JP - Welcome to my blog, Mr. Dalton! Say hello, everyone. This is my oldest brother, who’s a father-physician assistant-triathlete-writer by day, exhausted by night. He’s been grabbing great reviews for his science fiction novel Houses of Common.
DWD - Thanks. I have to admit some disappointment. When the alert pops up in my email that you wrote another blog post, the excitement of ignoring my responsibilities to read it will be dampened because I'll already know the ending. Your blog is fantastic.
JP – Why, thank you. Your book is fantastic. With blog tours happening all month this has to be a pretty exciting time for you. How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?
DWD - Reviews from people I don't even know! Yes, I'm very excited. I was a guest poster (not Guess poster—that was Claudia Schiffer) for The Bearded Scribe (here). I had an interview with Cynthia Rodriguez who's an active duty soldier in Afghanistan (here). She also posted an excerpt of Houses of Common.
But holding my book? This may sound weird, but really, this is the experience. On day one of physician assistant school, we had a presentation on addiction recovery. The presenter was a counselor who facilitated rehab, and told his own story of addiction. "The first time I ever had a beer was the first time in my life I felt normal." When I pulled that first copy of Houses of Common out of the box, there was a brief rush of excitement of course, but mostly, I felt normal. More normal. As though I understood the concept of normal more accurately than before. Having the final manuscript safely backed up in three places was exciting, like when I was dating a certain redhead. Holding the book with the cover art and my name on it? That was being married to the redhead, realizing how much more real the relationship was. Not tentative, not inhibited. Normal.
Seeing the movie version of the novel? That would be later. The kids and the messy house and the crazy schedule and the lack of sleep and the "remember when it was just us?" Or so I imagine.
JP – Oh, man, your book would make such a great movie! And I’m sure watching your own characters on the big screen would be something like parenthood—only without the smells. If your book did become a movie, one of my favorite scenes would be the chase through the entire solar system. I won’t divulge too much, but I love that in the future you created there is a Planetary Parks and Preserves department, and they don't mess around with vandalism. What about you? Favorite scene.
DWD—Speaking of vandalism, chapter two involves some that was satisfying to write. The main character, Ranyk, has enough with commercials. Being in orbit with the satellites, he decides to do something about it. Other favorite scenes? One character is a kindergarten teacher, and watches her husband help with class science lessons. She sees the depth of his kindness despite his harsh upbringing. Ranyk's sister is the head of security for a US Embassy. She simultaneously beats up an employee who attacks her and calls the office staff to inform them he's fired. Without a break, she blasts into orbit to take out an assassin. Ever wonder what would happen if Star Trek superfans actually had starships? You'll meet one. Perhaps my favorite scene is when Ranyk earns himself a contempt of court charge.
JP—All great scenes. I’m especially fond of the Trekie. Very memorable, for sure, and that’s one of the things I love about your book. Not only is there cool action, your characters are deep and complex. You know, like me.
One of the things that intrigues me most about Houses of Common is the Office of Terraformation. You’ve obviously done a ton of research. For those of us not well versed on terraformation, give us a quick crash course.
Office of Terraformation T-shirts! Sweet, right?
DWD - Heehee! You sure you want me to get all geeky? Too late! Terraformation is converting a planet's environment so humans can live there. With Mars for example, the hypothesized plan includes spreading photosynthetic bacteria on the surface to increase oxygen and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and to darken the surface so more sunlight is converted to heat. The next step is getting plants to grow, and there are some successes with this already in lab-simulated Martian environments. A tough part with Mars is its lack of magnetic field. Solar radiation would blast the new atmosphere into space. I know that's going to keep you up at night now. All those poor molecules, drifting away toward the asteroid belt…
It's a centuries-long process, but I figure in that the future scientists will be able to tinker with genes such that it's decades instead. And why not tinker with genes of the humans so they can tolerate a harsher environment?
JP—I find my mind blown. I do have a serious problem with your book, though. One of your characters has devoted his life to flying around the galaxy terraforming. He’s just walked into a lab where they train people in the skills necessary to make a planet livable:
“To humans, Ranyk was sure the place held a rich, garden aroma, the lights dusting it with a supernatural glow. To him it dispensed a heavy, palpable fog, reverberating with life and defiance. Here chaos and entropy were toppled from thrones of tyranny, shackled with the genes of living cells. In this abandoned warehouse was Ranyk’s purpose in microcosm; the filling of a void with life, whether it be an empty pot, a roof top, a continent, or an entire planet.”
So hold on there, Shakespeare. I thought this was sci-fi. What’s with all this stirring prose? Are you trying to sneak culture into my action/adventure? I’ll tell Mom.
DWD - Tell Mom what? That I wrote... Oh. You mean tell her about that other thing. It's been 25 years. I think you're bluffing, and if not, I don't think she'll care anymore.
No, I'm not sneaking culture into sci-fi, I'm showing 20th century literary fiction authors how to write a book that doesn't suck.
JP—First of all, which other thing? The projectile egg, the kitchen slip-n-slide, or the cat bowling? Because I think she already knows about all of those. We weren’t as sneaky as we thought. As for sneakiness, I still think you’re trying to pull a fast one on us, but I like it. I think all authors should try to find a balance between literary quality and entertainment. Otherwise, we’ll all be, like, dumb. Or bored. Literally.
DWD – I didn’t know Mom knew. Well there goes my leverage.
JP—The cat bowling got me thinking about being kids, and I just remembered our one and only childhood fight. You’re so, so much older than me, that we never really got into it. But, there was this one time that you were playing catch with me in the yard. You kept throwing it too hard and scaring me so I chucked the ball at you, missed by a mile, threw my mitt down and yelled, “You’re throwing it too hard, you butt head!” *exit stage left, huffily*. Remember?
DWD - Yeah, now that you mention it. It was the "butt head" that reminded me. That was the go-to insult at our house.
JP—Quite so. With occasional variation. My point is, it’s kind of like writing. First drafts are usually a bit…not ready. It takes guts to write garbage, throw it out, try again, get it less garbagy and then give it to people to criticize. Readers throw critiques at you and it hurts. But then you realize, Hey, I listened and now that part isn’t garbage anymore. Behind every good book, there is someone who threw some really hard edits at the writer. You helped me immensely with my novel, and I was absolutely indispensable to you. See how I brought that back around to me? It’s because I’m the youngest.
Really though, thanks for being willing to throw hard stuff at my face. Wait—I just had another memory. I’m pitching you a softball, you’re swinging the bat, CRACK—it’s slow-motion now—the ball bounces once right in front of me. POW! Right in the kisser! I COMPLETELY FORGOT YOU BROKE MY FACE WITH A SOFTBALL! I TAKE IT ALL BACK, YOU BUTTHEAD!
DWD - Umm, sorry? You got a good life lesson out of it. That's what I was thinking when I did those things. "Someday, she'll see the benefit of blah blah blah."
JP—You’re right. It was a long time ago and I forgive you. Good thing you can run faster than me. And longer. Isn’t running when you get most of your ideas? And how do you deal with being miles from your computer when inspiration hits? How’s the Iron Man training coming? And one more—are you nuts?
DWD - Running's the thing. See, I'm severely limited in what mind altering substances I can use. Limited professionally and by my internal moral compass. But, running is my trigger for endorphins. That's short for endogenous morphine. Yep, you read that correctly. Morphine! I'm a better cook of better goods than Mr. Breaking Bad, and the only equipment I need is good shoes. Of course, I can't sell mine... Cycling works too, but not swimming. Probably because my brain is concentrating on not drowning.
JP—You go scary fast on your bike. My body wouldn’t make endorphins if I went that fast. It would make wee wee.
DWD—All the way home? Ideas also come because I run on trails instead of the street. One of them is through national forest and 300-year old trees. Is my life real? My job? Human civilization? Yeah, but I look at the size and age of those trees. The sounds of leaves and grass and wind and the chemistry of photosynthesis. I smell the soil and needles and think of the complexity of bacteria and fungi in the ground. Millions of species and billions of years. That's reality. It rocks my world and makes "real" life boring.
JP--You sound like your character Ranyk. I think you would have been a terraformer had you been born a tad later, or maybe you already are, you just use words instead of genes.
But, you're out in the middle of the fungus and photosynthesis when an idea comes. What, do you whisper it to the trees and they pass the message along to the big pine in your back yard?
DWD—That's me, the plant plot whisperer. I've texted myself before. Tried association tricks with my fingers or mnemonic devices. My trail running pack has paper and pencil. It all works as long as I write it down when I get home. I can remember until then, but "real" life doesn't like new ideas and pushes them into oblivion. I did an off-road triathlon several years ago. I wasn't competitive at all, but when I crossed the finish line I ignored the hot girl handing out water and ignored the cramps in my calves and thighs and ran for a paper and pen. Those notes became three fat chapters and two plot twists. So now that the book is published, I draw on the principle of degrees of separation and tell people I'm a professional triathlete.
JP—I've seen you go dashing for paper, and I've done it myself, though not as quickly. My ideas used to come in the shower, so I started jotting notes on the shower wall with dry erase markers. Turns out they have to be dry in order to erase. I've got four kids now and I don't get to shower, so my muse has become the laundry. Okay, I don't want to talk about that anymore because I might cry a little bit. I love my kids but I do not love their dirty clothes. Let's talk about other things that take all day, like the Ironman.
DWD—Getting ready for the Ironman is going well. There's a growing trend in training schedules to back off on the long workouts and focus on intensity. The hypothesis is that pushing the anaerobic threshold up in short killer workouts rather than long death marches, then backing off and staying under that threshold for the race, is a more efficient use of training time. I was an almost mediocre contestant for seven years, just having fun. But I threw weight lifting and body weight training into the routine, and last year I turned in an above-average finish in an Olympic distance race. That's when I knew an Ironman was a possibility without ignoring my family for five months. They didn't even know I was training or planning to compete until three months in.
Nuts? Maybe. I prefer to be called a socially acceptable morphine addict whose habits have beneficial side-effects.
JP—One of those beneficial side-effects is writing wicked good books, so keep running! And please finish the next soon! Thanks for including me in your tour, bro.
Houses of Common is available on Kindle here, and paperback here with a code for $4 off (APSQBFT8). But if you want a FREE SIGNED COPY, be the first to leave a comment or question. Maybe he’ll even kiss the title page with lipstick. Heeeehee. That would be hilarious!
Help DWD keep his dream progressing by leaving a review, or marking existing reviews as helpful on Amazon, and liking his page/sharing this interview on Facebook. He also has a page on Goodreads.
DWD’s blog is here if you want to stay up to date on the novels and short stories available. You MUST read Sterile Field. An excerpt is included with Houses of Common, but I promise you, it won’t be enough.
Any final words, DWD?
DWD—Mom! Jessie's the one that threw the egg in the kitchen!
JP—Lies! I was the one who bonked you on the head with the meat tenderizer causing you to throw the hard boiled egg into the living room. Wait! No—it was Tyler! Absolutely that was Tyler. And I will delete any comment he posts that says otherwise. Because this is MY blog. And I’m the baby.