Following the review of The Book of Deacon (if you didn’t read the review, do so! Phenomenal book!!), I asked the author Joseph Lallo if he’d like to do an interview with me for PureTextuality. He graciously agreed and allowed me to pick his brain for a bit. Here’s what he had to say…
PureTextuality [PT]: Your website www.bookofdeacon.com states that you are an IT guy for your day job. Having the background you have, what inspired you to start writing sci-fi/fantasy novels?
Joseph Lallo [JL]: I’d say that both the novels and the career come from the same source: I’m a geek. Most of my childhood was spent trying to figure out how things work. For real things, like computers, there was college. For mythic things like dragons and wizards, or yet to be invented things like flying cars and faster-than-light travel, I had to fill in the gaps myself. Hence the books.
PT: You mention in your FAQ’s (on your website) that the idea for The Book of Deacon was *born* when you were very young. When did you actually start writing your first book?
JL: Well, as I say on my page, the seed was planted right around second grade, when a game called Dragon Warrior, back on the NES, convinced me and a friend to construct this massive, sprawling, ridiculous narrative that we would essentially act out to each other when we got bored. That was what configured my brain to eventually produce the Book of Deacon Trilogy. There are a handful of inside jokes and homages to that little pastime that have made it into the books.
When it comes to actually putting pen to paper, I didn’t really start sketching out the trilogy until much later. I think it was the summer before freshman year of high school. There were earlier aborted attempts at stories, but the trilogy started right around then. It was a perpetual side project all the way through high school and college, first in notebooks, then with a word processor.
PT: Was writing something that you feel came naturally to you or do you feel that you had to cultivate it first?If cultivated, did you do any sort or writing workshops or just go by the adage practice makes perfect?
JL: Telling stories certainly came naturally to me. Writing? Not so much. Creating a character and sending it on a journey was no problem. That bizarre, Dragon Warrior-inspired storyline I mentioned earlier probably ran for years, with more bad twists than a soap opera. When it came to tying things together into a plot and getting them down on paper, though, I was terrible. I could daydream about what I wanted to happen for hours and hours, but five minutes in front of a piece of paper had me looking for something else to do. To be honest, as early readers of my books can attest, I still struggle with the mechanics of writing. I want to get the story out faster than my fingers can manage. It wasn’t until a few teachers in grammar school and high school helped me work out the right way to think about and approach different kinds of writing that I finally started to get a feel for it.
I never attended anything resembling a workshop. I didn’t even join any creative writing clubs, because I never really considered my writing to be anything more than a time-waster while I was waiting for something better to do. As a result, the countless scribbled pages, rewrites, and re-imaginings made for an awful lot of practice, though I would hardly say that it made me perfect. In my case, practice makes adequate.
PT: Were you comfortable sharing your work with others while you were in the process of writing or did you wait until it was finished?
JL: I was in no way comfortable with sharing my work with others at any stage of the process. I wasn’t even comfortable with the fact I was writing it! Each page I wrote made me feel more silly and self-conscious about it, for reasons I still can’t fully explain. People knew I had been working on something in high school, but I think most of them assumed I stopped writing it, and I encouraged the idea. By the time it was nearing completion I was downright psychotic about keeping it a secret, only telling carefully selected friends and family about it and swearing them to secrecy. When it was finished, things loosened up a little, and people were finally allowed to actually look at the book, but I would say that most people I know didn’t find out I was working on a Trilogy until I’d published the first part. There are probably still people who don’t know.
PT: What was the toughest hurdle you had to overcome with publishing your first book?
JL: I guess I could say that the toughest hurdle was the one I never managed to get over; actually getting published. I’d originally pursued a literary agent for over a year before finally trying my hand at self-publishing. In truth, though, there was a far tougher hurdle that I had to overcome to even get that far. I had to convince myself that my book was good enough to show to the world. As indicated in my previous answer, I had zero confidence in my writing, and I was terrified of what sort of reception it would have if I ever let it see the light of day. It took a tremendous amount of convincing by the network of friends in whom I’d confided before I was willing to take a chance. The rest has been simplicity by comparison.
PT: If you had one piece of advice to pass along to fledgling writers everywhere, what would it be?
JL: I guess, if I could give one piece of advice, it would have to be this: Keep at it. Writing a book? Keep at it. Trying to find an agent? Keep at it. Trying to complete a draft? Keep at it. Persistence is vital at every step of the journey. Who knows, if I had been more persistent when I took my first try at getting published, I might be talking to you about how great it has been to work with Tor or Bantam. (Not that I consider self-publishing to be a consolation prize. I’m thrilled with how things turned out.)
PT: The Book of Deacon featured an incredibly long list of characters.Were any of your character’s personalities inspired by someone in your life or strictly made up in your head?
JL: I would say that most of the characters are tiny slivers of my own personality or those of my friends mixed with a great deal of imagination in order to fill the role called for in a given situation. There are, however, one or two characters who use a person from my life as a template. Desmeres, a weapon collector who makes a brief appearance in the first book and pops up now and again further down the line, was named by a friend of mine namedCary, and he was written mostly as a character that I thoughtCary would play well in a movie. Another friend, Sean, named and/or influenced characters you’ll run into in Books 2 and 3, including Oriech, Bagu, and Flinn. He’s also at least partially responsible for the number of scenes that prominently feature Myn.
PT: Is there a particular character that you favor (aside from Myranda) and would ever consider expanding their story into a book of its own?
JL: Well, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Deacon, but I would say that, particularly from this book, Lain is the character who has the most potential for his own story. There are a few characters who show up in later books that might make for a good solo title as well, including at least one villainous character that a friend of mine is practically begging me to give a full origin treatment.
PT: The Book of Deacon covers a great span of different types of magic and magical themes. When writing this series, did you do any sort of research into practicing witches and their beliefs?
JL: I didn’t really do any research for the mystical aspect of the book. It mostly came from my attempt to analyze magic, as I’d imagined it and as it had been shown in my favorite books and films, and try to formulate a system that would explain it all. Why are evil wizards always twisted and ugly? What’s with all the crystals? It was magic as a science, almost. A handful of simple underlying principles that, with some innovation, inspiration, and practice, could bring about an infinite number of different effects. A unified theory of mysticism. I actually would have been worried about incorporating too much from real-life practitioners, because I would be afraid that they would feel I was mocking them, using their beliefs for a work of fiction.
PT: If not, were you aware of the fact that you (or was it a conscious effort to) had touched so closely to Wiccan beliefs in nature and the energies that nature carries?
JL: Seriously? I honestly had no idea. I hope I did justice to their beliefs. It might be interesting to sit down with a Wiccan and see where we agree and differ on the subject.
PT: What is in your plans for future works? Any book idea rattling around in your head that we can look forward to?
JL: The act of writing these books, along with the huge number of comments and discussions regarding them, has given me a tremendous number of ideas for future writing. Right now I’m working a sequel to my Sci Fi book, but once that is done, there are a handful of things I would like to write. You will probably see at least one book that continues the story of the main cast of the Trilogy, if not several. I could foresee a handful of short stories following individual characters, too. There’s also a file on my computer right now named “Unnamed Second Trilogy” that takes place a long, long time after the trilogy and features an almost completely new cast, but that’s got a long way to go before I’d say it is ready.
Hypothetical for fun….
PT: If you were a character in Myrandas world and somehow found your way to Entwell, what type of magic would you want to learn?Or which Master would you want to learn from?
JL: Type of magic? Gray magic, definitely. As it is, Deacon is the character nearest to my own personality – note how much of a geek he is – and gray magic, as I’ve described it, is a massive area with lots of really neat stuff in it. If it was more about the Master than the actual subject matter? I’d probably pick Solomon. He’s patient, wise, and (most importantly) a dragon, which is awesome.
A big thanks to Joseph Lallo for taking the time to chat with me!!