If and when you are invited to a blogging collective populated by fellow authors whose company you enjoy and whose work you admire, there will be questions. Questions, and explanations, for centuries! Or at least for a few paragraphs. Introduce yourself, your fellow authors say, and already you can feel your stomach cramp. Tell the audience a little about you. Be interesting, for God’s sake. Justify your existence! YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED AND FOUND WANTING!
After you’re done twitching, you find yourself faced with three basic choices:
1) Play ball and answer what’s asked of you in good faith. Like some kind of conformist chump!
2) Engage what feeble sense of rebellion is left to you and play the part of the cheerful iconoclast. List my favorite authors? YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! OUTSIDE THE BOX, MAN!
3) A sloppy, insouciant polyglot of the first two choices. This is the road I picked.
Anyway, hi! I’m Daniel Swensen, newest member of the Scriptors. I’m excited, gratified, and slightly puzzled to be here, which I promise is the last bit of humble-bragging I’ll engage in for at least a paragraph. I write all sorts of things. So far, I’ve published one fantasy novel and one short story best classified as urban fantasy. Because I just swore not to humble-brag again in this paragraph, I will tell you both are amazing fun and you should read them! Orison is my fantasy novel about a young thief crossing paths with malevolent dragon-gods. Burn is a short story about a young woman who can, and does, set fire to things with her mind. Both come highly recommended by people who aren’t even my mother.
Now I’m supposed to list my five favorite authors. I generally resent lists of “favorites” because I feel like I’m locking myself into my own hierarchy. I think ranking leads to ossification. I also hate “desert island” questions, because if I had any choice at all I’d drag my entire library to the island and die on a bed of paperbacks because I have no survival skills.
But anyway. Here are the five authors who have most influenced me in my own work:
- Stephen King, master of the long conversation with the reader. (Favorite book: the nonfiction Danse Macabre, a master class on all horror fiction.)
- Robert Anton Wilson, for the wild invention and spiritual balm of the Cosmic Trigger and Illuminatus! series. The literary equivalent of dropping acid.
- A.A. Attanasio, for the most beautiful turns of phrase this side of Herman Melville (not on this list: Herman Melville. This is why I hate top fives.)
- Glen Cook, for creating grubby works of dark elegance.
- Robert E. Howard, for “the dark woods, masking slopes of sombre hills; the grey clouds’ leaden everlasting arch.”
This list doesn’t even include Tolkien, and I adore Tolkien. Stupid lists.
The next question is about why I write, a question I never know how to answer. Why not write? You might as well ask me why I breathe or eat: it’s just a part of me. I write because I grew up shy and bookish and in love with stories. I lack the collaborative spirit to move to Los Angeles and try to make movies. And because, to quote Ray Bradbury:
I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles…
In fact, just go out, buy Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, and read it instead of this introduction. We can meet up again in a few weeks.
Why I like writing fantasy:
Because no one can tell you “that would never really happen” when you make up a whole world. There are other reasons, but that’s the only one that counts.
First story I ever wrote:
A Star Wars knock-off called Free Enterprise, written on an old Royal typewriter. I’m not kidding when I say it was a knock-off: the plot involved plucky rebels stealing vital battle plans from an oppressive empire. There was a big, coincidence-heavy space battle at the end. It hit most of the low notes of the Turkey City Lexicon, and is rightfully locked away in a metal box somewhere.
My favorite bit was where a character took a chapter to explain hyperdrive, because I felt the need to justify that to the reader. At the end of a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, the character explains he doesn’t actually know how the hyperdrive works, and neither does anyone else. On with the story. I wish I could say I learned something profound from that wretched farrago, but I didn’t. It was a fun ride, though.
Things that inspire me:
Saying “anything and everything” sounds like a cop-out, so instead, here’s this. I find inspiration ill-suited to lists and categories. Inspiration should be taken wherever you can get it: a favorite movie, a snippet of overheard conversation, the sight of a bird dive-bombing your car as you drive to get milk, a juxtaposition of incompatible ideas that arise out of a half-dream at three in the morning. Hoard them, cherish them, collect them all. Be inspired by the dumbest things imaginable and hammer them into gold. Be shamelessly inspired.
Sure, why not? Hidden behind one of those monitors is the Perseverance demotivator I wrote a few years back, for the most money I’ve ever made per word ($50 a word). There are also some Rubik’s cubes back there, which I solve when I’m trying to unravel story problems. And a fake bottle of poison a friend gave me for my birthday. At least I think it’s fake. Basically, the most interesting things about my desk are not pictured here.
Works in progress:
There’s only one right now: Etheric, the sequel to Orison, which has arisen like a grim psychopomp to consume love, hope, all other story ideas, and all my tea. Which is a laborious way of saying it’s taking up all my imagination right now. Ask me again next year.
Ice cream flavor:
What? No. Who wants to narrow down such a rich, varied category? I think “ice cream” is more of a binary yes/no question, to which one should say yes whenever possible.
Are you coming on to me?
So anyway, that’s it! I’m excited to be a part of The Scriptors, and hope to see you again soon!