GW Talks to Dennis L. McKiernan

Recently we asked author Dennis L. McKiernan our now-famous GW Fantasy Interview questions and are pleased (as we always are) to give you his answers!

1. How do you come up with the ideas for your stories? In other words, how do the muses work for you?

Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere: from movies, TV, life experiences, books, chance remarks, pictures hanging on walls, etc. The trick is to take something seen or heard or read or felt--or whatever--and make it your own. For example, I once saw a poster by the artist Keith Parkinson showing a Werewolf necromancer in a swamp raising a skeleton from the depths of a bog. I looked at it for a while, really admiring the artwork, and I wondered just what the story behind the painting was all about. I turned it over and over in my mind, and while doing so, I was asked by John Silbersack, my editor at the time, to give him another Mithgar book. Keith's picture continued to tug at my mind, and finally I wrote The Eye of the Hunter, basing the character of Baron Stoke partially on that picture. Now the cool thing is, when an artist was chosen for the cover of Hunter, the art director picked Keith Parkinson, without ever knowing that his poster had triggered some of the ideas for Baron Stoke.

As concerns the Mithgar series, many of my ideas came from things said in previous stories set in that same world. I would in some story-or-other set in Mithgar just happen to mention some historical fact without elaborating too much on it, and that mention would provide the seed for the next Mithgar book.

In my ongoing series set in the world of Faery, so far I have chosen some familiar fairy tale and have turned in into a novel. For example, in _Once Upon a Winter's Night_ I chose the story "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," an eleven-page fairy tale in Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book and turned it into a 400+ page novel, so you see, I am telling the "real" story, the story as I think it should have gone.

In _Once Upon a Summer Day_ (to be published in 2004) I took another well-known fairy tale (this one just 4 or 5 pages long in Grimms Brothers fairy tales) and told the entire story, producing a 550-page manuscript that'll turn out to be another 400+ page novel.

So, you see, in the Faery series (projected to be five books in all), I get the seed idea from familiar fairy tales.

2. Do you have a special routine when you're writing, or can you just sit down at a computer and start typing?

Let me tell you about my typical day:

I usually wake up between five and six a.m., read the newspaper while drinking coffee, ride my bicycle for a couple of hours (covering between twenty-five and twenty-six miles), eat breakfast, come into the computer room, read and answer e-mail and do a bit of net surfing, take a shower, and then start writing or doing research for a story at about ten a.m. I usually take a break for lunch and watch the national news while doing so, and then get back to work. Typically, I knock off somewhere between four and five p.m., unless the story is really flowing, in which case I knock off whenever the flow knocks off. I usually eat dinner at about six p.m. Read or veg out in front of the TV. Hit the sack at about nine p.m. or so. I typically work five or six hours a day, five days a week (I usually take the weekends off). I produce about twenty five or thirty finished (polished) pages of manuscript a week on the average (sometimes I produce fifty or sixty pages a week, sometimes eight or ten), and my manuscripts usually run some five hundred to eight hundred pages long. Doing the math, we see that the actual time it takes at the keyboard is about twenty-six or -seven weeks . . . call it six months. However, before I begin a manuscript, I spend a lot of time thinking about what story I'm going to tell, and inputting fragments and notes and bits of dialogue and scenes and descriptions of things and so on and on. So, much time goes into thinking before I begin to write the tale itself. I liken it to designing a software program, where the really good designers don't begin coding right away, but rather they lay out what the program needs to do, then they design the program to do that, and then and only then do they begin to code the program. Well, I design my stories, and then I code/input them.

Also, after finishing a story, I like to goof off for a while.

3. Who are your literary influences?

Too many to name. I have read voraciously all my life, starting with Captain Future stories (Edmund Hamilton and Leigh Brackett) in the old pulp magazines to modern-day writers (say, Patricia McKillip). And there are hundreds of authors in between. I like all genres--mystery being one of my favorite ones when I am between books.

4. Generally how long does it take you to write an average novel? How many different revisions do you usually go through?

For me, I write one novel a year, each novel somewhere in the vicinity of 500 to 800 manuscript pages, about 110,000 to 200,000 words. I also write one or two short(er) stories (shorts and novelettes and occasionally a novella) a year for various anthologies.

As for revisions, I do what is known as a "rolling edit," which simply means I edit and re-edit and re-edit (etc.) each chapter as I go. I edit on hard copy and not on the screen, though when I input the hard-copy changes, I re-edit some of them as I go. As for the revisions I go through, let me tell it to you in terms of paper used. To produce my last 550-page manuscript, I used up about 2500-3000 pages of paper. I think most of my rolling-edit chapters is the equivalent of oh, say, a sixth draft.

5. How do you deal with writers-block?

Never had it. I suspect that I would "write" my way through it, though.

6. Out of everything you've written, which would you say is your favorite; which gives you the most satisfaction of a job-well-done?

I think _Dragondoom_ is my best-told story. It is where I broke away from the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien and became my own writer. However, in asking me which is my "favorite," that's like asking me which "child" of mine is my favorite; there is no satisfactory answer to that question.

7. Do you have a favorite character that you've created?

Again, you are asking me for my favorite child. I will say that the fans are rather split on their favorite, too. Aravan, Riatha, Tuck, Danner, Tip, Beau, Elyn, Thork, Dalavar the Wolfmage, Jinnarin, and many more are named whenever any poll is taken. They are all my children.

8. What do you think makes a good fantasy author?

The same thing that makes a good author in other genres: a good story well told. But that is really two things: a good story, and a story that is well told. And each of those things have within them many facets.

9. Can you tell us what you're currently working on and when you expect it will be available in bookstores?

I recently finished _Red Slippers: More Tales of Mithgar_ (a collection of short stories, novelettes, and a novela). It is the last book in the Mithgar series. I think there might be no more Mithgarian tales after _Red Slippers_. It is currently scheduled for May 2004.

I also just finished _Once Upon a Summer Day_, and it is probably going to be scheduled for 2004 as well.

10. Random quote or piece of advice you'd like to share to end this with?

There is a place in Faery where eternal summer lies upon the land; it is a region of forests and fields, of vales and clearings, of streams and rivers and other such 'scapes, where soft summer breezes flow across the weald, though occasionally towering thunder storms fill the afternoon skies and rain sweeps o'er all. How such a place can be--endless summer--is quiet mysterious; nevertheless it is so.

Separated from this magical realm by a great wall of twilight is another equally enigmatic domain, a region graced by eternal autumn, and here it is that crops afield remain ever for the reaping, and vines are overburdened with their largesse, and trees bear an abundance ripe for the plucking, and the ground holds rootstock and tubers for the taking. Yet no matter how often a harvest is gathered, when one isn't looking the bounty somehow replaces itself.

Likewise, lying past this realm, beyond another great wall of half-light, there stands a land of eternal winter, where snow ever lies on the ground and ice clads the sleeping trees and covers the still meres or, in thin sheets, encroaches upon the edges of swift-running streams, and the stars at night glimmer in crystalline skies.

And farther on and past yet another twilight border lies a place of eternal springtime, where everlasting melt-water trickles across the 'scape, and trees are abud and blossoms abloom, where birds call for mates and beetles crawl through decaying leaves and mushrooms push up through soft loam, and where other such signs of a world coming awake manifest themselves in the gentle, cool breezes and delicate rains. These four provinces are the Summerwood and Autumnwood and Winterwood and Springwood, magical regions in the twilit world of Faery. They by no means make up the whole of that mystical realm. Oh, no, for it is an endless place, with uncounted domains all separated from one another by looming walls of shadowlight, and with Faery itself separated from the common world by twilight as well. But as to the four regions, a prince or a princess rules each--Alain, Liaze, Borel, and Celeste--brothers and sisters, Alain and Borel having reign o'er the Summer- and Winterwoods; Liaze and Celeste, the Autumn- and Springwoods.

They got along well, these siblings, and seldom did trouble come their way. Oh, there was that difficulty with the disappearance of Lord Valeray and Lady Saissa, and the two curses leveled upon Prince Alain, but Camille had come along to resolve those trials, and everything had then seemed well in order, at least for a while, though there yet was a portent of darker days to come. But at that time joy lay upon the land, with Camille and Alain betrothed, the banns posted, and preparations for the wedding underway. Yes, all was well in these four realms, or so it seemed.

But then . . .

. . . Once upon a summer day . . .

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