Regular readers of the blog know how much I love to bring new authors to thier attention, and whilst David is well established, his latest series is set around Werewolves and takes the man beasts into a new direction.
Here we chatted to him about writing for a living, who he just can't wait to pick up from his local bookshop and the erradication of Platoons...
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
David Wellington: I don’t consider it an affliction so much as a quirk of neurochemistry. I was never able to do anything but write. I’ve never been particularly good at any other job. As to whether it’s something that has to be done, that is definitely true. Writing is an activity, not a state of being. The only good definition of what a writer is, is someone who is currently writing.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
DW: I was six years old, and had just learned to read, and bored with the books that were available to me. So I decided I had to write my own. I haven’t looked back since.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
DW: Oh, short stories are hard. Miserably hard, sometimes. But they don’t prepare you at all for writing a novel. Novels are still hard, but not quite as maddening. But it’s a completely different skill set. I’m not a great short story writer, though I dabble in them—the way an oil painter will occasionally try his hand at watercolors. One doesn’t necessarily train you to be any good at the other.
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
DW: I would probably leave them alone and just hope they picked up my book. I live in mortal terror that anyone ever thinks I’m pushy or forward. Cursed is a good book, there, I’ve said it, now I feel like my skin is crawling. No, seriously, it’s a gripping story of loss, betrayal, and the desperate kind of love that comes from utter loneliness. It’s about werewolves who act like real wolves, based on intense research into wolf behavior. And it’s a ripping yarn. Okay, that’s done. Now I feel soiled.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
DW: A young woman is lost in a forest, five hundred kilometres from any human habitation. But she is not alone.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
DW: I love fantasy and science fiction novels. Iain Banks is the one who gets me every time. Richard K. Morgan. Terry Pratchett. Funny, those are all Brits. I’m really letting my countrymen down. Cormac McCarthy. Yes, he’s an American. Very good.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
DW: I usually start knowing exactly how the book will end, but nothing else. Then I try to imagine how the characters got to such a dismal turn of events. The characters often present themselves for duty, fully formed and ready to be put into dire peril. If not, I try to imagine who is the best person to throw into that situation, and who is the one person that should just never be exposed to that kind of danger. Then I decide which of those will give me a more interesting story.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
DW: This must be one of those words we don’t have in America, this “relax”. No, I write books. I don’t ever stop writing books. I read books to inspire me to write more books. Right now I’m reading “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” by Jessie Bullington. It’s interesting.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
DW: I play video games when no one is looking. Really nasty, violent, gore-filled video games. Don’t tell me friends or family. They know me as the mild mannered, well-adjusted horror writer. If they knew I spent my off hours wiping out platoon after platoon of space marines with an assault rifle, they might think there was something off about me.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
DW: Cursed would not have happened without my dog, Mary. I was just starting to do research for the book at the same time I was training her. I kept trying to communicate with her like a human being, but she clearly wanted something else—she wanted me to be an alpha male wolf and put her in her place. Learning about the ironclad social structure of wolf packs, and how dogs relate to their universe, took Cursed to a new level. It’s one of my most realistic books, because of her help.
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
DW: Dzo, the muskrat spirit, was great fun. He is completely immortal and inhuman, but he tries to be helpful and friendly. He’s just a truly decent sort of person, except that he has no idea what pain or death are like, so he sometimes fails to empathize properly. Ahem. You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?
DW: She’s a twenty-something athletically fit young woman who does things like get lost in the Canadian wilderness and try not to be killed by werewolves. I’m a thirty-something not-as-fit middle aged man who spends most of his time indoors because the sun is just a little too bright for my taste. So, on the whole, we’re pretty much identical twins separated at birth.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
DW: These… hobbies, was it? And… relaxation? I’ll have to look into them when I have time. Which will be when I stop writing books. Which I can’t seem to do.
FT: Where do you get your idea's from?
DW: There’s a great new website that offers free delivery if you order your ideas in bulk. Oh, gosh, this is the question every writer hates being asked, but not for the reason people think. It’s because we don’t have a good answer. It’s an utter mystery where ideas and inspiration come from, and most writers I know would like it to remain that way—we worry if we ever found out the real, concrete answer the ideas would stop coming.
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
DW: Every day. Sometimes every fifteen minutes. I get up and pace for a while and sit back down and write something. That seems to help.
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
DW: I can write any time, any place. It’s one of my favorite things about my process—I don’t need any special mood lighting or burning incense, nothing like that. At the moment I live alone, so I can pretty much write whenever I want.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
DW: Oh, no. That’s the one thing I need—quiet. I have to concentrate to write. Which is not to say I don’t use music for inspiration, or to relax when I’m done.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
DW: Mostly that it couldn’t be done. I’d been working for nearly thirty years, toiling in obscurity, with nothing whatsoever published, before I got my first book deal. It seemed impossible that this would ever change. When it did happen everything just sort of fell into place at once. It’s amazing what comes to one who waits for it.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
DW: Writing is the fuel of the intellect. The coal in the furnace of the mind. Music stirs the emotions, but books make the wheels of thought turn. It’s always seemed to me like a very industrial process, a kind of applied technology of the imagination. Well, you asked.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
DW: It will be approximately the same physical dimensions as the last one. And the two covers will look quite attractive when placed side by side. Other than that I will provide no spoilers.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
DW: Hmm, let’s see… i09.com, http://goldenagecomicbookstories.blogspot.com/, http://arbroath.blogspot.com/, http://bigthink.com/blogs/strange-maps, and Fail Blog. Which I won’t dignify with a URL. That’s about as honest an answer as I’m willing to provide, lest I incriminate myself.
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
DW: Quite a few, none of which were particularly useful. I actually have an MFA in Creative Writing, which is a degree that forces you to write short stories and novels by way of preparing you to teach Creative Writing. It’s really a wonderful recursive system. Workshops are really just exercises in group validation, as far as I can tell—or an excuse to be nasty to your fellow writers. Which of course is something most writers treasure.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
DW: By being too stupid to listen to them. A smarter person might have ended up with a real job. Instead I kept doing this. Oh, alright, I’m being facetious. But it was most stubborn bull-headedness. I’ve never been interested in hearing people tell me I couldn’t do something. I spent most of my youth convinced I had all the answers already, and didn’t need advice. I was wrong, of course, but the important thing was to always believe it. It’s crucial for a developing writer to cultivate a massive ego early on in his or her career. The rest of their life will be one long process of chipping away at that confidence, with one demoralizing event after another, so that by the time one has any real success, one will be down to a nice healthy level of modesty and be able to use self-deprecating humor in interviews.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
DW: It’s the same thing for both, worst and best—the total lack of structure. It means I can sleep in every day and still be productive. But it also means that I succeed or fail completely on my own discipline. That makes it pretty terrifying. But it also means I get plenty of healthful rest.