An Interview with David Farland: Author, Mentor, Editor

Farland_PicFans of The Runelords will be excited to hear that David Farland is currently working on the final book in the bestselling series, A Tale of Tales.  Writing fantasy is only one facet of this versatile author’s repertoire. David Farland is the pen name chosen by Dave Wolverton to separate his work in the fantasy genre from his established credentials as an award-winning author of science fiction. His short story On My Way to Paradise won the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest in 1987, and his subsequent novel of the same title garnered the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Citation for Best Novel in the English Language.

Since then, Farland has written nearly 50 books in various genres. Star Wars fans know him as the author of The Courtship of Princess Leia and The Rising Force from the Jedi Apprentice series. He has also written several game books from Star Wars Episode I Adventures and Star Wars Missions. Along with writing in existing franchises, Farland has created his own universes for his series The Golden Queen, Serpent Catch, Ravenspell, and The Runelords. His recent work includes the first installment in new YA series, Nightingale, an award-winning, ground-breaking fusion of story, music, animation, and illustration that sets a new standard for an enhanced reading experience.

A man of many talents, Farland has been a script-doctor in Hollywood, co-leader of the design team for Starcraft: Brood War, and a professor of English at BYU. Throughout his career, he has taught and mentored many other writers, including Stephanie Meyer, Eric Flint, and Brandon Sanderson. He continues to have a huge impact on emerging writers through workshops, e-books on the art of writing such as Million Dollar Outlines and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing, and his Daily Kick in the Pants–a free e-newsletter chock full of writing tips and motivational essays for writers. He also squeezes in the time to be the current editor and coordinating judge for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

Farland graciously agreed to take time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for the Daily Dragon.  

Daily Dragon (DD): What is the status of A Tale of Tales, the upcoming final novel in your bestselling Runelords series, and when is the expected release date?

David Farland (DF): I’m nearly finished at this point, and will be turning it in to my publishers shortly. The novel is a long one and was a tough one to write, in part because I felt that there were things I wanted to say that I just . . . quite didn’t know how to say.

DD: Can you give us a teaser for A Tale of Tales?

DF: Let’s just say that things are either darkest just before dawn–or before the lights go out completely!

DD: What do you find to be the most complex part of creating a series?

DF: I love creating the new world for a series–a world with its own history, societies, conflicts, biology, and so on. You would think that that would be the most complex part of creating a story, but I keep finding that when I get near the end of a book that is important to me, there is a part of me that says, “So what was this journey really all about?  What is it that you’re trying to say about life?”

Ultimately, that is the most complex part of the story for me. I always feel that unless a tale really relates back to the reader, enlarges his mind and expands his views, it was all rather a waste of time.  

DD: Your latest YA fantasy thriller, Nightingale, pushes the envelope for enhanced books by combining story, music, and art into an immersive entertainment experience and has won multiple awards.  What inspired you to create such a unique format, and what do you hope to achieve with the series?

DF: With Nightingale, I really was looking not at what books are, but what they might become. When I wrote the novel, I felt that it was a great book (most of the awards that it has won have been from judges who just saw the text version), but many years ago I was offered a job by IBM to help develop novels for computers–books that combined music and words and pictures.  This was back in the 1980s, and we were a bit ahead of our time, so I’d always wanted to push the envelope, create something more.

When my friend Miles Romney offered to do something like this with Nightingale and brought in James Guymon, the head of the American Composer’s Guild, to write the music, it just sounded like a blast. In the novel, I have a young man who wants to become the world’s greatest guitarist–that’s his dream. James managed to write some guitar pieces that really captured the novel and blew me away. He wrote them in the styles of my protagonist’s heroes. Then we gave each chapter an illustration with some slight animations to help make a more visual experience. As a result, the folks on iBooks named it “the ultimate enhanced novel,” and I was really grateful.  

DD: I’ve read that you’re an artist as well as a writer.  How does your experience as an artist influence your writing?

DF: I don’t know if I would say that I’m an artist. I studied oil painting and did a bit of sculpting as a teen, but I decided in college to really focus my efforts in writing.

I see all arts as one art.  Whether I’m composing a novel or a painting or writing a song, I go through the same process of deciding upon a structure, roughing it out, and then refining the piece by making multiple passes at it.  

DD: What life experience had the greatest impact on your writing, and in what way?

DF: That’s not a fair question. I’ve had far too many life experiences! Seriously, when I was a child, I once began drawing a picture on some thirty-two pieces of paper at once. I spent weeks creating a large image of two thousand knights in battle. My mother was worried that I was going crazy, so she invited a psychiatrist to come over and watch me.

He asked what I was drawing, and so I explained the battle and what was happening. Afterward, he told my mother, “Congratulations, you have an artist!”

I’ve always felt that in a sense, as an artist, I’m not reacting to life, but acting toward life. It would make no difference whether my life was miserable or effulgent, I’d still have this inner need to respond to it, to create. I believe that this creativity is a basic need to communicate in a heightened way. Art is a primal scream.  

DD: You’ve written in different genres, including science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and non-fiction.  Which, if any, is your favorite, and why? What would you like to try next?

DF: I have to admit that the most fun that I’ve had was writing my fantasy novels for middle-graders.  I think that my next project will be a big fantasy for 12-year-olds.  

DD: What new projects do you have in mind?

DF: I literally have dozens of them.  I’m going to die before I get them all done. Among them are–a prequel to the Runelords series set 1,000 years before these novels, a fantasy tale about three otters called Five Fish of Gladness, three adult thriller novels about a filmmaker who gets involved in various scams in Hollywood, and of course that big fantasy set in a new world.  

DD: As coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future Contest, you must read reams of submissions.  What are some of the things you look for in a winning story?

DF: I look for an intriguing new concept, followed by a gripping plot, beautifully told, which ultimately has a powerful intellectual and emotional payoff. That sums up quite quickly something that is really very, very complex.  

DD: What is the most rewarding part of mentoring new writers?

DF: To be honest, when I spot talent, it’s great to see that I got it right. Years ago, I was asked by the chief editor of Scholastic to help choose a book to push big for the coming year. I looked at their offerings and decided on a virtually unknown novel, Harry Potter. I had a talk with the editor, explaining why I thought it would be a hit, but I worried that all of the major publishers had seen it and declined it, and I kept wondering, “Is it just me, or is this really a hit?” So I was gratified when they began pushing the book, and a year later it hit #1 on the bestseller list, then became the bestseller of all time.

In the same way, when I was grading Stephenie Meyer’s papers in college, I recall thinking, “This young lady really has a wonderful voice.  If she ever falls in love with a story idea, she’s going to be dangerous!” So it was fun to watch her take off. The same happened with Brandon Sanderson and various others. I sort of feel like a proud papa.  

DD: In one of your Daily Kicks, you recommended creating duality by contrasting emotionally and intellectually.  As a sample for developing writers who are not familiar with your expertise, can you give us an example of what you mean?

DF: Stories are ultimately about change, and in every story, your protagonist needs to have some internal conflicts. Very often, those conflicts come because we are conflicted about what we think about something and how we feel about it.

For example, let’s imagine that I’m from a conservative household and I’ve always been trained to believe that illegal aliens should be deported. Well, that all seems well and good, until I meet an eight-year-old girl named Nita Diez who has managed to smuggle herself into the country from Honduras.

Once I learn her story–that her mother sent her to the country after her father and older brother were killed, that her mother sent a note begging “some good person” to take her daughter and give her only a portion of the love that her mother feels for her–would I still hold to my cold intellectual reasoning? Would I try to send her back to a home that no longer exists? Or would I wonder if there was a better way?

That’s one form of duality–when the mind and heart disagree. Of course that’s the kind of idea that can easily turn into a novel or a screenplay.  

DD: What can you tell us about the workshop you’re giving in Atlanta next month, titled “Greenlighting Your Novel,” (October 11-12, mystorydoctor.com)?

DF: In Hollywood, before we go to all of the work of making a movie, we can do an analysis of the film to see how large the audience is and thus determine how much money the movie will make. Using certain criteria, we can actually figure out within about two percent how much a film will make in its opening weeks.

You can do something similar with a book. Before you spend a lot of time writing a novel, you should figure out if there is an audience for it and how to shape it to meet the needs of your audience.

For example, we ask questions like, “How big is the audience for this book? How old should your protagonist be? What sex should your protagonist be? What kind of emotional beats should you use? What other novels are similar to yours? How can you claim your own unique territory?” And so on.

So let’s say that you have four ideas for novels. I can talk to you for a few moments and help you figure out which one is the most economically viable. Just as importantly, we can sit down and take your idea and mold it in such a way so that your books actually have a much greater potential to become bestsellers.

The goal of this seminar is to teach young authors some of these techniques so that they can figure out how to create their own hit properties time after time. I think that this approach explains why so many of my students end up becoming bestsellers.

Of course, in the seminar, we’ll take some time to actually workshop some of the concepts, so that authors learn the process. 

Thank you for the interview.  We hope you have a great time at Dragon Con!  

Find out more about Farland and his work at davidfarland.net. For more information about online and in-person workshops, visit mystorydoctor.com and click on “courses and prices.” View a sample of the award-winning art, music, and story in Farland’s innovative Nightingale at nightingalenovel.com.

Author of the article

Debbie Yutko

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband, two children, and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran attendee of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.

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