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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Author Interview: David VanDyke

Today I am pleased to present to you all the 72nd in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the feedback-seeking wargamer, David VanDyke,  and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
David:  Perhaps “habits” is more accurate. I tend to be a procrastinator so I try to clear my slate of all unfinished business, such as e-mails I haven’t responded to – then shut down everything but the piece. I need relative silence and quiet – no music, the door closed. Oh, and a big hot mug of coffee helps a lot.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
David:  I like books that have a combination of action and thought, with larger-than-life but not over-the-top characters. I like books that have some kind of futuristic, speculative or fantastic element. And I like spare, elegant writing.

Because of this, some of my favorite authors include Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, and Glen Cook. They write the books I like to read. Undoubtedly Zelazny’s Amber series and Glen Cook’s “Black Company” books fit those molds.

I do have my contrary moments, though. I decided to read O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books (of Master and Commander fame).  They are sea stories and can rightly be called Regency Literature but I liked them anyway and read all twenty.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
David:  A bubbling cauldron of ideas that I will never have enough time to make real. Some people think authors need ideas. Maybe some do. Not me. I need time. That’s why my goal, like most authors, is to quit my day job and make a living writing.

Paul:  What is a typical day for you? 
David:  After the job that pays the bills, I come home, take care of my “notwriting” chores, and then I write for two to six hours. Once I run out of steam, after 500-5000 words or so, I will do a bit more notwriting, sometimes rereading and editing what I have finished. I do a lot of rewriting and tweaking.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why? 
David:  Aside from the lead… well, I rotate protagonists in my apocalyptic Plague Wars series. I can identify at least five that are fully realized people and have taken that lead role as the series progressed. My favorite is certainly the one I’ve given the most page time to: Jill Repeth, USMC. She’s a tough no-nonsense warrior who started out as a military cop then progressed to bloodier things as the world fell apart through the grinding semi-apocalypse that flows through my books. I find that with a female protagonist I am freer in some ways than with a male.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
David:  All the years… ha, that’s a good one. I started writing in April 2012 and I’ve published six works, four of which are novels in my Plague Wars series. But I would say that the biggest mistake I made was getting impatient. I should have gotten Book 1, The Eden Plague, really well edited – really, really well edited – while I was drafting book 2, The Demon Plagues. That way I would have put Eden Plague up in a better state of quality, and also would have brought out book #2 thirty days later. This would have given me better synergy and word-of-mouth, I believe, as those who liked the first one did not have long to wait for the second.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
David:  I think people make time, they don’t find time, for their priorities. Just look at any addict. Suddenly they have time for their addiction. Writing is my addiction, I make time for it. I think as an author you have to consider being ruthless and dumping some activities in your life, whittling your day down to the essentials. God, family, writing; every other priority comes lower. The only TV I watch is unwinding before bed, or something specific like news. I only read for pleasure anymore in the bathtub or at my work lunchtime. I gave up most of my wargaming to make time for writing. It’s really not that hard when you have an obsession.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
David:  Why would I tell you that? Duh. But I’ll tell you and the readers something you don’t hear much from authors: if there were no readers, I wouldn’t write. Most authors when asked will say they would write for themselves no matter what, because they have stories that need telling. Not me. The thing that gets me out of bed is not really the writing per se. It’s the knowledge that I have an audience. I live for feedback – positive or negative. If I could sing or act, I would crave the stage. When I had a military assignment as an instructor, I reveled in that platform. Only when communicating with another person do I feel fully alive.

Paul:  If you are self-published, what led to you going your own way?
David:  The narrow gates and the out-of-touch gatekeepers at the trade pubs. Two childhood friends of mine, BV Larson and Vaughn Heppner, went the independent route after years of trying to be published traditionally. Now they have big backlists and are making a living – but now they both have agents and some books published by “real” publishers too. I am taking their example and hope to achieve some of the success they have had. Why would I want to bow and scrape before the old walls even as they crumble? I’d rather just walk around the damned things and seek out my own audience.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
David:  That second thing, yeah. When I run out of “run,” then I will plot and outline, then run with it some more. It’s an organic process with me. I write scenes, mostly, then I stitch them together into a coherent whole.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
David:  I know my drafts have gotten better and better as I gain practice. I see it, and my main proofreader and publicist (my lovely wife) says she sees it too. I probably went through book 1, Eden Plague, twenty or thirty times. I am down to about five or six rewrites with Book 4, Orion Plague, and they are more minor than they used to be. I think I’m maintaining quality while doing this.

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
David:  I have a trivia-filled head, a lot of surface knowledge. If I need anything more in-depth, I research on the fly via the internet or, occasionally, I just clean out some detail and make something more general, yet still accurate. For example, I try to get my physics in the ball park, but I don’t sweat exact numbers too much unless it matters to the story.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it
David:  Book 4 of Plague Wars:, The Orion Plague: US Marine Master Sergeant Jill Repeth takes a combat team into the nuclear and plague-ridden wasteland to search for her kidnapped fiancĂ©. Meanwhile Australia, the only large country untouched by devastation, becomes the focus for building and launching Earth’s first space warship in anticipation of an attack by aliens – the same ones that loosed the plagues onto Earth.  The second half of the book has one kick-ass space battle.

There is a lot of nail-biting white-knuckle action, military camaraderie, along with thoughtful moral and ethical concerns, evil villains, twisted heroes, and cool sci-fi themes such as nanotechnology, cybernetics, and the impending threat of humanity’s destruction.

Paul:  Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
David:  Huh, yeah, some things I wrote as a kid. Cringeworthy, and I am always tempted to flush them but then the nostalgia hits and I can’t do it.

Paul:  Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
David:  Only if they don’t take a lot of extra work.

For example the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award has so many moving parts that I just didn’t bother. It feels to me like they are turning into just another tradpub throwing up walls.
Other ones, like the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Book Awards, only require a small fee and submitting a properly formatted book. That’s more my speed.

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
David:  Fortunately I have a fantastic wife who has taken on my marketing. She set up my website, my author Facebook page, and a bunch of other things I only have a vague idea about. She’s the social-media person between us. E-mail’s about my speed. She tweets my stuff a lot and that has helped get exposure. On the other hand, paid ads, which I have dabbled in, are more my bailiwick. It’s hard to tell what works for sure because of the high volatility of sales numbers.

Paul:  What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
David:  I guess my favorite thing is getting to interact with fans. Everyone likes to hear they did well, that someone enjoyed the book they put heart and soul and time and effort into.

Least favorite… well, no one likes a bad review, especially if it seems unjustified.

Surprised me… not terribly. Perhaps the disconnect between effort and success is a bit surprising. It shouldn’t be, but it is, there’s a lot of luck in any media business, anything where you are an artist creating content. You can have good books and market the heck out of them, but I think something has to catch on. Witness 50-Shizzle, where did that come from?

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
David:  I’ve always been a big wargamer, and I’ve done some roleplaying, but right now it’s all about the writing. I guess I would say that if I had the time, I would love to do more outdoorsy things – hiking and such – because I grew up near the Sierras and always loved the alpine mountains. But right now, my road to those mountains goes through writing, and making a living at it.

Paul:  Thanks, David. I wish you every success for the future.

About David VanDyke: I grew up in California, childhood friends with bestselling authors BV Larson and Vaughn Heppner. We were together from junior high to college, but after that, while they were working and writing on the side, I took a detour though the US military for more than twenty years. I loved the military life, and I lived all over the world – Japan, Germany, Italy, Belgium, visited many more places, and served in combat zones in Turkey, Iraq, and the Balkans.

Once I retired from the military I was casting about for something more interesting than the corporate grind. I’d always wanted to write, and after I got back in contact with my childhood friends that were now authors, it sparked my imagination, so I took the plunge, publishing my first novel, The Eden Plague, in June of 2012.

David's Blog: David VanDyke
David on Twitter: @DVanDykeAuthor
David on Facebook: David VanDyke
David's latest book: The Orion Plague (Amazon)

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