Wednesday, June 18, 2014


An interview with Dan Levinson, author of the sci-fi novel Fires of Man.

Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

Thanks, Mary! Happy to be here.

I’ve been writing fiction in various forms since before I was in double digits. I’ve also dabbled in screenwriting. However, when I was a teenager, I actually digressed into acting; I studied drama at NYU from ’03 to ’07. I’d say my acting training really helps me put myself into my characters’ shoes, channel their emotions onto the page.

What got you into writing?

Final Fantasy II. True story. I was so enamored with the game and its characters that when it ended, I needed there to be more. So I wrote more. My very first fan fiction!

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

I first came up with the concept and some of the characters when I was about 13. At that time, in addition to being a voracious fantasy reader, I was a huge fan of Dragonball Z. I wanted to capture the epic scope and intricate mythology of my favorite fantasy novels at the time (Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy), as well as the sheer “awesomeness” of characters hurling superpowered energy attacks at each other a la DBZ.

I tried to execute the story in multiple incarnations over the years. A previous novelization, a screenplay. It wasn’t until I studied under the amazing Jacob Krueger that I found my “character first” approach to fiction. I went back to basics—to a handful of characters I’d fallen in love with from the start—and went from there.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

Tough question! I feel like it changes from day to day, and I know I’ve given different answers to this question before.

Today, I’ll say Katherine “Kay” Barrett. On the surface, she’s tough as hell. Snarky, strong, a natural leader. Yet that veneer of confidence hides the vulnerability within. She’s suffered tragedy in her life, loss, and it’s left her damaged, with a fear of intimacy, and an inability to fully understand her own emotions, the reasons she does what she does. I believe in having flawed, multifaceted characters, and Kay exemplifies this principle.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

Hmm, another tough one. Again, I feel like I might give a different answer depending on the day and my mood.

Without spoilers, I’ll just say it’s a “break-up scene.” Takes place in a restaurant, and elucidates both the depth of feeling two characters have for each other, and why they just don’t work at this moment in their lives. It’s that timing thing, you know? They’re not on the same page. And maybe they could be in the future. But right now there’s a fundamental dichotomy in what they’re looking for from each other, and that makes it impossible for them to come to terms, even though they both care deeply for each other.

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

Getting to the “big moments.” The ones I’ve been writing toward for pages and pages, or even across entire books. One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received is not to hold back. If there’s some cool moment I’m moving toward, I try to go for it. I make sure there are at least a few in every book when I’m writing a series. Those big revelations or exciting, climactic “wow” moments; there’s no need to hold them in reserve. It’s so exciting to build up to something, and then deliver.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

I’d say about six months to a well-revised draft. Not a final draft, perhaps, but one that’s most of the way there. I write at least a thousand words a day, six days a week.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

The freedom! The ability to create a different world, infuse it with these incredible powers and people. The chance to craft something truly epic in scope.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Oh, so many. Foremost among them, these days, is Stephen King. His On Writing was simply the best dissertation on writing craft I’ve ever read. Rather than doing what so many “writing gurus” have done—trying to distill the mystery of writing down to “structure” and “techniques”—he focuses on its heart and soul.

To call King a simple “horror” writer, I think, is to show him short shrift. The man is a master at crafting complex characters. One of my favorite books is It. Many might remember it from the miniseries with the incredible Tim Curry as the title character. I’ve never seen it. To me, the novel is so profound that I dare not watch, for fear I might dilute its impact on me. It’s a coming of age story, I feel, far more than a horror story, and I shed more than a few tears when the book came to a close.

Other writers who’ve influenced me over the years include the aforementioned Robert Jordan and C.S. Friedman, as well as David and Leigh Eddings, Terry Goodkind, George R.R. Martin, Brian Jacques, and Jim Butcher, among many, many others.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

Absolutely! I’m a big believer in letting the characters lead the way. There have even been moments where I wasn’t sure if certain characters would live or die, and it’s only by virtue of their determinations and convictions that they lived to fight another day (or didn’t).

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you very much for having me! It’s been a pleasure.

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