SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Bestselling Author-Teacher David Farland (a.k.a. Dave Wolverton)

Known as the “Wizard of Storytelling,” David Farland (a.k.a. Dave Wolverton)  is the New York Times bestselling author of fifty novels, including novels for adults, young adults, anthologies, middle-grade readers, and picture books. As a child, he wrote short stories and dreamt of growing up to become a fantasy writer. At BYU, he wrote “On My Way to Paradise,” based on a vivid dream, and entered it in L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest and won the grand prize the Gold Award. He was immediately contracted by Bantam Books to turn the short story into a novel, along with a contract to write two more. On My Way to Paradise spent months on the Locus Bestseller list and won a Phillip K. Dick Memorial Special Award. He wrote Science Fiction for ten years under his given name David Wolverton then decided to try fantasy. He has amassed many awards for his short fiction in particular, and set a Guinness Record for the world’s largest book signing, a record he still holds. A dedicated teacher, he is known for having taught many great emerging writers, including Stephanie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Eric Flint and more. As part of his dedication to helping other writers, David writes David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants email bulletin for writers. He can be found on twitter as @DavidFarland, Facebook and via his website at DavidFarland.com.

[Editor’s Note: David’s son, Ben Wolverton, was in a tragic accident after this interview was conducted. Here’s how you can help.]


SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in speculative fiction come from?

David Farland: Seriously, I think my interest in fantastic literature came from sitting on my mother’s knee and listening to bedtime stories. As a kid of twelve, I became a Star Trek fan-when I got to watch it in color. But my love for speculative literature really blossomed at sixteen, when I read Lord of the Rings.

SFFWRTCHT: I think that’s true for a lot of us. Bedtime stories, fairy tales, then Star Trek, and yes, LOTR too. Who are some of your other favorite authors and books that inspire you?

DF: I loved a lot of classics fantasists. Tolkien, Leguin, McCaffrey, McKillip, Donaldson, Wolfe, Zelazny. And in SF it was classics, too-with Herbert, Heinlein, Asimov, Pohl, Niven, and so on. In fantasy, I now look for books by George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Tim Powers, and Patrick Rothfuss.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?

DF: After reading Lord of the Rings, I read every fantasy I could lay my hands on. When I couldn’t find any more, I began making up my own stories. One day I told one to a friend at work, and he said, “You should take all of that crap and put it in a book!” I bought a typewriter the next day.

SFFWRTCHT: “All that crap” Nice motivator. How’d you learn craft? Trial and error? Formal study? Workshops?

When I bought my typewriter, I went to the local college bookstore and picked up books on writing. Later I began taking writing classes in college. Writing classes helped a lot. Especially poetry and screenwriting.

SFFWRTCHT: Who knew you’d teach writing later.  Did you start with shorts stories, novels? When was your first pro-sale?

DF: I actually started a novel at seventeen. It was called A Wizard in Halflight. It was about a boy going to school to become a wizard. But when I got in college, I began writing short fiction in order to learn the craft.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any favorites in the books on writing that you’ve read?

DF:  I liked Orson Scott Card’s Characters And Viewpoint along with Story by Robert McKee. The Writer’s Digest series is great.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get involved writing Star Wars Expanded Universe novels?

DF: I was a huge Star Wars fan when the first movie came out. I was nineteen. I saw it thirty-five times. So when my publishers at Bantam asked if I would like to write a Star Wars novel, I jumped at it.

SFFWRTCHT: It’s a writerly career goal of mine. How do you go about capturing the right feel? Watch the movies as you write?

DF: I pretty well had the movies memorized, but watched them again anyway on video. So I tried to capture the wonder and humor of the tales. Once I envisioned the setting and plot, I would just try to imagine what the characters would say.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you develop those ideas yourself or did Del Rey bring them to you?

DF: When I wrote The Courtship of Princess Leia, I developed the ideas myself, but of course, I had to pass them through my editor, and through Lucas Film. Ultimately, George Lucas himself looked at the plot, and wrote me a kind note. George’s note was something to the effect “This looks Fantastic!!! Go for it!”

SFFWRTCHT: That’s awesome. A note from the man himself. Wow. As Disney prepares to relaunch the franchise, any hopes/thoughts on what you’d like to see?

DF: Chewie roasting Ewoks on an open spit.

SFFWRTCHT: Jar Jar too on the spit?

DF: Jar Jar is dead to me.

SFFWRTCHT: One of your most popular, longest running series is Runelords. Runelords is the story of lords who have these endowments and one who abuses them and tries to conquer their world. Where’d the idea for Runelords come from?

DF: Yes, it’s about a prince and princess who are conscientious objectors. With Runelords, I wanted to write a fantasy. So I studied magic systems from around the world. I was in Scotland, traveling with a friend, when the whole magic system hit me. The right half of your brain will work on a problem for weeks, and suddenly spit out an answer. It feels almost as if it is being downloaded into your brain when it happens.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did the Runelords novels take to write?

DF: The first Runelords novel took about nine months to write. I’m working on the last one now–but it has taken a long time!

SFFWRTCHT: Which came first: world, plot, character? After the magic, I guess…

DF: I write the world first, then the character. The plot grows from that.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you plan this as such a long ongoing series or did it just develop?

DF: I knew when I got the idea that it would be a long series. The first four books make up a story arc, the last five make up another.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a bit about how magic works in that universe.

DF: In the Runelords universe, magicians use magical branding irons called “forcibles” to draw attributes from vassals. So a lord can take endowments from hundreds or thousands of people. Becoming almost a god. A person may only give up one attribute in his life – things like strength, wit, speed, grace, sight, and hearing. But when a vassal gives up an endowment, he’s weakened.

SFFWRTCHT: Are you an outliner or a pantser? Did you follow the surprising ride or have it planned?

DF: I tend to outline, but then let it modify as I go. In fact, I have an e-book on Amazon just out,  that’s called Million Dollar Outlines. It has been #1 on the Writing/Editing charts for about a month.

SFFWRTCHT: That’s great. Congratulations! Is it hard to keep coming up with fresh ideas after so many books? How do you keep it fresh?

DF: I don’t have a hard time staying fresh. I have a lot of things that “haven’t happened yet.”

SFFWRTCHT: Is there a planned end to this or do you want to keep going as long as fans and the author enjoy it?

DF: This last novel, A Tale Of Tales, ends the Runelords series, but…I just wrote a first chapter for a new Runelords book, set 1000 years before the current . It deals with the Toth Wars.

SFFWRTCHT: Ah ha. So fans will love that. And he’s writing a Runelords story for Shattered Shields, my Baen Books military fantasy anthology as well.

DF: Yes, that will continue the tale that I’ve started. I think that you’ll find that Toth Wars is pretty involving. It will be fun to come up with a new tale in the world. It’s very disconnected from the other stories.

SFFWRTCHT: I get a lot out of your daily Kick in the Pants emails on writing. Very helpful.  You’ve been a Writers of the Future judge as well as teaching your own workshops. Do you teach out of love? A sense of giving back?

DF: I’ve given way more than I’ve gotten. I write because I love to teach. But when you get into the groove, writing feels like magic. So it’s hard to explain how to do it. I like to help new writers. It gives me a social life. Really, I try to get people into the habit of writing. Once they do, they get into the groove easier. You can learn about my workshops at DavidFarland.com. You can also sign up for my free newsletter there.

 SFFWRTCHT: You’ve a lot of writing hats, and I imagine you shift gears often. How do you smoothly transition between them all?

DF: I’ve always had a lot on my plate as a writer. I think that you get used to it.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write `til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?

DF: Grab it when you can. I write in the morning–from five to about noon.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or silence?

DF: I write on MSWord, though I used to use a Mac. I don’t use programs. I created my own method years ago.

SFFWRTCHT: Are there any particular areas of writing you find more challenging than others even after so many years?

DF: No areas that are harder than others. You have to do a lot of brainstorming, thinking about your characters and plot. Once you do, you have to let it sit, integrate it.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

DF: Ernest Hemingway’s advice on “Rewrite it 60 times” and “let it age for two years between passes” is the worst advice ever. I think that he hated “dumb” questions. Orson Scott Card’s advice on “look for the character in the most pain” to be your viewpoint is the best advice I’ve seen.

SFFWRTCHT: You pass it down. Who are some writers who mentored you? Anyone we’d know?

DF: I learned a lot from Orson Scott Card, Algis Budrys, and Tim Powers. They were a great help. Leslie Norris, a poet, was too. I also studied all of the critics.

SFFWRTCHT: I have heard many rave about Card as a teacher. What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

DF: Nightingale is a young adult fantasy thriller that has won several awards. You can learn about it at NightingaleNovel.com/. I’ll finish the Runelords this month then start on more Nightingale books.

SFFWRTCHT: That sounds great. Any plans for more science fiction?

DF: Yes, I have one up my sleeve.

SFFWRTCHT: Who’s your favorite author to read when you want to just relax?

DF: I like to read thrillers now. I like Grisham for a relaxing read.