAD: I’m in the editing process for the second Acacia novel, The Other Lands, right now. I can’t guarantee when it will be out, but Doubleday is certainly aiming for September 2009. Maybe it’ll arrive right about the time we’re climbing out of recession and everybody is ready to buy again. Here’s hoping…


David keeps an excellent blog on his website. To visit the website, one I actually developed for David, click www.DavidAnthonyDurham.com!