Interview With Author Dustin R. Cummings

Dustin has worked harder than most writers I know to polish his first novel. The result of all that hard work is the upcoming publication of his first novel, Exiles of a Gilded Moon. Following is our interview, and please feel free to place comments here for Dustin.

1. What made you decide to write in the fantasy genre?

Fantasy has been one of my favorite genres for as long as I can remember. The power to shape an entire world with the stroke of a pen and to transport a reader within its environs, is something that has always captivated me. 
I grew up reading both fantasy and sci-fi books from a variety of authors, and watching fantasy films. These experiences left a deep impression and really sparked my imagination. As a writer, I feel that fantasy allows for unlimited possibilities. It gives writers and readers an opportunity to examine facets of the human experience through an imaginary lens, less encumbered with the biases of our present world.

2. You did an amazing amount of work with multiple revisions. What helped you stick with this project, or believe in it so strongly?

This  story began as an idea that I had as a teenager. During my senior year French class, my teacher often reminded us that different works of art inspired each other, such as DeBussy’s Le Mer, which I believe was inspired by Hiroshige’s Wave over Kanagawa. One day, we were asked to paint something abstract. I chose to paint an alien sky dominated by a ringed planet and its orbiting moons. The perspective of the viewer is looking up at the sky from one of the moons. At that moment, I asked myself what kind of story could I create based upon such an usual scene. Over the years, I imagined and wrote what a civilization depicted in this painting might look like.
It took a significant effort to finish my manuscript. I think what helped me stick with the project was seeking to honor that original, irresistible idea that entered my teenage mind. Furthermore, working with you as my professional editor really encouraged me to work harder to perfect my manuscript. Finally, the positive response from my early readers pushed me to complete my story and share it with the world. 

3. What was the hardest part of this process for you?

I think the hardest part was coming to realize that a draft is not static, and everything is up for revision or change. Once I accepted that, I was able to reimagine my manuscript and make it a much more compelling story.  

4. What was an early experience where you learned words had power?

My parents are excellent story tellers, and their stories really influenced me. They would often share moments about their upbringing in South America, during dinner. From an early age, I learned the power of description, and how words could evoke images and feelings, and seemingly transport you to places you’ve never even been. 

5. How did you select the names for your characters?

I have an obsession with words, especially unique sounding ones.  I chose the names for my main characters based on iterations of names and places that I’ve come across over the years. I tried to make them as unique as possible, to evoke the different cultures and peoples described in the story. As is evident, many names are familiar, and evoke various cultures. I tried to make all of the names relatable and pronounceable. 

6. Because you chose the fantasy genre, you had to do a lot of world building. What things helped you envision this world?

I have a vivid imagination and I sought to conjure images of places that would have a mixture of familiar and foreign qualities. I’ve been inspired by many things, such as my own family’s roots in South America. I’ve also been inspired by a variety of climates from watching PBS and National Geographic as a child, to traveling to different countries around the world as an adult. Oftentimes, the most random of events have inspired a setting in my book, from wandering through various neighborhoods, to remembering a conversation I might’ve had with a family member. It’s hard to predict where and when inspiration will strike!

7. Exiles of a Gilded Moon is the first in a trilogy. When you are finished with this series, do you feel you will continue writing, and continue in the fantasy genre?

I do see myself continuing to write in fantasy. There is so much room for growth in this genre, and so many stories that have yet to be told. I can certainly see writing more stories based in the Exiles universe, or perhaps another. 

8. You once mentioned that you were intrigued by how a society can collapse, which led partly to this book. Have all the things going on in the world right now changed how you feel a society collapses?

When I started this book as a teenager, I was certainly influenced by the unforgettable events of September 11th and the subsequent wars in the first decade of the 21st century. I find complex societies such as our own, with their vexing problems, boundless opportunities, and staggering contradictions to be a never-ending source of intrigue. I often reflect upon how people lead their lives amid the nexus of extreme decadence and inequality, such as we have experienced in the past several years. I particularly try to imagine how individuals and families confront and adapt to a dramatic societal shift, when all of the rigid boundaries and traditions are destroyed or are reordered in some significant way. 
Sometimes collapse is sudden, such as during war. Sometimes collapse is gradual, like the breakdown of competent governance, and citizens don’t even realize it until after it happens. Dramatic shifts such as these, how we understand them and overcome them, are the essence of the human story. This why storytelling is so important, across all cultures. I hope my story contributes to this tradition in some small way. 

9. Since this is your first novel, how did your writing process develop and change, from when you first started writing, to now?

My writing process changed considerably during the process.  I feel that I’ve definitely improved at describing scenes, emotions, etc. rather than telling  everything. I feel that I have also improved my dialogue and differentiating the characters, so that their individual voices come through. 

10. Was there one part in Exiles of a Gilded Moon that you, as a writer, didn’t see coming, or were surprised by?

There were several parts that surprised me, and these occurred during the revisions.  I ended up writing several new chapters that were inspired by new events in my life, several years after I had finished the original manuscript. Despite the significant difference in time, the chronology of the story fit very well with the new chapters.  I am very satisfied with the result.  

11. What was the best lesson you learned during this writing process?

Persistence has been key, and the willingness to listen to constructive criticism from readers and editors. Also I’ve learned that time to simply think and reflect about my writing has been quintessential to making it better. 

12. What one question do you wish I’d asked?

What message do you hope readers get from your book?
I really hope readers see the importance of family and friendship throughout the story.  Though relationships are not always perfect, they are important and essential to the wellbeing and survival all of the characters.  
I also want readers to question their own societies. I want them to see that what is known to be true can change in an instant. What was once an impossibility can become a reality.  I want readers to place themselves in the characters’ positions and imagine how they might endure and adapt to a society in turmoil.

Thank you, Dustin, for taking the time to answer these questions. It’s always a challenge to come up with questions that authors want to answer, and aren’t just stock questions like ‘where do you get your ideas?’. If anyone is interested in seeing more of Dustin’s work, or taking a peek at Exiles of a Gilded Moon, feel free to follow the link below.

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