Interview With David Meredith

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I’d like to thank David Meredith for allowing me to read and review his books The Reflections of Queen Snow White and Aaru, they were books that I didn’t think I’d like but enjoyed reading. I’d like to thank him for also letting me interview him.

Early Childhood

Q: When and where were you born?

A: Knoxville, TN USA in 1977.

Q: Who was your most influential person to you as a child and why?

A: Probably my grandmother. I spent a whole lot of time at her house while my parents were at work and continued to see her almost every day until I went away to college (university).

Q: Do you recall any interesting stories related to you by any of your elder relatives that you have never forgotten and you think are worth telling this audience?

A: My grandmother told me a lot of family stories. Her father had fought in France during World War I, so she related lots of stories he told her. He was gassed, buried alive by a shell, and accidentally slept with a corpse one night in the Argon. She also told stories about herself, particularly her time working at Oak Ridge as a secretary during the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

My grandfather on the other side of the family told a lot of stories too. He grew up dirt poor and didn’t graduate from high school until he was 22 years old, but went on to join the air force, go to law school, serve as both a JAG Officer and as a County judge, and retire as a lieutenant-colonel. He was politically active in the 60s and served as the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Tennessee. He also worked with Albert Gore Sr. (the former US vice president’s father) to help him get elected to the US senate. A story he loved to tell was, one day Senator Gore came over to the house to talk with my grandfather about political business of some kind, and he brought Albert Jr. with him. He and my dad were both about six years old, so they went outside to play. In the back yard there was a huge coal pile, and they decided it would be lots of fun to play King of the Mountain on this large mound of coal. When Senator Gore came out to get Albert Jr. and go home both he and my dad were having a great time, but were also covered from head to foot in black, coal dust. Senator Gore was not at all pleased, so my dad got to witness the future vice president of the United States get his butt worn out for playing in the coal pile. His father took him home in a trash bag pulled up to his neck so he didn’t ruin the upholstery in his car. My grandfather didn’t say anything about it at the time, but once the Gores left he had a good laugh. He said he just thought it was funny.

Grade School/High School

Q: How would you describe yourself as a student, both academically and socially?

A: I was quite lazy in middle school through my freshman year of high school. I had very little trouble retaining information and always did well on tests, so I didn’t really see the point in all the “busy work,” as I saw it at the time, teachers assigned. My grades were pretty terrible until I was forced to retake my freshman English class in Summer School. Not only was I having to study when all of my friends were going to the beach, hanging out at the mall, or just sitting around watching TV, I had to take this class with the most stoop-shouldered, hostile, knuckle-dragging bunch of Neanderthals I’d ever seen gathered together in one place in my life. They made it a decidedly miserable experience, and I decided after that I had better get my work done during the regular school year. I made A’s and B’s after that and just completed my doctorate degree in educational leadership this month.

Q: What would people you know find surprising about you as a teen?

A: I was pretty quiet and bookish as a teen. I wore thick glasses, and was rather slouchy in my wardrobe, so people would mess with me. I’d generally take it for about half a school-year until I decided I’d had enough and beat somebody up. This happened every year from about 3rd grade until my Junior year of high school. What most people didn’t realize was that in addition to quiet reading in the back of class, I was also a serious competitive swimmer, ranked consistently in the top 16 in the American Southeast. That meant I was training six days a week, twice a day, swimming between 8-10 miles per day with weight training three days a week. I didn’t like conflict, but wasn’t the push-over they supposed.

Q: Is there a teacher that you remember as having been particularly influential?

A: Probably me Senior English teacher, Suzy Johnson. I had always been praised for my creativity in my writing, but she really helped me work on my mechanics. I credit her as being the person who really taught me how to write.

Family

Q: What does the word “family” mean to you?

A: Family of course means your spouse, your children, your parents and siblings, aunts uncles, cousins, and grandparents, but it can also mean anyone who you are close to and can reliably turn to when things get tough. Family doesn’t just have to mean blood relations.

Q: In what ways have your parents influenced you the most?

A: I think a lot about my personality and generally easygoing nature comes from my dad. He was also really into reading, so I think that encouraged me to take an interest as well. My work ethic comes more from my mom, I suppose, but they both had a tendency to be work-a-holics. I’m kind of that way too.

Career

Q: Who was your biggest influence in your career?

A: Both of my parents were teachers, and so am I, so I think that was certainly an influence. I’ve also had a number of impactful instructors and professors as well. In particular, Dr. Rosalyn Gann, who was the professor for whom I acted as a GA during my master’s program provided a great deal of assistance and direction, both to get involved in ESL teaching as well as to ultimately pursue academic credentials, so I can eventually work in a university environment once more.

Q: In addition to being paid money, how else has your career created value in your life?

A: I derive a lot of satisfaction from teaching. I also have enjoyed working with kids. I’ve done it for about 18 years now, and one certainly does not stay in teaching for the money. 😊

Q: What sort of stories excite you?

A: I read a lot of fantasy growing up. I’ve branched out a little more in adulthood, but still enjoy works of speculative fiction the best. I also really enjoy quality characterization. I like characters who have depth, human flaws, and complications that make them feel real. It’s something I strive for first and foremost in my own writing as well.

Q: Was there a specific moment that made you start writing?

A: Not really. I’ve always wanted to write. I think I wrote my first “book” (it was scribbled in pencil on wide ruled notebook paper and bound with shirt-boards illustrated in magic marker) when I was in about 3rd grade. I wrote a lot of really terrible fan-fic in middle school and high school, that I’d certainly not want anyone to see now, and had several false starts before I managed to write a novel all the way through to the end. I always had the drive. I just needed the life and writing experience to express myself in a way that other people would want to read.

Q: What is the most difficult and the most enjoyable thing about writing?

A: I like the process of taking an idea and sculpting it into a cohesive narrative. I enjoy bringing characters to life and making them feel real. I also enjoy other people enjoying my work once it’s done. My chief goal in writing is to make the reader feel something, and if I accomplish that, I’m happy. The most difficult part really is just in finding time to work on it. I just finished my doctoral program this summer, so that took up a great deal of my time, and I work, so that sucks up at least 8 hours a day. It takes some careful forethought and planning to make sure I have a little time for writing/promotion every day.

Q: What is your writing Kryptonite?

A: I’ve definitely been trying to work on it, but in the past I’ve had a tendency to be redundant and tedious in some of my narrative. It has taken a while to internalize the realization that very often less really is more and trust my readers to understand what I’m getting at without spelling it out too pedantically. I’ll leave it to others to decide how successful I’ve been in making my writing more concise, but I feel like it flows a lot better now than before I published my first novel.

Q: Was there a specific moment that made you start writing your first novel The Reflections of Queen Snow White?

A: The Reflections of Queen Snow White is essentially about dealing with grief and finding purpose once more after the “happily ever after” has ended. Back in 2006 when I originally wrote the source short story, in the space of about three or four months, both of my grandfathers died unexpectedly. During the same period, my wife also lost a grandmother and a grandfather, so there where a lot of funerals going on over a very short amount of time. Now funerals, by their very nature lead to a certain introspection about one’s own mortality, but particularly with the sudden passing of both grandfathers and, as a consequence, how hard my grandmothers took their deaths, it led me to wonder – “So… What now?”

They had both had wonderful, loving relationships – many long, happy years together (over 60 years). In the case of my maternal grandmother and grandfather, they had never loved anyone else, having married straight out of high school. There was no question in my mind, nor indeed anyone who knew them, that theirs had most certainly been a real-life “happily ever after”. Now it was over. It made me wonder, “When your life has been so closely tied up with and centered upon one other person for so long, what do you do when they are no longer a part of your life? How do you pick up the pieces and move on?” That was the original kernel of the idea for The Reflections of Queen Snow White.

Q: Same question for your book Aaru.

A: I remember that I wanted to come up with something that was a little more mass-market than Reflections…, so Aaru was always going to be YA/NA, but I also didn’t want to write something inane and flighty. I don’t think that just because something is written for teens and young adults it means it has to be fluff.

I don’t specifically remember where the idea first came from, but I started working on Aaru in early 2014. I think it mostly came about because of my own questions about religion and faith, how belief often conflicts with technology and science, and was there a way to reconcile the two? What constitutes a human being or human soul? What would happen to religion and faith if the fear of death was removed from society? How would that change the way individuals choose to live their lives? Should the ability to save or fail to save a human consciousness lie with only one individual or group of individuals or company? Who should be saved? How do we make that determination? I suspected that the answers would be a lot messier and more complicated than the simple realization of John Lennon’s Imagine lyrics. In the end, Aaru doesn’t really answer any of these questions, but does speculate on what the answers of different people from different circumstances might be. The first volume only scratched the surface. Volume 2 – Aaru: Halls of Hel will then make the answers to these questions even messier and more controversial, but I think they are questions worth exploring.

Q: How did writing your first book change your process of writing?

A: The biggest thing is that I was much more streamlined the second time. Reflections… was actually my second finished novel even though it was the one I first published. The first was a 406,000 word behemoth fantasy epic set in a mythological reimagining of ancient Japan. I’ve spent over 11 years on the editing process and I am still not ready to release it. However, I made tons of silly writing and organizational mistakes on that first attempt at a novel that informed my future work. I’m sure I’ll get it in publishing shape eventually, but even if I don’t it was an extremely important learning process that made me a much better writer in the end.

Q: Did you have to go through a different writing process for Aaru?

A: I think it was easier. I think I made fewer mistakes which made editing a great deal simpler. I was more prepared and had a better idea right from the beginning where I wanted it to go. My process did not change that much, I don’t think, but I do think I executed it more efficiently this time.

Q: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

A: I actually don’t find writing from a female perspective that difficult. I think I have always identified more closely with women than other men. Now, I’m a happily married heterosexual man, but most of my close friends have always been girls and woman. Growing up girls were nice. Girls were empathetic. Guys on the other hand were the ones who bullied me and made my life miserable. I’ve also had some very strong women in my life who were extremely influential in my upbringing. Having said that, I think regardless of what gender’s perspective you are writing from, what you must do is really get inside the character’s head, understand their motivations, their fears, and insecurities, and then interpret that into your best guess about how they would react and what they would say in certain situations.

Q: What was your hardest scene to write for The Reflections of Queen Snow White?

A: Probably the honeymoon scene. I’ve never really included graphic content in my writing before, so I was a little uncomfortable writing it. However, after a great deal of thought I decided that the whole point of the novel is Snow White’s inner most reflections on her life and her grief. Almost all of the action is taking place inside Snow White’s head through the medium of the Mirror. Given that these are her innermost thoughts and feelings I assumed that rather than a fade-to-black moment, she would instead remember the most impactful experiences of her life, like her wedding night, in meticulous detail. Therefore, I concluded writing the scene that way was really the only honest approach I could have taken.

Q: For Aaru?

A: There’s a scene in about the middle of the book where Rose has a bit of a meltdown over the strangeness and unexpected limitations of Aaru, this supposedly utopian world in which she finds herself. I had to go through that section probably a couple dozen times before I was satisfied that it felt like a natural reaction to stresses that had been building up since her arrival and didn’t seem random or weird. I think I got it right in the end, but I suppose that’s up to the reader to decide.

Q: Do you believe in writer’s block?

A: I think it happens. I think there will be times when any writer gets stuck. What I generally find most helpful in getting unstuck then is to put down whatever it is you are working on, work on something also and not think about the other project for a week or two. Very often when you come back to it the fix or next step will be glaringly obvious to the point that you can’t believe you couldn’t see it before.

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