Danny Adams is the author of Lest Camelot Fall and The City Beyond Play. He’s come to share some of his writing wisdom and tell us a bit about his books, so please give him a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your books?
Lest Camelot Fall, which Musa just released, is my take on Camelot after Arthur died. Not everybody in Camelot was wiped out in that final battle, and I always wondered whatever happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table. It turns out that some early medieval historians and storytellers (primarily in Wales and Cornwall) wondered the same thing, and told tales of them. I borrowed some of those tales, mixed in my own character, Lucian Aurelianus -“Aurelianus” was the name of Arthur’s family as given in some of those old stories – and went from there, detailing how they might have fought to help keep at least some of Camelot’s dream alive.
The City Beyond Play, which I co-wrote with Philip Jose Farmer, was originally released in hard copy by PS in 2007 and “reprinted” as an ebook in 2012. This is a science fiction adventure tale about a murderer named Wilson Gore who hides out in Scadia, a big chunk of walled-off land where everyone is a medieval re-enactor who never, ever leaves their role. It comes complete with castles, dragons, and a Red Knight who is the king’s ruthless enforcer when you break Scadia’s rules. Plus we threw in a lot of tongue-in-cheek.
2. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
Early. I wrote a few things as a kid—my first “book” when I was five, some short stories when I was eight—but mostly I was interested in cartooning. Then at the age of 12 I went to visit family in Illinois, including my great-uncle Phil Farmer. I had already read some of his books, which fascinated me, and I was instantly intrigued by the whole writing process as I witnessed him doing it – he would write in his basement, and I would sit on the basement steps for an hour at a time just listening to him type. From that point on I was hooked, and writing was all I wanted to do.
Co-writing The City Beyond Play with him – my first published book, and his last to appear while he was living – was the fulfilment of a nearly lifelong dream.
3. You’ve published several things: short stories, poems and of course, novels. What’s your favourite and why?
If you’re going to make me pick favorites, don’t tell the other stories. Lest Camelot Fall is certainly a favorite – moreso now, admittedly, since it’s been published, but it had a big place in my heart anyway. I’ve always loved the Matter of Camelot and it was my first foray into Arthurian lore. Three will always be a place in my heart for my (still unpublished) Shenandoah Valley historical novels, and the Arizona historical novels I’m writing now, because I have deep personal connections with both of those places.
And I’m also partial to my poem “A Cloud of Unforeseen Destinations”, which appeared in Illumen magazine in 2007. It’s about what happens to certain people when a cosmic cloud crosses paths with the Earth and makes their deepest fantastic desires come true. I like it not just for its own merits, but because my wife Laurie is most certainly not a poetry person yet loved this poem nevertheless.
4. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?
Trimming. I can come up with stories without any problem, and write them with only a few hiccups along the way, but I overwrite and then don’t really know what to cut. The advice of “Cut out the boring parts” doesn’t really work for me because it’s all interesting to me – or else I wouldn’t have put it in. I actually have a problem with a lot of novels because I think they’re too short!
I don’t know if this exactly makes it easier for me, but I’ve had some pretty good success by shortening sentences, cutting out anything that might be at all repetitive (be it a scene, dialogue, or whatever), and forcing myself to use the 10% Rule whether I like it or not. I have to go in thinking “OK, everything is interesting…but what do I think is the most interesting?”
5. What’s your take on writer’s block? Does it exist, and if it does, how can you cure it?
I think writer’s block does exist but that it’s a blanket term for a hundred possible things. The trick is figuring out which of those hundred things is causing the problem. I don’t usually suffer it, but when it hits me it’s generally caused by one of two things: I either haven’t thought through what I’m writing well enough, or I got off track somewhere.
Solving #1 can be as easy as taking a short walk around my neighborhood to clear my head and get the juices flowing. Solving #2 is usually more involved, tracking down where I skidded off the road. But I’ve also found that it helps me not to go back just yet and try rewriting. When I figure out what I need to do, I just write it as notes in the offending place, then pick up where I left off as if I’d already done the rewriting. That way I don’t break my stride.
6. What’s the biggest challenge of co-writing a novel?
In my case it was the distance. Phil Farmer was in Illinois, I live in Virginia, and by that point he was eighty-seven years old and his sight had deteriorated to the point where he could spend only just a little time looking at a computer screen, which thus also limited e-mailing. (Much of that was done through my aunt, Bette Farmer, or with her as a go-between on the phone.)
As it happened, we worked on The City Beyond Play just in time. Not long after the book was finished he suffered a stroke, making it impossible for him to write again.
7. Why did you choose an ebook publisher over a traditional publisher?
It wasn’t so much that it was ebooks over traditional, but rather the broad swath of genres Musa covers. I’ve written historicals, fantasy (including young adult), and science fiction, and Musa publishes in all of those genres – plus others I’m considering writing in the future. I liked the possibility of being able to submit different types of books to the same house.
8. What’s it like to work with an editor for the first time?
I’d worked with editors in very small capacities before, like tweaking short stories and poems, but this was the first time I collaborated on a full-sized novel with a story editor. One who didn’t have any hesitation about wanting me to chop, add, move, and do some substantial rewrites. (Props to said editor, Amie McCracken, for that.) Some of it was painful, naturally, but no more so than swallowing bitter medicine – once done I not only felt better, but saw the obvious need. (I suspect this is all I need to help my anti-trimming problem, too.)
9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be persistent. Obsessively persistent if you have to. I’ve known plenty of writers who were far more talented than me, but they never published because they weren’t persistent enough about it. It may take a long time, but if you keep at it and keep your behavior professional, sooner or later it’ll happen.
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
A historical series about Arizona that follows three families from prehistoric times to the present day.
Originally I hoped to be the next James A. Michener and set out to write this as one giant book, simply titled Arizona. But aside from the fact that a book that size is an awfully hard sell even in our Ebook Era, it eventually got too big for a Michener-sized work. So I broke it up and called it the Arizona Saga. The first book covers the end of the Ice Age to 1700; the second one runs from 1776 to 1861. I just finished what became the third book, Copper Heart, which covers 1861 to 1888 and includes appearances by some well-known folks like Geronimo and Wyatt Earp. The fourth and final volume should bring the story up to the 21st century.
If you ever read the whole series, you can please me to no end by pretending you’re reading one giant epic novel!
Bio: Along with Lest Camelot Fall and The City Beyond Play, Danny Adams is the author of numerous speculative short stories and poems, and he reviews fantasy and science fiction books for Publishers Weekly. Danny and his wife Laurie live with a myriad of rescued cats and dogs by a (but not THE) hundred-acre wood deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.