Friday, June 9, 2017

The Fast Friday Indie Interviews: David A. Tatum

David A. Tatum

Tell me about yourself, David?

I always struggle to answer questions like this.    I often try to make my bios on the funnier side, framing some of the real-life things about me in a more humorous context.  For example:  I was the president of a chapter of what was then called the Explorer Post, a co-ed young-adult "high adventure" organization under the auspices of the Boy Scouts.  We had an annual spelunking trip, some camping trips, etc.  In the bio you find on my Amazon page, I referred to this as "By the time (I) was in high school, (I) had joined a national organization dedicated to adventure and exploration... with the goal of using it to identify a route into the center of the Earth.  Unfortunately, the Suffolk, Virginia caves (I) explored were all dead ends." The truth, framed as humor.  But I figure I should take this one seriously.

I'm the son of a librarian father and a fashion designer mother.  My father was, at the time, a bibliographer who helped build and maintain the humanitarian book collection for Cornell University Libraries in Ithaca, New York.  My mother was making a name for herself by designing and overseeing the costumes for the Ithaca Opera Company's production of The Marriage of Figaro, Didos and Aeneas, and a few other productions), designing a suit and ball gown for a Nobel Prize laureate and his wife, and customizing special needs clothing for both men and women, in addition to designing more 'ordinary' clothing such as wedding and prom dresses.  She was just starting to build up her business, earning a small profit (but not enough for us to live on, alone), when a new administration at the Cornell library re-organized the department and my father's position was eliminated.  He received a tentative job offer from the Library of Congress, but that necessitated us moving down to DC.

After getting to DC, however, my father's job offer fell through.  My mother had to give up her fashion design business to take on a government job, then with the (now-defunct) Office of Technology Assessment.  She would continue to work for the government, with stints at the State Department and even the Central Intelligence Agency, until her retirement.  When she retired, my mother resumed working full time in fabric, but then as a fabric artist specializing in competition art quilts instead of fashion design.  She has since won several awards for her quilts, and still puts her quilts in competitions and shows today (an exhibit of her quilts is currently on display at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland).  Pepper Cory, a noted authority on quilting and quilt history, once said of her: "This is what happens when an original brain meets computer-interfaced quilting".  My mother (indeed my whole family) has always been very supportive of my career as a writer, and, in time, I'll be helping her publish several books of her own on art quilting.

My father would go on to work for NASA, taking a contractor's job that placed him in the Goddard Space Flight Center.  He also would team up with a native-speaking Croat to translate Croatian poetry for the Journal of Croation Studies through much of the 80s, resulting in several publications but little sustained income.  In a sense, this was my first exposure to the world of publishing, though a very specialized part of it.

My father was, in his time, a notable rare book collector.  When we left Ithaca, we lugged (and found places for) over ten thousand books down to Maryland with us.  This was AFTER making sizeable donations to several institutions.  Dad already had a sizeable collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville focusing on the history of the American Small Press, which was added to during the move.  By the time he died (in 2003), nearly five thousand items were in the George Marvin Tatum Collection in the Special Collections section of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville Library.  These donations never seemed to make a dent in our home collection, however, so I grew up literally surrounded by books.  We had an in-home research library that was superior to anything else I had access to before college.  I always found my school libraries and public libraries lacking, because they never seemed to match up to the resources we had at home.

Later in my father’s life, after some more contracting work and a period at George Mason University (as an acquisitions librarian), he took a part-time job working as an escort at the Central Intelligence Agency.  He would end his workdays volunteering to shelve books in the CIA library (in the Historical Intelligence Collection; as far as I know there was nothing classified in any part of the collection, but it was an impressive library). One of the CIA librarians recognized who he was, went to her boss, and pointed out "You have one of the most knowledgeable book men in the country shelving books.  Maybe we should offer him a job?"  He was, in fact, offered a job, where he would work until his death in 2003.
His job there gave me an opportunity for a summer clerical position at the CIA, myself, while I was in college.  Of course, I can't talk much about it, but... honestly, I wasn't that impressed.  It felt like any ordinary office job, except we weren't supposed to talk about certain things.  One of these days, I want to write a spy novel about some poor young office schlup working for the CIA who, because of the expectations set in movies, winds up involved in some sort of James Bond\Jason Bourne\Etc.-style adventure (similar in basic concept, I suppose, to The Man with One Red Shoe, but somewhat more informed).

My father died in my final year of college, just months before his retirement.  I was asked by the family to handle my father's massive book collection.  This included taking inventory, deciding on what books to keep, moving those to our new home, and organizing the proper sale and disposal of the remaining books.  The collection, at the time, was probably about fifteen to twenty thousand books in size.  I organized them for sale, and invited local booksellers to our old home so they could see the collection.  Some of them came by just because they knew my father and wanted to see the collection he had amassed over the years even though they had no intent on buying them.  A few hundred books (and other items) went to join the rest of the Marvin Tatum Collection in UVa-Charlotteville, another few hundred of particularly valuable rare books were auctioned off, and another six thousand (by their estimate; I think it was more, and they admitted they weren't counting some of the sets of reference books they believed were too outdated to sell) were purchased by a local bookseller.  Once that was done, I had to organize the family's remaining library (I'd estimate it came in a little under eight thousand books, total) in our new home -- a full time job that lasted several months.

For this period, I was effectively being supported by my father's estate.  As this project was drawing to a close, however, my mother came to me with a proposal:  She knew I had long wanted to write for a living, something my father always supported (and, though in a much different genre, wanted to do himself), and she was willing to support me while I tried to make that happen.

It was a much longer journey than either of us expected, however, with several fits and starts.  There were years lost due to medical reasons (a cancer scare for my mother; a congenital dental condition that could have been life-threatening for myself), and the attempts to go through traditional publishing were demoralizingly slow (I had a manuscript in one publisher's slush pile for over four years; it wasn't rejected, I just withdrew it), but then the self-publishing revolution happened.  I was a little reluctant, at first, but now I'm a strong advocate for self-publishing, and I've have had several successes with my novels.

Tell me about your current Book:

My most recent release, In Forgery Divided, is about a year old now.  It was the sequel to In Treachery Forged, my debut novel and part of (judging from the sales) my flagship series, the Law of Swords series.  I will warn you that it has Elves and Dwarves and Dragons; some people think those are played out, so I have another series (my novel, The Kitsune Stratagem, is the first and still the only one of that series) featuring Kitsune, Wulvers, and Bunyips instead.

The first book of the Law of Swords introduced us to the land of Svieda, where a former ally assassinated the king and begins an invasion.  Sword Prince Maelgyn, a powerful but inexperienced young man who is only half-trained in both swordsmanship and magic, travels across Svieda (ostensibly in secret) to reach his armies and prepare a counterstrike.  Along the way he accidentally gets married, forges unexpected alliances, and learns better the limits of his abilities.

The thing is, that first book was mostly about introducing the heroes, the rules of magic, and the basic situation our heroes find themselves in.  My magical system was complex (derived, partly, from a discussion of whether the "ki attacks" of martial arts legend might have been produced through the conscious manipulation of a persons natural bioelectromagnetic fields), and I had a large cast of heroes needing introductions.  And the war being fought is in its infancy.

But the villains… ah, everyone loves a good villain, and In Forgery Divided was written to introduce the villains.  A couple of the villains had brief introductions in In Treachery Forged, but here was where they were developed.

When Maelgyn brings his army back to the front lines, he uses his newfound power to stop the enemy advance… but his wife is captured, his cousin now on the throne has been behaving erratically, and a centuries-old intrigue led by the Elves might bring about the fall of his kingdom from within.

What are you working on now?

Well, I've got two ongoing projects at the moment (as well as several others sort of waiting in the wings).  The third book in the Law of Swords series is one of them; it's about half finished, based on the outline, but it's been idling for the last several months as I've pursued other projects.

I have another novel that would have been out a month ago; the first novel in a series of science fiction books (I'd judge it military sci-fi, but I might call it space opera just to be safe), The Merrimack Event, Book I of the Shieldclads series.  This book has been in the self-publishing equivalent of development hell for over two years, now, and the recent delay is only the latest in a long series of problems I've had with it.  I've had editors who vanished off the face of the Earth (or at least the internet), cover artists who never replied to my queries, sections of old drafts accidentally substituted in for new drafts, science fiction technology overtaken by real life technology, etc., etc.  The edits are FINALLY complete, though, and I had cover art commissioned… but the cover art came in, and it was unsatisfactory.  After a few attempts to correct the issues with the art, I ultimately rejected it and now need to start over on the cover art search.  *sigh*  I usually start marketing my books once I get the cover art, so the cover art coming in last is going to have me going through my process backwards for this one.

Oh, and there's my story coming out in the Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders anthology… but at this point that one is out of my hands.

Where is your favorite place to be when you write?

At home, I have an office set up in my bedroom.  I also have a laptop, which allows me to work on the back deck in good weather.  When I've got "writers block," however, I often find myself going to a little Japanese restaurant I know of for lunch.  I can set up my laptop and have a nice meal, and usually the atmosphere allows me to work through the block.  The waitresses know I'm a writer, and even that I've published a few books, and sometimes will offer encouragement.  There's a problem, however:  That restaurant is currently closed for expansion, and I'm not sure if I'll still be able to get the same effect from it when it re-opens.  Crossing my fingers!

What is your favorite lesson you have learned about the business of writing?

"Favorite" is such a subjective term.  I mean, I'm a bit amused at certain concepts, like the idea that I'm too boring for social media marketing; I don't want to talk about politics, sports, or family life, and no-one is interested if you talk about writing all the time, so what's left?  Lately, because I try to keep a politically neutral public face, I got really fed up with all the political posts crossing my feed in Facebook.  I don't mind the occasional political post, but all the things I was interested in were being buried by political hysteria (on both sides, to be clear).  I started highlighting (from my Facebook feed) one post, per day, that has NOTHING to do with politics -- usually a cat video (or, well, not that many cats.  Usually otters, or hippos, or owls, or foxes...), though sometimes something a little more serious.  Sadly, there are days where I literally have NOTHING in my newsfeed (outside of those "boring" posts about writing) but politics, so I've been saving up posts from earlier in the week, just in case.  These have become some of my most popular posts, to my surprise.  Who knew all I had to do to get an audience was share silly animal videos?

But lessons about the business of writing?  I'd say the most shocking thing is how ignorant some other writers can be about the business of writing.   Perhaps because of my family background, I knew more about the business of writing when I was in elementary school, it seems, than a number of writers seem to understand today (I mean, ISBNs have nothing to do with copyrights, something which I've known for decades, but I was in the audience at a convention where a self-publishing "expert" was proudly explaining that using another company's free ISBN number gave them your copyright.  And no-one in the audience challenged him on this).  It's sadly easy to see how so many writers fall into scams.  You would think people who do the sort of research needed to write a good book would be able to research the business of writing well enough to avoid these pit falls, but sadly they don't even think to try.

What is your favorite Website?

Just one?  Yikes!  I've got plenty of favorites.  I have a love-hate feeling towards Wikipedia (it can be great if you want, say, a list of names of the mythological creatures of Serbia or something like that, but there are certain subjects that it just gets wrong or which are horribly "sanitized" to the point of uselessness. For example, any effort to explain the, ahem, controversial nature of Author Solutions Inc. gets immediately censored out).  I used to be a regular (lurker) on Baen's Bar, but then a few years ago they changed the web forum software and I was never able to log back in.  I may still have an account there, I don't know, but I gave up trying to access it a while back, and I understand I'm not the only one who left the Bar because of that software "upgrade." I used to really like the Writing Excuses podcast, but I feel it's gotten a little old and tired in recent seasons; the archives are still fascinating, however.  Before I started trying to write for publication, I invested a lot of both my reading and writing time in (you have to mine through a lot of dross to find the good stories, but there ARE good stories on there).  I like TV Tropes, but tend to avoid it because it keeps sucking me in and not letting me go.  Some websites I think of fondly are too specialized for everyday use -- Font Squirrel comes to mind, there.  Oh, and while I don't use it every day, I will say that -- as a writer of high fantasy, where I occasionally need to figure out how to handle medicine in a world without modern technology -- the guides to herbal and alternative medicine found on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website are astoundingly good reference material.

I could continue this all day.  I suppose, if I restricted it to the writing-related websites I visit daily, or near enough, I would mention the Passive Voice blog (for industry information from a self-publisher's perspective), Atlas Obscura (for research and brainstorming), and numerous webcomics (okay, these are more for entertainment than writing, but it could be interesting to examine the kind of writing you need to do to keep a long-running webcomic interesting.  Plus, you could consider it an audition or portfolio, in the right circumstances; I found my first cover artist from a web comic -- Alex Kolesar, of No Need For Bushido).

And that's it.  (Well, hardly... but I think those are the highlights of my writing-related favorites.  I'm certainly not going to go into websites I follow on cooking, or sports, or (eek! Stay away!) politics)


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