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David Dalglish Interview – Soulkeeper

David DalglishDavid Dalglish is a hybrid writer of classic tales of orcs, elves, and dwarves. He started in self-publishing back in the early days of Kindle and has since had books published through Orbit Books and 47North. But who better to tell us his tale, than the author himself? So without further ado, Fantasy-Faction presents: An Interview with David Dalglish.

Can you talk a bit about how your writing career began and how it led to a deal with Orbit Books?

I was just starting to take writing seriously. I’d submitted short stories at various places, and gotten two published by tiny little ezines. At the time, I was reading up on what types of stories sold, what the preferred length was, things like that. One thing I read repeatedly was ‘traditional’ fantasy was on its way out. No orcs. No elves. You’ll get auto rejected.

Now, this was kind of downer, since I had this 180k word novel that was the first in a planned series titled The Half-Orcs. But you know what? So many published authors had trunked novels that never sold, and I figured that it’d be one of those, something maybe I could rework later on.

So Christmas comes around, and I bought my wife one of the very first Kindles that Amazon released. Within weeks both of us were reading far more than we had in years. The market was still young, with a *lot* of trade published books not even being sold digitally, or some even higher than the cost for in print. I lamented to my wife how the Kindle was going to be huge, and it was a shame I didn’t know any real way to capitalize off of that. She did some digging and then brought up what she found: you could self-publish on the Kindle for free. No catches. Set the price, and receive (at the time) 35% of the cut.

Something to know is, at the time, self-publishing was considered a huge money hole. You’d barely sell anything, especially in physical form, vanity publishers would drain away your investments while pretending to offer valuable services, and overall it’d be one gigantic waste of time.

In my Creative Writing course at my little university, my professor once said that if you self-published, it better be under a pseudonym, because any reputable publisher who found out would likely never take you seriously. This is what I had in my head when I was looking at self-publishing on the Kindle. But I couldn’t shake the feeling in my gut that the Kindle was going to be huge, the market was significantly under-served for content, and that I had this one chance to get in on the ground floor.

The Weight of Blood (cover)So I decided screw it, let’s go. No one was going to publish my silly little fantasy of orcs and undead and warring gods anyway. It was too D&D, too out of fashion. I prowled through DeviantArt looking for someone who might make me some custom artwork, and lucked out immensely in finding Peter Ortiz. He was my first choice, by far and away, and I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of affording him. At the time I was living in a trailer park with my wife and daughter, barely scraping by delivering pizzas. To even say I had a ‘budget’ is pretty laughable. Peter answered back, said he was interested, and when I asked how much, he said $100. My jaw hit the floor.

So that was it. I took my manuscript, edited it in a mad dash to out run my fear of failure, put my name on the cover, and uploaded The Weight of Blood for $1.99. The rest is pretty much history. I got in right as things exploded, at a price point far below what trade publishing was charging. I had a story that there was an audience hungry for, people who loved the good old days of Drizzt Do’Urden and Raistlin and Caramon.

Eventually my success was high enough I attracted the attention of the people at Orbit. They liked Dance of Cloaks and wanted it as part of their lineup. I was only happy to oblige. I signed the rights to four books over, to be heavily overhauled with additional content, portions cut and cleaned up, new covers, full edits. Two more novels would finish up my Shadowdance series, and once those were done, well, it was time to move on. I’m happy with Orbit, and Orbit seems happy to have me, so I hope we get along for many years to come.

You’ve released a huge output of books over the years. How have you managed to be so prolific?

Generally a combination of two things. One was setting up a consistent writing pattern (generally by going to the library so I could cut myself off from all things internet) and then ensuring that, regardless of the hours it took, I hit my desired word goal. I could get away with this since writing was my full time occupation, which is connected rather heavily with reason two: I had no fall back career other than returning to Pizza Hut, so I wrote like mad to ensure I had books to consistently self-publish. Between that and delivering pizzas, spending hours in the library was cake.

What was your inspiration behind your most recent series Seraphim?

Skyborn (cover)Way, way back in middle school I fell in love with an RPG called Chrono Trigger, and it’s remained one of my favorites to this day. There’s a part in it that I was always fascinated with, in which an entire civilization was built atop a floating island. I wanted to explore that concept in depth, and a natural addition to that would be a way in which people could travel between the islands. From there it was only natural to add in magic, monsters, and aerial battles.

I thoroughly loved the series. It was actually my first experience with your work. I did notice that book one felt more YA than the two follow up books, which was interesting.

Yup! I dabbled with a vaguely YA’ish book one, but by the end of it, I’d come to the conclusion that it just wasn’t my style, or what I enjoyed doing. By the time I reached book three, I said to heck with it, I’m going to go stupid all out like I usually do.

Seraphim was a lot of different experiments. I tried to have a more structured, limited magic system. I tried focusing on politics a bit more. Tried doing the YA’ish school system and training.

Your Half-Orc series seems to be quite popular and, although I’ve read a lot of your work, I confess I haven’t gotten there yet. Can you describe the series a bit for readers of your Orbit work?

I grew up as a huge fan of the old D&D books, Dragonlance novels with Caramon and Raistlin, and especially the Dark Elf Trilogy featuring the still-popular dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. About . . . sheesh, fifteen years ago when I started coming up with the basic ideas of the series, I felt like a lot of fantasy works had shied away from elves and dwarves. I still felt there was a demand for that type of fantasy, so that’s what you’ll get with The Half-Orcs. There’s necromancers, hordes of undead, wizards casting fireballs, magic swords, healing potions, every stupid wonderful trope you can think of when you start rolling dice on a table.

Which series of yours are you most proud of and why?

Night of Wolves (cover)That’d be The Paladins. It started out as an attempt to be a series of quick, short little novelettes featuring the bromance between two Paladins of opposing deities. By the third book the scope and length had grown exponentially. The final book, The Broken Pieces, is still my favorite of all I’ve written. It’s the most personal, and really tears into both of the main characters as they struggle to maintain their faith and decide what is right from wrong in a dark world.

Where does Shadowdance fall in the chronology of your series? Can it be read alone?

Shadowdance is probably the best introduction to my work, and takes place first chronologically (not counting the Breaking World books which take place hundreds of years beforehand and are basically their own little thing). I actually have a timeline on my website here.

What were some of your influences for the Shadowdance series? How would you describe it to new readers?

In my Half-Orcs series, I had a character named Haern the Watcher who turned out to be one of the most popular and liked of all my weird, damaged characters. It seemed assassins were rather big at the time (Assassin’s Creed was just getting started, Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows was tearing up the charts, you get the idea). Well, I had this assassin character people liked and wanted more of, and I’d purposefully left his entire backstory as a mystery.

So one day I decided I’d take a temporary break from The Half-Orcs and flesh out this Haern fellow. I narrowed the scope down to one city instead of a continent spanning gods’ war of The Half-Orcs, filled it with nasty types of killers and thieves, and told the story of young Aaron Felhorn, the son of the most notorious assassin in the city’s history, and of how he turned from that life to fight the thieves guilds he was meant to lead.

You seem to focus a lot on relationships in your novels, be it friends, brothers or romantic. How important are these themes to you when writing? Do your own experiences come forward in your writing?

The Broken Pieces (cover)I’m a sucker for drama, and I’ve felt that best way to ensure that is establishing strong connections between the heroes and villains. An example would be in The Half-Orcs, where the two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of a massive war of the two gods. The heroes can suffer doubt and regret when fighting against someone they love. Same goes for the villains. To harm those you love, to have to rationalize killing your own brother, allows me to add complexity and uncertainty to even the most terrible of people. Friends, brothers, sisters, parents and their children, all of these bonds strengthen the appeal of heroes and heighten the conflicts when broken or twisted.

Read any good fantasy lately? What could you recommend to readers?

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. It’s an R-rated Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’m not sure I could sell it any harder than that.

When you aren’t writing what takes up most of your time?

I’m generally hopping through a few games on the PS4, Switch, and PC. As of this moment, I’m playing through Spider-Man on PS4 and absolutely loving it.

I’ve been stoked for Soulkeeper since I read the premise and saw the cover. Tell us a bit about it and what else is next for you? Consequently, Amazon has it listed at a daunting 720 pages? Is this true (fingers crossed) or an error?

Soulkeeper (cover)I’m beyond excited for this series, and the world I’ve created for it. It’s a world where all magical creatures were banished for hundreds of years, and in a single split second, they return, every last one, as if they never left. What might have been children’s stories are now true. Wolves talk. Giant sentient flowers control minds with songs. The spells written in spellbooks, long discredited and considered nonsense, now work. The prayers of priests and priestesses heal flesh and cure blindness. It’s a wonderful chaos, with no limits to whatever nightmarish creature I want to create. Throw in newly awakened dragons, goddesses, and void-monsters, and it’s just a blast.

As for the length, it’s over 170k words long, easily the longest book I’ve ever written. I’m not sure it’ll hit 720 pages (that’s likely an error) but it’ll be a hefty one.

Aside from Soulkeeper, which sounds immense, do you plan to return to any of your previous worlds in the near future?

I’m pretty sure a lot of my readers would murder me if I didn’t write one more Half-Orc book to tie up its current storyline. Beyond that, and perhaps one more in The Half-Orc series to bring back the offspring of another beloved character, I don’t think I’ll be returning to that world. Between Shadowdance, the Paladins, The Half-Orcs, and the Breaking World, I’ve written twenty novels set in the world of Dezrel. It often feels like I’ve done and said everything I can do within it, and the allure of brand new worlds, like with Seraphim and Soulkeeper, is pretty damn strong.

If you could give some advice to aspiring writers what would it be?

Learn to write when you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s a couple hundred words, it’s still worlds better than a zero. If you can develop that skill you’ll be five steps ahead of the rest.

We would like to thank David for taking the time to speak with us today! You can learn more about Soulkeeper and his other works on his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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