SPFBO Spotlight on DH Willison

Anne C. Miles > SPFBO Spotlights > SPFBO Spotlight on DH Willison

D.H. Willison wrote Harpyness is only Skin Deep and entered it into SPFBO 6. I read the book the week after it was booted from the contest, and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun adventure about Darin, a guy who gets an opportunity to escape his humdrum life and live on a planet with fantasy creatures. Of course, most of the creatures want to eat him, but who reads the fine print? Darin is likable. The story (about making friends with a harpy and defeating giant vicious mermaids) won’t knock your socks off with its prose, but it isn’t meant to. It’s just fun. In this day and age, we all need a little more fun.

Dave very kindly took the time to give me an interview. You can read it below.

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history enthusiast. He’s lived around the world, absorbing history, culture, and food. Actually he’s eaten the food. It has been verified that he is a complex, multicellular life form. Fascinated by nature, technology, and history, and especially anything that can put all three of these together, he has an annoying habit of dragging his wife to the most unromantic destinations imaginable, including outdoor museums, authentic castle dungeons, the holds of tall ships, and even the tunnels of the Maginot Line.

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Welcome to my lair, D.H. Willison. Tell me about a great book you’ve read recently!

The last couple fantasy books I read were: Theft of Swords and The Goblin Emperor. Very different stories, but in the end both character-driven: something I really appreciate. They are books for different moods, in the one case intrigue and diplomacy, in the other straight up fantasy adventure.

What’s your favorite song? 

Totally depends on my mood. If I’m looking for something energizing, “Troublemaker” by Grizfolk does it. A chill mood, when cooking, “Rattlesnakes” by Emancipator. And if I need something uplifting, “Wrapped in Grey” by XTC does it every time.

Okay, time to escalate things: you get to travel to any book’s setting and world but you have to choose only one. Where do you go?

That would have to be Arvia, the setting of my own work, which is one of the reasons I created it. The idea of having a world that I would really love to visit, a world filled with danger, magic and fantastic creatures, makes it flat-out fun to write. Honestly, I don’t think I’d last very long there. But it would totally be worth it!

How do you like to work? (In silence, with music? Do you prefer to type or to hand- write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or underwater in scuba gear?)

Tell me about your writing method!

Nooo. Is this a multiple choice? ‘Cause I don’t like those.

I suppose I’m mostly an architect. I start with the main characters and then just brainstorm what needs to happen to them to push them to develop further. Then what could happen to them (because it would either be really cool or hilarious–or both). And finally, what could happen in the world around them. Once I have a big enough pool of ideas, I’ll start seeing connections between all the pieces, and the plot will come together.

As far as clothing and location… oof. I’m saving my money to convert my writer’s den into a sanctuary for orphaned miniature dragons and other mythic beasts. But it’s slow going. And I’m still in boring street clothes as well.

What/Who are your most significant fantasy influences?

I’m probably still subconsciously influenced by the Oz books I read as a child, but after that it’s been a little of everything. Of course the SFF humor authors were an influence starting in my teens; Pratchett, Adams, Asprin, Anthony. Otherwise, I try to mix classics with contemporary authors. And at the moment my TBR is miles long.

What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Sarah Beth Durst, who told the group “write what you love” (rather than the typical “write what you know”). I had at the time recently joined a writers group and was being bombarded with jargon, market trends, styles and tropes that were in vogue. I was feeling a bit insecure because I wasn’t doing any of that, but was writing stories that I loved reading. And Sarah’s advice was just what I needed.

Can you tell me a little something about your current work(s) in progress?

Yes! Finding your Harpy Place is the story of a journey seen through the eyes of two very different protagonists: Rinloh, a cheerful and adventurous giant harpy, and Darin, an introspective but insatiably curious human. They must venture far from the relative safety of home when the shadow of a magic artifact cuts across both their lives, leaving a trail of misfortune in its wake. Their quests lead them to a village of goblins deep in a swamp where monstrous insects ruin more than just your picnic. A tropical island paradise seems a little too good to be true. And an encounter with a harpy flock even more ruthless than Rinloh’s own threatens to put Darin squarely on the “catch of the day” menu.

The novel is set in the same location, with the main characters from my prior novel, Harpyness is Only Skin Deep; it is, however, written as a stand-alone. I don’t believe in cliffhanger endings to books!

How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?

I really wish I had a magic technique, but it’s usually just a matter of picking something off my huge list of to-dos and doing it. If I’m not feeling creative, I can do research, or background stories, figure out names of minor cities or characters, edit. Or… [shudder] … marketing. There’s always something to do.

Who are your favourite characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?

I love the underpowered, underdog archetype! It drives so much creativity in terms of conflict resolution. A basilisk the size of a delivery van stands between you and your destination, salivating, licking its lips. Sure, you could whip out the caustic claymore of calamity and charge in, but where’s the fun in that? And what if your equipment consists of a rusty dagger, three novelty stink-bombs, and half a flask of cheap brandy? Now there’s a scenario that’s more interesting. And fun!

Tell me about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure. 

A bit of an old one, but if you haven’t heard of Perelandra, it’s worth a read. It’s part of a lesser-known trilogy by CS Lewis, one that blurs the lines between sci-fi and fantasy, but I find it stylistically and thematically intriguing. A very interesting take on good versus evil.

Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle me with an elevator pitch?

Why should readers check out your work?

In a word: fun. The novels take place on Arvia, a beautiful, dangerous, crazy world filled with colorful, larger-than-life characters, and mythical monsters more colorful and larger still. We have Rinloh, a harpy the size of a three-story building, who remains friendly and cheerful, despite the totally unfounded prejudices the local humans have against harpies. Well, actually since most of the rest of her flock view humans as a tasty part of a balanced diet, I suppose such prejudices are not totally unfounded. Her best friend is a nerdy, introspective human named Darin, who shouldn’t have survived his first ten minutes on Arvia. 

Oh sure, I could tell you about the nefarious plot behind the disappearances in the city of Xin in Harpyness is Only Skin Deep. Or the mysterious artifact casting a long shadow of tragedy in Finding your Harpy Place. But that’s not why you should read them. You should read them because you want to stand up and cheer, because you want to giggle when unearthing an obscure pop-culture reference, and because you want to laugh ‘till you snort milk (or the beverage of your choice) out your nose.

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