Today I’m interviewing author Kevin Wright who is the author of the Danse book series. Kevin is an author, pastor, husband and Dad who enjoys spending time with his family while watching football and movies.
1. What made you first realize you were a writer?
Actually, that would be the work of my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Oretta Smith. Every Friday, she would have a special “Creative Writing” session, where we’d write short stories, poems, etc., and I just fell in love with writing. That’s why I dedicated my first book to Mrs. Smith (because I promised her way back in third grade that I would).
2. How long have you been writing?
Apparently, since the third grade…But I started writing my first book back in 2011.
3. What is your writing background?
Writing was actually one of my minors in college—so believe it or not, I’ve actually been a smidgey bit trained to do this. Between that and working in the private sector in public relations offices and then teaching for decades (writing lesson plans and weekly sermons) I’ve done a lot of writing on a regular basis.
4. Where do you get your ideas?
They come from all over the place. Since my first books have been in the horror genre, an amazing number of ideas have actually come from really bad dreams. So I always try to scribble notes to myself when I wake up terrified by something.
But to me, a good story isn’t just the “jump scares”—it’s all about the real-world, human interactions that build the framework for the scary bits.
You have to help the audience to care about your characters, or else it’s all just so much pandering. So with that in mind, I find a lot of ideas in my interactions with my own friends and family.
A joke that my daughter told me when she was three, a moment with my dog, that ridiculous fight I had with my brother when we were kids in the backyard, etc.
Everything in life is part of the overarching narrative of everyone else’s narratives, so interweaving those narratives in a new form and context is half the fun of writing.
5. Do you prefer to write fiction or nonfiction? Why?
I actually write a good deal of nonfiction in my “day jobs” (which tend to revolve around teaching one subject or another), and I derive a lot of satisfaction from that. But in terms of personally having fun writing, I enjoy getting myself lost in the story of a good fiction piece—the little dip in the pond of writing a short story, or the plunge into the ocean of my novel series.
6. What was the process of writing your first book like?
As I said in #3, I’ve done a lot of writing over the years, but it’s always been in relatively short bursts—short stories, lesson plans, articles, etc. So when I sat down to write my first full-length book, I decided to cheat a little.
I thought of each chapter like its own short story, then interspersed “Background” chapters in-between each of those. That way, I could adopt different “voices” when writing and keep myself interested as I went along.
Besides, since I could only really write on the single day off that I had each week, it was helpful to think in distinct aesthetic packages, since there would often be a week in-between writing sessions for me, and that makes it far too easy to get out of the “zone” of your overall story-line.
It took me a year of Tuesdays to write the first book, but it helped to have a clear outline prepared in advance so that I never lost sight of where things were going, who gets killed by whom, etc.
7. What is the message you hope people will receive from it?
Well, it’s a horror/fantasy detective story, so on a surface level, I just hope that they enjoy it.But yes, there’s a bit of depth there underneath, for those who look for that sort of thing.
After reading countless books where the characters were two-dimensional cut-outs, and others where you’re actually supposed to be rooting for the monsters, I wanted to write a book where—even in the midst of the most fantastical elements—the characters were relatable and real, but where the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad.
That might sound trite to our modern ears, but it’s actually a bit of a novelty these days to balance that in believable ways. The truth is, evil is often portrayed as sexy and enticing—or at least sympathetically understandable.
But I’ve dealt with enough truly evil people and situations in my life that I wanted to show that when it comes down to it, evil’s pretty much always ugly, toxic, and destructive. But it is beatable.
8. When is your ideal time to write? (Morning/Afternoon/Night)
I like to write in the mornings, because I’m fresh (and because there’s always a chance that I can mine some sort of horrible nightmare—see #4 above). Besides, that way, if I really get into the zone of a chunk of the story, I can just stick with it all day.
But in terms of productivity, I probably get my best writing done at night, after my family goes to bed. With no interruptions by loved ones or phone calls, I can throw myself into the process and not mentally come back out for several hours.
9. Do you have a favorite character that you like to write about specifically?
My favorite character to write is probably Pieter Durant. He’s got such a rich history and dry sense of humor that it’s always a blast to go spelunking into his world. On top of that, it’s a great writing exercise to try to focus on his old-fashioned British sort of dialogue, and to plumb the psyche of someone who’s gone through everything that he’s experienced in his life.
But Tom Chapel is probably the easiest character I’ve ever written, because he’s got my basic “voice” in how he presents himself. He thinks differently than I do on several issues, but he’s still the easiest narrator to slide into for me.
10. How do you go about your editing, interior formatting and cover design? Can you recommend anyone you work with?
Well, first off, I recommend having it done well. A lot of writers don’t like having their work edited any more than they would like watching their children get dissected, but you have to recognize that the very reason that it hurts is the very reason that it’s crucial—you’re too close to the material.
Luckily, I have several friends who are grammar and content Nazis, with professional backgrounds and experience that make them perfect editors for me. They can shred a chapter, then we can go eat pizza together.
As for interior design, I just pulled several books off of my shelves and formatted the books to follow the same size, fonts, layouts, etc. Again, if that’s not something that you can do yourself and have it look professional, then it’s worth getting a professional to do it for you.
The same thing goes with the cover. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around artistic people who can help me with that sort of thing (so no, I don’t have anyone that I can recommend), but I strongly advise people to hire a professional to create the cover for you, if you can afford it.
People shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or interior layout… but they still always do. The sad truth is that professionalism usually fades into the background and just makes everything run smoother for the reader, whereas amateur work screams amateurism and pulls people out of your narrative.
11. When you aren’t writing, how do you spend your time?
Well, I work full-time as a pastor and teach part-time in the philosophy department of a local college, so I keep busy. I love football and watching the Cubs win, and my offices are all filled to the brim with books that I’ve read, but my all-time, hands-down, favorite thing in the world to do is to snuggle with my wife, children, and dog and watch a really good movie.
12. What is your next book about?
I can’t tell you. No, seriously—my son is the only one who knows what the newest “monster” is going to be in the next book, so I can’t tell you.
Well, I guess I can tell you that it will be concluding the trilogy of Chicago Police Detective Tom Chapel investigating the monstrous underworld in Chicago that most people don’t recognize, which itself is just the tip of the iceberg of a whole hidden history of the world and how it works.
And I can mention the Queen of the Vampires here, can’t I?
13. What are some of your favorite books and who are your favorite authors?
This question took me a while to answer, because there’s so many ways to think of it. I think the best, most brilliant authors I’ve ever read are people like Alexander Pope, Umberto Eco, or Edgar Allan Poe—the guys who think about every word, every turn of phrase, every comma usage and how it will serve the narrative.
But those aren’t the guys that I usually sit down and read for fun. I tend to enjoy reading authors like Michael Crichton, Michael Moorcock, and Alistair MacLean—the ones who keep you moving along the page at a breakneck pace, wincing every time a chapter ends and you’re left thinking, “But I just can’t stop here!”
And yet, the little kid in me still loves getting lost in fantastical worlds created by classic writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Frank Herbert, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.—the guys who can make you think that green, four-armed Martians make total sense.
As for specific books, I love “The Hunt for Red October” (Tom Clancy at his best), “Watership Down” (by Richard Adams), “Ender’s Game” (by Orson Scott Card), and others like that.
Okay, I know that some people might not see any commonality in those books, but I see them as works that are immersive, with well-realized worlds, engaging characters, and tight plotting. World-building is a huge deal to me, and I can’t stand it when even an interesting idea is done poorly.
14. What are you reading currently?
The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps (by Edward Brooke-Hitching). Don’t judge me—I’m a history nerd. But I ran across it when I was on vacation with my wife in Seattle, and I couldn’t put it down.
15. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write. Write for the sake of writing. Keep writing—make a discipline of it—and don’t let the business end of things or the tyrannies of the rest of your weekly schedule get in your way. Write because you love putting pen to paper and creating worlds with words. Remind yourself what a joy that is, no matter if you ever make a red cent off of it or not.
16. What has been your biggest obstacle as an author?
To be honest? All of the business of the business. When I started out, I was productive, I was happy, and I was making other people happy… and then I tried to get the books out to a larger audience, and things got all complicated.
Publishing and promoting the books took up more and more of my time (which is somewhat limited to begin with), and other people’s egos intruded on what was originally just a simple process of creative joy. I eventually found myself dreading many of the responsibilities and expectations surrounding writing, and that messed with my head after a while.
So you could say that my biggest obstacle has been the publishing/sales aspects of writing, but if I’m really honest with myself, it’s been that I just let myself lose my joy for a while because there were so many joyless people around me. But once I got back to writing simply for the sake of writing, it’s been fun to play in the sandbox again.
17. Are you glad you went the self-published route? Why or why not?
Yes and no. I mean, it’s a modern marvel that you could sit in your basement on an old computer you found in a dumpster running Windows 98 and produce a complete book, upload it to the internet, and become your own publisher. That’s a great thing.
Unfortunately, that ability has its pros and cons. So many people can do that and have done that that the market is saturated, and publishers (and thus, agents) are increasingly more particular about what properties they’ll even consider starting the process of publishing for—and a few actually expect you to self-publish a few thousand before they’ll even look at your work.
Thus, self-publishing has made every level of publishing both better and worse for everyone.
And even when a publisher picks up a book, they still ask a writer to do a lot of their own legwork these days, so it isn’t like the first-time writer’s unrealistic dream of being immediately “discovered” and whisked away to become famous by a big publishing house.
Either way, it’s a lot of work. With my books, I found that it was worth it to do that work through self-publishing, since I could control the integrity of my content and genre better—but the drawback is that there’s never that “breakout” moment where you’ve finally built up the critical mass of readership and the books are really selling themselves.
It’s a simple calculus—usually a smaller audience, but usually more personal control.
18. What is the one thing you have to have to write? (Coffee/something to eat/music/silence, etc)
I usually have a glass of ice water on my desk to keep me sharp (and so that I don’t have to stop typing to go get something and lose my train of thought), but I’ll often have music playing in the background when I’m writing.
The genre changes depending on what I’m writing about—I’ll often listen to classical when I’m writing historical bits, and my children helped me put together a “Durant playlist” of creepy modern music for when I’m writing the contemporary bits—but it helps put me in the mood and immerse myself in the atmosphere of the narrative.
19. What/who are your top three books or authors and why?
I kind of answered this in #14, but if you need me to, I can try to focus it down to three. But it’ll be painful…
“Kevin Wright just can’t stop sharing his quirkiness with the rest of the world — his offices are littered with overstuffed bookshelves, antique maps, and collections of weapons on the walls.
Born and raised in Illinois and a lifelong Chicagophile, he spent years collecting a handful of degrees and teaching college-level courses in Logic and Critical Thinking, History, Communication, and Argumentation (even coaching the intercollegiate debate teams at Illinois State University), until he finally started putting his eclectic stories down on paper.
He’s also husband to a very supportive wife, and father to two loving children (not including the dog).” You can find out more about Kevin and his books at his website, KevinWrightBooks.