Dan Willis wrote his first work of fiction at the tender age of ten and has been creating fantastic tales ever since. Recently he wrote for the long running DragonLance series. his current project is a Steampunk Civil War series entitled, Dragons of the Confederacy, with NYT best-selling author, Tracy Hickman. Willis lives in Utah with his wife and four children.
VS: What do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?
Dan: I write when my kids are in school & my wife’s at work. Then, when they all come home, I’ve got dinner ready and we can have family time together. When I worked and wrote, I’d have to cut down how much writing I did in order to keep my priorities straight.
VS: How long have you been writing?
Dan: I started writing seriously in 2004, left to pursue other interests in 2008 and came back to it in 2011. I did write in between, but not seriously, I started several books in that time, but I didn’t finish any of them. Now I do at least two books a year with a max goal of four if I can manage it.
VS: What inspired you to write your book?
Dan: Money. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but a producing writer does so to get a paycheck. Sure guys who write the one book they have in them do it for the passion, and the art, and the storytelling, but I’ve written over a dozen books. I’m jaded.
That said, writing is one of those things you do because you feel called to it. I write because I love it. (Let’s be honest, I hate it too. It’s a lot like being in a codependent relationship). Every book I’ve written, I’ve gotten better. Every book I’ve published, my career as a writer has moved forward.
I’ve been writing a lot of steampunk stories lately (Old Timey Science Fiction). I did a lot of research about the American Civil War, since it was a time of such massive innovation, really like nothing ever seen before. I realized that the war of brother against brother was a great setting and cooked up a story of danger and intrigue set against the war as a background. Some of my best ideas have grown out of research.
VS: What is a typical writing day like for you?
Dan: I have a set time to begin working, usually 10am and I write through till about 3 or 4 or whenever I finish my chapter. Sometimes chapters come quickly and I’m done in just a couple of hours. Sometimes by 4 I’ve only got half a chapter and I have to knock off and try again the next day.
I usually write four days a week with a day for editing and a day to relax, play video games, or watch movies, etc.
VS: Is your family supportive of your writing?
Dan: Usually, though we have our moments.
VS: If this isn’t your first publication, what was the first thing you ever had published?
Dan: My first publication was a short story in a DragonLance Anthology edited by Margaret Weis. My story was the only humor piece in the book and was pretty well received by those who reviewed the book. It was titled Lake of Death and followed two, washed up, treasure hunting dark knights, there mentally unstable friend, and a donkey that may or may not be sentient.
VS: Can you share with us a little about your current book(s)?
Dan: Imagine the American Civil war only the south has dragons from Austria and an alchemical formula to bring dead soldiers back to fight again and the north has walking tanks and airships. In an effort to break the stalemate the war has become, Allan Pinkerton sends unwitting pawn, Braxton Wright, south in an effort to free his secret weapon and super-spy Hattie Lawton from the infamous Castle Thunder prison.
VS: What did you find to be the most challenging part of writing your book(s)?
Dan: Even though this is a fantasy, I wanted to get the history right within the context of the story. It required a lot of research on real people, places, and battles of the Civil War. Then there’s the issue of dealing with historical figures, you want to be respectful while still telling a good story.
VS: What part of your book do you feel really stands out to you personally?
Dan: The dragons, of course. It’s easy to put dragons in a fantasy world, people just accept it, but when you put dragons in the world we all know and love, people wonder how they really work. Things like what they eat, how they breed, and how they interact with humans become important. I’m proud of how well the dragons fit into our fictitious Civil War.
VS: If this is a work of fiction, what character is most like you?
Dan: I’d have to say Allen Pinkerton. Our version of the historical character is the master planer, the spymaster, the man with the plan trying to out-think his foes. It’s a lot like being a writer.
VS: Do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?
Dan: I try to keep busy, especially lately. I’m currently working on a detective noir fantasy (yes, you heard that right) and a new, straight up fantasy novel.
My detective book follows a magically gifted detective in a gritty 1930s Washington DC. Magic is rare in this alternate world and regulated by the government. Our hero gets involved in a case when a friend of his is murdered and that leads him up against a madman who’s discovered a new source of magic power, one that could end the world. The story is titled, Call of the Awakened and it should be out mid next year.
My fantasy book is set in a world that has finally ended a generation spanning warand lapsed into peace. In this war weary world, Damik Breel is a Sword Walker, a remnant of a powerful magical order, a ronin in search of a patron. Trouble is, there’s peace and no one wants an expensive retainer only good for fighting. Damik finally finds a position, attached to the house of a minor king on an outlying island, a position no self-respecting Sword Walker would have taken during wartime. When Damik swallows his pride and takes the position, he finds that the war may be over, but ambition never sleeps.
VS: What tips can you give writing parents with children at home to help them see publication?
Dan: First of all, the publishing industry is changing. It’s looking more and more likely that self-publishing is the new writer’s friend. The tools available to writers to layout and publish e-books and physical books are as good as anything publishers are using. Just be sure to pay for a good cover, covers still matter.
My best advice would be to do two things, first, get your name out there. Go to conventions, get to know the people who run them, become a panelist or a guest, and use social media to promote your book and yourself. Second, don’t quit your day job. For every writer who makes enough money to stuff their mattress, there’s thousands who make enough to take their family to dinner. Nothing kills that creative flow like worrying about where the rent money is coming from.
VS: What do you think are the basic ingredients of a good book?
Dan: A good story isn’t as complicated as we authors like to make it sound. You really only need an interesting character and some conflict. Make the conflict interesting and impactful and readers will follow along. That said, it never hurts to have a great villain and a love interest, but you can writer a good story without those things.
VS: What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
Dan: To be “believable” just means that your audience can relate to your character. A farm boy on a distant planet in a distant galaxy wielding a sword made of light isn’t all that believable (or scientific) on it’s face. But how many of us wanted to be Luke Skywalker? How many of us still pick up an empty wrapping paper tube and chase the kids around going Vvvew, Vvveeew, V-Vew? (Guilty) To make a great character, make him sympathetic. Put him in underserved jeopardy or undeserved pain, make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. Make him (or her) the victim of a real, or even an imagined injustice (you mean I have to do my chores before I go into Toshee’s Station for power converters?). Do that, and you’re audience will immediately root for your character and like him.
VS: Where can the readers of The Writing Mama find out more about and your writing?
Dan: My website, www.dansrealm.com has all the information about me and what I’m up to.
VS: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama or Dad”?
Dan: Don’t lose your sense of humor.
Learn more about the St. George Festival, Guest Authors and events at http://stgeorgebookfestival.org