Monday, April 16, 2007

Author Interview: Darryl Sloan

From time to time here at the PODLer we will interview select authors for our featured authors section. The first interview in this section is with Darryl Sloan, author of Chion.

When did you first discover the desire to write?

Not long after I discovered the desire to read, which was around age thirteen. Until then, I thought all books were boring. Then "Z For Zachariah" by Robert O'Brien became the class novel in English lessons. It was an exciting story about a girl surviving a nuclear war. Reading quickly became a hobby for me. As for why I chose to write, I just have an unquenchable creative urge. Whatever hobbies I had in my teens, I couldn't resist dabbling in the creative side of them.

This included drawing, painting, writing, filmmaking, even computer programming. Eventually, you feel more passionate about some than others, and learn to prioritize, rather than being a "jack of all trades." By age sixteen, I was submitting stories to small press science fiction magazines like Interzone, but it would be many years before I was published.

Even now, I still get crazy creative urges in other areas. I've started enjoying comics again, and I have to stop myself from thinking, "Hey, I want to make my own comic!" I have to remind myself that it's better to build on what you're already good at, instead of flying off on tangents.

What are your writing habits?

I never start writing until I have a clear mental picture of a story's structure. I have too many unfinished works lying around from the past, because I didn't know where the stories were going when I started writing them. Plan heavily.

When I'm in the thick of writing a novel, the rule I try to live by is: write something every day, whether it's two sentences or two thousand words. As long as there's movement, it means that the project gets finished, regardless of how long it takes. Novel-writing is a massive undertaking, and you'll never complete a work on passion alone. That initial burst of enthusiasm that you feel when you begin will usually be gone long before you've finished writing. It takes discipline. I wish I had more of it, because I am not the best at taking my own advice.

Do you keep a journal?

Not a personal for-my-eyes-only journal. I do write a regular blog, where I provide writing tips, talk about my publishing experiences, and occasionally natter about my personal life.

What obstacles to writing do you face in your everyday life?

If I could better myself, I would like to get up at 6.00 a.m. every day and write for an hour before going to my day job. But I'm such a lazybones. Consequently, I write in the evening, after a taxing day at work, when I'm in no condition to be doing it. So, my great enemies are sloth and fatigue.

I used to have a slight problem with self-doubt as a writer - wondering if I'm good enough to be putting my books in print. But I've managed to put those feelings to bed by taking the time to learn correct grammar and punctuation, so that I know all the the nuts and bolts of the craft, just like the professionals. Also, I've had too much positive feedback from readers not to gain some confidence at what I'm doing.

There's one obstacle that I imagine many others have to contend with, but I don't: the responsibilities of married life. I'm single. I can do what I want when I want. So, I have a lot more time on my hands to write, and if I want to let those dishes pile up in the sink, well, that's my choice. I can't offer a solution to this problem except divorce, and that's going a bit far!

What writing books, if any, have you read and would recommend?

For a light-hearted, easy-going read, I thoroughly recommend Stephen King's "On Writing." It gave me the get-up-and-go to write my first novel, "Ulterior." King continually recommends Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" in his volume, and so do I. In fact, it's essential. It's a tiny, one-hundred-page reference book that is jam-packed with important information on grammar and punctuation.

My biggest criticism of self-published novelists is that they generally refuse to learn the craft. Too many of them assume they know everything they need to know. They do themselves, and their readers, a disservice.

What books inspire you?

My favourite novels would be Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" and "The Folk of the Fringe." John Christopher's "The Tripods" and "The Death of Grass." John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids" and "The Chrysalids."

What is your inspiration in writing?

I have a fascination with post-apocalyptic survival that is probably born out of a dissatisfaction with modern life. I find myself standing opposed to all the moral permissiveness around us; especially the "aren't we living in a wonderful, tolerant world" attitude that is nothing but a cloak for decadance and selfishness. I loathe consumerism and materialism (even though I'd be very happy if everyone bought my books!). I hate the every-man-for-himself attitude we're all steeped in. Part of me would just love to shake the world upside down and force everyone to reevalute *everything*, because I would love to live in a very different world - one where "love your neighbour" has a chance at actually meaning something. Writing about the theme of survival is my opportunity for a little wish-fulfillment.
Christian life is another inspiration. My fiction is strongly character driven, and I'm fascinated by moral dilemmas and inner demons. I've never been one to shirk away from the harder questions of life. Instead of trying to project some high-and-mighty, know-it-all attitude, what you'll read is my failure to have all the anwers as well as my insights.

Who are your favorite authors?

In no particular order: John Wynhdam, John Christopher, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Dean Koontz.

What tips or techniques would you suggest for writers?

Plan heavily before writing, so that whatever you start, you know you can finish. Learn the nuts and bolts of the craft so that you can stand out from the crowd. Periodically, I post advice on writing and self-publishing on my blog.

How did you come up with the idea for Chion?

The central idea for "Chion" (the notion of glue-like snow) came to me out of a vague desire to write about sinister weather, something akin to John Carpenter's "The Fog," only I wanted to be totally original. There aren't that many common weather phenomena to choose from, so it was just a matter of thinking about them and asking myself some crazy "what if" questions.

When I first tried to construct a story around the idea, I thought of a science fiction scenario. The future; mankind reaching out into the stars, finding an earthlike world suitable for colonisation. The aliens on the planet are gentle and docile. Although intelligent, they choose to live in very basic accomodation; they've never built towns and cities. Why is this? The colonists discover the answer when it happens: on this planet, every ten years a fall of glue-like snow descends, rendering everything immobile. The aliens have always known to retreat into subterranean caverns. Man is not so lucky.

Sometimes, when you get a story idea like this, it develops in your mind, and eventually you end up with the tapestry of a novel. This one just sat there and stagnated. It wasn't until a couple of years later, when I was out for a walk during a snowfall, that I asked myself, "What if it didn't happen in the future? What if it happened right here and now in my hometown? What if there were no fancy futuristic technologies to get us out of the 'sticky situation'?" And, curiously, that scenario was far more interesting to me. I took all the elaborate sci-fi elements away from the initial premise and wound up with a proper story to tell, containing all kinds of thrills and spills.

What inspired you to write it?

In summer 2005 I had watched my mother die of cancer, and not long after her death, I felt the strong urge to write another novel. It had been four years since I had written my first. There were at least four fully fleshed-out synopses for three entirely different novels or novellas, ready and waiting in my mind. "Chion," I knew, was not only the grand story of a gluey apocalypse, it was the more intimate story of a boy coping with a terminal illness. I'm not sure whether what I had gone through with my mother had any conscious impact on my choice to pick "Chion" ahead of the other stories, but I've a feeling it had.

And, of course, "Chion" was an opportunity to tell an intimate, character-driven story amidst a catalclysm, which is the kind of story I love.

And any other items of interest to your potential readers.

Autographed copies of "Chion" are available directly from me, worldwide. A new edition of my out-of-print first novel, "Ulterior," is coming soon. Some of my fiction is available for download in MP3 format from my website

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