This week’s installment of the Writer’s Corner features Dan Melson. Dan writes science fiction. He is independently published and not affiliated with Clayborn Press. You can find Dan around the web. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/
On his Blog: http://www.danmelson.com/ or on his Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/Dan.
How long have you been writing and what is your proudest accomplishment so far?
I have been writing for about forty years, and the world-building for the Empire of Humanity goes back about that far. However, I’ve only been trying to publish fiction for four or five of them. I finally decided I was tired of a dearth of the types of stories I wanted to read, so I began writing them. My proudest achievement is that during the course of writing a novel, one or more of the characters usually stands up to me and says, “I thought of something better.” And they’re right.
What advice would you offer new writers?
Persistence, persistence, persistence. Don’t expect to achieve bestseller status overnight. Don’t expect every review to be a glowing five star review – no matter how popular you are. Writing is a job and a business. There will be an uphill struggle, and you will have setbacks. But approach it with an understanding that the road will be difficult, and you have a much better chance of getting where you want to go in the end.
What is something that you struggle with the most when you are writing?
Writing when my day job has left me exhausted. Sometimes it’s difficult. But it’s also rewarding and necessary.
As a writer, do you have any literary pet peeves when reading books?
Lots. Deus ex machina. Violations of the Evil Overlord’s list. Whiny characters crying “poor, poor, pitiful me.” I want books to give me the impression the author thought when writing the story and the characters think their way to a solution against real opposition. And self-pity has never, in my experience, gone together with the perseverance to make a real difference.
When you decided to put your books out for sale, did you go Indie, small press, or with an agent? And what factors contributed to that decision?
Indie. The large publishing houses, and most of the smaller ones, have political filters that I’d never pass through. I think the experience of Christopher Stasheff made up my mind. Multiple New York Times best-selling author, definitely left of center politically – but not left-wing enough to get a publishing contract in the modern publishing world. I’ve completely given up on reading most of the major publishers because of the nonsense. They’ve made up their minds what they want to publish, and it isn’t what I want to read. Why would I expect them to change for my stories?
Are you working on anything new?
I’m always working on something new. My primary work in progress has a working title “The Fountains of Aescalon” and is a riff on Zelazny and Moorcock, a fantasy with a few science fictional elements. When that doesn’t want to come, I’m working on The Gates of Faerie, an urban fantasy/swords and sorcery crossover. Intermittently, I’m working on Setting the Board, book 3 of Preparations for War, and the thus far untitled Book Two of Politics of Empire, both set in the Empire of Humanity. I also have about four or five ideas in the world-building and plotting stage, and one of these days I have at least one more consumer guide I’m going to finish.
Would you describe yourself more as a “pantser” or an “architect” type of writer? (someone who makes it up as they go along – writing by the seat of your pants, or someone who plans meticulously)
I’m definitely on the architect side of the line, although I’m a long way from the most dedicated architect. I have a starting point, an ending point, a plot and a set of events to go through on the way, as well as the major characters before I start the process of actually writing. The limitation on this is that I have learned that more often than not, at least once during the writing process one of the characters will tell me, “I thought of something better”, and then I have to adjust everything. Some of my books have ended up in a very different place than I intended when I started writing the story as a result of this, and I consider it a very good thing.
What is your writing process like?
Pretty boring, actually. Word on a laptop. Music if practical under the conditions. Force myself to bull through the distractions and get some writing done. Believe it or not, a dog to cuddle and pet occasionally also helps. I recommend dachshunds.
Do you use any special tools or programs to help you write?
A word processor. A web browser for research. A broad education. And when it’s done, beta readers including The World’s Only Perfect Woman.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with reader or aspiring writers?
My brand as an author
First and foremost, I want to entertain you. I will happily give up everything else in order to entertain. If you don’t come away from the book with a sense of “That was fun!” and wanting to read the next book, I’ve failed. I am trying to entertain you, and if I don’t do that, you shouldn’t give me any more of your money. Since I want you to buy more of my books and tell your friends I’m an entertaining writer, I’m going to try to entertain you. I don’t try to have flippant smart-asses tossing off one-liners every three words, but I do try to slide a few in.
Second, I want the characters to think. I want you to come away from the book thinking that everyone did what they did for rational reasons or at least motivations real people have. Nobody in my books is evil because it says so on their character card. The antagonists are pursuing their own best interests as best they see them. Sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Similarly, I try really hard to avoid violations of the Evil Overlord’s Principles. If it were possible to game the antagonist with a cheap shot, someone would already have done it. I want you to have the feeling that it took some real thought to plot this story – that all the characters all thought and worked for their chosen ends, and that the resolution reflects this.
Third, I want the ending to be something good that the characters have earned. I’m not going to promise that they all live to get there, but all that work and risk should earn them a better place than they started from according to what they value. I’m also not going to promise it’s the place they thought they were going in the first place. But if the work and risk wasn’t going to earn them a better place, why should they bother? Even if it’s just saving other people from a disaster, the characters should get something out of it. The ones who survive and persevere, anyway.
Fourth and finally, I’d like to think that I maybe gave you a little bit of a different way to think about things. I’m not looking to preach at you like a tenured professor, I just want to illustrate that there are different ways of looking at the same issue. I don’t think I’m going to change your mind. But maybe – just maybe – I can induce you to have a thoughtful conversation with someone who doesn’t agree with you. There’s far too little of that these days.