David M. Vining is a fiction writer living in Charleston that I first discovered about three years ago over at the Ace of Spades blog, a conservative and humor-driven political blog covering current events, legal issues, military hardware, and salacious topics in popular culture. David had written a very thoughtful piece on hand-drawn animation (on a political blog??) and I asked if we could cross post it here. He agreed and ever since, David has been a frequent contributor of movie reviews to Bleeding Fool and since he’s given so much to us, I wanted to give him an opportunity to discuss his latest novel ‘Crystal Embers‘.
Chris: You’ve written several short stories that have been collected, along with a historical novel, but Crystal Embers seems to be something new that balances character driven storytelling with genre action elements in a satisfying way. What can you tell us about it?
David: Crystal Embers actually predates everything else I’ve published, but it just took longer until I was happy enough with it to release. It’s in the high fantasy tradition and tells the tale of a knight returning home after years in a civil war in his country called Corstae. His wife has learned to live without him, managing the property and raising their small son. However, when the war ends and their son dies in an accident, the two are left alone in unfamiliar company. He, used to life in the wilds and at war, struggles to understand a farming life once again, and she is relegated to support on a property she managed through a war. Both unhappy, they are saved by the sudden appearance of a dragon on the property. Migrating northward for the season, the couple decide to follow the dragon and run away from the lives they don’t understand. The violent, wild beast becomes the connective tissue that brings them back together, even if the rest of the world has to burn for them.
CB: It sounds like a twist on a familiar tale. How long have you been working on it and do you remember where the idea originated?
DV: I came up with the idea of Corstae about fifteen years ago. I had five books planned in the universe, and I’ve written a total of three. Crystal Embers is actually the second book. The first was set about twenty years after this one and dealt with a completely different cast of characters. It’s also a terrible book that I will never finish or release. The third I’m open to publishing. Set a couple of hundred years before the events of Crystal Embers, it tells of the war that gave the titular country its borders, fought on the backs of dragons. I should say that I wrote all of this long before I was exposed to Game of Thrones.
CB: You’re actually both a prolific writer and film reviewer. When you write your stories, do you envision them as though they were adapted into film?
DV: I’d much rather work in film than in a literary form, but I’m too much of an introvert to get off my butt and actually do something about it. It also doesn’t help that I tend to imagine stories that are far too big for my reach in terms of filmmaking scope at an independent film level. Novel writing allows me to fully explore the stories I am interested in telling without concern for any kind of budgetary limit. However, that doesn’t mean that I have let the filmmaking dream die. I write a whole lot more than I publish, and I have one script that I could probably finance at a micro-budgeted level and another one bouncing around in my head that I could do as well.
CB: You do a lot of “definitive rankings” of franchise or auteurs. Have you ever ranked your own short stories?
DV: I do the rankings in order to help drive clicks. People love to see lists of things. I don’t get it, but I’m happy to put them out there. And no, I’ve never ranked my short stories. I actually find it funny when people try to talk to me about them specifically and I have to ask them which story they’re talking about because I can’t remember the specifics.
CB: Ha ha! What is your workflow like? Do you listen to music, have a film on in the background, work only at night, etc?
DV: I had a great system before the covids. My day job was in a corporate building with a large number of small conference rooms. I’d take my lunch in one of those rooms with my binder of loose leaf paper and I’d write by hand. With the covid reaction, I’m working from home and dealing with a very small child during the day, so it’s harder to get myself into that mental space these days. I need to get away from my normal physical space, removed from my normal concerns. I do listen to music (usually movie soundtracks because they provide nice background noise without the addition of lyrics to distract me).
The more important thing, though, is planning. I wrote my first, unpublished, book “on the fly”, so to speak, and it is a rambling mess of meandering nothings in search of a story. Ever since, I have put a lot of effort into pre-writing. That usually involves several outlines, character profiles, and notes on intended themes. The prewriting is where I’m most creative. The actual writing is a much more mundane exercise of simply transferring those plans into a literary reality. I also insist on writing the first draft by hand with pen and paper in long hand. This, at the absolute minimum, prevents me from showing drafts too early to people.
CB: Have you begun your next book yet?
DV: I have five unpublished manuscripts. The first is that book that shall never be published. The second is the war novel set in Corstae. The third is a historical fantasy novel about George Washington fighting monsters in the wintery wilds at the tender age of 21. The fourth is about a young man who joins his long-absent father in a gang in 1870s Missouri. The fifth is an adventure story set in the modern day. I also have a screenplay.
The plan is to pay a professional editor to look at the George Washington book while going on to presenting it to traditional publishers. If I were to independently publish any of the five, I think it would be the second book listed. I don’t have any solid plans at the moment, though.
CB: Who is this book for and what kind of readers do you think will enjoy Crystal Embers the most?
DV: Absolutely everyone in the world should buy this book. Absolutely. Everyone.
In terms of who would enjoy it, I’ve received very positive notices from a surprising variety of people. It seems to balance character driven storytelling with genre action elements in a way that audiences find satisfying.
CB: Looking forward to reading it and hope your readers here and at your blog will pick it up. Thanks for your time, David.
DV: Thank you for giving me this chance to talk about my work.