Desmond White is a writer of speculative fiction in Houston, Texas. At the moment, Desmond is midway through a Masters in European Vacations, or Liberal Arts, at Houston Baptist University and is teaching English language arts at Kempner High School in FBISD.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
Recently my little brother and I found a box of school materials from K-8th grade. Tucked within a straw brown folder was my first “novel,” a forty-page medieval fantasy I wrote in fourth-grade titled “Javis Kyle and the Silver Bowl.” The book was terrible but showcased an early interest in writing. It also had a character who was a thinly-veiled expy of my brother who over the course of the novel was pinned full of arrows, fell out a window, and caught the Plague. I think it’s safe to say all signs point to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as having a (cliché) profound impact on my life. I hoped to someday write something as good as his battles between orcs and trees, hobbits and spiders, wizards and giant flaming eyeballs.
What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
In college, I had this awesome creative writing professor named Robert Krut who would say these stupidly simple things about writing. I called his observations Krutisms and joked with my now-wife (then-complicated) about how corny they sounded. But he taught me many things, including how to tone down my self-conceit and be less shocking. I’ll give you two Krutisms, and if these statements are from some list on BrainyQuote then like all great writers Krut was being a conduit for the voices around him. Once he told us that “working on fiction is like working in a garden. Sometimes you have to leave and come back.” Another: “Why don’t you write like what you like?”
Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
A book I’ve found very helpful in my development is Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Good writing starts with a good sentence, and then another, and another. I’m still not good at it but the book helps.
If you could go back and find yourself five years ago, what advice would you give yourself?
I’m not 100% sure who said this (the Internet thinks it’s April Young Fritz) but I find the following phrase very inspiring: “The worst thing you do write is better than the best thing you don’t write.” I’d tell that twenty-three-year-old me to suck it up and not let ideas funk up the place.
What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
There’s another saying (this one the Internet attributes to a lot of people, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw) that goes: “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.” On that note, I am enthralled by writers who can use genre and comedy to say insightful things about humanity. I’m talking about Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and if you want to go really far back Lucian of Samosata. It’s a delight to read a work that explores the darkness and light in humanity using comedy, calamity, convention, and a cup of cold-blood.
How do you measure success when it comes to your writing?
If I read something I wrote and it makes me hate the author, I failed.
What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Who can ever find time to write?
Do you favor the traditional route or self-publishing?
Traditional publishing is for the lucky and patient. Self-publishing is for the lucky and brave.
What do you think the publishing industry will look like twenty-five years from now?
The current trends will continue. Writers will become more and more available to the public through personality-sharing sites like Facebook and Twitter and manuscript-sharing sites like Wattpad and Prose (not to mention illicit services such as torrenting). The job will further mimic the blogging journalist, becoming more of a digital, 24/7, content-driven “lifestyle” that rewards extroversion and brand. However, the Author will continue to find their career a financial liability. On one hand, success will be risky—especially as the supply of writers increases and the demand stays about the same. On the other hand, money will still be made, especially by diligent self-promoters.
Are you an outliner or discovery writer? Or somewhere in between?
Outliner. I’ll start with some initial idea—”robots get the right to bear arms” or “a man tries to convert his dog to Christianity”—and expand on the idea’s logical conclusions and tangents. Sometimes these concepts will fester in my notebooks for years, slowly being developed in the shower or while I’m having sex with my wife. Finally, when I have the time (See Question #7), I’ll lie on my stomach on the floor (that’s how I write for extended periods of time—I don’t want hemorrhoids) and type out a rough draft on my ancient MacBook Pro.
Have you attended any conferences or writing retreats? What was the experience like and do you have any to recommend?
Houston, Texas is writer-friendly. We have the Houston Writer’s Guild, a nonprofit community of supportive writers. We have Writespace, another community “founded by writers, for writers.” We have InPrint, an organization that brings in authors to speak for cheap prices (I’m talking “I saw Salman Rushdie for $5” cheap). All of these organizations run critique groups and meetups and classes on creative writing and they all put on conventions and reunions and retreats which can be incredibly rewarding but incredibly expensive. I’ll say this—going to a writer’s conference is like going to church. You go for the people and the pulpit because everything else you can do at home.
How do you deal with rejections?
You know how they say that after you write something, you should leave it for a few days (months, years?) and come back to it with fresh eyes? Usually, by the time you receive a rejection, enough time has elapsed that the story or poem is ripe for a reread. I post my rejection letters on my blog for content.
Do you ever get criticism from family or friends who don’t understand your passion?
Not really. Actually, most of my family writes. My Dad is working on an Evangelicalized Star Trek series and my wife writes these dark foreboding works that’d get Poe hot and flustered and my brother writes screenplays. My grandpa used to write history books about the Franciscan Order but now he’s writing an alt-history where Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t die at Saint Helena but escaped and hid out in New Orleans and fell in love with a local girl. In other words, it’s erotic fanfiction.
Were you taught anything about creative writing in high school or college that just didn’t work for you?
I can’t sell out any of my high school teachers or college professors. Even Krut’s cruddy Krutisms (“A short story is not real but it’s true” … “Laughter means more if it’s in the face of pain” … “Make me feel it in my gut”) were constructive.
In your opinion, how important is a writing degree or MFA when it comes to achieving success in writing fiction?
An MFA is great for networking and meeting the right people. But the internet evens the playing field.
Do you participate in any online or in-person critique or writing groups?
I have a monthly Wednesday critique group that meets at a wine bar and a weekly critique group that meets Mondays at a local coffee shop called the Black Walnut. I highly recommend having a critique group if only to incentivize you to keep producing new pieces.
What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
I’d also like to finish editing my novel and begin approaching publishing houses or agents or grow the walnuts to self-publish.
What are your writing goals for the next five years?
This past year I published six short stories. I want to publish six hundred. Also, y’know. Finish my book. Edit my book. Publish my book.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
Just finished Ann Leckie’s Anciliary series. I’ll bet Goodreads has a better synopsis, but imagine if a Star Destroyer had a central artificial intelligence, and that A.I. was suddenly shoved into a mind-controlled human body, and that human body was ejected out of the ship right before the ship exploded. And now that A.I. wants revenge. Pretty cool. Also just finished “Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century,” which is an anthology edited by Harry Turtledove (the guy snuck one of his own stories in!) and has such classics as Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety” (does anyone but me remember Screamers?), the founding stories which became Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series, Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” and Joe W. Haldeman’s “Forever War,” and a decent non-fantasy piece by George R. R. Martin.
Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
Stuart Warren (author of Spirit of Orn and the upcoming A Dynamic Synapse Protocol—it’s, uh, it’s a working title) and I are working on a literary magazine called Idiosync (http://www.idiosyncmag.com/). It’ll be digital, quarterly, with each issue focused on a theme or subgenre in fantasy and speculative fiction (such as “Space Navy” or “Make Unicorns Cool Again”). Also feel free to check out my blog Desmond, Write (http://www.desmondwrite.com/) and my satirical writing tips in Bad Writing Advice (https://badwritingadvice.com/).