The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Dave D’Alessio
Stacey – Hi Dave, it’s great to have you here! Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?
Dave – Hi, Stacey. It’s nice to be here.
Well, I tell people I’m an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and ex-award-winning animator currently masquerading as a social scientist, which is Close Enough for Government Work (CEGW). I live in Connecticut now after long stints in New York, Michigan, and New Jersey.
Stacey – When did you start writing?
Dave – I started writing in high school, then stopped in college, started again briefly (about the time I was in TV), stopped again, and then started again about eleven years ago when a friend of my (Jennifer Lautenschlager…she’s having serious surgery today, so good luck to her) challenged me to do National Novel Writing Month, and have been at it continuously since.
Stacey – What genres do you write in and what drew you to them?
Dave – I write predominantly science fiction and fantasy, and I write them because that’s what I like to read. I’ve been to engineering school, so I actually speak science, and have been known to kick science fiction books with bad science (I’m looking at you, Mockingjay) across the room.
I also write pulp/noir, because I like Chandler and Hammett, too, and have mashed it up with sci-fi and fantasy at times.
Stacey – What do you enjoy most about writing?
Dave – I like the focus. Writing is like being in a little world that contains myself and my characters. Using them to tell the story I want to tell is a lot like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle. If you have an idea what the finished story is supposed to be sort of like, it’s a matter of sorting through the pieces and finding the right ones to go in the right places.
Stacey – What scares you?
Dave – You know what I dread? Looking at me email. I hate getting rejections…but if I don’t look I can’t see the acceptances. So I hold my breath and check my email like six times a day.
Stacey – Where do you get your inspiration?
Dave – I like to tell the kinds of stories I like to read, so I’ll see something and see how it fits. I get that from all over; I have a three-book series VERY loosely based on Gilbert and Sullivan light operas. I write to prompts all the time. I have Rory’s Story Cubes, a set of dice with pictures on each side and roll them. Or sometimes I just say, “I want to write about a monster.”
Stacey – Which authors have influenced your writing along the way?
Dave – I keep citing the old science fiction writer H. Beam Piper, the guy who is probably best known for writing Little Fuzzy. I like him because he wrote well enough to be a professional, but not so well that I could not aspire to equal him. I tend to like the stories that are fairly straightforward in voice, like Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke or Fred Pohl, so I tend to use a similar style.
Stacey – What’s your writing process like?
Dave – I really believe that the first draft is just a matter of getting the story out there. There are a bunch of relevant quotations I cite all the time: “The first draft of anything is crap” (Hemingway); “The first draft is you telling yourself the story” (Terry Pratchett); “Bash it out now, tart it up later” (Nick Lowe). So I write the first draft quickly knowing I will spend two or three times as much time editing and rewriting.
As to when and where, I have few problems with that. I got a Macbook because it’s really light and fits into my backpack, and then I can just sit down somewhere and pop it open and start typing. All I really need is some background noise and a ready supply of coffee, and then I can write anywhere: in the coffee shop, or at home, or in the park, or on the train.
Stacey – What was the first story you had published?
Dave – Well, I had a couple stories in my high school literary magazine. Then I had a story in a Star Trek fanzine called The Other Side of Paradise. (If you google it you’ll see how long ago that was.) In this incarnation as a writer I got a steampunk story called The Patience of Virtue into an anthology book called Stories from the Ether #3. Two notes on that: the publisher went belly-up not long later, so I never got any royalties; I wrote Patience from an idea I got rolling the Story Cubes.
Stacey – Do you have a favourite character from your own works?
Dave – My favorite characters tend to be side characters or antagonists, because they are less constrained. The protagonist have certain jobs to do, so they are constrained in their acts, but the side-kicks and opponents can wreck havoc as they please. So I have Maximilian III Glendower, the Emperor of Galactic Space, or the cat burglar and con-woman Lady Penelope Sigurdsdotter. They are so much fun to write.
Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish? Why or why not?
Dave – I haven’t finished my November NaNoWriMo project yet. It’s at 75,000 words and will probably reach 110,000 when it’s done. It’s more of a sci-fi socio-political thriller than the lighter stuff I like to write, so it just feels like a drag. Plus I know it ends somewhat tragically, and while I’m sure it has to end that way, I’m not sure I want to write it.
Stacey – What’s the last Horror movie/tv show you watched?
Dave – Horror isn’t really my thing, although I sometimes watch animes with horror themes. Rin – Daughters of Mnenosyne and Mardock Scramble fall into that category.
Would you count Good Omens? That was a brilliant adaptation of a brilliant book.
Stacey – If you could go back in time who would you go back in time to see?
Dave – There are a lot of people I’d like to meet. Twain. Teddy Roosevelt. Toshiro Mifune. Dorothy Parker. The five original New York Dolls. Lou Reed. Seems to be a lot of New Yorkers on that list.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this, to be honest. If you make me pick one person sitting here right now, then sitting here right now I’m going to pick Jean Harlow, the movie actor who died very young. She was not only really cute, but she seems like she was a really sharp cookie, one of the few who figured out how to reinvent herself – Twice! – in her short career and was brilliant in everything she played.
Stacey – What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who is just getting started on their author journey?
Dave – Write. Keep writing. Write some more. Get feedback on your writing and rewrite. There an old saying that goes, “You have a million words of crap you have to get out of the way before you’re a writer,” and the sooner you finish your million words, the sooner you’ll figure it out.
That or, don’t forget that rewriting is part of writing. “If you want to write, write. If you want to be read, rewrite.”
Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?
Dave – This is from The Merit of One Gold Piece, which appeared in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly in February (Issue 39: http://www.heroicfantasyquarterly.com/?p=2660). I mention it because it’s a high fantasy/pulp mashup:
He was an old man of perhaps fifty years, and his four teeth stank of cardamom. “Beatricsh iss me daughter,” he said. “She’ss not a witch.”
“She failed the test, old man.” The sheriff pushed her in the millpond and she rose to the top, all the proof the law required. They were to burn her on the morrow, as Mother Sulin’s Eye rose above the foothills to the east, a day less two hours from now.
The old man looked at the wood-plank floor of the inn. He fumbled with a gray cap in his hands, as though I was his landlord and not a penniless sell-sword. “She’ss just me little gel,” he muttered. “I kin pay thee.”
My hand felt my purse. It had felt better, but so long ago I could scarce remember it. The two coppers at the bottom had rubbed together for weeks but not born children. “One gold piece, proof or none, is my price,” I said.
The knuckles of his gnarled hands grew white as he clutched his poor cap. “A gold if ye bring the proof in time. Two shilverss if ye do not.”
I weighed the costs. “Aye.”
Thank you so much for your time, Dave! If you would like to find out more about Dave D’Alessio and his writing, check out the links below.