Monday, December 8, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Matthew O. Duncan, author of The Warrior's Stone

           Tell me a about yourself. What got you started in writing?

In high school I fell in love with Theater.  Stepping out onto the stage and delivering a line that made over 200 people all laugh at once was the greatest feeling I had ever known.  An odd path for someone who was normally quiet and shy, but the theater bug had bit and I was hooked.  I chose to go to Northern Arizona University for college as it was far enough from home to be completely independent, but still a state school that wouldn't bankrupt by parent.  

My major was Theater and my goal was to hone my acting craft and take Hollywood by storm.  Then I went to my first college theater audition.  Reality checks can be a cruel friend.  Despite NAU being a small college, the talent amongst the small group of actors was overwhelmingly good.  I never felt so out of my league.  Somehow, I got a small part in that first show, but I could not see myself being successful in the face of such great talent.  And if I couldn't compete on the college level, I would never make it in Hollywood or New York.  Sadly I realized that acting was off the table, but I still loved Theater, so I stuck with it hoping I could find skill as a Director or Tech. 

Back stage during the rehearsals for that show I was in, Bill, a senior, the lead in the show, and the most talented actor I had ever met, asked me where I got the monologue I used in the audition.  I told him I had written it.  “Really?” he said, “it was good.  You should consider making it into a full play.”   

Wow!  This guy who I thought was 100 times more talented than me had just given me an unsolicited complement on something I had created.  I had dabbled in writing before, getting encouragement from family and teachers, but never thought of it as a something I had a gift for.  

The encouragement from the upperclassman who everyone looked up to was enough to keep kick start the project, but it was the words on the page that kept me going.  I fell in love with the creative aspect of the work and had a complete one act play in just a couple of weeks. Now I’m not one of those writers that says, “I write for myself and don’t care if anyone likes it.”  

To me that foolish.  It’s like a poet who only read their work in a closet so no one can hear.  So I needed to find something to do with my play.  Fortunately every year the school held a play-writing contest open to all students.  The interesting thing about it was that it was a blind competition.  A group of professors would evaluate each entry, but would not know the name of the writers, since most would be students from their classes.  My freshman year, going up against lower and upperclassman, I won.  I won a contest that was completely based on my work and was not enhanced or limited on anyone’s opinion of me.  I had found something that I was truly talented at and I loved it.  A few months I received my prize, a black-box production of my play.  To see my work come to life was better than being on stage and getting the laughs and tears myself.  A world that I had created was brought to life before my eyes... 

As time passed I kept writing on the side as a hobby and hoped I would find that inspiration to write a Broadway quality show, but as a career it was a very distant dream.  Then I met this beautiful red head named Carleesa.  

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One of the first things she told me was that she liked  a man who was as comfortable in a kilt as he was in a suit.  She loved art, theater and anything creative.  On our first date I told her my best theater and Disney stories as well as all about my plays.  She hung on every word and I got lost in the joy found in her eyes.  As you may have guessed we fell in love, got married, had two wonderful sons and…, well were still trying to live happily ever after.  Our love for each other is stronger than ever, but life has not been that easy.  
As we settled down I moved up into retail management and eventually became a store manager making a decent living.  She had a career in non-profits as a charity campaign manager.  Yet when the economy took a nose dive I got let go and couldn't find work for nearly a year, and once I did find work it only paid a quarter of what I was making.  My spirits were crushed and I was feeling very lost.  That year, when it was so bad we nearly lost our house; Carleesa never once blamed me or did anything to make me feel like I had failed in any way.  Instead, on my birthday she gave me a copy of The Writers Market.  A book I used to buy myself every year that would list all the publishers, agents and contest where you could submit writing.  She included a message that said, “No matter how bad things get, I never want you to give up on your dreams.”

Carleesa and Matt
I picked back up the pen that day.  There were a couple of ideas for plays I started, but there wasn't enough inspiration to finish them.  Yet there was an idea for a couple of sci-fi characters that I had been thinking about for a very long time, but never had a story for.  A space fighter pilot in the future meeting and falling in love with a beautiful, red headed, medieval woman who could do magic.  Giving it more thought I considered it might make a good movie, but I needed to outline a story first.  So I started writing out a short story, just so I could get it clear in my mind.  Within a week I had over 42 pages and had hardly reached what would have been scene three.  I was writing a novel and I was loving it.  

Every day I couldn't wait to get some free time to write because, like a reader, I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next.  That’s how I write.  With only a vague idea of where the story is going, I let my imagination flow out onto the page and discover it as I write.  Each day my passion for the book grew and after five months of lunch hour and late night scribing I had completed the first draft.  I presented it to my wife for her blessing.  That sounds extreme, but it is because I trust her with not just my love, but with my life.  She would never say an unkind word to me, but she would also never let me do anything that would lead to embarrassment or shame.  So as a critic she is kind, but honest.  When she read the book she told me that she loved the story and then discussed what could make it better.

One of the first lessons I learned was that I had habits of a playwright that I needed to get rid of, such as brief descriptions and relying on dialogue to tell the story.   At that point I became a student of other writers, reading classic as well as contemporary books from the best sellers list.  Studying entire series from a few authors to see how they progressed and listening to audio books to understand the pattern and timing in successful writing; all the while working on rewriting the book based on notes found on practically every page. 

It took me an additional two years and ten drafts to finish the book The Warrior’s Stone.  It is something that I am proud to put my name on and to list my Carleesa as my muse on the inside page. 

 What's your favorite part about writing? Your least favorite part about writing?

I write the way people read.  The idea for a story might be a character or situation, but I never know what’s going to happen until I write it.  So my inspiration is to find out what is going to happen next.  My lease favorite part of writing is going through the work and fixing all the typos and spelling errors that my editor has pointed out.  Even though I have improved a lot, I still make a lot more mistakes than I should.  One thing that I do to catch and fix them before I show the work to anyone is to have the computer read the text.  It’s the difference between knowing what is supposed to be on the page and hearing what is really there that the eye didn't see.

      How do you come up with your characters? Why would readers want to get to 
      know them?

It depends on the story.  More often than not the main male character is an idealized version of myself.  Not who I think I am, but who I wish I could be.  The character of Roy, in the Warrior’s Stone, is brave, honest, very analytical, smart, cleaver, but also deals with deep emotional scars that make him cold and distant until he meets a woman who he can’t help but fall in love with.  

My personal narrative has some similarities, but is not nearly as dramatic or interesting as Roy’s story.  The main female character of Katreena beings with my wife, in her kindness, a need to be helpful to others and her ability to make those around her feel loved.  Yet as I develop the story, that characters take on a life of their own.  I don’t know what they are going to say or do until it happens.  As I get to the end of the book, they have evolved into something different than what I started with, so I often have to go back to the beginning and rework parts to keep them true and consistent. 

      What types of marketing do you do to promote your writing?

As an independent writer I don’t have the backing of a big publishing house, so I’m on my own for everything, from the book covers to the press.  So most of what I do in on the internet; Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Authors web page, participating on book blogs, doing my own blog, and posting on any site that will let me.  I also put together a couple of book trailers on YouTube, paid for some advertising on Google and Facebook (I don’t recommend) and paid for a press release.   Yet in the end the best results have been from people I gave the book to and had them read it.  So far everyone has loved it, recommended it to their friends and written great reviews on web pages like Amazon and Goodreads. 

            What are you currently working on? Do you have a new book out?

I’m finishing the rewrites and edits on book two of the New Terra Series, the sequel to the Warrior’s Stone and then will go back to book three.  I actually started both book two and three at the same time and had planned on the other one to be the second book, but about five chapters in I decided the time line worked better to have that book come third. 

Book two in the series should be out early 2015 and the third one out early 2016, so long as I can get all the rewrites and editing done.  It’s hard for me to all a book done.  I always feel like I can do better and put myself through another draft, which then requires proofing, editing and reviewing.  So we will see.

          What would you tell a beginning writer who wants to publish but doesn't believe 
             he/she has enough talent?

Go to the library and check out three best selling writers in the genre that you want to write in.  Here is what you will find.  1.  They don’t use any magic words.  The most popular writers don’t write like Shakespeare.  They use everyday language they you and I do.  2.  Read the work with a critical ear.  Here is what I mean.  As you read, listen to the voice in your head and break down the pattern and sounds as if you were listening to music.  This is where you find the subtleties in successful writing.  You will find that the best writers have learned to not over use words, unless it is in dialogue that fits the character, and they string their words together to keep the reader interested, even when the story drags.  3.  Find someone you trust to read your work and give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback.  This should be someone who loves to read and cares about you enough not to discourage you from writing.  4. Keep writing.  No one ever wins their first race.


Thank you, Matthew!

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