Fuzzy Android’s Interview with D.L. Morrese
D.L. Morrese is a fulltime American Science Fiction/Fantasy author. He worked his way through college as a short-order cook, earned degrees in Philosophy and Government, and graduated with the disturbing realization there weren’t many job opportunities in these fields unless you had political ambitions, which he did not.
In a clear demonstration of the old adage that fortune favors the foolish, he secured a logistics management position with the U.S. Army at an installation just north of Detroit. He wasn’t in the Army. He worked for them as a civilian, and he learned a great number of things, the most important of which was that this kind of work wasn’t much fun. It was a lot more fun than starving, of course, so he stuck with it, did well, got a few promotions and transfers, and left. Now, he writes speculative fiction in a suburb of Orlando, Florida where the weather is much nicer—at least in the winter.
FA: What inspires you to write?
DLM: I think I have a deep need to create a better world, even if it is only a fictional one. Fiction can nudge reality, though, and some works of fiction have had significant cultural impacts. I don’t expect my stories to bring about world peace or end hunger or anything like that, but if they provide a brief and pleasant diversion from reality for a few people, that is enough. My primary motivation for writing is to create stories that do this because I very much appreciate all the authors who have done the same for me.
FA: Tell us about your writing process Are you an outliner or a seat of the pants writer? If you are an outliner, what do you use to outline? Whiteboard? Software? Do you create character sketches before or during your writing?
DLM: For me, the story building process always starts with an inspiration. These are ineffable things. Inspiration can come from life experience, news reports, current events, dreams, or overindulgence of mind-altering substances, but I don’t think that explains them. For all I know, they come from subatomic inspiration particles streaming from the center of the galaxy that, when conditions are right, strike the appropriate brain cell of a suitable author in just the right way to provide the seed of a great story. All I really know is that sometimes an idea materializes and I think, ‘That would make a good story.’
I can say that the inspiration for my Warden novels came from the buildup for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but how that got turned into a lighthearted science fiction parody of epic fantasy is, well, a whole other story and not one I’m sure I fully understand.
For me, inspiration is just a start. It doesn’t provide enough to create a satisfying novel. That needs to be built from words and ideas the way a carpenter builds a house from wood and nails. It’s work. I’ve tried the ‘seat of your pants’ method and just winging it with a rough idea, but I’ve never been satisfied with the result without a lot of rewriting.
Now, I’m a confirmed outliner. The term may be misleading because it involves more than a simple outline. There are several steps in the process, but they aren’t sequential. You don’t have to finish one before you start the next. In fact, I don’t think you can because they all support one another.
When an inspiration particle hits, I jot down a paragraph or two about the kind of story I imagine can grow from it. Since these often happen when I’m already working on a different project, I set them aside and get back to them when I’m ready to begin a new one. Then, I look them over, pick one, and jot down some basic ideas about major characters, settings, plot, and theme. I brainstorm to identify the big events that need to take place from the start of the story to reach a satisfying conclusion. This is like a rough sketch of the story I can build. It’s not detailed enough to be called a blueprint, but it’s enough to let me know if it’s worth pursuing. If it still looks like it will make for a good story, I get down to some serious outlining. I create worksheets for the major characters and settings that describe them in some detail, including as much history as needed. Much of this will never appear in the final book, but the author needs to know these things. If they do not feel real to the writer, they won’t to the reader. A single page is normally enough for me to create a character or setting. I’ve done similar worksheets for the fictional governments, religions, and organizations that appear in my stories. When I have a good idea of the story, its setting, and its characters, I create a more detailed outline. I determine the Point of View for the book, if I haven’t already. For me, that’s normally third person and either single or multiple POV. I sketch out the major things that must happen or that will be discovered in each chapter and when they will occur. About ten to fifteen pages is enough to create an outline at this level. That’s about as far as I go until I’m ready to work on the prose. I normally draft the chapters in order and outline each scene in the chapter I’m working on first.
I’ve tried a couple software programs specifically for writing fiction, but I’ve gone back to using Word for my story outlines, character sheets, and the manuscript. I use Excel for timelines, chapter statistics, and similar things. Maps and diagrams, as needed, are done free hand.
FA: Do you listen to or talk to your characters?
DLM: Do I talk to my characters? Of course not. They’re fictional. I’m not—
What’s that, Kwestor? Oh, right.
Sorry – I was just reminded that, in fact, I do listen to their advice on occasion. Sometimes they want to do something a bit different from what my outline says they should, and often I let them. But, for the most part, when I am telling a story from a certain character’s point of view, I imagine I am that person (or dog, or whatever), seeing what the character would see the way he or she (or it) would see it.
What? Yes, thank you, Trixie. I’m feeling fine.
No, Muce, I don’t need to take a break for a snack just now, but a cup of tea would be nice.
Sorry for the interruptions, but the short answer to your question, with some minor exceptions, is no. I don’t converse with my characters.
FA: What advice would you give other writers?
DLM: Two things.
-Write every day, or at least as often as possible. Don’t wait for inspiration. Don’t put it off until you are in the mood or have more time. Just sit down and do it. The inspiration will come and the time will be there.
-Write what you like to read. Write to please yourself. If you are writing something mainly because you believe it will sell, it might, but it won’t be you, it won’t be great, and you won’t enjoy it as much. (Note: This last bit of advice only applies to writers who are motivated by something more meaningful than money.)
FA: How did you decide how to publish your books? What would you advise new authors to explore?
DLM: When I began writing novels, I never considered self-publishing. It wasn’t really a viable option if you wanted people other than your friends and family to read your books. This has changed.
A few years ago, I was given a Kindle as a gift. The timing was fortuitous because this was when I was still working on the final drafts of my first two books. My new Kindle made self-published and other ‘indie’ books available to me for the first time, and, to my surprise, they were good! Many were better than good. They were better than most of the new traditionally published books I read. I enjoyed them more, anyway. The indie books tended to be fresh and different, often mixing genres and written in unique voices. This experience is what led me to consider self-publishing seriously.
I did a bit of research. I read articles by agents, authors, and publishers. I read stories about success and failure, good experiences and bad that writers taking both routes had. My conclusion, right or wrong, was that if your writing fits neatly into the genre, style, and subject matter of current books from traditional publishers, then you should try traditional publishing. You will need to give up some of the rights to your work, but the traditional publishing route can allow you to concentrate more on your writing because the publisher will handle cover design and will assist with editing and promotion.
If, on the other hand, your work is different from what is currently being produced by traditional publishers, you might want to look into small-press publishers or even publish your work yourself. Traditional publishing is a business, and the first business of business is to make money. They do this by publishing books they think will sell well now, and the way they determine this is by looking at what has sold well recently. Traditional publishers say they are looking for something different, but not too different. It’s too risky.
This is probably the main reason I decided to self-publish. I didn’t want to write the kind of books that were already popular. There were already enough of those, and, for the most part, I didn’t care for them. Perhaps I’m contrary by nature, or maybe I’m just not much of a trend follower, but I wanted to provide something different, something that, if not exactly unique, was rare. I wanted to create the kinds of books I love to read—something lighter, more positive, humorous but not silly, and that might even provoke a thought or two.
I will caution writers that self-publishing is probably a much harder route for them than traditional publishing. Your chance of being published, of course, is much higher (close to 100%), but you will be responsible for all of the work a publisher would otherwise do, including cover design, editing, formatting, production, promotion, distribution, and marketing. These tasks have turned out to be much more labor intensive than I expected. They’re also nowhere near as much fun as creating fictional worlds and telling stories about what happens in them.
There are times when I think I’ll try to hand over much of this less enjoyable work and put some serious effort into finding an agent and traditional publisher, but, so far, I haven’t. I may in the future. I enjoy being a fiction writer. I’m not crazy about being a publisher.
FA: What do you think about the future of book publishing?
DLM: It’s changing, and readers are probably the biggest beneficiaries. The model of the last century, in which a few large publishers produced a limited number of different books intended to appeal to large number of people, is likely to loose dominance. The future will include more titles in a wider range of genres and subgenres written and published by a larger number of authors and publishers. The mass appeal potential of a book will be far less important than it is now, at least for small and independent publishers, so readers should be able to find more books they really like and more books they truly love because they appeal to their personal tastes.