Contemporary Fantasy Review

Interview with D.P. Prior

Posted in Uncategorized by conradlevy on July 21, 2011

CFL: Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the work of D.P. Prior, and you probably already know about his first book, The Resurrection of Deacon Shader. He’s a well-known figure in indie fantasy circles, not only through his writing, but also through his editing services. His latest book, Cadman’s Gambit, is a retelling of that story, but it’s much more. Here’s an edited transcript of our recent Skype interview.

Derek, can you tell us what was the inspiration behind revisiting the original work, which I thought was pretty damned good?

DPP: Well, Conrad, it wasn’t so much inspiration as necessity. I’d had a fairly good run with Resurrection and was two thirds through writing the sequel when I realized just how much I’d changed as a writer. Resurrection was very old school – way too much telling from the outside, mixed points of view, verbosity, and characters about as bland as tofu.

CFL: No, really? Didn’t I give that book 5 stars?

DPP: You did, and that’s great, but … Why the heck did you do that?

CFL: You know, I think it was the freshness. Looking back, I’d agree with what you say. It’s not in the contemporary style and yes, the characters are a bit word-perfect, but it was an enjoyable read. I think the concepts were staggering and the way you wove in all the theology was really new.

DPP: But a bit in your face, maybe?

CFL: Well, yes: if you want to send a message, use Royal Mail.

DPP: It was all there, in some shape or form. Resurrection had most of the characters and concepts I wanted to write about, but for me, what it lacked was immediacy, characters that walked off the page, believable relationships, and a fully-fleshed-out world.

CFL: So it was like a point of departure for the new book?

DPP: Exactly. It’s the bare bones. A preliminary sketch. The sequel was shaping up really well, but I was faced with the problem of who was going to read the sequel if they didn’t like the original (and by this stage I didn’t like it myself). I finally bit the bullet and sent Resurrection to John Jarrold for a fresh edit. John basically confirmed what I felt and then some. He gave me some great pointers for how I could improve the manuscript and I set to work on it straight away. Within days, though, I got frustrated with the structure, the plot, the characters, to the extent that I knew it was going to be easier to start over from scratch.

CFL: That must hurt.

DPP: Funnily enough, it didn’t at first. I rewrote the opening couple of chapters and ran them by John. He saw the improvement immediately and that confirmed I was on the right track. By the time I’d written Dr Cadman’s opening scene, I knew this was the book I wanted to write. That character literally came alive and was an absolute joy to write.

CFL: And to read, I must say. I zipped through the preview copy you sent me in a day. Cadman is such a fun character to read, always commenting on everything; wonderfully two-faced.

DPP: He’s got a whole hidden nature, which the reader gets access to via his POV thoughts.

CFL: Something you’ve not used a lot of before.

DPP: That’s right. I’ve even been quite critical of the use of first person thoughts in a third person narrative, but I gave it a shot and it seemed to work really well.

CFL: It’s well measured. Some writers have overdone it in the past. But it’s not just Cadman. All the characters have a new depth to them and they each have their own voice. I was shocked to see the developments in Lallia and Rhiannon; and Gaston – he’s gone from being fairly incomprehensible to one of the strongest, supporting characters I’ve seen in recent times.

DPP: He’s a tough one to crack. Judging by what he does, you should hate him, but he’s become a lot more human, and much harder to condemn.

CFL: And Shader himself, he’s so nuanced now. His conflicts are much more marked, but he has these new layers of personality that really pull you into his POV. You know, I think all the hard work paid off.

DPP: I hope so. Glad you liked it, but we’ll have to see what happens when it goes live. I wonder if anyone will get frustrated by the cliffhanger.

CFL: Not if book 2’s just around the corner. What was that about, anyway? Is it a shrewd marketing ploy?

DPP: Not initially! I realized it was a good move after I’d made the decision. Originally, the rewrite of Resurrection was going be an immense book of 1000+pages. When it started getting really unwieldy, I split it into two, but then the first half of the that became massive. After a long discussion with one of my readers, I decided to find a natural break, midway through the book and then reworked it to achieve a satisfying ending. I think it leads really well into book 2, and then book 2 has an even bigger cliffhanger before we get the big resolution in book 3.

CFL: So, you’re saying that if someone has read Resurrection they’ll be very much surprised by this new trilogy.

DPP: Extremely surprised. Not just in the ways the story has changed (and grown), but also in the language.

CFL: How did that come about?

DPP: Initially through discussions with my editor, Harry DeWulf. It seemed some of the well-mannered speech from Resurrection was still finding its way into a few of the lowlife characters.

CFL: The assassins?

DPP: Harry thought one or two of them sounded like Donald Wolfit or Basil Rathbone. I decided to stop trying to control them so much, and stopped worrying about who I might offend if the language got a little more colorful.

CFL: Indeed, it certainly is more colorful, but entirely appropriate to the context. Not at all gratuitous.

DPP: It’s how real people speak. I also managed to find distinctive voices for the Sahulian characters, which contrasts with the educated speech of the Nousians. The Dreamers, too, have their own idiosyncrasies.

CFL: Did your own editing work help with this process? Would you recommend a comparison of the original Resurrection with Cadman’s Gambit for new writers?

DPP: To answer the second point first, no! Actually, it would be useful for illustration if I were running a workshop; but generally, I wouldn’t want people to waste their time and money reading the original now. I think I’ve achieved what I wanted to with Cadman’s Gambit. It’s the book I would have written years ago if I’d had the writing tools I now have.

As far as editing is concerned, yes it has helped enormously. It’s increased my focus on the mechanics and the process, and it’s forced me to keep considering how every word, sentence, passage, chapter comes across to a reader. Often, manuscripts I receive are in first draft, where the writer is essentially telling themselves the story. They have all sorts of advantages: they know what they intend, they are able to fill in all the blanks. But when you put this sort of thing in front of a reader, it’s a whole different ball game. My own redrafting has been very much focused on how to present the story to the reader. It’s involved a lot of focus on pace, tension, conflict, succinctness, language. Language is the big one. It’s something I’m always simplifying these days. Unless the character calls for it (someone like Cadman, for example) it’s nearly always best to go for the familiar words that we use in every day speech.

CFL: Is it more difficult to do this with your own work than with the work of others? Is it harder to see the wood for the trees when it’s your own baby?

DPP: Are you mixing metaphors? I think it is, at least at first. That’s why I do so many read throughs of the text and seek the opinions of editors and beta readers. A writer needs distance from their work before they can really appraise it. I achieved that by sending the manuscript off to my editor and banning myself from looking at it for six weeks whilst he worked on it. I then made my revisions, left it some more, and then read it out loud. I had my proof reader go over it, which allowed me another break, before reading it again. This was meant to be the final check, but I made over 700 alterations – mostly very minor things to do with language. That meant I needed a final reading (another 200 corrections!). Even at that stage I still found a few things I needed to tweak. My biggest problem was knowing when to stop. I’m so obsessional this process could go on forever. In the end I had to send it off for formatting before I started another set of revisions!

With editing other people’s work, I immediately have the perspective of a reader and so can see the difficulties much easier. The hardest thing with editing other people is that I can’t be quite as obsessional as I am with myself. On the first sweep, I flag up all the issues as I see them, correct copy, and send the manuscript back to the writer. The writer then has to choose whether or not to implement the suggestions. If they choose to ignore my suggestions, I have to respect that. It’s their book and I’ve done my duty by making them aware of things that I see as problematic. It’s actually very rare that this happens. Mostly, writers take another look at the offending passage and apply a different perspective.

CFL: Not to ask you to be a name-dropped, but you do seem to have a list of very successful clients.

DPP: I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the most hard-working and talented indie fantasy writers over the past year. Some of these writers were very new to publishing when I ran into them, and others had already put out a large volume of work.

CFL: Any huge egos or prima donnas?

DPP: You can’t seriously expect me to comment. But no, really, I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had a great time working closely with writers such as David Dalglish, M.R. Mathias, Moses Siregar III, Valmore Daniels. The list goes on. I can honestly say they’ve all been a pleasure to work with. You know, the more experienced the author, the easier it is to work with them. First time writers can have a bit of difficulty adjusting to the editor-writer relationship, but I’ve only ever been impressed by how willing everyone’s been to listen to what I have to say and work out the best way forward. I think writers often get an unfair rap for being egocentric, narcissistic megalomaniacs. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but my experience has been much more positive than that, and I’ve also learned a lot in return.

CFL: And so we come full-circle to how you’ve impacted on their work and how they’ve had an effect on yours.

DPP: You might need to ask them that question! I suspect I’ve helped a lot of writers with point of view issues, immediacy, word usage. I am quite pedantic about these things and won’t let something go without at least flagging it up. I hope I’ve also been encouraging; I want writers to feel enthusiastic and energized after going through an edit with me. The last thing I want is anyone getting disheartened.

In return, I’ve been inspired by the hard work and productivity many of these authors show. I’m sure I’ve picked up on little bits of style from them, as well as from mainstream writers I’ve been exposed to. Looking so closely at other people’s work reveals the mechanics of their style to me and hopefully makes me more aware of my own craft than before. It’s a very rewarding relationship, one that I hope has been mutually beneficial.

CFL: I’m sure it has been. Thanks for talking with me, Derek, and good luck with the launch of Cadman’s Gambit. I know I enjoyed it very much and can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. You are sending me a copy, right?

DPP: My pleasure. Thanks, Conrad.


4 Responses

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  1. Moses Siregar III said, on July 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I loved this interview. Derek is one of my editors, and I know some things about the process he’s gone through with his own books, but this filled in some other details I didn’t know.

    Thanks very much for the interview! I’m really looking forward to reading Cadman’s Gambit.

    Btw, Derek, I loved the part about third-person and first-person thoughts. 😀

  2. conradlevy said, on August 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks, Moses. I was wondering if I should have posted the full interview. I’ve had a quick look at your new release, BTW. Very impressive formatting.

  3. Moses Siregar III said, on August 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks very much, Conrad!

  4. D. P. Prior (@derekpprior) said, on October 13, 2011 at 5:26 am

    BTW, Conrad, Book 2, Best Laid Plans is out at last! Thanks for the interview and thanks to Moses for chipping in. Moses’ The Black God’s War is a very polished book and well worth a read.

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