Author Spotlight

David VonAllmen


Author Interview Questions


1: Hi, and thanks for joining today. In your own words tell us about yourself, not you the author, but just you!

A: Thanks for having me, Ronnie. The part of me that is not an author isn’t much to get excited about – I work my job and I’m married with two kids. I think everything about my kids is awesome, but I doubt anyone else is going to want to read about them. They both write stories as well, in twenty years they’ll be famous authors and everyone can read about them then. I live in St. Louis, where I grew up, and I love it here. Let’s see, is there anything about me that’s actually interesting… Okay, how about this: I am the only person ever to be Collegiate National Cycling Champion in all three disciplines: road, track, and mountain bike. Two of my former teammates rode on Lance Armstrong’s team in the Tour de France, and only one of them got suspended for performance enhancing drugs (the one who won an Olympic gold medal).

2: Why did you decide to become an author and what’s the best part? Yeah, it’s a double-whammy of a question. So unexpected!

A: I started playing a little bit of Dungeons and Dragons when I was 13, but it wasn’t long before I realized that I liked building the stories a lot more than I liked playing. So I sat on the computer for hours every day writing what I can only imagine were absolutely terrible science fiction stories. No one else ever read them, I knew they were no good. It never occurred to me that writing was something that you could practice and get better at, I thought writers were just born on planet Shakespeare and since I wasn’t born there I wasn’t going to be a writer. Many, many years later the desire to write caught back up with me and so just decided I was going to study it and practice it and do everything I could to become an author. Things are actually going a lot better than I expected.

The best part? Spending my time with other authors talking shop. I love the sport of trying to improve my writing skills, and I love when I get lost in a book and only afterward think to analyze what made it so engrossing. I love the excitement that comes with all that, the bolt of lightning between two authors when they both realize the other loved the same book they loved and the next hour is going to be spent talking about it at a thousand miles per hour.
3: So, tell us about your work. Sell us on it! Why should we read it and why it will capture us?

A: What made me fall in love with science fiction and fantasy are the ideas, the mind-blowing concepts that produce a sense of wonder and awe. My favorite thing in the world is when a story makes me say, “I never would have thought of that.” That’s what I aim to do in all my stories, from flash fiction to novels, give the reader a moment (or, hopefully, more than one moment) of “Oh, that’s cool!”

4: Why did you choose the genre you write in over others to start your publishing career? Did others appeal to you more and you chose this? Was there a bit of choice weighing or was it rather simple?

A: In my short fiction I primarily write fantasy, though I do write a little science fiction. Novels I’m exclusively fantasy, and very adventure oriented – standard length novels as opposed to epic. Years ago I thought I wanted to be a science fiction writer, but I wasn’t very inspired, I wasn’t coming up with ideas that I really thought clicked. I had never considered fantasy because I didn’t really know anything about it, I didn’t read it and didn’t understand it’s potential. I thought it was all Lord of the Rings rip-offs, which, for a while there, it was. Then I read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and realized “If this is fantasy, then fantasy can be… ANYTHING.” After that I was off to the races, seeking out not just fantasy, but cramming my head full of anything I could find in my attempt to stretch my brain in hopes of thinking up some wild fantasy concepts that were far outside the norm.

5: So far, what would you say has been the hardest part of being an author?

A: Finding time. I’ve got a full-time job, and two kids that are in the latter half of grade school. My kids are only going to be young once, so I’m just not willing to sacrifice these handful of years when they’re at home with me to speed up my career. A lot of writers who aren’t yet making a full-time living write on weekends, but I’m always doing stuff with the kids. Evenings? I’m helping them with homework or coaching their basketball teams or what have you. I get in an hour or two after they go to bed, and usually I manage to drag myself out of bed at 5:30 or so and get maybe an hour in before they wake up. In a handful of years they’ll be teenagers and spend all their free time with their friends, so I’ll get more writing in then.
6: Now for the ever-so-shocking follow-up question. What’s the best/easiest part, if there is one?

A: The easiest part is coming up with ideas. Too many ideas… I can hardly get any reading done because at least once every few pages I have to stop and write down another idea that popped into my head. A lot of people are dangerous because they text while they drive, I’m not texting, I’m typing down the five ideas that occurred to me during my twelve minute drive to work. (Just kidding, I use dictation, people who text and drive are horrible human beings.)

7: Tell us about what your experiences in the author life have been like. I don’t mean the writing aspects. I mean the daily human life. Tell us what it’s like to live the day life you do and be an author at the same time. What’s it like when people in your life and, the people you come across, find out you’re an author?

A: Because I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I’m supporting myself full time on my writing, I never tell anyone I’m an author, though it does come up from time to time when I brag on social media about selling a story. It always takes a lot more explanation than it seems like it should. It’s called a short story. Perhaps you read a few in a college English lit class? No? Well, it’s kind of like a novel, in that it tells a story, only it’s shorter. That’s why it’s called a short story. I write fantasy. Huh? No… you’re thinking of erotica. I’m not talking about that kind of fantasy. I mean like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. (I swear at a party this woman really thought I meant erotica when I said “fantasy.”)

8: Writing is a hard craft and a harder career. What are the things that keep you going, both in improving the craft and enduring the downs/lows of the career?

A: I’d be interested to hear how other authors answer this question, because in my mind there can be only one answer. I keep going because I love storytelling so damn much. And I keep working to improve my craft because there’s so many talented writers out there that you have to be damn good to poke your head up above the crowd.

The career definitely has more downs than ups, but it never occurs to me to quit, literally doesn’t cross my mind. When I stopped and thought about that, I never really knew why that was, why the rejection letters didn’t deter me. One day I came across a TED talk by Melissa Gilbert where she summarized it quite well: “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego.” That’s it for me: your ego is going to take a beating, but if you love writing enough, that’s just not going to make you quit.

9: What do you love about the genre/s you write and what others appeal to you?

A: What I love about fantasy is the possibilities. You can do anything. That’s what I loved about science fiction when I was young, the idea that anything might happen, and if the storyteller was clever, things would happen that I never would have imagined even if I spent a lifetime dreaming up stories. The reason I like fantasy a little better than science fiction is that science fiction is limited to the things that are at least theoretically possible, fantasy doesn’t have that limit.

The genre that appeals most to me, outside of science fiction / fantasy, is probably thrillers. Mostly because of the mystery aspect of them. So why thrillers instead of mysteries if the mystery part is what I love? Well, it seems mysteries are almost entirely confined to murder mysteries, whodunnits, whereas thrillers have all range of questions as the central mystery. When I was a teenager I became obsessed with Dean Koontz books because he always pulled you into a mystery that was surreal or contained all these non-sequitur bits and you’d think, “How is any of this even possible?” By the end he’d pull it all together, always with one clever science fiction or supernatural twist, and I loved both the tension of thinking there couldn’t be an answer and the satisfaction of the resolution when there was.

10: Tell us about the plans for your series and body of work.

A: My plans for the near-future are to pause writing novels while I focus on one or two elements of my craft that I’d like to polish. Each novel I write I like a lot more than the last, but there was still something missing for me, and I finally put my finger on it – I was writing stories that I liked, but they didn’t include all the elements that make me love a story. That motivated me to really sit down and write out on paper “What is it that makes me love a story?” It’s a surprisingly short list, and I asked myself, “Why ever write a story that doesn’t have every one of these things?” One or two of them are the universal ones – a protagonist that it’s fun to take a ride with. But two are a bit more specific and I’ve never seen them combined before, so I’m excited to try that out. No, I’m not going to tell you what those are, that’s how I’m going to get rich and famous!

11: The writing and publishing world has changed a lot. Self-publishing, small to medium presses popping up, and things like becoming a hybrid between indie pubbing and traditional. What are your thoughts on that? Any predictions on what the future might hold? What would you like to see, both as an author yourself, and, as a consumer/reader?

A: The history of publishing has been one where there were a small number of gatekeepers, whose arbitrary (though, admittedly, refined) tastes decided what the publishers bought, what they put in bookstores, and what they put marketing money behind. The only other option was vanity press, which was pointless. Independent publishing is now legit, and anyone can get on Amazon, but that’s made it such a crowded marketplace that the question becomes “How do you get into the hands of the readers who will like your book?” Theoretically, the way it should work is that a handful of people buy a book when it comes out and give it either a good or bad rating and others either flock to or avoid it based on that rating. In this ideal situation it’s a meritocracy and the best books rise to the top. But let’s be real, it doesn’t work that way.

Independent authors don’t have millions to spend on marketing, but the big publishers still do, and they still pay to put the books they’ve chosen on the displays that people see when they walk into Barnes & Noble. So a million casual fans go on Amazon or Goodreads and give the one book they read that year a good rating and vote for it to top the list of “Best YA urban fantasy” or whatever. Which is ridiculous. How do you know it’s the best when it’s the only one you’ve read? I so much prefer the way Netflix does it, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t a rating based on the way the average Netflix subscriber rated that movie. It’s a far more complex algorithm that says, “This guy gave movie A five stars and movie B two stars, let’s look at what other people who rated A five stars and B two stars liked a lot, and suggest that to him.” So it’s not “What does everybody think is the best movie?” it’s “What do people who are similar to this guy enjoy watching?” If Amazon worked more like that, it would make marketing dollars significantly less of a factor, and the individual taste of the buyer more of a factor.
12: The always done and asked question. Who are your favorite authors? What are you favorite books? What are you reading now? Tell us. Tell us!
A: I’ve already mentioned Gaiman. Lets see… I read at least one Terry Pratchett novel each year, and I’m not even halfway through all the Discworld books, so I’ve got a lot of great years ahead of me. I like Brandon Sanderson, but I’m never going to read that Stormlight Archive thing he’s doing now, there’s too many other great books to read to commit myself to what’s shaping up to be a five million word series. I loved Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora and I’m excited to read the sequels. My favorite fantasy books are the ones that really do something unusual. For instance, Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs was fantastic, just really well written and set in a world so different than what most people think of when they think fantasy. I’m currently reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and am really impressed with it – the prose is poetic without ever clouding meaning, and the story is clever and fresh. I also read a lot of comic books. The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt just wrapped up, so if you’re a fan of weird west do yourself a favor and go pick that up. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is mind-blowing. Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch is just a hell of a lot of fun. And I read whatever Rick Remender is putting out, his FEAR Agent is a blast.
13: I’ve got to know…what’s your favorite word to use. Every author has one. What’s the word you catch yourself using a lot? We’ve all got those as well. What’s your favorite word just to say? Something where you like the way it sounds. What’s your favorite curse worse, if you’ve got one and or use them?

A: Man, I don’t know. I know I use “heartbeat” a lot in action scenes because when adrenaline gets going time is so subjective, and it allows me to describe moments of action while brining an element of the visceral into it (“She paused for a single beat of her speeding heart.”) I think I’ve about run out of different phrasings to use with that one.

I don’t put curse words in my stories or novels. Not that I won’t eventually, but I generally like my stories to be enjoyable by all, no matter what age or sensibility. One of the series that I’m pondering is a bit of a hard-boiled thing (with magic, of course) and the main character in that actually has a supernatural reason for being surly, so I’m considering letting him curse. But if he does, I’m going full-out. It’s going to be raining F-bombs.

 

14: Tell us about your latest release. Or, when can we expect your next one? What are we in store for?!

A: The next thing from me will be a short story in Writers of the Future Volume 33, which will be coming out early April. I didn’t win the competition, I was a Published Finalist, which has the bonus that I’m allowed to continue entering, unlike winners who are not allowed to enter again. I love that competition because it allows for longer short stories, up through novelette length, and the judges like stories that have a little more action in them (as opposed to the majority of science fiction / fantasy magazines that lean more literary and abstract). Put that all together, and it’s a great place to build the worldbuilding and storytelling skills that translate into sellable novels.

15: Lastly, where can we find you? Facebook? Twitter? Website? Links to your material. Go on, don’t be shy. Share!

A: My website is www.davidvonallmen.com

My facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/davidvonallmenwrites/  and My twitter is @VonAllmenDavid.

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