Tonight I’m introducing you all to Derick William Dalton, author of the newly published Houses of Common. And if you’ve already met him (or read his work) then you can just consider yourself VIP at this party. A little info about the book and DWD himself:
(Houses of Common is less expensive through CreateSpace with this $4 off code: APSQBFT8)
This being my first time ever interviewing an author, I’m a bit nervous. But I assure you all, DWD is pretty awesome. Don’t worry, I tried to tone down the social awkwardness and keep my questions helpful to you as well as interesting. So, without further ado, let’s grab a seat and get this interview rolling! Mr. Dalton?
We’re a good match, because this is my first time being interviewed as an author. I’m no stranger to fame, though. I got my picture in the paper for the fifth grade science fair, and in high school, I had an interview with a local TV reporter which did not air.
1. I’ve spoken a bit about authors and their wacky inspiration. I know mine came from a Disney coloring page. Another is Stephenie Meyer, revealing the Twilight Saga being inspired by a dream. Where did the inspiration for Houses of Common come from?
Wacky. That’s a good word choice. Two sources congealed the ideas in my head and sparked the urge to start writing Houses of Common. The first was an article I read when I was supposed to be working on my thesis for a master’s degree in education. How’s that for hypocrisy? A teacher not doing his homework. The article was by Robert Zubrin, entitled Getting Space Exploration Right. Here’s a link, because it’s an awesome piece: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/getting-space-exploration-right. Zubrin noted the discovery and colonization of North and South America changed the world superpowers, in that those who colonized became the powers, and those who backed out, well Portugal? Who’s that? He predicted the same will occur with colonization of the moon and Mars. See how that’s more interesting than articles on educational law and classroom management?
The other was a botany class. Genetics and medical stuff is what hooks me, not plants. But after a few classes, I changed my attitude. One day in particular, the reproductive cycle of ferns was the topic. The offspring look nothing like the parent fern. It’s more like a miniature water lily. The lily-looking plant’s offspring is the fern. It’s called alternation of generations, it’s really weird, and I started wondering what that would look like in a humanoid. That’s where the main character’s species came from. Thanks Dr. Roberts!
But here’s what I need to know: Did your inspiration come before or after the Disney page was colored?
2. The coloring page remains uncolored. There’s this completely sensible part of me that says if I color it, I may ruin the luck I’ve had so far in writing. Like someone snapping their fingers and I wake up from a dream! Silly, I know. But it’s a small fear of mine. Which brings me to my next question. Something I constantly discuss on this blog is fear. I truly believe the Jack Canfield quote: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” What is your greatest fear as an author?
You do realize you just handed your enemies full knowledge of your kryptonite. All they have to do is locate the the Magic Disney Page of Fortune, and defile it with cadmium red, or more fittingly, mermaid fin green.
My fears? In high school and college when I taught swimming lessons, and when teaching high school biology, I’d occasionally have nightmares about the job. In them, I’d swear in front of a bunch of six-year-olds, and wake up horrified at the pool-time fun wiped off their sweet little faces. Or I’d slip an off-color joke into a biology lecture, and have to explain to parents and the principal. I never did any of those things, but the dream was a recurring and disturbing one. Now, I worry about writing something that could be misinterpreted and interrupt the flow of the story with the similar jolt my nightmares would have given in real life. Hooray for beta readers and editors!
A bigger fear? I have a pact with my sister, Jessica Parsons (she has a completed novel, Time Walker, and is searching for agents right now). We’ve agreed to be brutally honest if we notice the other becoming an arrogant, insufferable jerk. We’re all familiar with authors who lose their personable nature in direct proportion to success. When in doubt, I think WWBWD. What would Bill Watterson do?
3. As my readers know, I cannot write comfortably without music and usually I’ll post a song at the end of each post. Music is something that gives me strength as well as direction and I’ve always wondered if all authors feel this way or if I’m the only one. Do you need absolute silence while writing or do you listen to music? If you listen to music, what does your soundtrack look like?
When I’m writing a first draft, silence is my muse. Sometimes the two together are a salve. Occasionally instrumental music is helpful, my favorite being my Pandora station seeded with “John Williams” as artist. Heroic movie themes for my heroic propaganda. (Hey, could that be a new genre name?) But lyrics at that phase are a killer. Can’t write anything with someone’s voice in my ears. Editing is another story. My kids can even be at the same table asking me questions about homework without throwing me off. So, I sometimes broaden the music when revising drafts. A few songs in particular have helped me with characters:
Ranyk – the protagonist of Houses of Common is a terraformer whose deep respect for life is counterbalanced by issues with authority. The Ramones had Ranyk in mind specifically when they recorded their version of What a Wonderful World. Really. Look it up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-3ox-6WhBA
Sckiik – Ranyk’s sister is a former cop and current head of security for her species’ US Embassy. A spiritual person with a violent job, I heard this hymn by the cover band Mishmash and now it’s the soundtrack in my brain during her girl-power scenes. http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Do+What+Is+Right/2GOa2P?src=5
Dr. Perinath – She’s Ranyk’s boss, the one authority figure who knows how to wrangle him. This song has personal and historical meaning for her, and it’s one of my favorites, too. Can’t beat 40s big band! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhyhP_5VfKM
Sean and Qi - Theirs is a Romeo-and-Juliet story with a happier outcome (so far), a conspiracy theorist twist, and a big pile of reality to irk them. That’s all the info you get until book three (wicked laugh) but here’s a great song. The video? Kind of lame. It would be WAY better if it was about Sean and Qi. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1R_txIuuio
4. I’m fairly new to writing and have yet to be published. So for you to have been published and me to be able to ask you questions, the next one is obvious: Any advice for writers/new authors?
As I’ve listened to other writers answer this question, I’ve realized there are almost that many paths to the profession. Advice I’ve been given doesn’t often work for me. It was trial and error in figuring out how to craft a story. So, this may be meaningless to many, but here’s what I’ve learned.
Good feedback is painful and your friend. It’s scrubbing the gravel out of road rash. It’s setting the subluxed ulnar fracture. It’s incising and draining the infected cyst. The most useful feedback I received from editors and beta readers nearly always left a bruise.
Well, wasn’t that pleasant.
5. I agree. The best things in life (and writing) are usually the hardest to do. Something else I find difficult at times? Naming characters. I think naming characters can be one of two things: instantaneous or something absolutely annoying. How did you come up with your characters’ names (Sckiik, Ranyk, etc.)?
You’ll think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not making this up. The alien names are the product of an arcane ritual in which I extend my index fingers, close my eyes, and tap out a rhythm on the keyboard. I never learned to type without looking, so it’s truly random. Then I look for interesting phoneme strings and add a vowel or consonant as needed. I’ll forgive anyone for thinking that’s just cheating. Or for stealing the idea.
When choosing from existing names, sometimes I pick one with a meaning to match their purpose. Sometimes one that sounds like it fits and no other reason. Like your instantaneous method. One of my character’s names sounds like the French translation of a phrase which suggests subterfuge. I found that by accident and couldn’t pass it up. Travers le rideau. Through the curtain.
6. This blog is dedicated to sharing my journey as a writer. From typing the first words of this novel to now; what’s your story?
If I write the rest of my novels like the first, my writing career will be a very short story. But I won’t, so it won’t. Because I’m not going to interrupt any more novels with starting and finishing grad school two different times. I also won’t interrupt the next novel three times for adorable little babies (or unadorable ones). Not going to build my own house again, ever. In short, I’ll have the sequel done in six months instead of ten years.
Maybe I just inadvertently shared some advice. About not giving up or hanging it up or hanging yourself.
Here’s how come I only clicked pause and never stop. I like the process of writing. I like learning new things and letting them loose in my head to see what random connections they’ll make. I like outlining a story and putting it into complete sentences. (Complete sentences? Did anyone else’s internal fourth grader just moan and groan in teacher-mediated torment?) I like walking away for a week and coming back to a chapter that’s a really enjoyable read. None of my other jobs in research or education or medicine can boast that all their facets are enjoyable. Hmm. Maybe it’s the walking away for a week…
Following is an excerpt from Houses of Common. I chose this section even before I knew I was being interviewed by an active duty Army Girl. Yeah, I’m a fan of tough chicks. And of members of the armed forces. Much of my clinic work is with Vietnam vets and younger soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s rewarding to help, and to see how our society has changed toward them. My sincere thanks to you, Cynthia, and any readers who serve.
Now some sci-fi…
Derick William Dalton
Blog Tour Excerpt
After three days of cramped solitude, Sckiik still wasn’t tempted to activate her link. Her brother Ranyk would be annoyed she wasn’t available for a conversation on his return from months in space, but he didn’t know Sckiik was hiding in an air duct of a high-rise building in Washington, D.C.
Sckiik slid the duct panel aside like silk on glass. On the floor three meters beneath her, a hit man assembled his rifle with jerky but efficient choreography. Scruffy and sour-faced, he settled into a prone position. From his wristwatch, a holographic man appeared, sipping from a mug.
“I’m in position,” the hit man told him.
Yes, you are. Sckiik checked her chronometer. Gentlemen, you may begin.
“The Ambassador just exited the Beltway,” the holographic man said. “And the bus is right on schedule.”
A monitor in Sckiik’s helmet visor showed a slow but busy roadway a dozen floors below her. She watched a District of Columbia bus swerve from its lane and plow into the driver’s door of the first car in a diplomatic motorcade. The vehicles on the roadway screeched and crunched to a stop. Three cars back, behind a tinted window, sat the target.
The hit man adjusted his rifle and froze. “I have him,” he breathed out. “Tan, skeletal, and ugly.”
Sckiik’s monitor showed the Rildj Ambassador to the United States sitting calmly in his vehicle, waiting for traffic to clear.
The rifleman drew in another breath, his index finger poised on the trigger guard.
“Die, my alien fr—” The hit man didn’t finish his sentence. Didn’t pull the trigger.
The hologram set his mug down. “Is there a prob—” He stopped talking mid-sentence too, eyes fastened to the pool of fluid in front of the hit man’s face. “Did . . . did you just vomit?”
Dropping silently out of the air duct and now standing beside his inert form, Sckiik removed the hit man’s wristwatch with a red-gloved hand. She maneuvered it to show the holographic man the exit wound where the hit man’s mouth had been, the bullet hole in the back of his head, then her pistol before slipping it into a pocket of her red vacsuit.
“Sir,” she offered, “I recommend you sit quietly with your hands on your head. FBI agents are about to break down your door.”
Directing the wristwatch at the traffic accident, Sckiik pointed out the moving cars and buses on the roadway. Two hovertrucks had already lifted the bus and mangled car out of the way. “You went to a lot of work to make the Ambassador three minutes late.”
Exiting a stairwell onto the building’s roof, Sckiik strode to the waiting hovertruck as five FBI agents vacated it. She watched them head for the stairs to clean up her mess. A link message from the Rildj Embassy interrupted her gratitude.
“Sckiik? We have another one.”
Sckiik sealed the red vacsuit over her dark red exoskeleton as she strode down the hall. In the dense air of Earth, she could hear the man running to catch up with her. Could hear the fabric of his suit rustling, his breathing from down the hall, and even his heart beating when he was just behind her. By his aroma, he’d eaten Chesapeake Bay crab yesterday, was worried, and had taken aspirin.
“That briefing wasn’t brief, Al. Now more?” Though she liked him, Sckiik didn’t slow as she spoke. He was detail oriented and quick with logistics, but he’d done his job, and now Sckiik needed to do hers.
“No, I just wanted to wish you luck, Sckiik. It’s been good working with you. I expected the Ambassador’s routine to be shaken up, and I’m happily disappointed.” Out of shape, he was breathing hard from catching up.
Sckiik stopped and turned toward him. “Three assassination attempts and one on the way. That’s not shaky?”
“Besides that.” He smiled.
Sckiik did her best impersonation of a human smile, and hoped it was convincing. Flexible as it was around the eyes and mouth, her Rildj exoskeleton couldn’t express what Al’s human features could. Behind his smile, Al’s face was lined with worry. He knew where the Ambassador and Sckiik were going and what was expected before arrival. “Thanks for working out the transportation details.”
“Hey, I have connections with the engineers.” Al’s infectious smile had a mischievous curve to it, his teeth standing out stark white against his cocoa-brown skin. Sckiik smelled a wave of testosterone.
“You mean a bedroom pass,” she deduced.
Al’s smile spread. “Guilty. Be safe, Sckiik,” he said. “Don’t cut it so close this time.”
“My timing was intentional.”
Sckiik continued down the hall, but she could that hear Al hadn’t moved. She turned again and waited for the rest of what he had to say.
His eyes flicked across Sckiik’s rows of spines, most of them longer than ten centimeters. Two rows ran up her back, angling off to the side, similar to her chest. They thrust out from each elbow, and protruded from the front of her upper knees and the back of the lower. Her vacsuit hugged each of them, enhancing their prominence. Shorter spines extended from the edges of her cranial plate, wrapping around, pointed alternately up and down. But his scan was cursory, not showing the revulsion of those unfamiliar with Rildj females. Sckiik didn’t blame them, admitting to her skeletal timbre and the blood-red hue, though it made her grateful her strangeness didn’t derail Al’s question.
“Is this necessary, Sckiik? The moon? ”
Sckiik appreciated that Al could be candid with her after such a short time. And he wasn’t intimidated by her appearance.
“The Ambassador knows what he’s doing, Al. So do I.”
“That’s why he hired you. But if the CIA information is correct, this will be the fourth assassination attempt in six months.”
“Access to helium-3 is worth the risk. The Hudson’s Bay Company mines plenty of it, and the Canadian government is willing to negotiate on tariffs. It takes fuel to colonize the galaxy, Al, and you’re not the only species with the drive to spread out.”
Al nodded and left, but Sckiik didn’t think he was convinced. She glanced down the short hall of the small building, fitting for the Rildj Embassy to the United States. Her home planet was small, the population smaller. She and the Ambassador were the only Rildj at the embassy; her brother Ranyk was the only other in the whole capital sprawl. The entire galaxy only contained three million of her species.
Something here doesn’t fit. We’re not politically important, and we’re economically irrelevant. The Ambassador shouldn’t even need a head of security. What do we have that’s worth an act of war to take? Did our colonies cross someone else’s? The Ambassador and I need to have a frank talk on our return. Maybe involve some of our own Iraskan agents. For now, time to show another assassin how this is done.
Brought to You
The moon diminished as Ranyk’s starship passed. Earth distinguished itself from the stars beyond, a growing blue-and-white crescent. From the pilot’s seat, Ranyk soaked in the symbolism of a lone planet in the black.
Pale blue dot. Makes border disputes and religious disagreements—and being annoyed with that blowhard in accounting—seem a little pre-Renaissance and post-lobotomy.
The small orb in his view screen teemed with vivid organisms, only a fraction of them human, but still a striking contrast to the rarity of life in the galaxy. It blurred his sense of self to be part of something so rare yet numberless, and thinking on it deeply made him wonder if vertigo were a good word to apply to emotions.
Introspection was like a favorite vacsuit. Pondering the science of life, working the math in his head, and personalizing the effects were all second nature to him. Not all at once or for an extended time, though. His attention wandered more than he and his starship, especially when near enough Earth to get live communication feeds. His sister wasn’t responding to his link messages, so he scanned interplanetary signals, and found his favorite band. They had played the Mariner Valley on Mars last week, and the signal was still bouncing around among satellites.
A hologram of the concert flashed over his control panel. He started to celebrate his luck, but was cut off. The image of the musicians and their acoustic perfection was replaced by a large container of refined and processed food held by a shirtless human male. His face was not shown, and corporate logos were tattooed across his hormonally enhanced and well-oiled musculature. A swanky, synthesized saxophone completed the scene.
Ranyk sat up, reaching for the controls to skip the advertisement, but found them locked out. He tapped them again, and seemingly in response, the man flexed his arms and made his pectoral muscles dance rhythmically. Ranyk tried to mute the sound, but the advertisement had commandeered his entire communications array.
The ad finally ended. Ranyk noted the bulging man hadn’t actually eaten anything, and his annoyance increased when he realized the opening of the concert was over.
Biological needs tied sensationally to a commodity? I can overlook that. It’s the foundation of capitalist America. But the illegal system override and poor concert etiquette? I think an RSVP of technical difficulties and vandalism is in order.
Ranyk leaned forward to analyze the signal and found the satellite responsible. It belonged to one of the many media, nutrition, and pharmaceutical conglomerates.
Though he was three hundred thousand kilometers out from the offending satellite, he made a minor course adjustment to match its future location. Ranyk stood, snapped on his helmet, and made his way to the unpressurized and gravity-free cargo bay at his ship’s bow. From the workbench, he grabbed the recycling bin, and with a careful hand set leftover bolts and broken rivets to hover in front of the cargo door. He soon completed a sculpture from lazily-spinning metal objects numbering over a thousand.
A human fist with an erect middle digit.
That’s gallery-worthy, he decided, then bent his attention to his new enemy. “From Hell’s hardware I stab at thee.”
Ranyk returned to the cockpit, opened the cargo bay, and tapped the braking thrusters. Inertia carried the hardware store junk out of the cargo bay, the parts rocketing through space in perfect formation. Another course adjustment, and Ranyk had a new approach vector to Earth.
Four hours later in close Earth orbit, Ranyk checked his chronometer and isolated a video feed of the offending satellite. The sun bathed it in the blistering radiation. Sparkling light reflected from Ranyk’s metal sculpture was the only warning before it shattered the satellite’s solar panels into glistening blue powder. It bored holes into one side of the fuselage and ragged, overlapping craters erupted on the other. The satellite began a slow, spiraling descent to an incendiary end in the atmosphere of Earth.
“My first art show. Documented for posterity.”
It’s been such a pleasure speaking to Derick William Dalton and I sincerely encourage you all pick up his new book, Houses of Common. And if you’re an author, feel free to reach out to me for a spotlight post as well. After all, if authors don’t help authors, who will?
All my love,