INTERVIEW: Frederic Durbin, Author of A Green and Ancient Light

Reality is boring, isn’t it? Why would we want to live in a world where people eat fibrous cereal when we can delve into fantasy? That’s exactly the message behind the works of Frederic Durbin, a seriously respected name within his genre and one we had the pleasure of talking to.

If you want to find out how to throw the rulebook out of the window and why a baby gorilla is like a writer, read on for our Q&A with the author of A Green and Ancient Light.

Hi, Fred, how are you?
Hi, Jimmy! I’m quite well, thank you! I hope you are, too, and that you’re enjoying the summer. It’s my favorite season. I’m one who actually loves the heat and humidity. I feel most creative in the summer. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’ve never gotten far from my school kid mentality. Summer equals the freedom to read and write!

What was the last thing you ate? Score out of 10?
Some amazing tomato soup, augmented by herbs from our garden. Can I give it an 11 out of 10?

Tell us about your work, what do you have coming up for us?
I’m a fantasy writer. In my life so far, I’ve done a lot of writing for both children and adults; I’ve had a number of stories in Cricket Magazine, and my short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction and Black Gate. I was one of the last people to be published by Arkham House. My third novel, A Green and Ancient Light, was just published by Simon and Schuster’s Saga Press in June. I’m currently at work on a series. Book 1 is being shopped around by my agent, and I’m nearing completion of the revisions to Book 2. I think it will be three books in all (though it might just turn out longer–there are so many threads to pursue, so much to explore!). As a teaser, I can tell you that this series is set in the 1880s and includes a lot of monsters, secret rooms, impending apocalypses, and puzzles to solve–I’m having tons of fun writing it, and I hope it will be fun for readers, too. I’m really enjoying writing about characters who aren’t perfect, who are just as flawed yet lovable as most of us.

When did you realise that you have a love for writing?
I can say with perfect honesty that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. As soon as I first understood that stories existed, I knew that I wanted to tell them. For me, there’s no greater love than making these stories, spinning them out of places and questions and experiences. I was truly blessed to grow up in a house full of stories. My parents were both book-lovers, and they read to me from pretty much Day One. My dad opened our town’s first bookstore, and my mom put together libraries for our four local elementary schools. I came very close to being born in a library, but the principal made my mom go to the hospital to deliver me.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you have set days where you force yourself to sit down and write or do you wait until it comes?
I don’t have a rigid schedule, and I don’t write every day. But that doesn’t mean I sit around and wait for inspiration, either. I write whenever I can, which usually means on the days when I’m not at my day job. On days when I’m free, and on nights when I don’t have to get up early the next morning, I write. I work best in large blocks of time, because it takes me a while to get into the “zone.” I’m definitely a night owl and love writing when the house is quiet. I also write outdoors whenever I can, usually on our back porch, on my laptop.

What are some of the problems you have faced as a modern author?
The thing that’s harder for all of us is that fewer and fewer people read books. There are still some, of course, but not like there used to be; there’s so much nowadays that competes for people’s attention. So publishers are much less willing to take risks. They want the next Sure Thing, the guaranteed big sales figures, which means that most of the books out there are written by the relatively few big-name authors, and many books tend to be like other books that have done well. But there will always be room for good stories that come out of nowhere and surprise everyone. That should give us all hope! Writers should keep on telling the stories they believe in, that they’re passionate about. Good books will find a home, and they’ll find readers. The other harsh reality is that modern authors have to be their own publicity people. We have to do more and more of the work of building a “platform” and blowing trumpets for our books, when what we want to focus on is writing them.

Describe a writer’s life in three words.
“Step by step” could work, because we tackle monumental tasks one step at a time; that’s how they get done: one scene, one chapter at a time. Three other good words would be: “rear in chair.” No amount of talking or dreaming gets the book written. You have to do the hard work. You have to keep going until the book is finished. Then start the next one.

Who else should we be reading right now?
Steven Millhauser is one of my favorite contemporary authors. Neil Gaiman is a master of versatility. Lately I’ve been discovering Shirley Jackson’s novels, if I can include a writer no longer with us in the flesh.

Do you have a favourite quote from a novel?
I’m doing this from memory, so I’ll get a word or two wrong, but I always come back to that haunting and searingly true last line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

And finally, who would win in a boxing match: a kangaroo with one leg or a baby gorilla with vertigo?
I’d bet on the gorilla. S/he may be just a baby and have vertigo, but that’s like most of us writers: we’re small and flailing about, rarely finding our balance, but now and then, we land one.

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