I had the pleasure of meeting the fantastic D.A. Adams at ConNooga almost a year ago. We meet again some months later at FandomFest. He’s a very friendly and helpful guy, and took the time to talk to me about MFAs and writing in general. He’s an incredibly skilled writer and I was very lucky to be able to get an interview with him. So without further delay, here are some great words of wisdom from him.
- How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
My family is primarily from the foothills of the Smokies in Tennessee, and most of my childhood was spent playing outdoors. Those experiences help me tremendously when I’m writing in a fantasy setting because I have a wealth of firsthand information from which I can draw. Also, pretty much everyone I knew was either a farmer or a laborer, so my writing reflects that red and blue collar upbringing because I have a deep appreciation and understanding of the nobility of labor. That’s why I gravitated towards dwarves; they are the blue collar class of fantasy fiction.
- What was your first experience with writing?
In the third grade, I wrote a picture book about how a cat, a dog, and a bird invented the game of hide-and-seek. I think my mom still has it somewhere. After that, I spent most of my childhood making up stories.
- When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I received my first rejection letter for a short story. I tacked it to the wall by my Brother word processor where I wrote daily . Each one I received went on that wall. My roommate at the time, whose father was an accomplished poet and book reviewer, commented that he knew I was a professional because I didn’t let that first rejection dissuade me.
- What inspired you to write your first book?
Back around 2002, I had given up on writing because of the terrible experience I had gone through in graduate school from 1997-99. My creative spirit had been stifled by the program. Then one night, while watching The Two Towers, I realized that what I really wanted to write was fantasy adventure. It was why I’d gotten into writing to begin with. But my confidence was fragile, so I didn’t immediately start writing. At first, I just thought about what kind of story I would want to write if I ever chose to write a novel. Then, I started jotting down notes. Pages and pages of notes. I made notes for close to a year, still with no plan to write anything.
Then, I saw my first son’s heartbeat on an ultrasound. As I watched that little speck fluttering away on the grainy screen, my creative spirit, which had been dormant for many years, came back to life. I knew if I was going to be a good father, I had to be true to myself. That meant writing this story I had been building, being true to myself as a storyteller, so I went to work and haven’t looked back.
- Would you say you have a specific writing style? What is it?
I’m a bit of a minimalist. I like the concept of tightly written prose with little filler, but I’m not sure that I’m a true minimalist because my books are so fast-paced. Maybe I’m a hyper-minimalist. Is that a literary style? Honestly, I don’t think much about style. I just write what feels right and then work closely with my editors to polish it into a narrative with a good flow.
- What books have most influenced you most?
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was probably my favorite book as a kid. It was my favorite of the Narnia series. As a young college student, I was mesmerized by Steppenwolf, so much so that it’s tattooed on my arm. The Glass Bead Game is probably a better novel, but Steppenwolf had more impact. Later on in college, Song of Solomon probably had the most profound effect on me as a writer; the layers and depth of that book still astound me. Bonfire of the Vanities, too.
- If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor or a source of inspiration?
In 92 or 93, I met Harry Crews at the University of Memphis. I was part of a team of undergrads who interviewed him for a project sponsored by the River City Writers Series. We hit it off instantly, and I went on to read all of his books. He probably gave me the most inspiration to write because we had come from a similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and his writing speaks to me on a very personal level.
- What book are you reading now?
Unfortunately, I don’t get to read much, other than the materials I teach for composition classes and student essays. One day, I hope to get to read what I love again.
- What are your current projects?
I’m currently working on book four in the Brotherhood of Dwarves series.
- Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I would be ashamed to share any rough material before it’s been polished and rewritten. My rough drafts are just that, and after how much I preach to my students about rewriting, I would feel hypocritical if I showed something before following my own process.
- Do you see writing as your career?
This is a tough one. In my heart, yes. I’m a writer. But in reality, most of my living is made by teaching, so I feel uncomfortable saying that writing is my career because I don’t earn my living from it. Ultimately, that is my goal, however. I want to write full-time.
- What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? How do you meet deadlines?
I prefer to write 5-6 days a week, with both daily and weekly page goals. I’m more of a slow, plodding writer, so my goals would probably seem modest to most, but as long as I stay on my path, I’m content with my progress. Deadlines are important because they force us to remained disciplined.
- What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For book one, it was the combination of the birth of my first son and the deaths of my paternal grandparents. That was a rough mix of emotions and caused a five month delay right in the middle of the book. For book two, it was working two jobs and being a new parent. I often wrote after putting in a 12 hour day on a couple hours of sleep. For book three, it was going through my divorce and losing custody of my sons. That was a deep wound and caused an 18 month delay in the manuscript.
- How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I definitely don’t consciously use formulas. I go into each book with a tentative chapter outline and then let the characters build the plot through their actions. The characters live somewhere inside my head and to me are as real as any person. When I’m writing, they tell me where the story is going and when I take a misstep. For me, the most important part is to get out of their way and let them tell the story.
- Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I’ve learned with each manuscript, from that first really bad one I wrote as an undergrad to the one I’m working on now. I’ve learned to tighten my prose and steady my pace. I’ve learned to build and release tension. I’ve learned to write stronger dialogue. I hope I’ve improved with each book.
- Can you take us through the steps for one of getting published?
Most importantly, learn patience. There are numerous paths to breaking through. I know of a fairly successful Western writer whose big break was that the editor grabbed his manuscript from the slush pile on the way to lunch and liked it. That’s one path. Some writers network and build relationships with editors and publishers. Some, like me, choose to self-publish at first and then work to get picked up by a larger publisher. There is no one correct path, and there are no guarantees. If people choose to enter this profession, they must accept that probability says they will fail. Far more fail than succeed. If they are persistent and lucky, they might earn a meager living at it. If they are exceptionally lucky, they might have a big hit, but those bestsellers are the exception, not the rule, so if writers aren’t willing to accept that they may never make a dime, they should probably do something else. I don’t want to come across as mean-spirited, but the reality is that writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. There is a lot of competition, and the profession demands dedication and devotion and persistence.
- Do you have any advice for other writers?
On the surface, this will sound contradictory, but first and foremost, writers must trust their own creative voice. They must listen to the story inside them and get the rough draft out. That’s the hardest part. Then, they must put their own ego aside and listen to their editors. Only foolish people believe everything they write is genius. Editors see things writers miss or stumble over and help smooth out the narrative for the audience. Ultimately, the audience is who matters most, so writers should let go of self-indulgence and allow their editors to do their jobs.
- Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for taking your time and hard-earned money and buying my books. I appreciate every single sale. Thank you for reading my work and taking the time to tell me what you liked and didn’t. I appreciate every bit of feedback, positive and negative. Please forgive me for how long it has taken me to get each book to market. Life has thrown many obstacles in my path, and I apologize for my delays. I hope you’ll find book three has been worth the wait. I feel like it’s a solid work and is a great bridge for the middle of the series. Finally, please feel free to post comments on my blog and social media pages. I love talking to readers and try to respond to everyone individually, so please, share your thoughts and feelings and experiences with me.
D. A. Adams was born in Florida but was raised in East Tennessee. He received a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of Memphis in 1999 and has taught college English for over a decade. His first novel, The Brotherhood of Dwarves, was released in 2005 and has been described as “a solid, honest work about camaraderie, bravery, and sacrifice.” In 2008, the sequel, Red Sky at Dawn, was released to the exaltation that “this novel thunders along, at times with dizzying speed. The action is visceral and imaginative without being gratuitous.” Currently, Adams is working on the third installment of the five book series, The Fall of Dorkuhn.
In terms of writing style, Adams exhibits an effortless narrative voice and a masterful balance between richly detailed descriptions and tightly worded minimalism. The pacing of his stories is breathtaking, with relentless action and captivating plot twists that keep readers riveted page after page. But his true talent as a writer lies in character development. Readers find themselves empathizing with, fearing for, and cheering on the characters as they overcome their personal shortcomings and grow as fully rendered individuals.
Adams is also the father of two wonderful sons and, despite his professional accomplishments, maintains that they are his greatest achievement in life. He resides in East Tennessee with his life partner, Mari.
You can follow D.A. Adams on facebook here and you can visit his website and learn more about him and his writings here.