by Pamme Boutselis
Dan Levinson, author of “Fires of Man” from the Psionic Earth series, talks with The Penmen Review about writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror, marketing his work and the writers who have inspired him most.
Have you always written?
Since I was a kid, yes. The very first thing I wrote was a fan fiction piece for Final Fantasy IV, which came out way back in late ’91 when I was six years old. After that, I couldn’t stop.
What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
I’m about 50-50 in terms of brainstorming and actually developing things on the page. Stories, for me, always begin with an idea, a seed, as it were, which I plant in the soil of unconscious and give free rein to grow. Rather than focusing on developing an outline–a complete point A to point B, all the way down to point Z–I focus on nailing down specific, powerful moments; moments that Aristotle, in his Poetics, would identify as recognitions and reversals–turning points in the story upon which the decisions (and often the ultimate fates) of my characters hinge. Then, I allow these moments to be my guideposts, allowing me the freedom to explore and fill in what happens in between through the actual writing of the manuscript.
As for characters, I approach them in much the same way. Often they will begin, too, with that seed–in their case, usually an archetype. The ruthless assassin. The brilliant scientist. The conflicted hero. In this case, as well, I’ll then figure out my guideposts–the major, formative moments in their lives. This starts to bring their personalities into focus, and then I begin to write. What follows is a sort of reciprocal process, in which what I produce on the page begins to further inform the characters, leading to my gaining new knowledge, new revelations about their histories and personal development, which I will then infuse back into the work itself. And so it goes, around and around.
What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
The most daunting thing, for me, is not the “empty page” as some might put it, but rather what I would call the “empty notebook.” I’m unusual in that I write my first drafts longhand, and whenever I begin a brand new manuscript, or crack open a new notebook, it can be disconcerting not to stare at the one blank page, but rather the whole lot of them. I’ll be struck by a profound sense of wonderment as I ask myself, “How will I ever fill all of this? How will I reach the finish line?” Then, I inevitably remind myself that I’ve done it before, and I have the proof–the many notebooks filled with words–to remind me.
What it comes down to is just to write. To put words on the page, one after another, to form sentences, and then paragraphs, and then scenes, and chapters, and acts, and, at last, an entire book. Whether these words will be good or bad, who can say? That comes later, in the second draft, the third, the tenth. At the basest level, a writer’s job is simple: Put words on the page. Remember that, put it into action, and the book will eventually appear.
What has the road to publication been like for you?
By turns exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, exasperating. But altogether a singular, exceptional experience. I went the traditional route of querying literary agents for, at this point, three separate works, oftentimes coming close to finding representation. Fires of Man–the second novel I wrote–was picked up by my publisher via an unsolicited submission, after I decided that, having already gone through my pool potential agents, I would submit to publishing houses accepting such submissions. It only goes to show that one must explore all options!
How do you market your work?
I have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter, and a website. I’m also doing a blog tour as promotion for my book’s upcoming release. However, I think that the value of in-person marketing cannot be overstated. I am blessed to live little more than a half hour from New York City, and there’s a wealth of events going on there year-round. I attend gatherings of fans of speculative fiction–my target audience–and try to meet and market myself to as many people as possible. I also go to many readings and other such writer-centric events, which are wonderful opportunities for networking.
Who are the writers that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
First, I would say Brian Jacques, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind, for similar reasons. Their epic fantasy series (Redwall, The Wheel of Time, and The Sword of Truth, respectively) were what imbued me with a love of fantasy, of grand stories with a sweeping scope. Jacques’s books might today be classified as Middle Grade, and they were my introduction to the joys of swordfights and destined heroes. The works of Jordan and Goodkind inspired my appreciation of powerful magic and crafting grand mythologies with twists and turns for readers.
The other author I would cite is Stephen King, for his ability to create extraordinary characters amid the trappings of speculative fiction. Though my style differs greatly from his, I am constantly amazed at the very real human beings that populate the pages of his books, even pages that are spattered with the blood and terror he’s so famous for. I aspire to have such authentic, dimensional characters in my own books.
If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
Stephen King’s “It,” Brian Jacques’s “Redwall,” and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the Wind” for the simple reason that I could see myself reading these books over and over again.