Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell potential readers about Acacia: The War with the Mein?
That “without giving anything away” thing is really on my mind right now. I just got a full page review in Entertainment Weekly. I’m thrilled about it, but I have to admit that they give away some major plot points from right up to the end of the book. It’s made me more and more conscious of what I say when I talk about it. But back on subject…
What I hope Acacia is for readers is a mature fantasy that reads a bit like an historical epic, but one set in an imagined world and featuring genre elements like magic, ancient curses, massive power struggles and even a few duels with monstrous beasts. I’d like to think that it can be read as an adventure following the fates of four royal siblings caught up in a major upheaval. I also hope that readers will find it chock full of real-world issues and themes, a complex mix of history and politics, backstabbing, revenge and (occasionally) redemption. I’d hope that my perspective as an historical novelist and as a person of color who has lived abroad quite a bit informs the novel too. Acacia isn’t a story of clear good versus evil. It’s a multi-cultural world with lots of players that all have legitimate grievances, desires, hopes. In many ways I’m as big a fan of the “bad guys” as I am of the good, and I hope readers will feel similarly. Also, I’d like people to know that the novel does follow a complete narrative arc. All of the most immediate plot lines reach some amount of conclusion by the end. Yes, there are two more volumes on the way, but readers don’t have to read all three of them to get some satisfaction. Of course, I hope they’ll get to the end of Acacia and want to read more. But I promise they won’t have to.
Q: What can readers expect from the forthcoming sequels? Do you have a working title for the second volume yet? What’s the progress report? Any tentative release date?
I do have a working title, although I haven’t shared it that much. In my mind it would be called Acacia: The Other Lands. Whereas the first novel deals with the wars between the Akarans and Meins, the second one opens up a larger story. It’s about what happens when the rulers of the Known World (of the first book) make contact with the power that lives across the ocean – the people with whom they’ve been trading for years through intermediaries. Suffice to say that making this contact proves to be a mistake, and our heroes (even the villainous ones) find themselves in a struggle that’s on an even larger scale than The War with the Mein.
Progress report? Let’s just say it’s early days yet. Remember that I do have a day job. I’m coming off a busy teaching year, actually, but next year I’m in a new job that should allow me to get the sort of full time writing schedule I like to have back. In any event, I’m contracted to deliver the book to Doubleday next May. That’s what I plan on doing, which means a publication in summer 2009.
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write Acacia: The War with the Mein in the first place?
Before I got to the spark I spent some time collecting the kindling. A long time ago I told my first editor that one day I wanted to write a fantasy. The genre had been so important to me as a young reader, and as an adult writer I felt like it offered such wonderful potential to explore substantive themes while also enjoying great flights of imagination. I’d been thinking for a while that good old fashioned storytelling was sadly lacking from literary fiction. And I was a literary writer. (Still am, kinda.) I developed as a writer at university and through an MFA system, and my first two unpublished novels are decidedly “literary”. But as soon as I go out of my MFA I started to feel the itch to just tell good stories again. I hope that my first three historical novels did that, and I do think that’s a big part of why they got published and read (unlike those first two unpublished novels). I enjoyed historical fiction, but through all those years I never forgot what fantasy meant to me.
As to the spark that light this kindling… In a way it was Peter Jackson’s LOTR. I loved those films in many ways. My kids do too, and with them I’ve watched the movies countless times. So I’m a big fan. But… I really wished I could see and read more fantasy that reflected actual human cultural diversity. It disturbed me that the only inkling of people of color in the films comes in the form of identity-less hordes imported to fight for Sauron. It’s such an epic set of films, but I doubt I’ve ever watched that many continuous hours of a story in which no person of color so much as has a line of meaningful dialogue. It reminded me how much I wanted to do my own epic, one in which people of color weren’t entirely the “other”, and a world in which all things white weren’t necessarily good and all things black weren’t necessarily evil.
Q: What extensive research, if any, did the writing of Acacia: The War with the Mein entail?
A lot more than you would think, considering it’s all made up! Right from the start I wanted to draw on our real world complexity to make sure the Known World felt authentic. So I sampled mythologies: Ancient Greek, Norse, Middle Eastern. I stole inspiration from history: the rise and fall of various dynasties, the Atlantic Slave Trade, Chinese opium consumption. And I sampled from the modern world: biological warfare, fractious alliances with unscrupulous “friends and allies”, global trade monopolies. For a year or so I really worried about covering all the bases I could in terms of worldbuilding. After that, though, I loosened up a bit. The Known World was my world by then, and I felt more comfortable trusting my own instincts in shaping it.
It all ended up being a big mixture. The Epic of Gilgamesh inspired some of the tone of the cult of Maeben that Mena’s a priestess of, but it’s set on an island that’s part Maori, part Indian, with a bit of Japanese clam farming thrown in… It’s a real hodgepodge, but that’s what I loved about writing it. I could pick and choose pieces of our world and set them in different situations and create or change whatever I wanted. That was a lot of fun.
Q: With the success of Pride of Carthage, professionally speaking, following it up with an epic fantasy novel such as this one is somewhat of a gamble. As a critically acclaimed author, why take that risk? I am aware that you are a fantasy fan, but why choose to do so at this juncture in your career?
I’m not exactly famous for my decision-making ability. Who knows – it may prove to have been a wopper of a mistake. If so, though, it’s one that I made from the heart. All of my books drew me to them, regardless of whether or not they were obviously good ideas. Gabriel’s Story was a Black Western – not exactly a hot market, especially as it’s also a literary novel that needs to hit a mainstream literary audience. Walk Through Darkness was a fugitive slave narrative – a long shot as the country only makes a slave-related novel a hit once every ten years or so. Pride of Carthage was an ancient war novel. That one, at least, joined a strong market, with popular authors like Steven Pressfield, Conn Igguldan and Bernard Cornwell doing well with similar material. Problem is that my war novel is ultimately an anti-war novel in which the heroism of the characters is undermined by the reality that everybody in the thing suffers more than they gain. That’s not exactly pitch-perfect for the target audience of such books. But with each of these books the stories and characters got under my skin, and they seemed the most important, challenging stories I could tell.
Acacia, well, let me say this… I didn’t take it for granted that I’d be able to write books as long as I wanted to. Life doesn’t work that way. I pitched the book to my editor saying, truthfully, that if I could only write one more book it would be Acacia. I hope there are many more to come, but I didn’t want to assume that I could get around to it at my leisure. Why Acacia? Because I was remembering my love of epic, imaginative stories, and because I dreamed up the basic Akaran family structure based on my wife’s family, and because I believed a fantasy world would allow me great potential to explore real-world issues in a creative way, and because I wanted to honor the fact that fantasy brought me (and so many others) to reading and that it deserves the opportunity, at least, to earn mainstream respect, and because it was the first of my novels that I could discuss with my children. I could tell my son about Aliver fighting the Antok creatures, and talk with my daughter about Mena, sword-wielding princess that she becomes, going to do battle with a winged god… I loved that. For all those reasons it was worth it to me.
Q: Do you have a different approach when it comes to writing epic fantasy or historical novels?
No, not really. I get to make everything up in fantasy, but in all historical novels you have to make a great deal up also. You may have a basic framework of generally accepted facts, but that does not a novel make. The things that bring the facts to life are the many narrative details of storytelling. Same goes with fantasy. I get to build the historical backdrop, but as soon as that’s in place I have to set real-seeming characters down in it and let them stumble their way through it. So Imco Vaca, the foot soldier from Pride of Carthage, isn’t that different than Leeka Alain, an officer of the Northern Guard. Hannibal and his brothers aren’t so different than Aliver and his siblings, or Hanish and his brothers, for that matter…
Q: More and more authors not known for writing fantasy and science fiction are trying their hands at the genre(s), with varying degrees of success. Fantasy readers, like all well-informed readers, might be resistant when a writer from “outside” the genre tries his or her hand at their (fantasy) genre. Is/was this something you thought about when you first decided to write Acacia: The War with the Mein? Do you feel as though you have to “prove” yourself all over again, this time to fans of a different genre?
Yes and yes. I’ve heard some of that skepticism in reviews that start rather honestly saying that they approached the book with “some skepticism”, but so far that’s been followed by “but I was pleasantly surprised”, and then they go on to talk about the book and accept me into the genre. That, from my point of view, is brilliant. All I can hope for is that readers will come to the book – even with reservations – and give it a shot. I’d like them to know that I’m serious about the genre, and I intended to write more in it. In the early days of dreaming up the project, I wanted to believe that fantasy readers would be more open-minded than literary readers. I read many a fantasy reader saying they weren’t happy with the bloated epic series they’d been reading. I heard them calling for greater quality from their favorite authors and for new ideas and approaches in the genre in general. I took them at their word, and I still hope that they’ll find my work offers some of the qualities they were looking for – along with a few things I’ve thrown in besides.
Q: You benefit from Doubleday’s impressive PR machine to help promote this book, something that scant few genre authors have access to. As such, do you feel that expectations for Acacia: The War with the Mein to do well are higher than they should be for a debut?
What I feel from my publisher is what I’ve always felt from them. They love this book like they’ve loved my other books. I know that Doubleday knows how to promote the biggest authors on the planet – think Dan Brown and John Grisham, for example – but I’ve also found them to be quite level-headed and focused. They do the best job they can with connecting the book to readers and then they acknowledge that the magic that makes it work isn’t entirely in their hands. I don’t think anyone at Doubleday assumes that it’ll be easy to break me into this market. They knew it would be a challenge, but the felt it was a worthy challenge.
Q: Will you be touring to promote the book this summer? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
For the first time I won’t be touring! I’ve always had national tours before, but this time around Doubleday wanted to spend that tour money on other things. I’m all for it. I’ve had – and I think the vast majority of authors have – mixed feelings about tours. Some events are great, but sometimes it just seems a colossal waste of money. I’d rather build an audience for the books first, and then tour when I know they’ll be some people coming out to see me.
Q: In writing Acacia: The War with the Mein, what elements of our histories came out strongest to you while writing it and later while revising the finished drafts?
Oh, the elements of our world that affect the Known World are many and varied, and they’re also so mixed up as to make most direct comparisons flawed. There’s a bit of feudal Europe in it, as well as tribal Africa, Imperial China. It has elements of the Mid-Atlantic slave trade, modern globalization, subcontracting of military forces. I just wanted to create a world like our own, but where all the old bets were off, where I – and readers – could explore issues playing out in ways that are both familiar and unfamiliar, depending on the puzzle of a new world.
Q: Something that really struck me about the book was the power of myth. In the beginning, the characters seemed to see the mythic stories from the outside, by the end the reader was watching the myth of the Akaran family. Was this a dichotomy you set out to explore or something that grew in the telling?
Cool. I love the way you phrased that – “watching the myth of the Akaran family”. I was really interested in that dynamic. I don’t think it gives away too much to say the Acacian Empire has an intricate mythology that explains who they are, that justifies their status and purports to demonstrate their morals. Thing is, as we learn more about them we see those myths challenged. Some actual history has been altered. Some of it is outright lies. Some is religious belief that it’s hard to know how to pin down or believe. Some may just have been lost in translation at some point…
I love it that the Akaran children have to discover this firsthand and try to make sense of things when their history and mythology – and their own identity – is revealed as something other than they’d been taught. But at the same time they are creating new myths with their actions. They’re meeting incredible challenges and rising (or not) to situations that future generations may immortalize. But how much of what we’re seeing will survive accurately for those future generations? Depends on who is in power, doesn’t it? I love having stuff like this swimming in the mix of the novel’s themes.
Q: The first section of Acacia: The War with the Mein is set a number of years prior to the following two sections and specifically contrasted with the difference in the ages of the Akaran children between the two time periods. How did you decide on this as your introduction to the trilogy? It had to be tricky to navigate.
That’s the result of making choices – something we do as authors all the time – in order to deal with the entire narrative arc of the book in one volume. I knew where the story began and I knew where it ended, but I also felt that to get all the way there in one book I was going to have focus my attention. The set up in necessary for what comes after, but then once the children are scattered to the four corners of the world I felt it was time to get to the crux of what they were going to do about the hand that fate (that’s me) had dealt them. This did mean cutting a lot of material out. There are scenes in my head about those intervening years that others will never read about. But that’s always the case. For all my books I write a lot more stuff than I actually use. A lot of what was cut was dear to me, but so be it. I think the novel kicks into a higher gear as it transitions into the second part, and that’s a good thing.
Q: Despite being quite prevalent in our own society, drugs are rarely, if ever, mentioned in fantasy settings. What inspired you to have rampant drug use/abuse be part of Acacian society?
“Drugs are rarely, if ever, mentioned in fantasy settings.” That’s enough to inspire me right there! Why not? Drugs have played a part in so many societies all around the world. They’re a rampant problem in many ways, and have had a hand in destroying communities, controlling labor, leading to the incarceration of millions… Why wouldn’t something that’s such a part of our world ever surface in our imagined worlds?
I guess you could argue that many people read fantasy to escape from this world and live for a while in a place without some of our seedier problems. That’s not exactly what I’ve offered in Acacia. Early on it was clear to me that the background fabric of the world was woven of a trade agreement made between the early Acacians and people of a continent separated from them by an ocean. It’s a trade that really sold the soul of the empire right at its founding. Drugs – namely the “mist” in the novel – are a part of this trade for many reasons.
Q: One aspect of Acacia: The War with the Mein that is unfortunately uncommon in the fantasy genre is the equal time and effort given to both male and female central characters. Too often fantasy serves either consciously or unconsciously to reinforce gender stereotypes. Was your approach a deliberate subversion of the unfortunate norm? What are your thoughts on gender relations in the genre?
I think women get short shrift in many genres. Trying to correct that, though, isn’t easy. Pride of Carthage, for example, could be called an ancient war novel. A bit of a guy’s genre, although I didn’t approach it that way. I featured a number of female characters – wives, sisters, mothers, and at least one stand alone. I got the feeling this attempt at some gender equality annoyed some of the guys. Like it softened the novel to include females and their issues and imagined experiences. Like it softened Hannibal to show him having any emotion about things in his private life…
But that’s not the way I see the world. In the same way I feel an obligation to people my world with diverse races, I also feel it’s only natural to give as equal a treatment as I can to female characters. (Expect even more strong female characters in future volumes, by the way.) I’d like to think that my approach to writing is always “a deliberate subversion of the unfortunate norm”. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been driven to write in the genre if I didn’t love it on one hand and feel disappointed with it on the other hand. It’s that complexity of feeling that draws me to things.
This reminds me of a very important reading experience I had as an adolescent. I’d been reading quite a bit of young man fantasy, but one day I picked up The Tomb of Atuan by Ursula K LeGuin. It was my first exposure to her, and for a couple of chapters I was uneasy and not sure what to make of this story about a young girl and a strange religion, a story with no warriors or dragons in sight. But I ended up loving the book because of that. I loved it that it was different, that it reminded me there are many stories to tell and many people of both genders to tell them about. It was a bit of a revelation (not that I shared it with anyone, though). Ursula K LeGuin remains an inspiration.
Q: Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write Acacia: The War with the Mein and its sequel?
Yes. In Acacia you will find… No flawless good guys. No unreasoning evil. No stable boy-princes who discover their true identity and learn that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. No easy, unearned last minute rescues. No magic rings. No traditional magical creatures. No elves, dwarves, trolls, hobbits, etc. No good = white and black = evil nonsense.
That said, I didn’t set out to reinvent the genre either. I just wanted to add my bits to it. But there are still coming of age stories here, still beasts to be slain, invaders to be repelled, magic and mystery. And I haven’t entirely written of the use of a magical sword starting in volume two…
Q: One of my favorite aspects of the book is the wide-range of cultures present and their clear inspiration from the cultures of our world. Would you take some time to expound on how you went about creating one of the cultures that features prominently in Acacia: The War with the Mein?
Sure. Let’s look at Vumu, the island Archipelago that one the Akaran children washes ashore on (literally)…
I believe the first notion I had of Vumuans came from watching some Animal Planet show about the giant eagles that once lived in New Zealand. They were large enough to sometimes swoop down and take children. The thought of that amazed me – remember that I’m a father of two still-young kids. I just found it terrifying to imagine that a creature could drop from the sky and snatch away a person I loved so dearly. But it really happened. These things really existed! How, I wondered, did people deal with that?
So that was the hook that got this island culture’s claws into me. What do we do with the things we fear the most? Often, I believe, we make them gods. We give them a place of prominence in our lives and lore, and we hope that by doing so we’ll win favor from them and be safe. That’s what I saw my Vumuans doing, living as they did under the threat of death from the sky. They made the very real sea eagles into a single god-entity, Maeben, and they created lore to explain why their lives – which were so rich in many ways – were plagued by this one great predator.
Thing is, when I began to craft that mythology I found myself drawn to many influences that had nothing to do with how the Maori dealt with the same circumstances. Instead of Maori lore I got caught up in the bombastic poetry of The Epic of Gilgamesh. I loved the sensuality of it, the chest thumping of the heroes, the overt sexuality. I mixed that with a growing notion of Maeben being a jealous goddess that made the mistake of falling in lust with a human. This guy, sex-machine that he was, had a bit of fun with Maeben-in-human-form, but wasn’t as impressed with her as she was with him. Of course, being a goddess, Maeben punished him in a manner that ended his good times forever. (Cringe.) But even after that she stayed angry. That’s why she occasionally punished humans by taking the products of their love-making – their children. On Vumu a cult grew up around this belief, and it became central to the island culture.
I also didn’t see the Vumuans as looking like Maori’s. Instead, they had more of dark-skinned Sri Lankan appearance. Why? I don’t know. It just felt right. I took some of the aquatic farming practices from something I read about Japanese clam farming. Their main martial art – stick fighting – was inspired by a tradition of my family’s native Trinidad, and I imagined Vumuans going to war essentially naked, like New Guineans. So I can pinpoint specific aspects I stole from the world, but they mixed with imagined aspects to become something different than any of the influences.
Into all this arrives one of our young Akarans. In many ways that character is never the same for being exposed to this culture; in other ways the culture will never be the same for having been exposed to that single foreigner among them. The same goes for all the siblings, and in similar ways all the cultures of the novel are built on disparate influences. I hope it works.
Q: Ethnic diversity has never been prominent in fantasy works. Authors such as Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker have tackled this issue in recent years, both creating multi-cultural worlds that resound with depth. As an African American, do you feel that this is “expected” of you?
What I’d fear would be expected of me would be that I’d produce some sort of “black” fantasy, something that takes our world’s racial issues and transport them to another universe and gives the “black perspective”. One online reviewer said she opened the book expecting it to be primarily about black characters. Well, it’s not. I have no interest in correcting past imbalances with new imbalances, and I don’t feel limited in any way to writing from a particular perspective. My family may be African American and Caribbean, but it’s also from Scotland and New Zealand. The blood of all these peoples is in my children’s veins, and I’ve spent enough time abroad to be proud of recognizing the ties they bind.
Still, I’m proud to be a writer of color. I do think people of color have to see other people – of all colors – more readily than white people have to. Our lives and stories have always been affected by people of other races in ways that we’re tangibly aware of. In my early work, for example, even my “African-American” novels are only half about black characters: Gabriel’s Story is also about an array of white and Hispanic characters and Walk Through Darkness is a shared narrative in which the other main character is a Scottish immigrant. And Pride of Carthage is by default the story of Romans, Iberians, Gauls, Greeks and a variety North African and Semitic peoples.
Only white writers have the luxury of imaging worlds filled exclusively with variations of whiteness. I find that a bit silly, really, and also racist in ways that the writers – good people that they invariably are – don’t even notice. Having said that, I give all due respect to writers like Erikson and Bakker and Martin – and to pioneers like Ursula K LeGuin and Octavia Butler – who acknowledged diversity in our past, our future, and in our imaginations. Let’s have more from them and more like them – and a bit more diversity in the writers themselves wouldn’t hurt either.
Q: As I said, I loved the wide-range of cultures you create in Acacia: The War with the Mein, so I found it a bit unfortunate that we don’t get to spend more time some of them. In future volumes will we get to see a wider range of perspectives from the cultures of the Known World?
I hear you. In a lot of ways I wish I could have slowed everything down and really lived within those various cultures. If I’d done that I’d have had some detractors saying the story was too slow. (Some say that as is.) I opted to introduce the cultures as fully as I could while keeping my eye on my main characters and their movement forward through the story. That, ultimately, has to be strong enough to hold this together as a novel.
If readers allow me, though, I’ll certainly expand on everything I’ve introduced in future volumes, and I’ll look to make even more use of main characters from different peoples. That’s rather a massive undertaking, though, so I feel a need to work out a relationship between readers and myself. Once they know they can trust me, and I feel can trust for them too – then I think everything in the Known World can bloom.
Q: The cover depicts chains in place of roots. What sorts of “chains” should we be looking for within the novel?
Chains to the past that affect the present reality. Chains of slavery. Chains that link continents through commerce. Chains that connect the fate of the Acacian Empire with the fate of the entire Known World. Chains that anchor the Akaran children within a tradition and that later stretch to keep them connected as they seek out their separate and shared destinies. I’d even say there is a cause and effect chain of events that binds characters despite their best intentions.
Having said all that, I should also mention that the chains on the cover weren’t my idea. They’re Doubleday’s art department’s doing.
Q: When writing this one, did you struggle much with the “voice” you wanted to convey, or did the limited third-person PoV come easy to you?
I’m a limited third-person kinda guy. For some reason it’s always been the POV I wrote with. What I did with Acacia is quite similar to how Pride of Carthage was structured. And my earlier novels showed the genesis of my style. All my novels, except Walk Through Darkness – which has only two POVS – feature a cast of several characters that get a narrative eye attached to them for periods.
I guess it comes from wanting to give as wide and panoramic a view of the large events of these stories as possible. I’ve often found first person narrations of big events to be lacking, limited, or otherwise stretched in unrealistic ways to try and tell a larger story than one character could. Alexander the Great, for example, cannot possibly give a complete, unbiased recounting of his own story. What would he really know about how others saw him, about how his victims or conquests felt, about even how his generals regarded him? In the same way I wouldn’t have wanted to pick out a single narrator to tell this story. It simply belongs to more than any one character.
Q: M. John Harrison wrote this post on his blog last winter: “Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.
Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.”
Needless to say, a multitude of people disagree with Harrison’s postulation. What’s your take on Harrison’s post and the concept of worldbuilding in general?
I don’t accept that world building is always all those things. I do accept that it can be those things, and that writers should be careful to credibly set their stories without being dull or numbing the reader or clomping the foot of nerdism, etc. In my case I spent a ton of time making sure my world was going to feel real. That doesn’t mean that all of the rumination and thought I put into it needs to be inflicted on the reader. I think the world building needs to be thorough enough to allow the reader to meaningfully follow the story and feel they’re exploring a different landscape. That’s it. Beyond that it’s about the characters and the story.
I shied away from really long passages of history and lists and explanations in Acacia. I tried to weave the information that need to be woven in with the flow of character interactions, thoughts, revelations. You may get a couple of paragraphs of info about the ancient kings, or the way the League was set up or how the Mein were exiled, but those moments come because a character is faced with circumstances that make that info important. It’s something they’re mulling over or being informed about.
So I don’t disagree with Harrison on the things he doesn’t want to see in world building, but I can’t say that it’s not necessary.
Q: What books of fiction had more of an effect on you as both a person and a writer – those you read within academia as a student or those you read for your own enjoyment?
Interesting question, but I don’t think I can separate the two. There’s just too much cross-pollination between the two areas. I think both types of reading experiences are important. Yes, being exposed to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Milan Kundera and Ben Okri in college expanded my horizons to include a true world literature perspective. That was eye opening. But can I say that was more important than reading Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin and Lloyd Alexander when I was an adolescent? That was eye opening too, and if I hadn’t come to love reading because of it I might not have ended up a college literature student. Studying Toni Morrison and Don Dellilo and William Faulkner from critical perspectives was incredibly important to my growth as a writer. But so was discovering that I had things to learn from crime writers like James Lee Burke, Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos.
I think we grow most when we read most widely, and when we acknowledge that there are different sorts of things to be learned from different books. I wish more academics felt this way too. If they did they might do a better job at encouraging students to love reading.
Q: The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work (www.davidanthonydurham.com) is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?
Very. I’m not an author who feels he needs (or somehow deserves) to be aloof from the people that read his books. I’ve never forgotten how much of a privilege it is to have people take the time to enter your imagined world. When somebody writes me, or posts to my blog, or joins my Forum because they’ve enjoyed my work I 1) am honored and 2) respect them for being readers in a world that doesn’t have nearly enough readers.
Right now I respond to every email sent to me. There may come a time (if I’m very, very lucky) that I can’t do that anymore, but readers can know that if that happens it really is a matter of time and volume. I’m four novels into being a writer. I’ve had my share of successes, movie options, foreign deals, great reviews: none of it’s made me a snob. (And I know quite a few people who have become intolerable with even less reason for it!) In fact, it’s all just made me respect the relationship between writer and reader even more.
By the way, if anybody reading this is interested in chatting just drop me an email at email@example.com. I’d be happy to know you’re out there and interested. And – perhaps more fun, actually – consider joining my forum (http://www.davidanthonydurham.com/forum/). It’s a modest affair, but there are some great folks over there talking about all sorts of things. And they’re very welcoming. I peek in a lot and love it; I just wish there were more people joined up!
Q: Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
I don’t think the entire genre is likely to get recognized as literature. That’s not that unreasonable, though, because of lot of what’s published in the genre isn’t literature – doesn’t try to be, isn’t interested in being and doesn’t need to be. What I do think can/should happen is that some writers and some series may manage to secure respect from the outside world.
The thing is, I’m not one for taking a speculative fiction writer and saying that just because he/she is writing literature that he/she is no longer still in the genre as well. I think it’s both. It’s literature because of its qualities. It’s genre because the trappings of the tradition in which it’s written. My approach is to apply the same standards to whatever I’m reading, while acknowledging that different books measure success by achieving different things. Not all “literary” writing is literature – not if quality of writing, ideas, thought, execution and theme is what defines something as literature. The difference is that a bad literary novel is still a literary novel because no other genre wants it. Who else is gonna claim it? A bad fantasy novel, on the other hand, can be banished back into its genre label. To me this is painfully obvious. I find it’s something literary-types often have a problem with, though.
Q: Anything you wish to add?
Only thank you for the time – and all these questions. I feel thoroughly “interviewed”, and that’s a good thing. I’d love it if some of your readers give Acacia a shot. I’ve really worked hard to make it a book that will last, and I’m continuing to work to make the series something special. I know that’s up to you all to determine, but know that I’m trying my best, with everything I can bring to it.