This week’s #SPFBO Author Interview is with D. Thourson Palmer. He sheared sheep in rural Ohio, studied in the Appalachian foothills, explored Japan by train and pack, and wandered the Central Valley of California. He is the author of Ours Is the Storm (entered in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) and the adult epic fantasy web serial RAZE. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Why did you enter #spfbo?
I missed it the first time, but in the interim, I met Dyrk Ashton, author of last year's finalist Paternus, while we were both attending the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus. Dyrk's a great guy, and we hit it off, got some grub, and he told me about #SPFBO and how well Paternus was doing and encouraged me to enter the next one. Watching his success, how could I not? We exchanged copies of our books, and I entered the contest.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I'm lucky enough to be able to travel quite a bit. Places I go quickly make their way into my stories - Queen Maeve's Cairn in Sligo County, Ireland; a valley village in Benin. I lived in Japan for a while, and it's a place that's absolutely steeped in history and tradition right next to some of the most modern and even futuristic locations on earth. I just came back from Cuba, which is another place that was totally surprising; huge Soviet monuments straight out of Equilibrium next to decaying Spanish Colonial houses on cobblestone streets. I'm also making the rounds at a couple of literary conventions when I can. Its great to get together with people who do the same thing as I do!
What is the first book that made you cry?
The Once and Future King, several times. White was a master at capturing and enunciating the sorrows of personal failings, the ones that matter, even while all around others celebrate what they think should be a great triumph.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Editing before finishing a draft. We all poke at a sentence here and there or go back and try to add a scene or a line of dialogue or what have you, but resist! Write the whole thing first. That's also where self-doubt steps in. When you first start a story, you're excited about your sweet idea, buoyed along by achievement as five, ten, fifty pages fly by under your fingers--and then it hits. You lose track of the plot or realize you don't know how to get to the next really great scene you've been planning the whole time; or worse, you write the scene, and it's just bad. Here's where you'll be tempted to stop, or where you'll start to think the whole idea is the stupidest thing you've ever heard. Why would anyone read this if you think it's bad?
Keep going. Just write on. Put in a placeholder, jump ahead, throw in a sharknado or crocoblizzard or dinopolarvortex or whatever. Just get it moving again, skim past, and finish. Fix it once you've told yourself the whole story.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I'm not interested in pleasing some hypothetical group of readers. Trying to guess what someone else wants is bad enough. Ever had a friend or a significant other refuse to tell you what's on their mind and you try to guess? How did that work out? Now, try to do it for a whole bunch of strangers that have no investment in keeping you around.
No, I write what I want, and I try to do something that's new to me. And usually, I'll pick one person, someone I know, and write what I think they'd like. That way you have a good chance that at least one person will like it, and you won't compromise in the interest of trying to please a crowd.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I mentioned before that I've hung out with Dyrk Ashton a few times. Aside from being an all-around swell guy, he showed me just how well you can do by understanding and then throwing out the conventional rules. Write the way you want to, about what you want, and readers will respond to that authenticity.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Right now everything I'm working on is set in the same world, but most of the stories are only vaguely connected. I want the sense of a real world, where a revolution in one nation affects the thinking and trade and people in another, but not directly. And, like a lot of people, I love seeing little call-outs or Easter eggs to other works. Catching a glimpse of a beloved character in a crowded marketplace. It's like being in on a secret.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Remember how they say that everyone thinks their first book is really good, but it's not, and how you said "oh, yeah, people are dumb. Of course, their first books suck." But in the next breath, you whisper "My first book is hella good." Come on. Really?
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Getting professional cover art. No one cover is going to grab everyone, but amateur, dumb "art" will make everyone think twice. John Pohlman did the art for Ours Is the Storm, and I've had a lot of comments about how different and eye-catching it is.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I think I'm up to five, with plans for two or three more at the moment. Of those five, three are a trilogy set sometime after Ours Is the Storm but on the same continent, and the events of OItS have an indirect bearing on them. The fourth is relatively unconnected - different continent, different people entirely. Fifth is my web serial if I consider it a book. I wrote about 100K words of that, published it every week for about a year and a half, but I realized it was taking too much of my daily writing time and mental energy to keep up, and I wasn't making progress on other projects. I'll come back to it at some point, but what I did write is up on my website for now.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Other people's preconceived notions! Men and women are different, but not that different, and I'll lay money that there are bigger differences between members of the same sex than there are between the sexes. We all want the same things, we all fear the same things. My biggest reader pet peeve is when a someone says "Well, women don't do whatever. Men act like this, not like that." Bullshit.
What did you edit out of this book?
The whole first chapter. It's consigned to an old notebook somewhere in the original hand-written draft, never to see daylight. It's very easy to start a story way too early.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I want to write about people from all walks of life, not just the familiar ones. That means names that we would consider unusual, or hard to pronounce. My time in Japan taught me that our names are hard, or even completely unpronounceable, in other languages. While I want to avoid unpronounceable, there is far too much to be said about a people, a culture, history, to use simple, single-syllable, vaguely English names for everyone. I trust readers to handle some tricky names and to look deeper and understand something about the people bearing those names.
Do you Google yourself?
I didn't know this was that kind of blog! I need an adult!
Thanks, D. Thourson Palmer!
To learn more about him, check out these links: