Daniel Peyton is an author of fantasy fiction – and more. Throw in some science fiction, superhero stories, and a love of Star Wars and Star Trek. He stops by the blog to chat about his work.
Hi Dan, glad to have you at the blog. For those not familiar with your work, let's start with Legacy of Dragonwand, which published earlier this year – in which a young man aims to go to wizard school and ends up becoming a hero. Tell us a little more about it, where did the story come from and what drew you to the YA fantasy setting?
Happy to be here. Legacy of Dragonwand was inspired by a series of events that culminated into the book. First, I was at Dollywood during an art festival and found a hand crafted bubblewand that I thought would make an interesting wand for a book. Later, a friend held a contest for an anthology. I decided to try out by writing a 10k word short story. I failed to keep it short. Next came NaNoWriMo and I used the start of this story to work on for NaNo. Three months later, I had a finished novel. (Yes, I did 50k in November, the book finished well over 110k)
About Legacy of Dragonwand: It is a young adult fantasy set in the mythical land of Gallenor. Four years prior to the book, all the wizards were ordered to surrender to the Royal Guard and be put in the Pale Labyrinth, for the safety of the kingdom. The king and his head wizard were searching for the last Dragonwand. Four years later, young Markus leaves his little farm community in search of a wizard to get a letter so he can go to the Wizardry College at Thendor. He doesn’t know about the decree. He finds a wizard, who gives him a mission to find the Dragonwand before the king does. Unfortunately, before Markus can learn more details, the wizard dies. He leaves and stumbles upon the Rakki, a dog people. He meets a girl named Crystal who is also a young wizard who lost her parents to the decree and wants their safe return. They both learn some disturbing information about the kings true plans and they have to set off to find the Dragonwand before the king can, or all the wizards in the Pale Labyrinth will die.
Markus - the main character from Dragonwand
You've had some smashing reviews for it – including I notice from Wendy Siefkin who we follow on Twitter over at Inklings Press. She always seems to know what she's talking about! Another string to your bow is your artwork, and I notice you've done some artwork for the Siefkins – how did that come about?
I love the reviews. They keep my spirits up as an author. So far the reviews have been very positive and encouraging. Yes, I love to draw. For years it was just a hobby...and mostly still is. I perfected this skill while writing. I simply wanted to see some of the characters I wrote about. Especially the unusual characters in my early Star Trek fan fiction. A few years back, I noticed Wendy Siefken posting on Facebook about wanting a piece of art but not knowing how to get it. She found something she sort of liked, but couldn't find the artist. I drew her something similar and she loved it. Since then, I have done several pieces for her. I have also branched out to other authors. I am responsible for several book covers for authors with the publisher who currently has Legacy of Dragonwand.
One fun element of drawing my characters, sometimes the drawings change the character. By seeing them in front of me, I know them better. Once, when working on a Star Trek piece, I drew one of the characters. The model I used was a swimmer and the drawing really gave that away by his physique. The character was a member of the a feline species. I decided to give this particular character a love of swimming, which was an oddity for his race. It has turned into a really awesome extra flavor for the story.
Legacy of Dragonwand is the first of a trilogy – this is your first publication of a series in this fashion, did you find it took a different approach from writing single volumes, does it take a lot more planning and outlining? Any challenges that format brings?
Actually, my original intention was a two-part story. However, my publisher convinced me that even a two-part would be too big for the average YA audience. The challenge to writing even the two-part was to craft a really good place to split the story. Something that would flow so that it didn't feel like a forced split, but also would feel right as a split...if that makes any sense. Since the books haven't arrived at that place yet, I don't want to spoil it. It really is an awesome sequence of events that drives the story forward.
I say that it's the first series in this fashion – but over on your blog, you've been serialising stories too. You're a long way into a serialisation of a Star Wars fan fic, for example. What draws you to writing fan fic and what do you enjoy about the process?
I started with fan fiction. I started writing in the fourth grade, but really got into penning novels in the eighth grade. My first books were Star Trek stories. At that point in my life, I had no idea that being an author would be my career goal. So, writing them was fun and it frees up a lot of the world building required for the creative process. What I truly enjoy most about writing fan fic is that it lets me step into the universe of something I love. I get to be a part of it.
Of course, with fan fic, there are the obvious restrictions that it's unlikely to see print for copyright reasons – but does that lend a certain liberty to the writing? You can experiment or use it as a learning process about your writing knowing that it's being written as much for fun as anything? I've not been a fanfic writer though – so feel free to shout at me if I'm misunderstanding that process!
What writing Star Trek fan fiction did for me was push me into learning about writing deeper than anything I could pick up in class. I cut my teeth on world building and character development through this. A great deal of fan fiction revolves around people writing their own stories around the established characters and stories. I wanted something that was my own. I created my own characters and story and simply set it in the Star Trek universe. I picked the Deep Space Nine timeline to work with and then created my own series. The captain has his unique backstory, the crew is made up of developed and unique people, the whole story is in harmony with the canon but in itself it is also unique.
I got my first, best review from this. Let me explain: I wrote my first, full, start to finish novel in the 9th grade. Star Trek the Eleventh Fleet, book one. The teacher had given the class free-write time and told us to simply write and turn in whatever we did. I started but couldn't finish in one day. The teacher liked that I was so engrossed in my writing, so she told me to keep writing and finish it at my own pace. I took it home and wrote there, then wrote in class, then wrote in other classes (which didn't set too well with the other teachers). When I turned it in, I was so proud I could have exploded. Then she promptly lost it. I was devastated. She apologized profusely and told me that she had read it and gave me a stellar grade. Three months later, I get it back. She found it, really her mother had it by mistake. Her mother was an English teacher at the local University, Oklahoma State University. She had a creative writing class and thought my book was one of hers. She graded it according to her normal standards, (it got a C+) but when she realized it wasn't a college student, but a 9th grader in public school, she wrote out a long note to me. She said that she loved the story, was impressed with my character development, descriptions, and lack of any plot-holes. She gave it a C+ in her class for the bad grammar, and suggested I look into working on that. I was on cloud 9. It was the first time in my life I can remember thinking “maybe I can be a published writer one day”. I didn't start working on that there, my first ambition in High School was to go into acting and become an actor on television...which fizzled. But, through it all, I kept writing. I wrote five more 11th fleet books in my spare time, just for fun. Little did I realize that I was practicing an art that would become my passion.
What an awesome way to kickstart your writing experience! Though hat horror moment of it being lost! Next up, Legacy of Dragonwand is being published through Cosby Media Productions – but you had a rocky experience with a previous publisher. You're not the first, I understand, to have had bad experiences with PublishAmerica – it's also featured prominently on the Writer Beware blog and you detail your own experiences extensively on your own site. After such an experience, how hard was it to find and put your faith in another publisher?
That experience really hurt. I cannot fully express how much it impacted me for several years. In fact, I wrote a novel called The Crystal Needle: A Stitching Fantasy, during that time and refused to publish it. I wrote it originally as a gift for my friends in the local Embroiderers Guild of America. Everyone who read it simply loved it and told me to publish. I would push that idea away every time. I had given up. Then, Amazon opened up their self-publishing platform and my father gave me an article about an author who had great success with that. I decided to try. It turned out better than I expected. After several years of being self-published, I had gleaned a lot of information about publishing and learned that not all publishers are wolves out to devour victims.
Has it made you more aware ultimately of what you should expect as an author from a publisher? What would you say you look for most now in that regard?
YES! PublishAmerica promised the moon and delivered nothing. They told me that all publishers charge for their books, they neglected to tell me that authors shouldn't be paying full price to get them. They told me that my original manuscript I gave them was perfect and didn't need editing, then published it and promptly offered to edit for a HUGE fee. A true publisher will clean your work for you, they should want to make it as good as possible so that they make money...and so will you. PA promised to put my book in all the book stores, with grandiose claims of being the #1 supplier for Barnes and Noble. They lied. I learned to research claims and check out the market for myself. I learned that if a publisher is more interested in garnering more and more authors and not promoting the books they offer, they aren't in it for the audience, they're in it to soak their authors for every last dime.
You've also written about how you got hit by a spate of bad reviews by one particular individual – and looking at some of the reviews, I can't help but notice a bunch of reviews following the same pattern of numbered lists of what he thinks is wrong and, um, you'll forgive me for the language, but he's patently talking bullshit. That must have been infuriating! How did you manage to deal with that?
It hurt. I still have a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach at times just thinking about that time. First, he didn't just give me bad reviews, he stalked me on every website I was connected to in an attempt to discredit me and get me thrown off. It was a pure case of internet bullying. He hasn't done one thing to me in years, but I still fear every review. Yes, I see my review number go up and then I force myself to scroll down, praying deeply that he hasn't started again. When I first published The Crystal Needle, I wasn't eagerly waiting to see those first sales or read that first review, I was terrified. I almost took the book down every day for months. I would wake up, scared to log onto my computer, certain that he had done it again and dumped a bunch of horrible reviews on my book.
How have I managed to move forward? God gave me strength, He also gave me a passion for writing that overshadows my fear of failure. Also, when I published through PA, I had no author friends. I was alone in the publishing world...which explains the mistakes I made. Now, I have a slew of good friends who are authors/editors/publishers/readers. When I think of that bad man attacking me, I know that I won't be alone. In fact, I know a few of those friends who will be like a pack of lions pouncing on him. They know the strife in my heart over what happened and they want me to not fear expressing the passion that permeates my life.
Okay, I promise – no more questions about annoying things! What do you most enjoy about the writing process?
Creating. That sounds vague, but it's the truth. I love developing the world, the characters, the drawings, everything. As I get deep into the story, I surround myself with it. It is a world that I escape to much like a reader escaping into a good book.
As an artist as well as an author, do you find one line of creativity feeds the other? Or do you plow different strands with those?
As I talked about before, the drawing is part of the writing process in a way. Often I draw the character after I have created him/her. But, sometimes I draw for fun and then use the image to base a new character on. One example is Treb from Legacy of Dragonwand. I drew this dog-man picture just for fun. Then, as I wrote the story, I wanted Markus to encounter a fantasy race, but wanted to avoid the cliché of him coming across elves. I flipped through my art book and saw that dog man and crafted a whole race around him.
Treb, the dog-man creation who inspired a race in Dragonwand
You also have on Amazon the books Wisdom Springs and The Crystal Needle – tell us a little about each of those.
The Crystal Needle: A Stitching Fantasy, is a fantasy novel set in America. It tells the story of two stitching witches who are sisters. They are 3,000 years old. During the Salem witch hunt, they lived in Salem...in fact they were the only actual witches there. They left and founded a town to help the poor people put out by the hysteria. One sister turns bitter over what has happened and decides to use her considerable magic to control the humans. Her sister stops her, for that is a violation of all the rules they abide by. With the help of a lost family of Kitsune, the good sister has to bind her evil sister in the woods behind their homes. In the process, the kitsune children are cursed and their father killed. 300 years later, a family moves into the evil sisters old home to turn it into a bed and breakfast. The son in the family meets an unusual girl and the kind sister, who lives next door. He falls for the girl, not realizing she's older than the USA. She is determined to take down the evil sister when the binding spell fades, but finally lets go of vengeance for the love she feels for the boy. At the wrong time, the evil sister returns.
Wisdom Springs is a Christian fiction novel. It tells the story of a man who was once one of the most famous Broadway producer/director/choreographers. He made a choice of conscience over contract and broke a deal. That spells the end of his career and good name. He is forced to take a job as a choir director for a big Baptist church in East Tennessee. There is one small catch, he's an atheist. He was hired by the church administrator who controls everything and everyone. She only cares about making the church a success financially. She knows what Ken is, but only sees his fame as a useful tool. On his first day at work, he meets a girl and a strange old man. The girl has an amazing voice but a trouble spirit. The old man is an odd, wise person who seems immune to the machinations of the churches administrator. Ken soon realizes he has tough decisions to make about life. The pastor also has learn how to take control of his own church back.
For new readers, which is the best place for them to start with your work?
If you like fantasy, either start with The Crystal Needle: A Stitching Fantasy, or start with Dragonwand book 1. If you like Christian fiction, Wisdom Springs is a standalone book.
What would you say your influences are as a writer?
A major influence right now is where I live. East Tennessee is beautiful. To me, it feels like the setting of an epic fantasy, or gentle story. I will go out and simply enjoy the countryside for a while and be inspired.
And what next? What are you working on at the minute?
Book two of Dragonwand or something else brewing up? Books two and three of the Dragonwand series are written, they are simply in the processing stage. My publisher is also going to be producing a novella I wrote that is a post apocalyptic drama. Also, they have contracted for a superhero book I penned a while back.
Finally, the last question here is a traditional double question – what are you reading at the moment and what is your favourite book you've read in the past year?
Currently I am reading the NAC commentary on the book of Ezekiel. This past year I picked up and read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series end to end, that would be my favorite from this past year. (I admit that I hadn't ever read them all before, so it was a new experience for me.)
Legacy of Dragonwand is available on Amazon here. You can check out the rest of Daniel Peyton's works on Amazon here.