Monday, June 4, 2012

Stephen Duncan -- A Writer's Revelation

While at Alabama Phoenix Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of fellow creators, among them the newly published author Stephen Duncan. We talked a bit and found out that we shared quite a few interests in the publishing world.

As such, I thought you should meet him too.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My agent recently sold the first book of my urban fantasy series, THE REVELATION SAGA. It was pitched as “a sweeping adventure with elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Harry Potter in which seventeen-year-old Gabriel Adam - an archangel born as a human - must travel to England in a plot to stop the second war between Heaven and Hell.”

Medallion Press bought world rights for publication in 2014.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I tend to place a lot of value on history in my writing. For someone who doesn’t write historical fiction, I research an awful lot about dead people. As a result, my work tends to carry themes about characters struggling against the inevitability of history repeating itself.

I love little ‘m’ magic – magic in the Spielbergian sense of the word where characters discover their world is bigger than they thought and the impossible things were always there – only hidden. I hope the subjects that I write about, whether it’s reincarnated archangels or possessed children’s toys, portray a sense of wonder from the character.

What would be your dream project?

You know, that’s tough. I’ve had this fantasy about doing a comic book since I was a kid. I think if I went back in time and told my 13 year old self that he was going to grow up to write an X-Men comic, he’d need a sedative. The problem is, I’ve been out of comics for so long, I’d need years to catch up to what’s happening in that universe. The other day, I went into a comic shop – for the first time in a decade – and bought an X-Men title. All the bad guys I remembered from way back were now good guys, and vice versa. Though, the art was amazing.

Maybe for the sake of the X-Men, I’d better pick something else. Lemme think about it.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

You’ll hate this answer, but I wouldn’t go back. I’ve had several things that I’ve written that fell flat. Especially back when I wrote screenplays and hauled them out to the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, everything I wrote back then sucked.

Sure, there are probably some salvageable bits, but to revisit them would be to deny an opportunity to advance my craft in a fresh way, with a fresh story that wasn’t tethered to poor decisions and inferior writing.

I think that a writer’s technique, and more importantly, their taste, is constantly improving as they build a catalogue of experience and work. Those stories that failed did so with good reason, but I learned from each and every one.

What inspires you to write?

For me, writing is a bit like golf. Full disclosure here: I’m a terrible golfer. But you play golf and you hack away at this stupid little ball, terrorizing woodland animals with your wayward shots and putting all those who cross your path at risk of decapitation, and you curse every moment and every swing, wondering who the hell you’re trying to kid out there on that course.

And then, every so often, you strike the perfect shot and you swell with pride and think, I like this.

That’s me. I write and write and write until I get that one perfect sentence.

Getting that one inspires me to look for the rest.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

I read widely. I think you have to in order to figure out how you don’t want to write, which is important in developing your skills. For me, my education wasn’t a conscious effort. I never read Stephen King and thought, “I’ll structure my writing like this.” But I did read Stephen King. And J.K. Rowling. And Cormac McCarthy. The list goes on and on. With each book, I’m sure their styles seep in and influence me in some way. How exactly, I couldn’t tell you, but I know I’m better for having read them.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Great question. I view my own writing as a process. Once I’m struck with a story idea, I write draft after draft, with outlines, scribbly notes, and piles of notebooks dedicated to research. Never once have I felt like an artist. Yet, I’ve read other authors and thought, without question, that what they had written was art.

Probably the answer lies somewhere in the middle. What everyone should know getting into this is that the likelihood of being born with some innate talent that makes every blank page you put a pen to turn to gold is pure fantasy. Writing well takes hard work. You have to work at it every day.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I’m about to submit THE NEAR AND FAR BEYOND, a new young adult novel about a mystery that begins when thirteen-year-old Stewart Hart’s autistic younger brother Edward begins to predict who will be the next victim of the London Blitz.  The plot unfolds connecting Theodore, Edward’s strange and possibly cursed teddy bear, to a tragedy in their father’s past which left him a hard and cruel man. When Edward gives one last clue as to whom will be the last victim, Stewart, along with the help of a plucky group of friends and a war-hardened mortician, must survive the December 29th, 1940 London Fire Storm to stop Edward’s dire prediction and maybe, along the way, he’ll manage to find peace for their father.

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For more information about Stephen and his work, visit his blog or his twitter feed online.