Interview with Dain White

Why should I read your series in 5 sentences or less?
1) You love a good story. 2) You love great characters. 3) You love classic science fiction. 4) You love hard science, and believable futures 5) You love to read, and can't wait to find a new book to love.
Do you have a favorite character out of the 3 books you've written so far?
Aw that's a really hard question... I really love my characters, mainly because they each represent an amalgam of personality traits, characteristics, and experiences from real people I have known, loved, respected, and idolized.
If my furry little toes are being held to the fire here, however, I'd have to say that Captain Dak Smith is my ultimate. He's the superlative captain. He is the master of his destiny, the hottest starship pilot in the galaxy, and is without a doubt, the most fun to imagine.
What's on your perfect sandwich?
Dave's Power Light bread, one slice (prepare for folding!) Avocado slices! Pepper Jack Almond Cheese (it's awesome stuff, really) Garlic Hummus (a nice thick layer, because yum) Spicy Brown Mustard (the chunky stuff)
Shove all that into the bread slice, fold that sucker in half, and then fall head-over-heels in love with food.
Hi! I've never read your books, but give me a reason in 5 words as to why I should, regardless of their genre affiliation
Story! Characters! Adventure! Imagination! Entertainment!
What has been the biggest challenge in writing for you and how have you overcome the obstacle?
Without a doubt, my biggest challenge is myself. As soon as I sit back and read something I have written, I immediately start nitpicking it. There is something incredibly frustrating in wanting to say just the right thing, putting your best effort into it (or what you thought at the time was your best effort) then reading it. It's almost like that moment when you first heard a recording of how you sound. Who is that person?
For me, writing is a lot like that. As the words are flowing out of my fingers into the story, the story I am shoving along is awesome, funny and or terrifying... it's perfect. After I take a step back and read it do I realize how much I hate it (while at the same time, realize the depth of my determination to fix it... to make it better at all costs)
That, in a nutshell, is my biggest challenge. I have to force myself past that moment and keep plowing the seeds of the story into the endless rows of the novel, to follow that mule, to chase the tale. I write a bit, stop, and try my best to read and fix it casually, as if in passing. Just a little tweak here, a little massage there. Oh look, I used 'of course' again. That won't do. Hey, what tense is this supposed to be? That sort of stuff. Before too long I am researching gravitational lensing, reading about magnetic field theory or wishing I knew Nicolai Tesla back in the day... and then realize, I have spent what few precious moments I get in the day to write, agonizing over three freaking words on page 260 of a light-hearted classic sort of science fiction space opera that maybe 10 people who aren't my mom will read... but, it's the journey, not the destination. I write to enjoy writing. The end of the story is usually sad for me (and I normally start the next book immediately!)
I wouldn't really say I have overcome this, per se though I have learned to adapt to it. I have learned to 'lightly agonize' over what I write initially, and to pass through the words I've written over and over, multiple times, never spending a terrible amount of time on each problem, but over time, tweaking it and working it until I can sit back, read it, and love it with every fiber of my being.
Do you have any particular activities that typically lead into a productive writing session?
Insofar as writing is concerned - I am always writing. If I am not physically writing with my fingers, I am writing in my head, and then trying to catch up later. One of my 'wierd little tricks' to writing, is to be writing while listening to music, or even writing while my family watches something epic on TV. For some reason, the theme music tends to work its way into the story. Has to be some big blockbuster sort of movie though, if they're watching TV, my word count plummets. I also listen to music that fits the mindset of the character I am writing. If it's Yak Onebull the 7' tall marine, in the middle of combat, I'm listening to Otep. If I am writing Steven 'Pauli' Pauline, the geeklord as he hacks into some network, I'm listening to Infected Mushroom. I listen to a lot of Muse when I write space combat. Music definitely helps.
Your books are very entertaining! Where do you get your inspiration?
Thanks! That's a very good question... my main inspiration comes from a lifelong love of science, science fiction, and my own overactive imagination. When I write, I try to do one thing first: write the book I want to read. The kind of book I want to read is fun, entertaining, exciting, interesting and a little mysterious, and above all, visceral. I want it to leap off the page and play in my head like a blockbuster movie. I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want a rollercoaster of emotion. I want depth and realism, and ultimately, I want my books to be my favorite books on my shelf.
As to individual characters - they're an amalgamation of many people I've known (real and imaginary). Captain Dak Smith, for example, is a bit of my dad, my grandfather, a guy I used to work for, my son, myself, and well, one of my best friends supplied the coffee addiction. MFJ, as he's called (My Friend James) is literally the most coffee addicted person I've ever known. He literally drinks a pot of coffee, to wake up enough to make a pot of coffee.
All of my characters are really combinations of multiple people. My wife lends a no-nonsense smirk to Shorty, my mom's knowledge of physics and math (and towering 5' 2" stature) is tossed in, and my sister's ability to understand anything without trying is also thrown into the mix. Each part of the characters that are based on real people add depth and realism to the fictional character, and give them detail. It also makes them a lot of fun to write!
And that's really my main inspiration - to have fun. I want to feel at all times like what I am doing is the most fun I can possibly have within legal limits (or maybe a wee bit beyond).
How do you help keep yourself focused when you write?
I have a pretty busy life, I daylight as a coder, and that's a pretty demanding, full time sort of job. I have two darling children, Interruption and Distraction (not their actual names) and She Who Shall Require Me Do Things Sometimes, my lovely wife. All of which, are just part and parcel of the other million things I need to do, like clean my shop, organize my closet, paint stuff, glue things (in my primary function as the Fixit Daddy™) and so on.
My answer to staying focused, is to declare time as your own. Make it a moment where nothing else matters. To make sure I don't step on anyone's delicate sensibilities and offend my darling children, I wait until they're asleep, generally, then I metamorph into my alter-ego, Late Night Science Fiction Author.
It's a disease, writing... you will find that it will consume your every waking moment, the more you feed your inner demon, the more you enjoy the creative process... eventually, you'll turn into a fiend, and you'll be like me, essentially writing all the time (whether you're physically at a keyboard or not) and when you do get to a keyboard, you're just trying to keep up with the story that is already racing ahead of you.
Balancing home life with family life with work with career with self indulgence with being an author, is an art. People who have leveled to cap in an MMO with full raid legendary gear would understand the amount of effort and determination it takes to push through to the end of a novel.
Some days, you are writing and writing and then... maybe it's time to eat something. While you're at it, put on some pants. Did you have a job at some point, or was that one of your characters?
Which author has influenced your work the most?
I'd say without a doubt, Robert Heinlein. He had the amazing ability to tell a story through character interactions, to balance the science and the story and the characters into a wonderful cloud that you just effortlessly float through. My first book, ARCHAEA, is dedicated to RAH, for inspiring me to reach for the stars, and tell the story.
Of his books, I am a little odd, in that I am a little atypical as to which one moves me the most. Like many, I like Stranger in a Strange Land, but it's not really my most influential. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is really a pivotal book in my life - but the one I love unendingly, is Time Enough for Love, because, well... Lazarus Long is my hero.
While Robert Heinlein is my #1, another science fiction favorite of mine is Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat. Keith Laumer's Retief books (and of course, his BOLO books) are also way up there on my list. I am really a huge fan of many, many scifi authors though - but those are probably the most influential.
Of authors I admire and consciously try my best to emulate, I'd say Tolkien and Vonnegut are way, way, way near the very top of the list. Ursula K. LeGuin (especially The Word For World Is Forest) and Janet Morris (her 'In Hell' series is one of my all time favorites) are also extremely influential.
Astute readers of ARCHAEA, JANIS and RED will no doubt see all sorts of 'sincerest forms of flattery' for these, and other fantastic authors. I am really deeply touched by so many...
What do you think the proper balance of science and fiction is best for sci-fi? Do you ever find yourself sacrificing entertainment or plot points because they are not scientifically believable enough?
Absolutely. I am a firm believer that the stories I write need to be scientifically accurate. They need to be as real as possible.
I try pretty hard not to overwhelm the reader with minute details of every little thing, however, because that wouldn't be something the characters would do anyway.
As an example, if you told someone you were heating up some coffee in the microwave, would you need to describe how the cyclotron inside is blah de blah de blah? You already fell asleep, heck, I barely made it through that sentence myself.
What I do (or try to do) is first, build my story on plausible, real technology. If I am writing about someone in space, they move like they're in space. They might "kick out across the cargo bay", rather than "float down into the cargo bay", in other words (The Enemy's gate is DOWN...) If I am writing about a medical procedure, I consult with doctors who know cutting edge research and talk about what is 'science fiction' when it comes to medicine. If I am writing about a 'pseudomass generator', I research the heck out of frame dragging using a rotating ring of supercooled gallium arsenide, from obscure Russian quantum physics papers to get it just right.
Then, once I am sure I know what I am writing about is real, and if the reader happened to be a theoretical physicist or astronaut, I am confident they won't scoff too loudly, I use general, off-handed terms to introduce the reader to the concept. I might use a conversation between a 'geeky' character and a non-technical character to bring more details about the tech - and I'll use the non-technical character as a sort of stand-in for the reader of the story, if in fact the reader isn't technically minded. The non-technical character might respond by saying "well, what you're saying sounds incredibly awesome but I won't pretend to understand it", to give the non-technical reader a touchstone on their own feelings of being overwhelmed. If the reader identifies more with the geek / gearhead character, they identify with the dialog, because it is familiar to them (as they may come into non-technical people frequently as well, etc).
The key, is to try as best as I can to introduce tech to the story and character in a way that doesn't alienate the casual reader, while richly rewarding the super geek that lives and breathes science fiction.
At least that's the plan...whether or not I do it, is another thing entirely!
As far as sacrificing entertainment goes - while I do write within the strict framework that my story needs to be a great story, it needs to have believable, fun characters, it needs to involve realistic science and technology - I think that framework actually helps me to write stories that are more entertaining, than if I just made stuff up wildly and called everthing a Refracto-nullifier or a Mark II Positron Flux Dampener.
In the end, my goal is ultimately to write the kind of science fiction story I most want to read, after all! I want the hardcore scifi fan to feel as if they're watching the ultimate hyper-realistic science fiction adventure unfold in their head, while at the same time, I want the casual scifi reader, or someone who is looking for a fun, entertaining story that isn't a scifi fan at all, to not feel overwhelmed at having to keep track of every little nut and bolt along the way.
How did you become end up becoming an author?
I've always been a very creative person... as a small child I used to make my own books and try to illustrate them, writing, drawing, playing music and (of course) legos - these were my toys as a kid. (I have to include sticks and dirt, because I played a LOT with sticks and dirt...)
The creative drive in me never abated, and I am a voracious reader, and an absolute fiend for science fiction - but I realized that I like specific types of science fiction more than others. I like engaging characters, witty dialog, epic stories, hardcore science and so on, far more than I like fantastical scifi (for some reason, character names that use too much diacritical punctuation really rub me the wrong way, but I digress a bit...)
I had this idea that someday, I'd become a world famous author, the kind of person that generations of people would know of - I'd be listed in the same breath as the greats, and I'd be super rich, loved, and so on. And then, I turned 15 and had to go work for a living and learn the brutal truth about the workaday world, personal responsibility, and the need to pay people when they need you to pay them.
The dream though, never went far away... After 20 or so years, I found myself riding a commuter bus to work every morning and every night, staring at my phone for an hour / day, doing nothing but sitting. I thought, hey, this phone here has a flip out keyboard, and it runs Windows Mobile 6.1 (because I am that guy) and hey, I should totally write something.
I used to pester the faculty members and students on the bus (it was the bus to Washington State University, and filled with all sorts of smarties) for ideas, advice, and ultimately, their encouragement to continue. That was really the beginning of being a quote-unquote 'writer' for me.
After about 100 pages, once I realized I had a great big story in my head that had been simmering on the mental back burner for 20-30 years, and I might actually have the will to see it through, I realized (quite suddenly) that I was in fact, addicted. Writing is a disease, I've learned. The desire to fall head-long into this enormous act of long-term creation is almost an aphrodisiac. You grow to need it, to crave it. The feel of the keys as I slap them, the sound their little squeaks and creaks make, is like the heartbeat of a giant creative womb wrapping around me.
Published 2016-03-11.
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Books by This Author

Archaea
Price: Free! Words: 65,730. Language: English. Published: March 11, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera, Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
(4.25 from 4 reviews)
Strap in for a sci-fi adventure in the grand old style of the radio serials of yesteryear, but told with a modern twist: blending great characters with a hyper-realistic setting to create a visceral experience that is difficult to put down, and hard to forget.