An Interview with Dan DeWitt—Part One

We're gearing up for a giveaway of Dan's novel Orpheus. In preparation for that, we present an interview with Mr. Zombie himself. Enjoy.

Find Dan DeWitt Online

What's your writing background?

Nothing too exciting. I have a Bachelor's degree in English, which means next to nothing when it comes to writing fiction. Still, I took a bunch of creative writing classes and really enjoyed them. Before that, I dabbled in short stories here and there, but wasn't ready to try and make a career out of it. I wrote one screenplay in 2001 that advanced to the second round at Austin (and I'm about ¼ of the way into its novelization). I've always been a voracious reader, and I got really serious after participating in NaNoWriMo in 2006. Since then, I've published a couple of short stories in e-zines and one non-fiction profile in a local magazine. But I'm really just a guy who loves to read fiction and tell a story from time to time.

Who are your favorite authors? (Who inspires you?)

For me, there's Stephen King, and everyone else is playing for the silver medal. Robert McCammon actually wrote my favorite book, “Boy's Life.” I'm a big fan of John Sandford's “Prey” series, as well. I'm hoping to find some self-pubbed horror writers that I really like, but that hasn't happened yet.

King's the guy, though. His work made me want to be a writer, and his genre range is the most unappreciated aspect of his game.

What's a typical (writing) day like for you?

Here's a warning to other new writers. My process could best be described as either “non-traditional” or maybe “How do you ever finish anything?!?” I violate pretty much every “rule” there is when it comes to writing output. I don't have a dedicated writing space. I don't write at the same time every day. I don't even write every day. Sometimes, I'll take weeks off. If I'm not feeling it, I do something else constructive, rather than waste time on words that aren't coming.

But to try and answer your question, my typical writing day consists of going about my business and using every free moment to work out what I'm going to write the next time I'm in front of the computer. New characters, plot hole fixes, sometimes entire scenes are already written in my head, and I just have to type them out. My approach is anathema to most other writers who are giving advice on the internet, but it works for me. That's not to say that structure isn't a good thing, especially for writers just starting out. Having a writing space, a consistent timeframe to work in, and a daily word goal is a great way to get into a routine. I recommend an approach like that until you find your own groove.

What's the most challenging part of writing for you?

Putting my fingers to the keyboard is the biggest obstacle I face every day. I'm a procrastinator, and it's easy for me to get distracted when I should be typing. As far as the writing itself goes, I have a difficult time with extensive description, whether it's about characters or setting. Most of the time, I just get bored. I really want to get right to the action. For example, unless a character's physical description is relevant to the story, I'll never bother telling you what they look like. As a bonus, that seems to help readers identify with the characters more than if I described them in painstaking detail. Most of my characters could, physically speaking, be practically anybody.

What words of encouragement would you say to someone who wants to start writing?

If you're just starting out, first be sure that you want to write because it interests you, and not because you think it's a way to get rich in this brave, new world of publishing opportunity. Writing well is a lot of hard work, and there may never be the payoff that you expect.

Having said's important to realize that none of us really know anything. Read. Read. Read some more. See how established authors do it. Read King's “On Writing.” Learn the rules. Then you can figure out how to break them with style. I've been doing this for a while and I'm still finding my sweet spot.

Write whenever you can, whatever you can. Outline or discovery write. Try different genres. Experiment with POV. Most importantly, don't bother writing something that you yourself wouldn't like to read, just because you think it will sell.

Why did you choose the self-publishing route?

I started out going the traditional route last year. Before I even received my first rejection, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I looked at the self-publishing options available and compared them to traditional. I thought it would be close, but self-pub won in a rout. Ease of publishing, setting my own price, higher royalties...self-pub offers everything I want. I don't need to hit a home run with self-pub; routinely cranking out singles and doubles is good enough.

Who knows? Maybe the right offer from a traditional house comes my way someday. But waiting for that slim chance instead of getting in the game now made no sense to me.

Is there any reason you regret your decision?

None whatsoever. I don't need to see my book sitting on a book shelf for two weeks before it's replaced. I just want to tell stories, and eventually make a living doing it. I think self-pubbing offers me the best chance to do that.

Where do you see the future of the publishing industry going?

To listen to some traditional publishers and agents who should know better, nothing's changed. They're wrong, and they'd better evolve.

I was a militant paper-and-ink guy, and I said I never wanted an e-reader. Then I borrowed my mother's Nook and fell in love. I knew I was looking at the future, and I wanted to be a part of it. Ebooks are soon to be the rule, not the exception. The transition is already happening.

Did you do your own editing or hire someone?

I mostly do my own. I read through about a zillion times and check for misspellings, incorrect grammar, repeated phrases, etc. Fortunately, the way I edit during my first draft keeps those to a manageable minimum. I also use a bunch of beta readers, and they tend to catch edits here and there. In the end, I've seen numerous professionally-edited books from major authors have minor errors, so, as much as it bugs me, I can live with not-quite-perfect as I move on to the next project. If I'm ever writing full-time, I'll gladly hand the reins over to someone else. Let them worry about it.

Would you recommend self-publishing to a new author?

For the right kind of new author, absolutely. If an author is talented, patient, prolific, and entrepreneurial enough, I have to believe that they stand a greater chance of success than they would trying to get past the gatekeepers of traditional publishing.

During the giveaway we'll post the second half of this interview when Dan answered questions about his novel Orpheus. Stay tuned.