A Month of Writers, Day Twenty Two: David Anthony Durham

I’m about to go off and drive 180 miles, so I can’t make this long. So here’s everything you need to know:

David Anthony Durham: teh HAWSOME.

Acacia, Book One: The War With the Mein, his debut fantasy novel: also teh HAWSOME.

Campbell Award possibilities? It would be — yes! — teh HAWSOME.

And now, here’s the awesome David Anthony Durham.

DAVID ANTHONY DURHAM: Audio Flashback Magical Weirdness

Interesting thing happened to me yesterday… I was having another of those “I’m about to figure out some major plot point if only I do something random like take a walk down a tree-lined street” sort of moments. So, I got up and headed outside.

For the first time since I began writing The Other Lands (the sequel to Acacia: The War With the Mein), I remembered how with previous books I liked to take a little tape recorder with me. When I came on good ideas I’d just dictate a brief message to myself that I could reference later. This was a lot better than walking around juggling ideas like so many bubbles, afraid the whole time that any of them might pop and be lost before I could get them written down. So, I fished out my little micro cassette recorder and embarked.

It wasn’t long before I started to have an idea or two. They seem to come pretty steady when I get chugging along. Just starting to move seemed to stir them up. Before starting to dictate, though, I pressed play, just to see where the tape was or something… And to my surprise (not really, but sort of) my own voice spoke to me out of that little black machine. It was a voice from several years ago. It was a voice that was going through this same process – with the first Acacia novel.

My plan was just to rewind and start anew, but I was immediately shocked by what I heard. My voice came in short bursts, perhaps no more than a sentence that expressed an idea or question before cutting off. Each time a new recording cut in the background noise changed: sometimes windy, sometimes traffic noises or music or kids in the background. Sometimes I was out of breath and other times it was strangely quiet and my voice quite clear.

What was I saying? Things like this… (If you’ve read Acacia you’ll recognize some plot things here. If not I won’t give anything away that hasn’t been written in pretty much every review of the book.)

What if the Acacian economy is fueled by some international trade?… Something kinda secret… Nothing to be proud of…”

How strange! “What if?” I’d almost forgotten that there was ever a time I didn’t know about Acacia’s international trade. I’m so used to the idea now it’s like it was always written in stone. But here was proof that at one time I’d only gotten so far as asking “What if?”

A little later I said…

“Remember that this isn’t a novel all about prophecy and fate and stuff like that. Everything doesn’t work out that way.”

And then…

“Not everyone lives to the end. Someone important has to die… Not sure who, but… someone does.”

How about that? Here’s my own voice proposing for the first time something that is now so fundamental to the entire world of Acacia and all that may ever happen in it. A few takes later…

“Ah, okay… That trade could be in children… children that the Acacians take from each province, with a quota from each, and then they send them across the ocean, never to be heard from again….”

“I think X is the one that’s good with a sword…” (I didn’t really say “X”, but if you haven’t read the book I didn’t want to give that one away.)

“Oh, that thing the children are traded for… what if it’s some sort of drug?”

I walked along in a bit of daze listening to this. Again and again I was hearing myself say for the first time aspects of the story and characters that I’d just thought in that past moment. So very strange that things that exist so concretely now, in tens of thousands of different copies read by (so far) tens of thousands different readers at one point began as “What if…” ideas when I was taking a walk somewhere. So very strange that this tape recorder captured the moment I first experienced those what ifs – moments prior to my having put those words on the page.

Understand me – this is not that I’m impressed with myself. It’s not that at all. What I am impressed with, though, is the creative process. The way things, stories, meaning can apparently be created out of nothing. I’m awed that it works, because I certainly can’t explain it. Thinking about it as I listened to an earlier version of myself, the whole thing felt quite magical. As I’m struggling to shape this next monster of a novel, that was a very fortunate thing to be reminded of.


Oh, by the way, I didn’t record over any of that stuff. I just couldn’t do it. I’ll have to go get a new tape soon. This one goes in a drawer somewhere, perhaps to be discovered again a few years from now…

(read original entry, with comments, here)

2 Comments on “A Month of Writers, Day Twenty Two: David Anthony Durham”

  1. Very interesting. I’m always curious about the creation habits of other writers. It’s good to hear that, even though I know it to be true, all novels don’t spring fully formed and unbidden from the writers pen.

    It helps me accept that I don’t have to know everything about MY characters and situations prior to writing them, and it reminds me that even though a story may take on a life of its own, that life is still beholden to the creator, who has every right to bend it to his will.

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