[This issue, we sit down with David Wimsett. Author of the epic fantasy series, The Carandir Saga, Wimsett here discusses his love of dragons; his dedication to egalitarian and representative fiction; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: To date, you have released two volumes in The Carandir Saga. In this series, dragons are the creators of the world. First, why dragons? What do you find so compelling about them?
David Wimsett: Dragons mean different things in different cultures. In Europe, dragons are generally thought of as evil. That is the kind of dragon J.R.R. Tolkien put in his stories. In China, dragons are a symbol of strength, vitality, and auspiciousness. They carry great wisdom and mystery. The dragons in The Carandir Saga are of this nature. They are the shapers of the world who taught people and are drawn from elements of Chinese and European mythology. The dragons establish a plan for humans to live together in harmony. One dragon violates the plan by teaching the forbidden knowledge of magic to humans and falls from grace, sowing the seeds of evil in the world. I have always been fascinated with dragons and wanted to explore them through different cultures.
ev0ke: How many books are you planning? And did you have the whole series plotted out before you started, or are the characters constantly surprising you?
DW: There are three books in The Carandir Saga, with the last one in progress. I didn’t intend to write a series. The story was supposed to end with the first book. Things changed. I don’t create outlines or make up character histories before writing. I start with a concept and sometimes a vague idea for an ending, which often turns out to be different from the original concept. I don’t know what the story is about until I finish the first draft. The plot and characters grow organically as I write. Things come to mind based on the material I’ve already set down. As I create characters and put them in situations, the way they react reveals their natures and those reactions influence how the plot moves forward. As the story progresses, new situations come to mind that, again, drive character development. It is a symbiotic relationship. As such, I am often as surprised and delighted as readers are when these new paths emerge.
The plot and character development are both important in my books. In the first draft, I let things just flow. In the second, third, and subsequent drafts I remove material that has come to a dead end, add material that is lacking and groom the prose and scenes into a novel, while harmonizing the characters. After I finished the first draft of Dragons Unremembered, it became evident to me that I was telling a larger story. The second book, Half Awakened Dreams, extends that larger story arc and carries the themes forward. Covenant With the Dragons will conclude the story arc.
ev0ke: Carandir is an egalitarian, multi-ethnic society. Why was it important to you to create a society where sexism and racism are the exception, not the norm?
DW: I have always had a strong adversity to inequality and injustice. Growing up as a science nerd who had far too large a vocabulary for my age, I have experienced the pain of prejudice and exclusion. People from many groups experience these things. For some, opportunity and even their lives can be threatened as stereotypes are reinforced in a culture and people who are different become isolated and can feel powerless. When diverse characters are presented in books, movies, and on television as being no different from anyone else, readers and viewers of those groups can see themselves as normal and capable of achieving great things in life. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series, wanted to quit after the first season. Martin Luther King Jr. asked her to stay on the show because her portrayal inspired people of color by showing a smart and capable black woman whose position on the ship was vital to its mission. Her portrayal also helped to shift attitudes among those in the majority of society, allowing them to see diverse peoples as no different them themselves. It was a small step on a journey that is still not complete.
The Carandir Saga is purposefully written to present a world of tolerance and equality. Still, there are characters in the novels who seek to create a misogynistic tyranny where those they do not consider to be pure are driven out. This contrast is intended to demonstrate the reality of prejudice and the diligence required to overcome it.
ev0ke: How did you go about creating the fictional civilization of Carandir? Did you draw on real-world examples, or is it all from your imagination?
DW: World building is one of the things I love to do. I combined concepts from history that are present in many cultures and from diverse myths and stories. The basic plots have been told many times over millennia by writers and bards. I drew on concepts from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Indigenous peoples in Australia and the Americas, Germany, France, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The unique stories and characters were created out of my imagination. Still, the archetypes of the characters can be seen in these and other cultures.
ev0ke: What sort of research goes into your books? Long hours online? Big stacks of books on your desk?
DW: I have written stories of science fiction, historical women’s fiction, and fantasy. All have elements of speculative fiction.
For science fiction, I research scientific principals and technical advances to root the stories in the realm of possibility. This is drawn from magazines, books, and the internet. I start with facts and consider how things could progress to affect humans. My stories always revolve around people.
For historical fiction, I read magazines, books, and internet articles. I have also gone to travelogue lectures about the places a story is set in and physically traveled to those locations to see the land and meet the people. In this way, I have an intimate understanding of the place and cultures, though I only put about 10% of my research into the stories.
Beyond the Shallow Bank is not only historical fiction. The story is told entirely through a woman’s viewpoint. To do this, I spoke with many women and asked them to share their perspectives and challenges. Two wonderful women told me their birth stories in intimate detail. Several women read the manuscripts and gave me important feedback.
For fantasy, I acquaint myself with the mythologies, religions, and customs of many different cultures. I look for the common elements and use them as the basis from which I create unique cultures and peoples.
ev0ke: In addition to your own work, what other books and authors would you recommend? What are some of your favorite works of epic fantasy?
DW: The Lord of the Rings had a deep impact on me. It was not just the story and characters; it was the realm Tolkien created that felt as if I could walk into it. My goal for The Carandir Saga was to create a world with depth while not retelling Tolkien’s story or using his character types.
I was also deeply influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune for the way he both created a unique world and blended science fiction with mysticism. I loved the detailed appendices of both works and included such in The Carandir Saga with pseudo-scholarly essays written as if Carandir were a real place, along with musical scores with lyrics of the songs in the books.
The works of Arthur C. Clark taught me how to weave detail into a story, but not so much so as to slow the plot. The works of Raymond Feist, Steven Brust, Gordon R. Dickson, and James Clavell were inspirations for writing action and adventure with engaging characters. Michael Crichton and Steven King taught me how to produce tight and concise prose. Douglas Adams was an inspiration for including humor.
There were two important nonfiction works that impacted my writing. One is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and his television series giving the concept of the common hero myth throughout cultures. The other is Kim Hudson’s book The Virgin’s Promise that presents a female counterpart to the male hero myth.
ev0ke: Beyond the Shallow Bank will be released as an illustrated edition in December 2021. First, where did you find the illustrations? What resources did you draw upon, e.g. public domain websites or collections of old artwork?
DW: All the illustrations are high resolution reproductions of Victorian era engravings that I licensed from two stock photo and illustration companies. I make certain that sources have the rights to distribute any images I obtain and license.
ev0ke: Where did you first encounter the selkie? Did you decide right away that you wanted to feature a selkie in a story, or did it take some time for the idea to coalesce?
DW: My ancestry is a quarter Irish and a quarter Scottish. I have always been enamored with Celtic mythology. I researched the many legends of the selkies who are said to help fishers in distress, with some fishers taking selkie wives. I intended to explore the selkies when I began Beyond The Shallow Bank and the legend is an integral part of the story about a relationship on the brink of breaking apart with the possibility of one partner leaving the other.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
DW: My books are available on Amazon world-wide. They are also carried online at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, and Indigo in Canada. Any bookstore, chain or independent, can order them for readers through the Ingram catalogue. I also sell copies at local bookstores, events, and markets where I get the chance to meet people and talk with them, something I love doing even if they don’t buy a book.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
DW: I am working on a podcast featuring my short stories as audio plays that I intend to produce in the new year. I am an actor and am assembling a great cast to bring the stories to life with music and sound effects.
As well, I am also working on a humorous book titled How to Train Your Human: A guide for cats and dogs (and any other animal that shares its life with people). It is drawn from the experience of being trained by my Boston Terrier, Rosie (and she’s done a bang-up job, too).