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A Deep Blue Interview...with me...conducted with surgical precision by the inimitable Richard Steinberg

Five Questions For The Shadeaux

As all regular Deep Blue readers know, Dave Wilson, co-proprietor of the Chateaux Shadeaux, occasionally likes to torment his friends and writers he admires (the sentence construction implies he might not admire his friends; hmm . . . I’ll have to think about that) with five questions designed to bring out their feelings about writing, being a writer, and various aspects of the indescribable chaos that is a career in writing. Well, when I heard he was preparing for a new round of “Five Questions” I thought it only appropriate that Dave step up and be the first subject/victim. Foolishly, err . . . sagely, he agreed.

Here then, I present to you, the mind of The Shadeaux, himself – David Niall Wilson – author of (my favorite) This Is My Blood, (the disturbingly brilliant) Deep Blue, the Grails Covenant Trilogy, Star Trek Voyager: Chrysalis, Except You Go Through Shadow, and the Dark Ages Vampire clan novel Lasombra, and who could possibly forget The Mote In Andrea’s Eye.

Let us begin:

R.S.: 1: So much of who you are seems to have been formed by your years in the Navy. And if not directly formed there, then at least fuses were lit there that detonated creative explosions after you left the Navy. What do you think the experience meant to you as a writer, as a man, as a citizen-soldier/sailor of the creative arts wars?

DNW: I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois. While we did have a college in my hometown, Eastern Illinois University, I didn't really interact much with the world at large in those days, except through reading. My step-father, while probably not as bad a man as I remember, was ill-equipped to take care of a family in any of the ways that really matter – his people skills sucked. His idea of a good time was hanging god-awful dark wood paneling late into the night, smoking cheap cigars and washing the smoke down with Seagrams 7 & 7-up, or drowning what small sparks served as his imagination in very cheap beer.

I'm not bringing this up to kvetch, but only to show that I lived in a very compressed, very limited world. My school was a hodge-podge of college brats and farm kids, 4-H and higher math. I was a mediocre athlete, not horribly well-liked, my grades being too good to hang out with the "grits," who I felt a sort of kinship with, and my hook shot not good enough to get me in with the jocks. I had a rough time in the real world, so I spent a lot of it exploring those created by others. I read voraciously, and all that time I dreamed of a particular thing…getting the hell out.

Those who have read DEEP BLUE will probably not be surprised that the kid sitting on the bed with a guitar with strings too far off the fret board to be pressed into service, listening to endless re-runs of Hank Williams Senior's greatest hits was me. I wish I'd met Wally in the alley along the way, because music was another option for me, but I made my choice in the summer of 1976 when I signed up for the US Navy's "Advance Entry" plan. It was about then that I started to come to life. I bought a car, got a date for the prom, made the first of many mistakes in my life when I didn't follow up on that date, joined a church and studied for the ministry – made more mistakes, and learned from most of them, and then, one day in June of 1977, I stepped onto a plane and walked into a new life.

It took a long time, even with the new-found freedom, for me to grow into myself. I went through periods of Dungeons and Dragons, riding with a Bike club, teaching Sunday School, being engaged, and single, and married, and divorced, and all that time the one thing that stuck with me was…I'm a writer. At that point I hadn't written anything but poetry since high school, but the belief in this dream never wavered. Sometime about halfway through my career in the military, a couple of things happened, and everything changed.

First, I got in trouble. I won't go into details of that, because it was a long time ago, but it woke me up in ways that nothing else had done. It made me re-evaluate what I was doing with my life, my Navy career, and what I was NOT doing with my supposed writing career. I started working harder at my job, and seeing the responsibility it entailed. I started getting irritated with others who didn't do their work well, or didn't seem to care about what they were doing. I came to hate leadership earned by longevity rather than ability, and fought to overcome it. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I took a course on writing fiction from the Writer's Digest School to jump-start my own creative ambitions. I was lucky enough to be paired up with author J. N. "Jerry" Williamson, editor of the amazing Masques anthology series, charter member of HOWL (the predecessor of the HWA) and a very good teacher. I knew everything then, and only needed that quick "step-up" to get noticed and have my career take off so I could write for a living and take summers in Tuscany, you see, and that course was going to get me there.

So much of what we know when we are young and arrogant is lost when we grow up.

The thing about the Navy was, I got to be very proud of what I did. I got to where I liked the idea of wearing my uniform when I went home, and the thought that what I did helped protect others, and the way of life I'd always taken for granted. I also did a lot of living during those twenty years. I saw country after country, met people from all walks of life, was given adventures and stole others. For a writer, a life like that is a gift beyond price. I met the characters of a thousand novels in the US Navy, and saw enough settings to create worlds in which to set those novels. I walked down many of the roads of history, sometimes as a drunk, sometimes as a musician, always as a sailor and a writer. I have a good memory, and I have a good imagination, and sometimes I wonder if the two haven't blended and confused my own history to the point that some of what I believe I experienced might have never happened…but I don't think so. No matter how wild an imagination might be, it can never quite match the quirky oddities that life will hand you if you just walk down the right street at the right time (or wrong).

And despite all the things I hate about the country these days, I still believe in it. I believe in democracy, and I believe in the military. I believe that we'll get through these bad days and get a real president and redeem some of what I fought for. I believed it then, and I believe it now, and if I were called to go – and to stand – and to fight again – if it was necessary – I would go. Maybe that's part of my heritage. Most of my family was military, though I'm the only sailor that I know of. Maybe it's just a part of that escape from small town Illinois, or part of growing up. Most of my most amazing experiences came during the time I spent in the military, and I suspect those times will continue to populate the pages of things I write as long as I'm pouring words onto the page.

R.S.: 2: Essays, short stories, novels, solo projects, collaborations, commentaries. You’ve done a bit of it all. I’m not going to ask you where you get your ideas – children and innocents may read this exchange – but what is it about an idea that guides you to one form over another? Do you prefer one; or ever try to shape an idea into a given form only to have it bite you in the ass and demand a different form?

DNW: Interesting question. Most of my early career was market driven. Very seldom did I have the opportunity to choose both the idea and the format, and in the beginning, the distinctions didn’t even matter to me. Getting published was the goal, follow the dangling carrot of what they are looking for now only to discover that by the time you can see that carrot and start writing, they’ve shifted to parsnips and you’ve missed the boat. I wrote prolifically back then, but that was largely due to horrible rewriting habits and a lack of the ability to know when something was worth writing, and when it was not. I probably had a message to pass on then, but I can’t remember what it was, and at the time I never figured it out, so that much is lost to time.

Now, though, I find enjoyment in most forms of writing. I still don’t like articles, but essays give me the chance (much like in this interview) to spout off about what I believe, and what I think, without having to say it is so for everyone.

I started out with short stories and poetry, mostly because that was how long my stories came out. I had a hard time in the old days getting past a 3,000 word story. To show how I’ve evolved and changed, I have a hard time thinking below the novel level these days. I find that I can write a novel from the seat of my pants, but if I want to write something short – particularly within a set word limit – I have to outline it. Certain themes and ideas just fall into the pattern of a novel, or a story, or even a screenplay. How it comes to life in my mind is largely the motivating factor for me in this … and the number of words piling up inside must be whittled down before they are lost, so I take advantage of all outlets. Sometimes this costs me money, because I do things for free that take up time I could spend on the current novel, or on plotting a story for a paying market, but most of the time I think it keeps me sane and plodding onward – the steady outpouring of thoughts and images keeps me from filling up and popping like an overripe balloon.

I still think that, other than those brilliant white flashes that must be attended to, when a story just comes to you of its own volition, I’m driven by what I’m seeking, if that makes sense. I usually know I want to write an essay, or a story, or a novel before I start trying to figure out what it will be about, so I am usually able to skew the work into the form that I want it to take. Usually. Notable examples of my failure in this would be the novels “This is My Blood,” and “Deep Blue,” both of which were first published as novelettes.

R.S.: 3: I want to get into the “real” David Niall Wilson now. You know, the guy that gets dive-bombed by giant horseflies, wanders about abandoned hotels with little girls, belittles smalls dogs, once held the security of America’s shores at the end of his keyboard – while helping to administer the Storytellers website at the same time – the cynical optimist who would never leave his dear, dear Carolinas . . . unless he had a REAL GOOD offer. How important do you think “relative” stability (as opposed to stable relatives) is to a writer’s chances for success? In light of the real interesting year you’ve just had, do you think you would be the artist you are without your form of familial and socio-pathological stability? Would you be better without it? Worse? Do you a think a writer needs to have a level of instability in their lives in order to keep the mix stirring?

And while you’re at it, give us the story of “Niall.”
DNW: Let's get the easy part out of the way first. Way back machine in overdrive. It's 1985, and I'm reading fantasy trilogy after fantasy trilogy, just prior to growing up (literary taste-wise, anyway). One of the books I read was a Celtic fantasy with a bard for a hero, and his name was Niall. He was Welsh, and he ended up battling the Morrigan and aiding Cuchulan, and the name stuck with me. Enter my so-called-writing career. I had just started submitting short stories for publication, and (remember now, I knew everything back then) every writer had to have a pen name to write under. I figured there were David Wilson's aplenty, and that if I wanted to be a stand-out in that crowd, I needed an edge. Therefore, my first five or ten published stories (and my first hundred or so rejected stories) were submitted under the pen name David Niall.
Then came the problems. For one thing, even though the markets accepting the work were no great shakes and not that impressive, none of my friends or relatives (other than those who knew what I was up to) would believe the stories were mine. I got tired of bringing in the manuscripts, letters, etc. to prove myself, so I put the Wilson back on the end of the name. By the time it occurred to me that I should have dropped the affected "Niall" (replacing my given middle name Neil) it was too late. I had novels on the shelves and had begun to build a readership (albeit a small one). I just decided to leave it alone, and it's been with me ever since. It doesn't even irritate me too often anymore.

Now..relative stability. What the hell is that? Seriously. In the Navy I had no stability in my life, but I had forced stability in my schedule…even though my life at home was often a wreck, I had at least one day in four to write when I was in port because I had to stand duty, and on the ship, I wrote. When I was out at sea, unless equipment was broken, I could write from about four in the afternoon until midnight every day…weekends I could write more, and the alternatives were boring enough in most cases to drive me to the keyboard night after night…I suppose, in its way, that was stability.

I think that stability is too difficult to define. There have been chaotic times in my life when I was able to write feverishly, and other times when depression had set in so deep I couldn't have found the energy to type a word. There have been periods where I felt trapped in awful situations that I saw no clear way out of…I wrote through most of those, but it had a negative affect on my work. I think that stability is good, but here's the thing. The kicker, if you will.

If your life and your career are too smooth, you can grow complacent. Your writing grows complacent as well. It requires an edge, a honed, hungry edge, and keeping that edge can be very much like keeping a relationship strong. You have to be aware of it, and you have to push limits, even if the world says you don't, and that everything is JUST FINE THANK YOU….because just fine is never really good enough, is it?

I'm not sure if that answered anything…but for the record, the little girl in the abandoned hotel was my DAUGHTER, and far from abandoned, it may become my office soon…a stable office, but next to a very high-octane coffee shop…and haunted, did I say haunted?
Stress is the mother of creation.

R.S.: 4: Charles Baudelaire described women as: “The being who, for most men, is the source of the most lively, and the most lasting joys; the being towards or for whom artists and poets compose their most delicate jewels; from whom flow the most enervating pleasures and the most enriching sufferings. She is rather a divinity, a star.”

As we’ve gotten to know each other, we’ve talked a bit about our success and failures as men, as mates (or proto-mates) as human beings in utter lack of control of where our emotions might take us from time to time. Your Trish (in no way implying possession) is bright, creative, intelligent, and apparently deeply understanding of weird. And you seem to be sprinting toward your personal literary greatness in your time with her. What has been her role in your life as an artist, and the role of other women (from former wives, girlfriends, etc. daughters, mothers, female platonic friends, women mentors) in creating the heart and soul that conceives of Mary Magdalene as a redemptive vampire, and who paints most women characters as strong?

DNW: I'm just going to answer this relating to romantic relationships, because if I went on about all the strong, talented women who have been part of my life – the ones who did and did not break hearts and those that I admire for a myriad of talents, I would never get through this at all. Ever since leaving the nest, I've had the odd notion that I should not be alone. I started out with a very Lancelot-like view of myself – pure and romantic, the good guy that women would want to spend their lives with – and I really believed that. Never forget that I knew everything.

As I grew older, possibly wiser, and definitely different, a lot of things changed. I found, for instance, that there are a lot of women who would rather be treated badly by the Black Knight than worshiped by Lancelot. I found that giving and giving and giving and never getting angry is a bad relationship model, because as it weakens you, it sickens those you love. I found that I wasn't Lancelot, or even close, and it became harder and harder to shore up the crumbling walls of that "great guy" I had always considered myself to be…

During those years I married a girl I should not have married. We were in love, we were both too young, we both had ambitions, and they were not the same. It ended badly with her cheating on me, and my world shattering. I got over it, we got back together, and then it fell apart – though this time I chose to go out on my own terms, at least, traded in my Yamaha for a Harley, and dated a stripper. As bad as that might sound, it was a turning point. I worked my way through some odd relationships, some unlikely personal choices, and came out on the other side stronger, and with a real spine. It was somewhat of a revalation.

I didn't start writing, really, until I was just getting ready to leave Spain to come back to the US. At the time I was in a bike club, married to a girl who was also in the Navy, and my personal goal was to write short fiction for Easy Rider magazine…the closest I came was a story that was rejected by "Outlaw Biker," who wanted to publish the artwork that accompanied the story (drawn by my long-time buddy Don Paresi, cover artist for the next two books I have coming out – and another story entirely).

Never being one to learn from my mistakes, I trusted that wife, and when I went back to sea, she cheated on me too. Not only that, but her chosen partner was President of the bike club, so I (basically) lost them in the bargain too, once I got back…by this time I was on a serious downhill slide emotionally, and not too high on myself, but I still felt like something was missing in my life. I got into sports, worked out, took up running and aerobics, and made another mistake.

I met someone through the personal ads in the newspaper, and (you guessed it) I married her. We have two great kids together, and I'm thankful for both of them, but as a couple we were a wreck, and I hit a wall of depression near the end of that marriage that nearly killed me…and my career. I wasn't writing a damned thing of any use, and nobody cared if I did, or didn't. That was the problem, you see…I didn't have anyone who cared about me. I never did. I always put everything I had into relationships – it's who I am. When I was out at sea, I wrote home daily. I poured out my heart, I sent presents. I got nothing in return. I got so little mail back from home from either of the two women who shared my life in the latter half of my career that I felt as if I had hallucinated the relationships, and each day that passed with my letters going out and nothing coming in, more chipped away from what was left of the façade of my Lancelot complex.

Then came Trish. For once in my life, I felt someone caring for me the same way I cared for her. I felt as if – if I did something right, or wrong, she would feel it – if I succeeded at something she would share it. She's a hell of a writer…an incredible editor, one of the most amazing mothers I've ever encountered, so worried over doing everything for everyone that she loses sleep and goes through small personal hells to make things right for others…and she is mine – possessive? I am. She's changed my entire life…nothing (and I mean that very literally) could have given me the one thing I needed to start writing again, and pull things together…and that was – myself. She doesn't ask me to be some guy I'm not, and she only whacks me on the head when I'm an idiot. Things that would have sent the wonderful women of my previous life into fits of rage, or insults, or just plain driven them over the wall she takes in stride, and we work through them together (case in point my recent period of unemployment.

So I was right, all those years ago. I wasn't meant to be alone. What I didn't get was that you don't have to rush into every relationship that beckons, and – in fact – you should avoid most of them at least long enough to get a very clear idea of what they'll be like over the long haul – and most importantly, you should find the things that are deeply important to you. Then, you have to find someone who will understand that those things aren't going away, and that if they DID go away, there would be nothing left of you but a shell. There are a lot of shells walking around, and I came way too close to joining their ranks…so I'm blessed. After years of being a jerk, that makes me a blessed jerk… Probably it wasn't the easiest route to where I am now, and probably there are pitfalls ahead that I haven't noticed yet, but the blessed jerk, the newest card in the cosmic tarot, has the answer to it all..and you know that answer, because you repeat it to me often. Be true.

You can't be true if you live with someone who doesn't believe in you, but when you have someone like my Trish…you can move mountains.

R.S.: 5: I know you like to end your five questions with a senseless (yet deeply illuminating) multiple choice – if the interviewee were locked in a pay toilet with Albert Einstein, Thoreau, James Brown, and John Wilkes Booth, who would they ask for the quarter – so I’ve put some thought into this one.

DNW: John Wilkes-Booth – I want to know where his hands are.

You are – within your life as it is now– offered several real possibilities of artistic employment, which of the following would you choose:

a) Writing an “as told to” autobiography of a public figure (you personally despise) that will enhance and prolong this figure’s career, but which pays enough so that you and your family will never have to worry about money again;
b) Rewriting a novel by a prestigious novelist (who has lost their touch) for half the money as in “a” but with no credit and a clause that says you can not publish in your own name for five years;
c) Collaborating with a mean alcoholic, drug addicted genius writer (with full credit) for a third of the money as in “a” knowing that if you survive the process it will deeply enhance your image with the community of publishing executives;
d) Getting enough of an advance so that you can stop working outside jobs for two years without strain, but not knowing if you can get anything published within that time.

DNW: Okay…that's tough, but already the character of the mean alcoholic, drug-addicted genius writer is calling to me, and I have to think – I've been mean, I've been through periods where – while I wasn't an alcoholic, I was playing one on TV – there is common ground here, and after all – he IS a genius, and I'm at that point where, though I once knew everything, the one thing I know for sure now is that I have a lot to learn…so I have to go with "C".

The autobiography of the guy I loath would be too much like the licensed novels I've written. At first I'd be fine, but by the time the last words were drying on the paper I'd be having trouble finding the home keys on the keyboard, and the aftermath of self-loathing would be probably cause enough depression to keep me from being happy for a long time to come.

Rewriting the novel for the prestigious novelist might be okay, but the clause about not publishing under my own name is sort of a killer…and though I could publish under other names (like David Niall) it would be too much like selling out. Case in point – the guy who became V. C. Andrews…

I was tempted by the last choice, because I'm an arrogant blessed jerk, and I believe that given two years to write steadily I could make something work…but the problem with it is that I'd want to maintain, or increase, the level I'd reached, and I know from the careers of others that this might not be possible…I think, even if I got a very comfortable advance, I'd just keep the day job until I had amassed enough cash to never have to worry over it again…two years isn't enough of a buffer since I have a family. If it was just me? Hell, I could live off my Navy retirement in a room over the YMCA and write from there.

R.S.: 6: A bonus question! How does it feel to be on the other side of five questions?!

DNW: There's a draft when your skin is peeled back … but it's what we do, isn't it? If there is none of your blood in the ink, it will fade.

R.S.: With love and respect, and admiration for the message of your life and your work,

Believe!

Rick Steinberg

DNW: And I thank you…I think… brother man…

Onward!

DNW

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
sarahlangan
Dec. 22nd, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
Hooray! I didn't know you'd had such an adventurous life.
deep_bluze
Dec. 22nd, 2006 12:01 pm (UTC)
Barely scratched the surface
One thing is certain, if you continue to LIVE a life, it fills up...WAY up. There is always something you've forgotten about that can come back to vivid wakefulness...thanks for reading.

D
(Anonymous)
Dec. 22nd, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC)
Entomology
All well and good, but you sort of skipped over the giant horseflies!
deep_bluze
Dec. 23rd, 2006 12:14 am (UTC)
Re: Entomology
I suspect that I skipped over quite a lot of things. The giant horseflies inhabit our back yard during the summer, and let me tell you -- they are evil. They wait until we get into our pool with Katie (the three year old) and then they start landing on us...but with Katie there, unable to dive beneath the surface, we have to try to kill them, splash them (ineffective) or take one for the gipper, so to speak, letting them have us as we cover the baby...it get's crazy, and there have been some violent, out-of-control reactions to their presence, but as of yet we have no real solution...they are tough, resilient, and their bites burn like fire....


D
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )