Author Interview - Dennis L. McKiernan
Dennis L. McKiernan is the guy who really got my wheels turning in regards to fantasy fiction. Back when I was a young teen, I'd long been into comic books and heroic stories. I'd read LOTR and Robert E. Howard's Conan books, and loved them too. Even so, I didn't really get fired up until I stumbled across a hardback copy of The Dark Tide (the first in his Iron Tower Trilogy) in the Brazoria County Library. That book and the ones that followed it were amazing, and really started me on the path to eventually writing my own fantasy stories. His writing is smooth, descriptive, and conjures visions of a lush and exciting fantasy world. You'll fall in love with his characters; he's made me cry while reading his stories more than once.
A US Air Force veteran and former electronics engineer, Dennis was hit by a car in 1977 while riding his motorcycle. During his recovery (stuck in a hip spica cast for many months) he wrote a sequel to Tolkien's LOTR. Publisher Doubleday was interested in his work and tried to obtain permission from Tolkein's estate, but they said no. Dennis rewrote his story, placing the characters in Mithgar, rather than Middle Earth, and Dennis was off and running. Since then, he's written over two dozen books in total, including his entire Mithgar series, The Faery series, and the Black Foxes books, as well as a slew of short stories. He's always been a huge inspiration to me, and he also happens to be an awesome human being. Seriously, he's really cool.
I asked him some common questions (and maybe a few not-so-common ones), and here are the results. Without further ado, I present the amazing Dennis!
1. When did you write your first story? What was it about?
a. Back in the day, a childhood friend and I used to tell stories, and we decided to write one. It had to do with an underground world where the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Incas retreated in order to escape the invading Spaniards. It was set in the 1930s and was a sort of an archaeological adventure that we tackled and immediately discovered that for elementary school kids, writing was not easy. We didn’t get past the first chapter. b. When I was in the USAF (1950-1954), my dad and I wrote a humorous detective spoof of a Micky Spillaine type of story. That one we finished and whenever we got together we would read it aloud and laugh through tears of joy. c. My dad and I continued to write short stories to one another, none of which was ever published, but we had fun doing it. d. Later, in the 1970s I wrote for a number of different dirt bike magazines: how to articles, guest editorials, event reports, and humorous articles … and they paid me for it. e. Finally, when I was run over by a car in 1977, I set my hand to pencil and legal-sized tablets and hand wrote my first Mithgar book, The Silver Call.
2. What do you use to write; pen and paper, computer, table, or maybe a dictating device?
a. I started out writing with pencil and paper, then typewriter, then mainframe computer, then PC. The Silver Call and The Iron Tower ran that full gamut, but with my next book (Dragondoom) I did that on the PC.
3. When did it dawn upon you that ‘this writing thing’ might be for you?
a. When I finished The Silver Call.
4. What inspires you to write?
a. When I get the creative itch.
i. Not for money ii. Not for love iii. Not for fame iv. Just to create something
5. What is a typical writing day like for you?
a. Well, when I am writing a novel I usually start my day (5 AM) with coffee and the newspaper b. Then I review and edit what I wrote the day before c. Then I have breakfast d. If it’s an exercise day, I move on to the rowing machine or the weights and situps etc. e. Then shower f. Then, about 10 AM I move to the computer room (my office) and input the editorial changes to yesterday’s work and that gives me a real rolling start to continue the story. g. Lunch, and more writing h. Finally, at maybe 3 PM or 4, I print out the day’s work and set it by my bedside for review and editing the next morning i. That’s my Monday-Friday schedule. I usually don’t work on the weekends unless I am burning with the story, in which case I write till the burn subsides
6. Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a café full of people and write?
a. I have done so, but don’t usually. Instead I treasure quietness when writing
7. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
a. Nope. If I kick out an average of 30-35 pages a week, I’m happy
8. How much of your story do you know for sure when you start writing? Are you ever surprised by plot twists that emerge during the process?
a. I know the beginning and ending of every novel I write, as well as some key scenes, because I contemplate the story long before I begin.
b. I am always surprised by plot twists and unplanned characters popping up as well as what comes out of various characters’ mouths
9. What are some of the most unlikely things that inspired ideas for story elements?
a. Sometimes it’s a single word that I think is a splendid word, and I think of incidents or scenes just so I can use that word. At other times its while looking something up (research) that triggers something completely unrelated to the story but I can use it in the next story, or the next chapter. I always tell myself to treat these things with caution, and make certain they fit in the tale, and when necessary to see if I need to go back and foreshadow that thing which is now in the story … or save it for the next story
10. What, according to you, is the most challenging aspect of writing?
a. Persistence, dedication, ignoring distractions
11. What would you say is your favorite part of being a writer?
a. Creating something heretofore untold
12. Have you ever been stricken with Writer’s Block? If so, how did you deal with it?
a. Nope. I have stalled while searching for the best way to set a scene, or choose just the right word, or get done with the research to make certain that “this is the way it works” or “yes, horses can really do that” or …
13. Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
a. I read thrillers and mysteries. Lee Child, John Sandford are two of my favorites. I try to stay away from Fantasy
14. Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
a. Don’t get run over by a car b. Start your Mithgar stories with Dragondoom
15. Was there a particular book that inspired you to begin writing?
a. LOTR was a huge influence. But I broke away from that with Dragondoom
16. Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
a. I am not certain that it is that different, but in the main I try to use words that fit the era that my stories are set in, but not overburden the reader with too many of those era-centric words. I also try to drop “red slippers” here and there that hint at a much storied world, with deep history. I try to avoid info dumps, but rather scatter those things forward through the story—a dribble here, a drabble there/
17. Do your novels carry a message?
a. War is hell. Ordinary people can rise to the occasion and perform extraordinary deeds. Good will triumph. There are lots of philosophical issues that get brief exposure, too: what is the essence of evil?; the nature of faith; the so-called glory of war; etc.
18. How much of yourself do you put into your books?
a. I think I am a Warrow, or a Pysk, or an Elf, or a Human b. My characters always have some reflection of me, in their outlook, their pragmatism, their belief in the goodness of others, their optimism, their gallows humor, and so on
19. Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
a. Some of my characters have a limp from a shattered thigh bone
20. How did it feel when your first book got published?
a. I was elated
21. Was there a point when you really felt like you had ‘made it’ as an author?
a. When I was signed to a contract for three books that I could choose to write with no strings attached
22. Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?
a. I am retired now, but I did have a great career as an electronics engineer with Bell Labs, in R&D, in Anti Ballistic Missile Defense Systems, and other cutting edge work
23. Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?
a. It did, but I always managed to scribble some words in the cracks of each day
24. Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?
a. Yes. A collection of short stories that I had written for other books, other publishers and that I wished to collect together, They are now in a kindle eBook Strange Reflections
25. Do you enjoy book signings?
26. What was your favorite interaction with a fan?
a. During a blizzard in Columbus Ohio, over icy roads and through howling wind and flying snow one guy showed up at a long-scheduled reading at a local bookstore. I read to him.
27. Which of your books would you most like to see adapted as a movie?
a. The easiest book to turn into a movie is Once Upon a Winter’s Night
28. Have you ever written a character based on yourself in some part? Someone you know?
a. Once MLee (Dennis' wife) asked me to put a particularly obnoxious coworker into a book and kill him. I did. He died a particularly bloody death
29. Are you working on something new at the moment?
a. I have started a novelette set in Mithgar
30. What advice would you like to give all those aspiring writers out there?
a. Have an education that will get you a good job while waiting to become a famous writer
If you're interested in checking out Dennis' books, you can find them on his Amazon page. You can also find more information on his website, Mithgar.com, as well as the Facebook group, Dennis L McKiernan's Mithgar.