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.

https://shadowsparkpub.com/dustin-r-cummings

Stones

My uncle used to take us out to an area in the badlands to rock-hound. He told us a lot of stories as we walked over that parched land and I suspect several were tall tales.

For example, he supposedly was one of the few who knew the location of a young girl buried in a dress woven with gold threads.

He was also known for practical jokes like collecting the round, prickly seed pods of a native plant, putting them in a pickle jar, and selling them to tourists at the local bar for a dollar, saying they were porcupine eggs.

The thing was though, he knew that land intimately. It wouldn’t be long before he’d disappear into the hills, leaving us behind to worry. What if he didn’t come back? What if he had a heart attack? After all, he was old and fat. What if he slipped and broke a leg? 

We never worried about him getting lost. 

We came from a temperate rain forest of thick and lush understory, shaded forests, ferns and salmonberry and salal. In his land we learned to recognize sage and yucca and tiny wild ground roses. We learned to watch for rattlesnakes and to not stick our little hands into intriguing holes in the ground. We learned to watch the weather out of respect for flash flooding through the washes we walked.

We came home with pockets heavy with treasure. Dark, mysteriously textured rocks that he told us were fossilized digested stomach material from dinosaurs. Sometimes those rocks became fossilized dinosaur poop. I still don’t know what those are.

Best of all was when we came home with sand marbles because those were truly a mystery.

Sand marbles are perfectly round, depending on how they have weathered. Most have a seam around them that you can break the marble open along. Inside is a small replica of the outer marble that lifts out. Someone once told me these were iron geodes but that didn’t explain that inner marble. 

My uncle said he took the marbles to a geologist one time and tests revealed a miniscule fossilized insect at the center of the inner marble. But that didn’t explain the formation of the outer marble or the seam. 

I’ve never found out what they actually are, even though I belong to a rock hound group. And honestly, I’m not sure I want to know. We should all have a little mystery in our lives.

When our son decided he wanted to be an archaeologist (age about five) he was given a paintbrush and followed my uncle into the badlands for his first ‘excavation’. He found a petrified lower jaw of a buffalo with the teeth still intact. 

That barren land was rich in stories and magic.

My family still looks for rocks; whether it’s seeking agates at the ocean, or just pretty stones that catch our eye when out walking. Our windowsills are lined with agates that glow when the sun shines through them. 

The last time I went into the badlands with my uncle I followed him as he sweated and huffed and puffed his way into the hills, picking up treasures with his three-fingered hand. I worried about his age and his weight. I worried when he did his usual disappearing act, going off alone. And as always I was profoundly relieved when we finally saw his silhouette high above us against the skyline, returning to us.

He always returned.

Until a week ago when COVID-19 took him. 

The Conversation Went Like This…

‘I need some severed body parts.’

‘I know a couple people I can ask.’

‘Okay, I’ve got a leg, a foot, and two hands.’

‘Daaannnggg…did they struggle much?’

‘No, but they won’t be late on their bill again.’

This was the conversation between myself and a friend recently, with some work-related humor at the end. Obviously I’m not collecting real body parts. I was looking for props for the upcoming filming of a book trailer.

It got me thinking, though, of other similar situations where things could be misconstrued if overheard.

I have a friend who used to be in a mystery writer’s group called ‘Women Who Kill’. I thought they should make tee-shirts.

There was the time, as I’ve posted about before, when a friend popped into a meeting at work, to say, thoroughly disgusted, ‘I can’t believe you killed Kelly!’ and then left without explaining that Kelly was a character in a book.

There was the time I sent an email to a forensic scientist asking what a body would look like if left in a cave in the Pacific Northwest for a month in the winter.

There was a writer’s resource group that had guest speakers talk about how to poison people, how to use a knife in a fight, how to have a gun not be traced back to you…and they met in a corner of a large bookstore. I’m sure they were overheard regularly.

And of course there’s always the gleeful conversations at coffee shops and restaurants when writers get together to brainstorm plot ideas and what awful things they can do to their characters to create conflict and tension. I bet those are fun for others to listen in on. Or at least, fun once they figure out what is going on.

In the meantime, I’m now on the hunt for blood…