Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Author Interview: Richard Due
Today I am pleased to welcome Riachard Due (pronounced Dewey) author of The Moon Realm series to the blog!
Q. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
3rd grade. The teacher gave the class group projects one day. Nobody in my group wanted to take charge. So, after allowing a suitable time to go by, and as I had an idea, I took charge. I put my best crayon man on illustration; my best ink man on lettering; we all covered for the useless dude who didn't want to do any work; and I took over storyboard layout, design, and story concept. Our book was a narrative mashup of us going trick-or-treating and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was so boss my lousy teacher stole it and never gave it back. She was proud; I was incensed.
Q. Which books/authors have influenced your writing the most?
Wow! There are so many! I got the reading bug early. We didn’t have rechargeable reading lights when I was a kid, and my parents severely limited the my weekly allotment of flashlight batteries. So when they’d put me to bed, I’d ask them to leave my door open a crack and leave the hall light on. I told them it was because of the monster that lived in the closet (thanks, bro). But what they didn’t know was that I’d made a deal with the monster: no gobbling me up as long as I was reading.
The closet in question had a pair of those big, double-slidy track-doors. Both the door to the hall and the closet doors were in one corner of the room that I shared with my brother. So in order to read my book by that crack of light, I had to lie down in front of those double doors. That first night took a great deal of faith that the monster would keep up his end of the bargain. Later, of course, I had to deal with my stupid brother stepping on me in the night on his way to the bathroom, and him ratting out my reading time to my parents, but that only taught me how to not fall asleep while reading.
But to answer your question, the first book I remember being bowled over by was William Pène du Bois’s The Twenty-one Balloons. Later, in the fifth grade, a good friend of mine put a copy of Robert Heinlein’s Between Planets into my hands. What an AMAZING book. From there I hopped between the Lucky Star series, by Isaac Asimov, and The Undersea Trilogy, by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, which led to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars series. In the sixth grade, my other brother (not the closet-monster one), let me read his copy of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. He wasn’t quite as keen on my reading his copy of The Red Book of Westmarch (the beautiful, faux-leather, all-in-one book of The Lord of the Rings), but he let me just the same (thanks, bro). From there I found the Dune books, by Frank Herbert (the third one hadn’t come out yet—arg! The wait!), and the Amber books, by Roger Zelazny (those were still being written, too! Talk about ripping hair from your head!).
As a freshman in high school, I went to my other brother (the closet-monster one) and asked for a good book to read. He suggested some Mark Twain titles, but I’d just finished a Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe tear, so I asked for something contemporary. He put a copy of Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in my hand and changed my life forever (and all was forgiven). But those weren’t the only books that influenced me up until that point. Not to be missed were titles by Arthur Conan Doyle, Cervantes, Dumas, Dickens, Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and Shakespeare, to name a few. After the tenth grade and through college, I burned through all the Stephen King, John Ball, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee series), Gregory McDonald (Fletch Series), a ton of Agatha Christie, and Matt Ruff’s amazing debut novel, Fool on the Hill. But it wasn’t until after college, when I opened Second Looks Books with my wife, that I really branched out my reading, catching up on a dump truck load of books that had somehow slipped past me: P.G. Wodehouse, William Goldman (The Princess Bride), Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White), Jonathan Lethem (Gun, with Occasional Music), Lord Dunsany, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Terry Prattchett, J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket.
And I’m still being influenced. Still learning. Most recently by Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, and Michael Scott’s Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series.
Q. Was there a particular scene or character in The Moon Coin that you enjoyed writing the most?
Yes. I’d been writing The Moon Coin for about six years, and had queried about seventy editors and agents (mostly agents), when I suddenly had the idea for how the book should really start. It was December, 2010, the week before Christmas, and the idea came to me that morning. My wife and I were running around getting ready to meet her sister’s family for a lunch and Christmas gift exchange. We passed each other in the hallway, and I excitedly told her I’d just figured out how The Moon Coin should start. (Liz is my major litmus test for these kind of things. You see, when I get really excited, I can’t tell if my ideas are really good or really bad.) She asked me how, and when I told her, she said, “Of course it does!”
It was a several hour drive, dusting snow the whole way. While the miles passed, I starting laying the groundwork for the new chapter. Then I put it out of my mind until the ride back, when I worked on it some more. Around seven that evening, back home and exhausted, I thought I would jot down the outline. But instead, I wrote the whole thing in one go, stopping around one-thirty in the morning. I thought it was brilliant. The next morning, I reread it and thought it was terrible. Despondent, I put it away and didn’t think about it until shortly after New Year’s. I’d wanted to have it ready for the 2011 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. Now I wasn’t so sure it was going to work out that way. But when I looked at it again, it didn’t seem so totally awful. My editor and I spent the next three weeks whipping it into shape. I was very excited to show it off at the morning and afternoon writers’ intensives. Sadly, it was soundly hated. In fact, an editor, agent, and several colleagues told me to cut Uncle Ebb. I was in shock. I think, that of the twenty or so people who read the first two pages at the intensive, only two people liked it (and they loved it; so much so that they came up to me afterwards and told me they thought everyone else was talking crazy talk, and not to change a word). At the time, I didn’t know what to think. But by that evening, my wife had made it to New York. Over dinner, we decided it was time to seriously consider self-publishing. Our feeling was that since the criticism was no longer making any sense, The Moon Coin must finally be ready. For the record, after I got back home, I sent out eighty more queries to agents and editors. I had lots of bites, but nobody offered me representation.
Q. What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
I love spending far too much time researching the little nothing bits, getting them just right and inserting them in a way that feels completely natural. Then, months or years later, having someone point one of them out and say something like, “Wow! Did you know THAT also means THAT? How serendipitous for you! It’s almost like you planned it!” To which I usually respond, “Wow! Really? It does? I had no idea!”
Q. What is your least favorite part of being a writer?
I love spending far too much time researching . . . Um, okay, seriously? I hate that writing isn’t my job. Writing is still just a hobby for me. I have to fit it in around my paying job. I’m so fresh in the mornings, but between getting the kids off, and house chores, and getting ready for work, I’m lucky if I can get more than sixty minutes to write. I’m more likely to have time in the evenings. Of course, by that time, I’m usually exhausted, mentally and physically. As a result, a lot of my writing is done when I’m not at my best. That’s my least favorite part.
Q. What can you tell us about the next book in The Moon Realm series?
The Dragondain, book two in the Moon Realm Series, puts Jasper’s character front and center. Lily still gets a lot of face time, she even gets to steal a few scenes, but I’ve always felt this was Jasper’s book.
Ironically, just as Lily is attempting to reform her lying ways, Jasper is taking his first steps in the opposite direction. You see, Lily and Jasper are very much two sides of the same coin, each bringing a different set of skills to the party. While Lily is very big picture, Jasper’s expertise is getting through the here and now. Jasper really needs Lily to give him direction, and Lily really needs Jasper so solve certain tasks. But during their journey in the series, they’re both learning from each other, bettering themselves, and becoming better rounded individuals.
Q. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read the genre you want to write until your eyeballs fall out. Then put them back in and read some more. Repeat.
Make sure your novel's word count matches the target genre you're writing for. And remember, first-time novelists don't—as a rule—get to break rules.
If you think your novel is all finished, it isn't—get back to work. Repeat.
When you finish editing it, and you're sure it's ready, print it out double spaced and edit it on paper. Repeat.
Get thee to an editor, or do not pass go.
Go to writers' conferences and take advantage of their workshops and writers' critiques with real live editors and agents.
Join a local writers' group. Listen to criticism of your work. If one person in the group thinks you need to change something in particular, it's probably fine. If three or more people in the group think it needs to change, you've got work to do.