Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Interview with David Dalglish

Try A Dance of Cloaks

I recently had the privilege of interviewing David Dalglish, author of the Shadowdance series (reviewed a couple of days ago), the Half-Orcs series, and more.  David is not only a superb practitioner of his craft with a high degree of professionalism, he's also an excellent fellow who's generous with his time and insights.  Even if he was a jerk I would still feature his books here, because they're really good.  The fact that he's a nice guy with interesting things to say is an added bonus.

Your heroes tend to be the characters that other writers use as villains.  The Shadowdance series is about an assassin.  The Half-Orcs series is about, of course, half-orcs.  How you choose your protagonists? What draws you to these darker characters?

When I look at an overall story arc, there's usually a couple larger themes I like to incorporate. One is a David Gemmell style "us vs the world" conflict, a brave few making a potentially pointless stand against many. The second, and what tends to have heroes like that, is that I like taking a hero and rising them up above their background, their birth, their race, their training, their beliefs, and having them become something special. Forget regular farmboys who start out perfect and end the book still perfect, but now also carrying a magical sword and a talking pet. I want the lowly, the ragamuffins, to succeed, to find redemption.

You've written short stories, stand-alone novels, the Shadowdance series, and the Half-Orcs series, which is at five books so far.  What is your process like for writing short stories versus longer works?  How do you design a multi-volume epic?

I love short stories, though I don't write them too often, and never in fantasy. With them, you've got a little snippet of time, usually a single character or two, and a razor-sharp focus on those events. With stand alones, you just have to make sure the ending is solid so people don't yell at you. Dance of Cloaks was originally a stand alone, but there was clearly so much that could happen, reviews started griping about it. Well, heck, I'm happy to oblige. For a series, this is just the easiest for me. I read so much of the Dragonlance and Drizzt series that telling a story this way is just second nature. You just keep adding in new villains, or redefining the old ones. Shift people around, introduce new heroes, and then throw 'em in a big battle and see who lives. I can do it for years.

What are your goals as a writer? What do you want readers to take away from your stories?

As dark and grim as my works are, I've always wanted them to be positive. I try not to be preachy, and with how much blood and death people may think I'm insane, but when you step back, the good guys won, the bad guys lost, and characters that could have chosen a darker path instead chose forgiveness, or were themselves forgiven. There just may have been some casualties along the way. Other than that, my main goal is to entertain. A reader may get ticked off at me, or think I'm an idiot, but as long as you're not bored, I'm fine with that.

I know you've been asked about your cover art before, but let's face it, it's fantastic.  How did you choose your cover artist?  How do the two of you work together to create your cover images?

I found Peter Ortiz after several hours of scouring I sent him a message, asking for a price, and it was waaaaaaaaay lower than I expected. Working with him is great. I describe a scene, the characters, what they look like, but intentionally leave things vague. I trust Peter's artistic skill, and his overall visual sense, to know when something won't work. Most of the time, when he sends me a rough and something is wrong, it is because he's trying to accommodate something I requested. Once you find someone who knows how to draw, how to tell stories with images, then trust them to know what they're doing...that's why you contacted them in the first place.

The Shadowdance series takes place in a wonderfully rich world.  How did you create that culture?  How did you build the world?

Well, as I said above, it was supposed to be a stand alone. I wanted to detail some of the history of one of my more popular characters. Of course, what was supposed to be a simple, 80k novel ended up approximately 240k words so far, with a third book to go. Stupid assassins. As for the culture and world, it is pretty basic. I read Game of Thrones, followed by Night Angel Trilogy, and felt freaking pathetic. I looked at my own world and it seemed so...shallow. So Dance of Cloaks was my first real attempt to develop families, places, politics, etc. As with all experiments, there's plenty of places where it just simply doesn't work, or gets over-complicated. I learned plenty, and I feel Dance of Blades is a significant step up in that department. Other than that, I tried to lessen the magic that ran rampant in my Half-Orc series. Hard to make an assassin feel special when an elf's standing beside him hurling ice boulders, you know?

Try A Dance of Cloaks

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