TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
David: I don’t know if this counts as a quirk but I tend to write from the ground up. It has to be sequential. If I have dialogue I’m going to use later, or notes for later developments, I place them at the end of the word file but never develop them till I get there. At least 25% of my writing time is devoted to editing the previous night’s work. This is starting to sound more pathological than quirky I’m afraid.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
David: I love James Joyce and Marcel Proust. I return to Bloom’s Dublin at least every two years. I’m amazed by Julian Barnes’ writing, and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is one of my favourite books. I’m a big fan of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. It really is a long list, so I’ll try and restrain myself. In terms of acknowledged influences I would have to say that the ambition of Iain M Banks’ work and the world building of writers like Samuel Delaney and Gene Wolfe have served as inspirations.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
David: I’m going to say both. Company of the Dead took seven years to write, and it covers a lot of ground. It’s a secret history of the Twentieth Century. It’s what really is supposed to have happened. The details of that world, and playing with cause and effect, required careful planning. Having said that, from time to time the circumstances of certain characters swept me down paths I hadn’t considered, often with better results than I’d imagined.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
David: I would have to say that the biggest challenge is deciding what not to write, and making the appropriate edits and cuts. Having total control over your creation when writing, as opposed to say, making a film, there is no one to say ‘no’ to you. I’m talking about before you have anything to submit to an editor. When you are dealing with something you love, it can be challenging to deny yourself. I hope that makes sense.
TQ: Describe The Company of the Dead in 140 characters or less.
David: Caveat. I’ve just joined Twitter and I’ve yet to utter a squeak, so here goes nothing (and this bit doesn’t count!!!)
A time traveler boards the Titanic
Behaviour ensues that is manic
Threaten our world
With destruction of all that’s organic.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Company of the Dead?
David: I had been reading about the Titanic, and was kind of in a dark place at the time. I wrote a short story where the ship makes harbour. I had a happy ending but no story to speak of. The ongoing fascination that people have with the sinking, a fascination that spans the century, gave me the idea of using the event as a framework for examining the last hundred years. I liked playing with the concept that the world we live in now is the result of a series of conspiracies, centered round key people and events of the last century; the Kennedys, the Titanic, Roswell. To ashamedly quote Tolkien, the tale grew in the telling.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Company of the Dead?
David: I did a serious amount of research. The more I read, the stranger I found the truth to be. I felt it gave a firmer foundation to the fiction I was trying to craft. Besides, I didn’t want to disappoint any potential readers who were experts in their various fields. So I studied the deck plans of the Titanic from the keel up, and read all the transcripts from the various trials that followed the sinking, as well as first-hand accounts from survivors. I read a lot of history books. I studied maps, and political and military documents, to get a feel for the characters who had backgrounds quite different from my own. I spoke with aeronautical engineers and police officers and Native Americans. No one admitted to being a time traveler.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
David: Great questions. I guess Jonathan Wells, the time traveler who boards the Titanic, was easiest. His career mirrors my own to an extent. And the errors of judgment he makes could very easily have been my own. As for the hardest, I will say Patricia Malcolm. She is the only major female character in the book. I felt like I had to tread lightly, exploring her beliefs and desires, her motivations and fears. Company is largely a Boy’s Own Adventure, but I suspect that’s because most women are just way too sensible to get involved in the crap that my guys go through in the course of the book.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Company of the Dead?
David: I wouldn’t know where to start. I’ll say this though. I spoke earlier about the challenge of writing and the decisions of what should be culled from the text. I ended up cutting my favorite part of the book during the final edit so I can talk a little bit about it here. It was smack in the middle of the novel, and to my mind, it was the centre around which the entire narrative revolved. It focused on a single character’s perspective of everything that had led to a very significant moment for him.
The problem was that it was written in the first person and I felt it shocked the reader out of the rest of the narrative. It also clarified a plot point that needed to remain muddy. I don’t mean to sound cryptic here. I occasionally send the chapter out to an enquiring reader, if they ask nicely, and promise to be indulgent. Removing it made the work run smoother and taught me a lot about the process of writing.
TQ: What's next?
David: I’ve been working on my second novel for close to three years and it’s almost done. It’s unrelated to Company, in so much as that I wanted to try my hand at something quite different. It’s more fantasy than science fiction. I’ll say one thing about it. The few people I showed it to, (I started writing it while wrapping up Company of the Dead) told me I should abandon Company and finish it instead. I’m really excited about it.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
David: Thank you! I started writing in 1998, sitting on the porch of a small bungalow, while working in a country hospital. I could imagine other worlds and timelines, but I never conceived of where the book would take me. I want to say it’s an absolute pleasure that it’s brought me here and given me the opportunity to chat with you.
About The Company of the Dead
The Company of the DeadTitan Books, March 13, 2012
Trade Paperback, 752 pages
Can one man save the Titanic?
March 1912. A mysterious man appears aboard the Titanic on its doomed voyage. His mission? To save the ship.
The result? A world where the United States never entered World War I, thus launching the secret history of the 20th Century.
April 2012. Joseph Kennedy - grand-nephew of John F. Kennedy - lives in an America occupied in the East by Greater Germany and on the West Coast by Imperial Japan. He is one of six people who can restore history to its rightful order -- even though it would mean his own death.
The Company of the Dead website
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