Let’s start with an introduction: Who is David Mealing?
Husband, father, fantasy author, role-player, board gaming geek, avid esports enthusiast.
Your debut novel, Soul of the World, will be published in June by Orbit. It looks pretty epic: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
My usual pitch is ‘French Revolution with magic,’ but it gets much bigger as the story gets going. Soul is the first of a trilogy, and I’ve tried to set up deeper layers with each book. So by the end of book one, you’ll have the main plot wrapped up, with a deeper, ‘plot behind the plot’ just starting to reveal itself. I do the same thing in book two, wrapping up the plot behind the plot from book one and introducing a new layer of unknowns by the end. Then (if everything goes to plan!) book three should wrap everything in a nice neat package.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The whole novel flowed from two scenes I had in my head, scenes that became the basis for chapters one and four in Soul. That’s how I tend to work: I come up with a handful of scenes that evoke a world or a story arc and I weave the rest of the book around them. I got my start in creative writing as a DM for pen & paper RPGs, where you skip past all the boring ‘and then we traveled for 20 days’ stuff and get right to the scenes that dazzle and amaze your players. It’s exactly the same as an author.
As for inspiration in general – everything is inspiration for me. Everything I read, everything I’ve done. I’m super susceptible to wanting to steal from every piece of media I consume. I’m reading James Clavell’s Shōgun right now and I desperately want to include elements from it in whatever I write next. I just watched Jason Bourne last night and I want to include that too. (Spy/espionage thriller set in 17th century Japan? Yes please.) I’m a thief at heart.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My parents and siblings were never huge on fantasy stuff, but my extended family was. I remember the first game of D&D I ever played with my cousins, when I was five years old. We fought a lion, and I was hooked for life. Demand for SFF books flowed from there – I read everything I could get my hands on, then re-read it and re-read it until the covers fell off.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I’m still a total novice, with so much to learn. Thankfully the industry is full of amazing people who are eager to share and super passionate about their work. I try to live by the mantra of ‘everyone has something to teach you,’ and in the writing world there’s no shortage of lessons to learn. It’s pretty easy to stay humble when there are so many masters working in SFF today.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Yes! I’ve experimented with several different methods, and I find I do my best work in short bursts of one to two hours each, three to four times a day. I take breaks in between, preferably for physical stuff so my brain has a chance to soak and plan what I’m going to write next. I measure my wordcount output for every session, and have daily output goals of at least 2,000 words/day while I’m drafting.
Research happens in two ways, either on-demand as I encounter the need for details within a scene, or in a more general ‘I’m browsing Wikipedia reading cool articles about awesome stuff from history I can steal.’ Like I said, I’m a thief at heart, and history is the absolute mother lode for amazing stories.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Ah, the halcyon days of three years ago…
I hadn’t written a word of serious creative fiction prior to starting work on my first draft of Soul of the World. My real background in storytelling as I mentioned above was in pen & paper role-playing games. They taught me how to craft satisfying narratives for each character, how to dazzle my audience with setting and drama and reversals and all the standard stuff that works in any medium, whether in songs, movies, theater, role-playing, or books. I’ve always been a storyteller. I think I decided I wanted to be an author when I realized I could invite thousands of people to let me DM for them, all at once.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
So much cool stuff going on in SFF. I’m a huge fan of the taut story & tight narratives in modern writing – it feels like writers are being told to pare their stories down to the bone, and I love it. The dynamic duo of James S.A. Corey does this as well as anyone – Leviathan Wakes blew me away with how much worldbuilding they packed into such a tight story. At the same time there’s room for bold risks in narrative structure, and fantasy as a genre is so wide open. We can explore just about any setting to tell our stories, with any sort of characters we can imagine. Nora Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was an eye-opener for me for where the genre can go. I only hope my books help push fantasy in these directions, but I don’t really consciously try to do anything more than tell the stories in my head. I’ll leave it to others to decide where to put me within the genre as a whole.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
As I’m writing this I’m polishing the second book in Soul of the World’s trilogy, due to hand in to my editor in six weeks. It’s so hard to work 12-18 months behind publication… people are only just now reading Soul and I want to gush about all the amazing things that happen in book two!
I also have another novel I finished while we were shopping Soul of the World that I’d love to come back to at some point. Realistically I’m going to be all-in on book three of the first trilogy for the next year or so, but you might get to see that one a few years down the road.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I typically have one physical book and one audiobook going on at all times. Right now that’s James Clavell’s Shōgun in physical, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One on audio. I’m also listening to Shelby Foote’s The Civil War for non-fiction.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
My favorite novel of all time is Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Nothing else comes close. I’ve read that book probably ten times. It’s an absolutely gorgeous novel – amazing characters, amazing worldbuilding, beautiful prose, intense heroism and romance and war and intrigue. All you could ever want in a fantasy book.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
My wife and I are in contention for being the biggest MMO nerds on the planet. We met in Final Fantasy XI when I poached her from the leadership of a rival guild, and we’ve gone on to co-lead some really amazing groups of people over the years. At one point we set up our own private EverQuest server so we could do raid content with each of us playing nine characters at once (eighteen total). We take nerddom to a probably unhealthy level.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
My first novel is coming out on June 27th, so it has to be that, right? I’ve watched some early reviews come in and honestly, whether people love or hate my stuff, the most amazing thing about being an author is just having people read this thing I spent so long working to write. I’m so humbled and awed that people give me a chance to tell them my stories. I can only hope I don’t disappoint!