A Dozen Story Ideas a Day: David Farland

Dave Farland
Dave Farland

<This has previously been printed on my personal blog:
And also on Fantasy Magazine:

I’m delighted to introduce David Farland (aka David Wolverton), New York Times bestselling author who has published nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Runelords series (which I highly recommend). In addition to that, he’s served as the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future Contest.

You might also know him from his email blog “Daily Kick in the Pants”, through which he gives motivational tips, insights on writing, and helps us see the ins and outs of the writing business from the point of view of a highly successful author.

You can check out his website at http://www.runelords.com/

David, thanks for stopping by.

David Steffen: You always seem to have the answers on how to establish yourself as a successful writer. Was there ever a time when you found yourself ready to hang up the typewriter? How did you handle it and get back on track?

David Farland: I’ve never felt in despair about my career. I love to write, nd I’ve always thought that if there was anything else in the world that I wanted to do, I’d just do it, too. For example, when I was young I went to school to study medicine. I thought that it would be fun to be a genetic researcher or a pediatric physician, then write my novels on the side. Unfortunately, I would have needed an endowment of stamina to do it. (For those of you who have read The Runelords, you’ll get the joke!)

Seriously though, I did go through a fit of depression a few years ago, and went through my “midlife crisis.” I found out that Prozac doesn’t help most men, but Welbutrin does.

David Steffen: You’ve given aspiring writers endless tips to help get their careers started. If you could only give a single piece of advice, what would it be?

David Farland: Be persistent. It’s your career. If you really want to be a writer, make time to practice, to hone your craft, and just do it.

David Steffen: Where do your story ideas come from? Do you see stories everywhere you look and you just have to pluck the ones that appeal the most? Or do you have to sit down and actively say “I’m going to think of something new to write today”?

David Farland: Ideas come to those who look for them sometimes, but other times they just hit you. A twist of a phrase, a powerful image, a news story, an insight from a child–anything can set you off. I have at least a dozen story ideas per day, I suppose. I can’t write even a hundredth of them. So I just siphon.

Yet even with all of that, I find that I sometimes have to go searching for good ideas to fit a particular story. In short, you never get to rest.

David Steffen: In particular, what was the first idea that came to you for the Runelords series? A character? An idea for the magic system? The world itself?

David Farland: With the Runelords, I knew that I just wanted to write a big fantasy at first. I wanted my series to appeal to medieval fantasy readers–the Tolkien crowd–but I also wanted it to be different from any other story. So I had a basic idea for the world. I knew that it was going to be medieval, and that it would have plenty of large animals and monsters. In short, it is covered with megafauna, much as the United States was twelve thousand years ago when dozens of breeds of mammoths and mastodons roamed here, along with cave bears and sabertooths and dire wolves and all of those other cool animals. So I knew that I wanted to make my world similar to other fantasy worlds, but there are no glorious elves in it, no dwarves or orcs. I wanted my own creatures.

But what really set me off was the magic system. I wanted to create a new kind of magic for my world, and I knew that it had to be different and mind-blowing. I spent months looking at various magic systems used throughout history, and then one day the whole concept of wizards drawing attributes from vassals–glamour, brawn, wit, grace, sight, hearing, etc.–just literally seemed to fall right out of the sky.

David Steffen: I find the endowment system in the Runelords series particularly interesting, where a donor or “Dedicate” can permanently grant an attribute to a recipient or “Runelord”, and that link lasts as long as they both live. Where did the idea for this system come from?

David Farland: Well, when I was researching magic systems, I knew that I wanted to write about one that had something of an economic base. There needed to be a price for the magic.

But you know, you can’t really tell where these things come from. I mean, I didn’t base it upon anything that I’ve seen. I pondered dozens of magic systems, and then one day it hit me. I think that I might have had an inkling of it when I was watching a show where a calf got branded. My mind went, “You know, they used to brand slaves like that, too.” And I thought at the time, I wonder if it would be interesting to write a fantasy novel where people got branded as part of a magic system.”

It was just a fleeting thought. I was in Scotland a few months later, traveling down a road past Innessfree, when a friend asked, “Could you imagine what this must have looked like 2000 years ago?” I recall reading from a Roman historian who complained that on one night, some 40 men were dragged from their beds and eaten by wolves. He said, “The only thing worse than the wolves are the wild Scotsmen themselves!” I was thinking about that, and suddenly my subconscious said, “Hey, I’ve got your magic system!” and the whole complex system–along with the first novel in the series–just popped into my head at once.

David Steffen: Do you have any guesses who the next big up-and-coming big name writers will be, from your recreational reading and from your role judging stories for the Writers of the Future contest?

David Farland: Well, in fantasy it will be Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. I know some excellent new writers who are coming along, but they’ll have to get their books written and sold first.

David Steffen: What was the last book you read? Your favorite book? Your favorite author?

David Farland: I just listed my two favorite new authors. I don’t want to choose between them, since I like them both. I know I should have done it years ago, but I’m reading Eragon right now. My favorite living author right now is still Orson Scott Card, overall.

David Steffen: How about the last movie you saw? Your favorite movie?

David Farland: I saw the latest Terminator last night, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Star Trek. I need to go see Angels and Demons this week. There are a lot of good movies coming out this summer.

David Steffen: How did your writing career get started?

David Farland: Actually, I began writing heavily in college, and my career took off after I started winning writing contests. I entered my first short story in a little contest and won third place. When I was done, I thought, “Wow, I spent ten hours on this story, and I won $50. That’s $5 an hour. Maybe if I worked a little harder, I could win first place in a contest.”

So I spent some time thinking about how to win writing contests, and then wrote several short stories. I entered six different contests, and won first place in each of them, including the Writers of The Future. When we went to New York for the awards ceremony, a number of the judges had already gushed to various editors about how good I was (Thank you Robert Silverberg, Orson Scott Card, Algis Budrys, and Roger Zelazny). Half a dozen editors approached me, asking if I was interested in submitting novels. Not only was I interested, I’d packed a novel proposal in my suitcase! Within a week, I had a three-novel contract with Bantam Books.

David Steffen: What was the single most significant step you took to advance your career?

David Farland: You know, I realized after I’d written my second book that my real last name, Wolverton, always put my books on the bottom shelf at the end of the rack. That was terrible placement. So I decided to begin writing under a pseudonym. That was tough to do, given that I was hitting at the top of the bestseller lists for science fiction. But when I moved to fantasy, my publisher allowed me to do it. I think it was a smart move.

David Steffen: What convention appearances do you have planned?

David Farland: I’m trying to decide whether to go to DragonCon in August. I believe I’ll be at World Fantasy Con in San Diego in October, and then I’ll probably go to Life, the Universe, and Everything at Brigham Young University in February.

David Steffen: What’s your next publication that we should watch out for?

David Farland: My next novels are Freaky Fly Day, Book three of my Ravenspell series, which comes out in September from Covenant Books. I also have a historical fiction novel that deals with the Willie Handcart Company, in which Mormon pioneers crossed the prairie in 1856, facing tremendous hardships. Here’s a link for that one: http://davidfarland.zenfront.com/books/in-the-company-of-angels.html. I also have the eighth book in the Runelords series coming out in October, called Berserker Lord. You can see the cover in the art section at www.runelords.com, and you can order a signed/numbered copy of the book by emailing davidfarland@xmission.com.

David Steffen: What are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak peek?

David Farland: Yes, I’m actually reading galleys for Berserker Lord, and you can read the first couple of chapters on www.runelords.com. I’m going to put up a new feature on my site that I’m thinking about calling “Over my shoulder,” where you will be able to read what I’ve written recently, and I’ll explain why I made the choices that I’ve made.

David Steffen: How did you react to rejections when you started writing? How has that changed over the years?

David Farland: My reaction has always been the same. I try to figure out why I got rejected, and then I rewrite and try harder!

David Steffen: Do you tend to write in a certain environment? For instance, some people say they write better with particular kinds of music, or can only write if they have an hour or more of uninterrupted time, or like me, they tend to do their best in the morning just after they get up.

David Farland: I find that I do my best writing in the morning. It’s important to be comfortable, so I write with a laptop while sitting in an easy chair. I tend to like it to be perfectly quiet, but sometimes I write with music playing softly–instrumental soundtracks from movies like Lord of the Rings, or possibly some classical music. To tell the truth, that’s always difficult. I like to rock out.

But I write best if I have long blocks of time to focus. For that reason, I usually take writing retreats a couple of times a year. I like going to Mexico, but with all of the problems there lately, I’m thinking about heading off to Alaska in a couple of weeks.

David Steffen: David, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Now I need to catch up reading on the rest of the Runelords series so that I can be ready for the new release.

Also, thanks to everyone who assisted me in the interview process, including A.W. Sullivan, Jordan Lapp, and Joey Jordan.