Fantasy Writer Spotlight March 2014: Darrell J. Pursiful Interview and Excerpt

Children of Pride by Darrell J. Pursiful 
 
Philip Overby: First off, thanks for agreeing to be March’s Featured Writer. 

Darrell J. Pursiful: Thank you, Philip. I appreciate your effort to bring some new writers a wider visibility. May your tribe increase!

PO: Let’s start off with the “inciting incident” so to speak. When was the moment you decided, “I’m going to be a writer.”

DJP: I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a moment! Rather, I think I’ve slowly evolved into it. I was always writing little stories as a child, usually my own take on whatever movie I had recently watched or whatever book I had recently read. At college, I had to try my hand at writing in a language other than my own—no easy feat, let me tell you! I appreciated the challenge, however. I have a fond memory a professor reading one of my works in an advanced Spanish composition class as an example of what the class should be aspiring to.

Of course, doctoral study also provided many opportunities to write. Although, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why any sane person would want to read the sort of highly technical scholarly prose that most academics produce! I expected I would eventually be a writer in the sense that most academics imagine themselves doing research and getting published in scholarly journals. Taking a detour toward fiction still surprises me, to be honest.

PO: Who are some of your biggest influences as a writer?

DJP: Early on, definitely Tolkien. I imagine many fantasy writers would say the same. Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs rank pretty high as well just on their ability to tell a rip-roaring story.

As I explain in the Acknowledgements of Children of Pride, the fantasy fiction my twelve-year-old reads has rekindled my own love for the genre. Of her favorites, I especially appreciate the wholesome charm of C. S. Lewis, Rick Riordan’s creative appropriation and re-interpretation of ancient mythology, and J. K. Rowling’s wonderful knack for building a delightful world that is, at turns, both hilarious and foreboding.

Although I would not recommend it to my daughter, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels are my current guilty pleasure. Harry’s smart-alecky attitude and abundance of pop-culture references probably come through at least a bit in the way I portray my protagonist, Taylor Smart.

PO: Where did you get the idea to write your book Children of Pride?

DJP: Children of Pridewelled up from a number of sources. Before it took shape, I had already written some Harry Potter fan fiction strictly to entertain my daughter. Eventually, all the good ideas I was coming up with no longer quite fit the universe J. K. Rowling had created. Well, they had to go somewhere! In particular, I became fascinated with the faery-lore of northern Europe and thought there was some fertile ground there in which to plant a story somewhat in the vein of what Rick Riordan has done with Greek mythology.

At the same time, the books my daughter was reading at the time all seemed to have certain core elements including (1) a male protagonist who (2) grew up in a family that was somehow deficient if not dysfunctional. I decided I wanted to write about a female with a fairly healthy home life.

Back to my Potter fan fiction for a moment: I always “consulted” with my daughter about story elements she would like to read about, and I gave her a good bit of latitude in fleshing out one of the first original characters I developed. At one point, I asked her what this character most wished were different about her life, and her answer (paraphrasing) was that this person’s life was pretty much just the way she likes it. Well, that makes for a boring story in our world, but what if this character, with her pretty much okay life, suddenly gets tossed into a world that is anything but okay? That’s where my protagonist’s story begins. Where it eventually leads, we’ll have to see.

PO: Tell us about your main character and why you chose her to be your protagonist.

DJP: Ah, Taylor Smart is something! She’s “thirteen going on thirty,” as the saying goes. One of my beta readers referred to her as “spunky.” I guess I’m okay with that. As I suggested, Taylor inherited a pretty good life, all told. She was adopted as a baby by a loving couple who live quite ordinary lives: work hard, finish your homework, go to church, visit grandma every Christmas. That kind of thing.

But Taylor doesn’t always feel she fits in. She has a wild imagination and a quirky way of looking at the world. She also has a deep love of music. It is, in fact, the only school subject to which she actually applies herself.

Taylor is very bright and she knows it—and she has little patience for those who can’t keep up with her. Have you ever been stuck at the fast-food counter behind somebody who didn’t really know what they wanted to order and asked about a hundred inane questions they could have figured out for themselves by just reading the menu board? That’s what life is like for Taylor pretty much every day. She is happiest when left alone to let her mind churn along at its own rapid pace. She’s independent and stubborn, just like her author. As you might guess, rule-keeping is not really her thing, either. She’s not so much a rebel so much as someone whose own sense of right and wrong makes a lot more sense than somebody else’s list of arbitrary rules.

Why write about someone like Taylor? I would be lying if I denied there was a little bit of me in Taylor. I would have to say my own life growing up was pretty ideal, and on my worst days I’ll admit to being impatient with people whose brains aren’t wired quite like mine.

Mostly, I’ve written about somebody like Taylor because my favorite stories are always the ones where the hero is obviously outgunned but somehow comes out on top by out-thinking his or her opponents. That’s why I named the character Taylor, by the way, in a nod to all the old stories about a crafty tailor who manages in the end to get one over on the Fair Folk.

PO: Speaking of old stories, you mentioned to me before that you have a strong interest in folklore and mythology. Can you tell us one of your favorite stories or myths?

I’ve loved the stories of the Trojan War since high school. They’re at the headwaters of Greek culture, and they describe a time that is just barely within the realm of history. We can visit the ruins of Troy today, and archeologists can tell us in general terms about the historical context in which the city fell. But the whole episode has been embellished with layers upon layers of mythology. You have character studies like Achilles the offended warrior sulking in his tent; the love triangle of Helen, Menelaus, and Paris; and Odysseus longing for home. And that’s not even counting how the classical playwrights built on Homer’s foundation to put their own spin the source data. The history (to the extent that anybody can claim to know what happened!) has become this amazing backdrop for Greek exploration of the human condition. It’s no wonder the Iliad and the Odyssey were the core curriculum for ancient Greek learning.

PO: I was also a huge fan of epic poems back in high school. I guess part of that led me to an interest in fantasy books and eventually video games and tabletop games. As a fellow D&D nerd, I think role-playing played a huge part in me becoming more interested creative endeavors. Do you think D&D is a gateway into story writing?

One thing my D&D background instilled in me was a sense of the mechanics of world-building. How many “races” of fantastic beings are there? Where did they come from? How does magic work? etc. I probably go overboard on the world-building, but I think I’ve managed to keep it from bogging up the story.

Is D&D (or similar games) a “gateway” to storytelling? I’m not sure, but it can definitely be a gateway into imagining a world of magic and adventure, and that sounds like a great first step.

PO: What are some of your methods for composing your work? Do you just make things up as you go or outline extensively? 

DJP: I have tried to use Randy Ingermanson’s “snowflake” method. I have found it immensely helpful in sorting my ideas and giving my stories a solid overall structure. Rather consistently, however, I break down about halfway through the process and just wing it. Sometimes that works well for me, other times it doesn’t. I feel I write with more confidence when I have at least a vague idea of where the story is going. But sometimes something clicks in terms of a character’s motivations or the way a particular kind of magic ought to work, and I realize there’s a much more fruitful direction things need to go.

PO: I also use the Snowflake Method and have found it really helpful to keep me more structured. It always keeps me working! Could you share what you’re working on at the moment? 

DJP: I’m almost finished with the first draft of the sequel to Children of Pride. This novel, with a working title of The Devil’s Due, follows Taylor’s adventures after she comes back from the faery realm. We’ll see how the experiences of the first book have changed her and, in the process, get to see more of how she interacts with her parents and her best friend, Jill. How do you explain to the people you love that you’ve now got one foot planted deeply in a magical realm? We’ll also meet some new characters and visit some new places.

Taylor’s new friend, Danny, is a fun character to write. I’ve got a few ideas for some short stories where he could take the limelight, but nothing written down at this point.

PO: Would you like to share any comments for those considering to buy Children of Pride?

DJP: I’ve tried to write intelligent Young Adult fiction that doesn’t talk down to strong readers but is still sensitive about subject matter for which middle schoolers may not be quite prepared. I have tried to walk a line between “family-friendly” entertainment and the depiction of a weird and often dangerous world. If that sounds like something you—or the young reader in your life—may enjoy, then Children of Pridemay be your kind of story.

And here is an excerpt of Children of Pride below. You can check out more here:  Children of Pride by Darrell Pursiful
 
That’ll hold her,” the first creature said. Taylor shared her cell with numerous crates and a bank of shelves against the far wall. Despite the fire in the furnace, she felt unnaturally cold.
Four others gathered around the door. Each was as ugly as the first, pale and twisted and not entirely human. They were dressed similarly, but three of them wore leather aprons that covered them from their torsos to their knees. The fourth had on a threadbare tee shirt.
 
Let’s have a look at you, little girl,” one of the creatures said. He spoke with a distinct nasal twang. Given the size of his nose, Taylor wasn’t that surprised. She realized all of her captors had the same kind of voice, the kind that would have given her choir teachers fits. 
 
Taylor eyed them from behind her bars. She inched up the wall, using the shelf for support. Her whole body ached from being slammed against solid rock so many times. Plus, she was exhausted from her asthma attack. 
 
Let me go!” she gasped. The creatures murmured to themselves. 
 
Not likely,” the one in the tee shirt said. To his comrade he said, “You say you found her trespassing?” 
 
That’s right,” Nabby answered. “She was poking around out by the south entrance. And that’s not all.” 
 
Yeah?” 
 
She wasn’t alone. There was a fae tossing fire orbs in the tunnels.”
 
A fae!” a different creature spat. “I thought we had a deal! Nobody from Pilot Knob is supposed to come near our caves without permission!”
 
You can’t trust a stinking faery!” a fourth creature chimed in, the tallest of the group.
 
Then she’s one, too!” the leader said. Was his name Dwally? 
 
Taylor’s head was pounding, but she had to get a grip. She tried to call forth enough glamour to try a death-glare. “Presence,” Danny had called it. An aura of confidence. Power. If she could intimidate them, maybe she could convince them to let her go.
 
I said, Let me go!she growled.
 
All five creatures became suddenly silent—then burst out laughing.
 
Listen, little girl,” one of the creatures—the tallest one again—chided, “your little glamour tricks aren’t going to work around here. Or are you so dense you haven’t even realized where you are?” 
 
Taylor didn’t know what to say to that, but her face must have told her captors everything they needed to know. To more sneering and joking, the creature who had spoken to her pulled some kind of metal scraper from a pocket on his apron and ran it across the bars of her makeshift cage. 
 
What Otter is trying to say,” Dwally explained, stifling laughter, “is that you’re trapped in an iron cage. Iron!” He said it as if it was the punch line to a joke Taylor should have understood, but didn’t. 
 
She tried once again to imagine a veil of magical mist resting on her shoulders, draping over her. Nothing happened. It was as if she had used up her daily allotment of glamour. She had run out of magical steam. 
 
What kindred d’you figure she is?” another creature asked. He was nearly as tall as the one who rattled her cage and built like a brick wall. 
 
Too ugly to be a huldra,” a stout creature in an apron said.

Too stupid to be a sídhe,” Nabby added. Taylor fumed. “I think the other one was a pooka, though.” 
 
She could be a puke,” Dwally mused. “If I was going to send a spy, I’d definitely send a puke.” 
 
They’re tricky, that’s for sure,” Otter, the cage-rattler, said. 
 
I’m not a spy!” Taylor protested. She limped forward. “Now please, let me go!

It was no use. She simply couldn’t intimidate them. She grabbed the icy bars and shook them in frustration. 
 
Dwally,” Nabby said, “do you want me to get hold of Tewa? Find out how much ransom he’s willing to pay to get his spy back?” 
 
Dwally scratched his chin. “Not yet,” he said. We need to find out what she knows—and especially where her buddy is. Blain, any ideas?” 
 
The creature in the eye patch snapped out of his daze at the mention of his name. “Not sure,” he said. “Give me a minute.” His gaze turned in Taylor’s direction. Taylor shuddered. For an instant it felt as if he were looking straight through her. 
 
We don’t have a minute,” Dwally said. “Blain, Finn: get back in the tunnels and round up the other one. I don’t want him making it back to Pilot Knob. Understand?” 
 
Sure thing, boss,” Eye-patch said, shaking himself awake. He gestured to his stoutly built colleague. He picked up a big leather satchel that jangled as he heaved it to his shoulder, and the two of them darted out a sturdy wooden door on the far side of the chamber. 
 
That left Taylor alone with Dwally, the leader; as well as Nabby, apparently the one who caught her in the first place; and Otter, the tall one with the metal scraper. 
 
Dwally swaggered over to her. “They’re starting them young these days. What are you? Twenty? Twenty-five?” 
 
Taylor started to protest that she was only thirteen, but thought better of it. She had already seen that the Fair Folk aged more slowly than ordinary humans, but she had no idea how that worked out in terms of how foolish and immature her actual age would make her seem to these creatures—whatever they were. 
 
I’m not a spy,” she said. 
 
You keep saying that,” Dwally said. “I just don’t believe you.” Nabby and Otter murmured in agreement. “You Pilot Knobbers make a big show of letting us dwarves live in your neighborhood. You trade for our goods. But we both know you’d give anything to learn our secrets.” 
 
I’m trying to tell you, I’m not from Pilot Knob. I’ve never even been—wait, did you just say you all are dwarves?” She gazed up at Otter, the tallest of the group, who could have been nearly six feet tall. 
 
Well, what did you think we are? Wood nymphs?” Otter laughed in derision. 
 
No!” she protested, blushing. “It’s just…I always thought…never mind.” 
 
The state of education these days,” Dwally sighed, shaking his head. “I bet she doesn’t know a thing about dwarf-kind except what she’s seen in those Topsider movies where we’re all short, proud, warrior guys with Scottish accents.” 
 
Ignorant stereotypes!” Nabby added. “I blame Dungeons and Dragons.” The others murmured agreement. 

***
Thanks again to our March 2014 writer spotlight Darrell J. Pursiful! Please leave any comments below! 
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