Dave talks to The Writers’ Shack about his new book, The Gift.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about you and how you came to be a writer.
I spent most of my life wanting to write a novel, to entertain people, perhaps to take them to a better place when going there physically wasn’t an option. In some ways, I was hoping to repay all of the great authors who did that for me when I needed it. I don’t expect to be the next Heinlein or Asimov, just a writer who might provide a few hours of relief from the reader’s daily existence. Between that youthful desire and its recent fulfillment, I have been a janitor, a commercial fisherman, a military officer and a corporate executive. It’s been an interesting ride.
Is this your first book or have you written others?
This is my first fiction book. I wrote and published a network administrator’s handbook in the early nineties and I’ve written quite a few newspaper articles over the years, though none of them were fiction.
Tell us about your current book and what makes it special.
My current work, The Gift, presents a unique perspective on how the human race might respond to an encounter with representatives of an alien race. A slightly longer answer is that the Earth’s future is in the hands of one of two men. Sam Steele, a broken father and husband, or Eric Web, a career officer who believes the U.S. government is always right. Visitors from an exterminated alien race have arrived on earth, and they are nothing like previously imagined. They are an interconnected collection of manufactured constructs, each designed to help a single intelligent life form. They call themselves gifts and they bring terrifying news. There is a battle going on among the stars and life forms like humans are losing. The gifts offer assistance, but it comes with a price. In order to receive their help, humanity must agree to help them. Humankind must change if it’s to survive.
What genre is it and who is the target audience?
The genre is science fiction, in particular military and high-tech science fiction. I believe my audience to be readers of that genre who want an interesting story that is based on believable science and real-world facts about the military.
Do you write in one genre or mix it up a bit and write in a few?
I’d love to say that I have the background and skills needed to write successfully in multiple genres, but that’s just not the case right now, and may never be. If I can write novels that will interest people in my area of expertise, novels that will inspire them to come back for more, I’ll be thrilled. Should I be that fortunate, I would consider expanding into other genres of interest.
Tell us how you settled on the title.
It pretty much settled on me. Once I’d laid out the framework for the novel, I realized that the heart of the story was humanity’s receipt of an unexpected gift that, like most gifts, came with an obligation. At first, I thought I might have made a mistake in going with my heart on that decision. I was getting lost in search results. My mom couldn’t find my book on Amazon when she searched for it by name. Now that it’s been out there a little while, I’m no longer concerned. My friends now report finding me on the first or second page of their Google results.
Describe your favorite scene in the book.
That’s pretty tough to answer without a spoiler alert. Don’t read the rest of my answer if you want a completely pure read. My favorite scene in the book is when Sam and Adia begin to understand their relationship. I really enjoy Sam’s realization that Adia is a real being, and happy to be alive.
If you had to choose one favorite character, who would it be and why?
Jim is my favorite character, because he reminds me of the best men in my life. I had hoped to give him a bigger role, and I will in future novels. He is the kind of man I want people to know more about. He is, for all the right reasons, the kind of man who deserves respect.
Where do you draw your inspiration? Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it all fiction?
I drew my inspiration from my life. I spent twenty years in the Army. I have seen a lot, more than I wish I had. One of the saddest days of my life was telling an eighteen-year-old soldier serving in Asia that his thirty-six-year-old father had died in a traffic accident in New York. I had, sadly, grown somewhat accustomed to relaying similar information from the opposite perspective. The son’s response reminded me of things I didn’t want to be reminded of. I can’t forget his face. There’s a scene in the book when the protagonist, Sam, talks about his arrival at basic training. He describes a young man with whom he shared the bus ride. That description came from my bus ride to basic on my eighteenth birthday. Yeah, the book is based on real-life experiences.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Yes, free will and personal determination trump group think.
Where can people purchase your book?
It is only available on Amazon, for now.
Who designs the covers of your books?
I used 99designs. The winner of my design contest was Nellista. I highly recommend the site, and her. For a few hundred dollars, I received nearly 150 submissions, quite a few of which were very good. I conducted a survey among my friends to select the winner. I don’t know a better way for an indie author to get such high quality work for a reasonable price, and it helps struggling artists around the world. Good stuff.
Do you have an agent or are you looking to get one in the future?
I don’t have an agent and I’m not looking for one. I’ve spent a fair amount of my professional life negotiating contracts, so I don’t need help with that. If a well-connected agent were to contact me, I’d listen, but I’d do so because of his or her contacts, not because I need help with the business end of it.
If you had fifteen seconds of an agents and/or publishers time, what would you tell them about your book?
I’d spend the first five seconds telling her that I’ve read literally thousands of science fiction novels and none of them tell the story I’m telling. I don’t claim to be the next great author, but my story is original, and unlike any other in my genre. I’d probably spend the next ten seconds listening to her laugh.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
I spend most of my ‘day job’ time as a technology executive. I spend my free time golfing, target shooting and reading, of course.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ah, one of my favorite questions, and not just about writing. I will struggle to do it justice in my answer. Actually, I probably won’t answer it for most people, but I will answer a similar question. What is the value of an idea? For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to tell a really good story. I wanted to write a novel that people would read and enjoy, something they would want to share with their friends, something that might inspire them to think of the world somewhat differently. Whenever I read or saw anything that inspired me, I would jot it down. By the time I sat down to write my novel, I thought I had hundreds of solid ideas to choose from. I was wrong. I found what I had was a variety of thoughts and premises. None of them were a story. An idea is not a story. Even the greatest premise is not a story, and people want to read stories. Some people want to read technical articles about scientific advances (I do, and that is part of my answer), others want those advances put into a viable context, a context that lets them relate to the technology on a human level. The most important lesson I learned while writing my first novel is that it’s not about the idea. It’s about how people will respond to it, which means that almost any idea will do if the author is adept at detailing an interesting human response. Of course, that’s just my two cents.
How important is planning to you? Do you plan the whole book or just start writing?
For me, planning is critical. Before I started the first chapter, I had all of my book’s scenes laid out on a storyboard. I can’t imagine writing a full-length novel without knowing how it will end. I’m sure there are some people who can write that way, but I’m not one of them.
Which do you consider more important? Character or plot, and why?
I love plot. I have dear friends who will wax poetic about characters and I cherish them, but I love plot. Put me in a great story and I am a happy camper. I’ll forgive a lack of character development if the story is good enough. Having said that, I don’t think it’s likely that many readers will care about a story that doesn’t include interesting people. So, for me, the story must fascinate, but the characters must be credible.
What project are you working on now?
I’m working on the sequel to The Gift. It is a six-book series, and I’m just getting started.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
I have two pieces of advice. First, read Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. I didn’t know the man (he’s passed), and I stand nothing to gain by this recommendation, but it’s the best book on writing I’ve ever read. Second, write. Write when you’re sick. Write when you’re down. Write every day. Writers write. It’s what we do. My personal goal is 2,000 words a day, six days a week. Set yours wherever you want, but meet it.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Favorite place in the world to be?
It varies by day, but right now I’d like to be back in Korea enjoying a nice hot bowl of Tak Toritang (very spicy chicken soup).
What is your favourite thing about being a writer?
Hearing from a reader who enjoyed one of my stories.
What is your least favourite thing about being a writer?
Knowing that I could always do better with more time. It can be difficult to get off the hamster wheel of continuous editing. At some point, the work must stand on its own, as it is, or there will never be time to write the rest of the story.