Today I welcome Dennis L. McKiernan as my author in the spotlight!
Dennis’s debut trilogy, The Dark Tide, was my first taste of fantasy, and I was immediately hooked. In fact, it was the reading encounter that soon started my fantasy writing journey. I’ve since read all his Mithgar novels and am excited today to feature his new novel—a return to that indelible fantasy world.
Without further ado, Dennis is going to introduce himself, then answer my 7 spotlight questions.
I write fantasy (the Mithgar series, the Faery series), science fiction (Caverns of Socrates), paranormal mystery romance (At the Edge of the Forest), and many short stories. I have had some of my tales put forward for the Nebula award and others. I have been the writer guest of honor at the World Fantasy Convention, and have been the GOH at several other conventions. I was born in Moberly, Missouri, have a BS in electrical engineering from U of Mo, and a Masters in the same field from Duke University. I spent 31 years with Bell Labs working on antiballistic missile defense systems, on other various software and electronics designs as well as system designs, and as a think-tank consultant. As of this writing, I have been married for 56 years to Martha Lee, whom I met in college. We have two sons (sadly, no daughters, but we do have a daughter-in-law). I like playing fantasy role playing games, like playing XBOX video games, and I read a helluva lot. I have been a SCUBA diver, a dirt biker, and with MLee have toured the US and Canada on a Goldwing. Oh, and I am a veteran of the Korean War, US Air Force (1950-54) after which I used the GI bill to go to college.
SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:
#1: Why do you write?
I like telling stories.
#2: What was your earliest writing experience?
Other than school assignments, I began writing stories in collaboration with my father when I was in the USAF. We write a very funny-to-us story of a detective named Pat Hatchet (Mike Hammer was big in the bookstores at that time). We continued writing via letters, alternating chapters, and each chapter had to end on a cliff hanger. It was the job of the person who received the latest chapter to get Pat Hatchet out of the peril, to move the story on a bit, and to end that new chapter on another cliff hanger, and then to mail the chapter for continuation of the story. It was a lot of fun, but nothing we wrote at that time was/is publishable.
#3: Describe a day in your writing life:
When I am working on a story, before getting out of bed the first thing I do while drinking a wake-up cup of coffee is to read and edit the previous day’s work. After that, I usually read the newspaper. I then have breakfast, after which I take care of e-mail and other business. I typically get back to the story around 10 AM, at which time I input any changes that I made during the editing time. I then continue the story, breaking at somewhere in the noon hour for lunch, and then get back to the story. I usually knock off somewhere around 4 PM unless I am on a roll, in which case I keep on keeping on. When I finally do quit for the day, I print out what I have written this day, and put it by my bedside for the next morning’s edit. I almost always take the weekend off. I do goof off a lot, XBOXing with friends, playing FRP games, reading, etc. on the weekends.
#4: What authors influenced you and how?
Patricia McKillip comes to mind (lyrical writing), Edmond Hamilton (Captain Future made a reader out of me), JRR Tolkien (’nuff said), Robert E Howard (splendid story teller), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd & Gray Mouser, great buddy stories), various mystery writers (such as John Dickson Carr— outstanding locked-room mysteries), and many more. All of them bring something different to the table, and by looking at what they wrote and with a bit of pondering, one can see better ways of doing things in my own stories (all part of the “art” of writing).
#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?
That’s a tough question. My success was more by accident than deliberate plotting. The things that I take for granted come naturally to me (perhaps it’s my engineering background). Have I learned anything? I dunno. I do know that there is no silver bullet. Hard work and perseverance and the ability to read with a critical eye are necessary. I do know that when I finish a story I am a much better writer than when I began that story. Hence, the story is not “finished” at this time. So, I go back to the beginning and try to make the tale as good at the front and middle as it is at the end. Raising the quality of a “finished” story is something to strive for. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” which for a writer means that you should let the story rest for a while, and then fix it and fix it again. Get that quality up.
#6: Describe your writing method:
I always do a rolling edit as I finish each chapter. Some writers like to write down the entire story, be it a novel or a shorter story, and then go back and do the editing. They say that they want to keep up the cutting edge rather than to dull the sharpness of the story. For me, that wouldn’t work; you see, when I try to edit a longer story, I get caught up in the story and forget to do the critical editing. In other words, I begin to read for pleasure rather than reading to edit. And so, I edit each chapter as I go.
I also get stuck on using just exactly the “right” word, and if I can’t get it, I look in thesauruses and unabridged dictionaries and other such references till I get something that pleases me. Other writers just pop in a known substitute word (such as XXX or Phud or some other nonsense word) and move on, and later go back to every reference of that substitute word and then do the research. But such things nag at me till they are gotten right.
#7: Tips for aspiring writers:
I think the very best advice I can give an aspiring writer is to read your work out loud, either to other writers or to friends or to an empty room. The ear hears what the eye misses. It is a great method for finding echoes, tongue twisters, and long dull stretches of prose.
Check out Dennis’s latest book, a new Mithar Novel called Stolen Crown, now available from Penguin/Roc.
“For Classical fantasy, there is no better author” than Dennis L. McKiernan, who created the legendary realm of Mithgar. Now the national bestselling author of Dragondoom returns to his most beloved fictional world to reveal the untold history of the rightful heir to the kingdom—the War of the Usurper—
“Faster, Jamie, faster! I can hear them at the main door.”
“I’m going as fast as I can, Ramo. This blasted lead has turned to steel.”
The distant dull thump of the battering ram against the great bronze portal thudded through the deep stone in counter point to the steel-on-steel ping of Jamie’s hammer against the chisel as it peeled metal from the seam.
For one hundred nineteen years a bitter dispute over succession to the High King’s throne simmered in dark palace halls. How the new King had been selected those decades past yet rankled in the hearts of a royal family not chosen. Finally, through treachery and by force of arms, Arkov of Garia seized the throne, claiming it was rightfully his.
Thus begins another remarkable epic, one that sweeps across Dennis L. McKiernan’s wondrous yet perilous world of Mithgar. It is a tale that heretofore was missing among his many recorded sagas—the story of the War of the Usurper. At last this bestselling author set his pen to parchment and chronicled the fantastic and magical story in full.
Come join the heroes in their quest to regain the crown of the true High King and set him on his throne, yet beware, for dark and dreadful sorcery is at work to overthrow all.
Connect with Dennis:
Facebook: Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar
Fan email address: firstname.lastname@example.org