An Interview With David Dalglish on A DANCE OF CLOAKS
When did you first start writing?
I’ve been doing some sort of storytelling for pretty far back. In elementary school I had a folder I was proud of, a large collection of various stories (most hardly even begun, let alone finished) that all took place in a shared world. The largest was “Second Death,” in which I shamelessly ripped off the character Magus from my favorite SNES game of all time, Chrono Trigger. It was a hundred pages long at least, and I hadn’t even gotten a fifth of the way through my original outline. Not bad for fifth grade.
I mean, the story sucked. More the ambition I’m still proud of. Even back then I was thinking big.
Around high school I started writing less, and together with a friend worked on a long fantasy role-playing game using a program called RPG Maker, which we transferred on like, ten floppy disks to a computer we bought at a garage sale. After hours of working on the world and whatnot, I realized it was only the story that really mattered to me (and it was fairly obvious given how badly I was neglecting the combat mechanics).
About the same time I realized this I joined what is still my favorite creative writing class of all time. It was my senior year, and on the third day of that class the teacher, Mrs. Borushaski, took us to the computer lab and gave us very simple instructions. “I don’t care what you write. It can be a poem, a short story, a novel, a biography, but as long as you’re working on something, I’ll be happy.”
Might as well have given me the key to a candy store. I was ecstatic. An hour a day, five days a week, to just… write? Whatever the heck I want? I started a series of short stories that slowly blended together into a full novel. I’ve pondered rewriting it forever now, and at some point I think I’ll finally suck it up and do it. (To any of my longtime readers, that book would be The Fall of the Citadel, Lathaar and Mira’s original introduction, as well as the prelude to the events of the Paladins series).
So technically the world of Dezrel has existed in some shape or form since my high school days.
Which character was the hardest to write? Your favorite?
The hardest was probably Zusa (as well as the rest of the faceless). By the later Shadowdance novels I’d gotten a feel for her, but starting out, I had so much I just didn’t… know. How she’d react. What she wanted. How to let her personality out, especially with how guarded she was. With my chance at re-editing this book for Orbit, I’ve tried a lot to make her more prominent, prepare the reader for her larger role in the later books.
The easiest to write was Thren, without question. Getting into his mind-set is just fun, shutting off every emotion other than icy determination and ambition. Human life means nothing, absolutely nothing, unless they carry some direct benefit to you. Of course, this probably makes me sound like a sociopath. It’s all make-believe, I swear!
What is one thing about A DANCE OF CLOAKS, either the world or the characters, that you loved but couldn’t fit into the novel?
You all have no idea how disgusting the Worm originally was as a character. Just trust me on that.
With all of the detailed fight scenes, weapons, and wars going on, did you have to do any research beforehand to make the world feel more realistic?
I fear I’m going to pull back the curtain here, but I am terribly, horribly, painfully ignorant on these types of things. I’ve got a massive smattering of knowledge from reading a lot of books, watching movies, and a few oddball discussions with people who actually have combat experience… but then the vast bulk of it I just make up off the top of my head. If it sounds cool, and looks cool in my head, I run with it.
If I ever get caught, well… a wizard did it. A goofy wizard in yellow.
The novel is filled with unique names such as “Kensgold,” “Karak,” “Haern,” and more. Was there any specific inspiration for them?
ADoC was actually the fifth novel I’d written since taking the idea of a career as an author seriously, and something I’d started to feel a little silly about was some of the names I had for my characters, particularly from my much earlier Half-Orc series. So for ADoC I tried to simplify names down, using the more exotic names only for people like the priests and paladins. Karak’s existed since the Fall of the Citadel, which I described before, and was literally just the result of seventeen-year-old me pondering names that “sounded evil.”
The Kensgold I was terrified when I came up with, because I really didn’t feel comfortable making up any sort of name for the event. When I thought of the jingle “Gold flows at the jdfaklf-gold” I messed with different names before Kensgold, which sounded nice, and like something no one would make fun of me for using.
Haern is the last name of a friend of mine, with the vowels flipped.
Yeah. I’m totally a pro at this.
Where did the idea for the world of Dezrel come from?
As I discussed earlier, the world slowly came together as I wrote those stories in high school. That helped set up various places in the west, but a lot of the east, particularly Veldaren and the surrounding areas where the Shadowdance series takes place, I didn’t really flesh out until I started working on the Half-Orc series (where I first conceived of Haern).
My main idea I wanted for my world, the one thing I’ve tried to stick with, is that the world is a young world. Every fantasy (or at least the painfully limited selection I’ve read), it seems as if the world is entering its fourth or fifth age. There’s been ten billion magical artifacts scattered about, a millennium of history, ancient civilizations, forgotten demons, etc. All of which allows for plenty of potential, sure, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to focus on accessible. My world is barely five hundred years old. There are elves who remember when mankind drew its first breath after being created by the brother gods.
I don’t know how unique it makes my world, but I do know it makes getting into my work nice and easy and familiar. Anyone who has ever sat down at a table with friends to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons should instantly feel right at home. There’s a few monsters, a few races, but you won’t need a two-hundred-page compendium listing everything flittering about. Limiting? Perhaps. But I’ve had plenty of fun so far!