SPFBO Author Interview: Kirk Dougal

We are back with another SPFBO author interview! I only have a few of these left it seems unless more come through, but I’m always happy to interview everyone who hasn’t had the chance yet. Today I bring you an interview with Kirk Dougal, who brought Legacy of Bones to SPFBO this year. It’s also his first time, be gentle!

STARTING OFF WITH A BANG

Introduce yourself! An easy question to start off with. Who are you, what do you write?

Hello, I’m Kirk Dougal, and I’ve written across multiple genres. In addition to epic fantasy, I’ve also had books and series published in thrillers, SF/detective, urban fantasy, and YA dystopian. 

SPFBO DISCUSSION

Is this your first time in SPFBO?

Yes, this is my first entry into SPFBO.

What book did you enter into this year’s event?

I entered Legacy of Bones, the first book in my A Tale of Bone and Steel epic fantasy series.

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

I think all of the characters hold a special place in my heart, even the antagonists. Whether it is a quirky habit or grand ambitions, they are part of the act of creation.

Having said that, Dilane has to be one of my favorites. She ran away from obligations in her home country and rises to prominence through sheer will and determination. She laughs at times when she should cry or be afraid, and then becomes furious at the smallest joke. Her family has played a huge role in what she is and what she will become, even though she tries not to let them decide her fate and make her own path. Although her role does not seem large in the first book, Dilane becomes more and more important as the tale goes along.

What was the inspiration for the story? What are your future project(s)?

The story began with my imagining the Draig D’Alikar, a legendary group of warriors. Their weapons were created from the bones of a dead dragonlord, gifted to the five remaining human fighters who had fought by the dragons’ side centuries earlier. The swords actually choose their holders, bonding to them and the rangers who pledge their allegiance to the D’Alikar. 

But that was just the beginning of the story for me. The D’Alikar are the base upon everything else was built including the magic system. Everything is tied together, and every gift must be paid for in some fashion. The story is really the unfolding of how all of the tales are built upon each other.

What are the key themes and/or messages in the book?

The main theme deals with faith and belief. That varies for each character from religious, to faith in friends, family, governments, and even themselves. They explore how those beliefs lead them down the paths of their lives and what they are willing to do to follow their path or break free on their own.

What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?

The biggest challenge has been the sheer size of the story. Interlocking plots across multiple countries involving several characters requires quite a bit of planning to make sure everything comes together in the end.

What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?

The second and third books in the series have already been released. The fourth book is slated for an August pub date and book five should be out at the end of the year. If everything stays on schedule, then all nine books of the series should be released by late 2021 or early 2022.

MORE RAMBLES ABOUT WRITING

What is your favorite book you’ve written?

That is a little like asking which one of your children is your favorite. I love them all for different reasons. I suppose I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Dreams of Ivory and Gold, the first book in my Fallen Angels trilogy, because it was my debut novel. Once that was published, it validated all the hard work that had come before.

Who are your favorite authors?

My tastes in books varies wildly and my favorites depend mostly on some special quality that the author brings to their writing. I’ve read everything Dashiell Hammett published, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Andre Norton when I was a kid, Andy Weir, Isaac Asimov, Mark Lawrence, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Agatha Christie, Joyce Kearns Goodwin, Erik Larson – I know I’m forgetting a dozen others that I will kick myself about later.

However, I would read anything written by Neil Gaiman, including his grocery list if he published it.

What makes a good villain?

A good villain must have a grain of truth to them. I am perfectly fine with them being sadistic and ruthless, to the point of being over the top, but there must be some sort of logic to their evil, even if it only makes sense to them. In a good villain’s mind, they are the hero of the story.

Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?

I don’t read many blogs anymore, but I speak regularly at high schools and to writing groups. Anytime someone asks me about where to go for advice, I always suggest Stephen King’s On Writing. In fact, I have bought and given away so many copies of the book that King should put me on a retainer.

Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shout out to?

I am afraid to give a list because I am certain I will forget someone important. Instead I would like to give recognition to the first online writer group that I joined, the Chaos Manor Fantasy Writer’s Group Online. The members included authors like Jacqueline Carey, Tee Morris, Tim Marquitz, and many, many others. Without their encouragement and friendship, I may have given up writing long before my first book hit the stores.

Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?

It is not something new, but my current work-in-progress has once again reinforced the importance of writing every day. Even on those days when everything has gone wrong, sitting down for even a few minutes is a huge benefit. Invariably, I will start typing with the idea of just creating two hundred words and I will look and realized I’ve hit 2,000.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?

I am a flexible plotter. Because my books tend to have multiple plotlines with several characters, I need the bones of a structure to keep the book fundamentally sound. However, when I plot each chapter may only have a sentence or two or some bullet points of what needs to happen and that is not locked in stone. I will often realize that I need another scene or chapter before my next step, or something comes up in the writing that needs to be added into the mix. 

If you had to give up both snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?

Absolutely snacks and drinks. I do not listen to music when I write.

It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it? 

I try to become my characters, understand their beliefs and needs. In some cases that means observing how others react in the same situations. At other times it means calling on my own experiences.

What is your writing process? Do you have one? What is your workspace like?

My writing process is simple. I start with an idea for a character or a situation, sometimes a scene in my head, and then I begin thinking about how the characters got themselves into that place. Once I have the idea started, I begin to plot. When I have the bones of the plot structure laid down, I write until I’m done, no editing on the fly. Once the book is completed, I let it sit for at least a couple of weeks before I go back and try to go through it as a reader, search for flow, plot holes, or inconsistencies. Invariably, I’ll make some changes along the way, but they are typically not large. Then, I go through the manuscript one last time in search of grammatical and process mistakes. (How many times did I use that word/phrase in the book? Is that even possible?) Then it is off to my editor.

One key thing to note is that my writing process will often overlap for books. While I can not write more than one book at a time – I tried and it was horrible, including mixing up characters and placing them in the wrong book – I can do the pre-writing work simultaneously. For instance, while I’m writing on one book, I will be working on the idea or plotting another. I like to work in big chunks of time because the longer I’m at the computer, the faster I create. So, if I only have fifteen minutes to work, then I would rather work on plotting the next idea rather than the current WIP. The benefit is that as soon as I am done with a project, I am ready to dive into the next.

I also am a night writer. Most days, I do not sit down to create until eight or nine o’clock at night, and then I will go until at least midnight, sometimes much later. I wrote the first two books in my Dowland Cases series from 10 pm to 2 am over the course of six months. It is a good thing I don’t need much sleep. 

As for workspaces, I don’t have a permanent one. Each book tends to end up in its own place. Ninety percent of Legacy of Bones was written at the dining room table. My current work is being largely written at night underneath the pergola at our house. We live in the country so the only sounds around me while I’m creating are the horses in the pasture or the occasional car driving by.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration for me can come from anywhere. I had the idea for the Fallen Angels series while mowing the pasture. A character in another book hit me while I was people watching during the Christmas season at a shopping mall. Other times I will hear an interesting bit of science news or a discovery and then the ideas will flow. Basically, as long as I can look at something or someone and ask, “What if?”, then I can come up with an idea for a book.

How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

There are too many plot ideas to count. The one I am kicking around right now involves a female engineer on a generation ship that is taking the last remains of humanity in search of a new home. She is great at her job, but she hates it because it is not what she would have chosen for herself to do. But now the ship is not working properly, and she must find the answer on how to repair it while being pursued by someone who wants it to all go to hell. There is murder and mystery and her discovering that sometimes you only think you know what you want until you have the chance to do even more. It’s tentatively titled Elpis, which is the Greek goddess of hope and also the name of the generation ship. 

Do you have any new series planned?

Yes, I have ideas for several others, but I want to wrap up A Tale of Bone and Steel before I move on to the next.

MORE ABOUT YOU 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My wife and I have four children, so there isn’t a lot of spare time. Between kids, jobs, writing, and horses, sometimes we are just happy to have time to all eat supper at the same time. I played baseball in college and I am still a huge fan, so a special treat is when I have time to watch a game.

If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?

Is there room on the next SpaceX flight?

Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?

I can’t stand coffee or tea. I try to drink as much water as possible around too much pop. I also prefer single malt Scottish whisky and a good amber ale.

You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?

The closest inhabitable planet or moon. I want to see what is next, what we as people are capable of doing and becoming.

Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your road trip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?

Captain Mal Reynolds, Dirk Pitt, and Susan Ivanova. We aim to misbehave.

What superpower would you most like?

I just love telling stories. I think that is superpower enough.

If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?

Clive Cussler. I would cook whatever he wanted to eat as long as he talked about classic cars the entire meal.

Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

While I was in college, I once squatted 705 pounds for three reps. Shortly after, my legs formed a union, made demands, and went on strike.

It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?

Travel. I love to go to new places, meet different people, try their food, and learn more about them.

Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, but the easiest way to keep up with me is at my website: http://kirkdougal.com/. That is where I post news and information about what I am up to and where you can sign up to be part of the reader group. There is a newsletter that goes out at least once per month with updates, book reviews, recipes, and general fun. For signing up now, a reader will receive a free prequel short story in the A Tale of Bone and Steel universe.

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