Interview with Dan Whitfield
What books/authors have influenced you and why?
I owe a great debt to two authors: Bill Bryson and Stephen King.
Before I discovered these authors, I considered reading to be a chore, something to impress parents or teachers before heading to the thrill of video games.
Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island changed that. It was the first book that made me laugh out loud. I found it impossible to put down. I even made a conscious effort to slow down my reading as I came close to finishing because I didn’t want to part with the book. Bryson’s comedy was all the proof I needed that books could make me laugh harder than any film or TV show.
King’s Salem’s Lot taught me a similar lesson. It terrified my twelve-year-old self. It even scared me when I read it in my grandmother's house, which I always considered the safest place. Despite my creeping dread, I couldn’t stop myself from reading page after page. Even today, I revisit the book. It remains one of my favorites.
Through their unrivaled skills, these two writers made indelible impressions on me, for which I’ll remain forever grateful. The written word can scare, thrill, and amuse in a more profound way than what is churned out on our screens. In the intimacy between reader and author, the latter weaves a story for the former’s imagination to bring it to life. Through this partnership, the humble book remains the surest way to entertain.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I try to create imperfect characters. Whether I give a character a physical ailment, a bad motive, or a flaw in the personality, I’ve found that the characters I remember, and perhaps even grow fond of, are the ones who have the strengths and weaknesses we see in ourselves. When it comes to bringing a character to life, the first thing I ask myself is, “What’s wrong with this person?”
What are your current/future projects?
I have always been fascinated by the legend of the Devil’s Bible, the largest extant medieval illuminated manuscript in the world, rumored to have been written by a monk in a single evening thanks to the aid of Lucifer.
My next book explores this legend. It follows a detective who finds that the Devil’s Bible is linked to a series of murders in Las Vegas. Partnering with a famed historian, the two companions turn treasure hunters and try to find out who really authored the Devil’s Bible, and why.
What has been a fascinating writing research experience for you? Does a memory stick with you?
I have many fond memories researching. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts of authoring a book. Not only do I get a kick out of learning new things, but the process helps me write authoritatively about subjects I am unfamiliar with. There’s an added benefit too: sometimes in the course of researching, I turn up a nugget of information I didn’t expect to find but is nonetheless useful. When I wrote my novel Eagle Ascending, for example, a morning I spent reading about the history of postwar Berlin led me to include a car chase scene in the final draft, after I found an essay on bridge construction.
Do you have a routine you follow when writing?
A cup of peppermint tea and some faint classical music always help to get my literary juices flowing! Then I fire up the laptop. Sometimes I’ll pick up the story from where I left off; other times there’s a scene in my head that I have to commit to paper before it escapes me.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you?
I’m always thrilled to meet people who enjoy my work. I can be reached through Facebook and via my Twitter handle @DanJWhitfield.
If you could go back in time to give yourself advice, what would it be?
Prepare for failure. Writing is a long, difficult, and indeed agonizing process. Not only must you force yourself to sit down and complete the book, you also have to prepare for the inevitable editing process. That means cutting favorite passages or characters or taking the story in a direction you did not want it to go.
Then comes the struggle to bring it to market, which means seeking an agent and publisher, a process that can, and does, take years. To succeed you’ll need grit, patience, and a good attitude.
What does literary success look like to you?
From the moment I first fired up my laptop over a decade ago and began writing novels, my goal has remained the same: to entertain people with words. The joy of entertaining and inspiring readers has been paramount. Literary success looks like an eager reader, taking hold of my book for the first time and enjoying a thrilling read.