T. (His secret identity) kicks it off- "Thank you very much for having me today and for this interview. What can I answer for you?"
Q. So how did this novel come to be? Please tell us a bit about the origin.
A. Dante's Cypher came to me the same way Frankenstein came to Mary Shelly... in a dream. However the setting of my dream was directly from the location I was sleeping the evening that it came to me. I woke up in the middle of the night with a rough concept of a story and etched the scribblings of a madman on the side of a Fedex box with a broken colored pencil (red by the way), and that was the impetus of my book.
Q. Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea?
A. The story of Dante's Cypher (DC) expounded- not just expanded, from the original concept. The research begot multiple story lines and foundation from which the depth and breadth of the story grew. I always say that the story begot the research and the research begot the story with DC. As a matter of fact, researching DC uncovered so many interesting story lines and topics... it gave me information for my next story that I have already written and am now going through the process of tightening up to approach publishers with.
Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
A. Authors all use different processes for their writing. I am a staunch outline guy, but that's just what an outline is- an outline. A rough map to guide you in a general direction that you want your story to take. My outlines are very simple one or two sentences about the point I want to make in a particular chapter.
What I like about outlines is that mine are not rigidly-set and I have flexibility with it. I should really call them more of a guideline than an outline.
Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A. For DC, the themes were to never quit and to keep thinking on your feet no matter how dire the consequences. Keep trying to think with clarity, and solutions will usually present themselves. It's a theme I try to live my life by.
Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
A. As far as importance..I feel it is very important, it's my work, why wouldn't I? But seriously, I don't know how important this is, but what I want readers to take away from the story behind DC, is to - STICK WITH IT! BELIEVE IN YOURSELVES! Dante's Cypher was 13 YEARS IN THE MAKING! It only took 1 month to write-- and 11 years to get published. I knew I had a good story, but no one was willing to take a chance on an unknown author until my publisher, Tate publishing, took me on. There were times of down and doubt, but re-acess what you are doing, make adjustments, seek advice...and KEEP PUSHING FORWARD! I get just as much of a response from readers about the story of the book that equal the level of response that I get from the story in the book!
Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?
A. For me (and I wouldn't be surprised at all if I have undiagnosed ADD) a book has to catch me right at the beginning. I will know if I am going to finish a book in the first 20 pages. But I have to be teased, and kept wanting, in order to keep turning the pages. I tried to construct that into Dante's Cypher.
I also like a book that I learn something from- a factoid or historical occurrence that I was unaware of. I like that in a book. I feel it lends foundation and credibility.
Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
A. I would love to be able to sit here and tell you that I had completely new and fresh themes that were all my own and no one influenced me... but that would be a BALD-FACED LIE! These are the people who have influenced me and my writing- by category
Dan Brown- I love his unforeseen twists and turns, his history, and his mystery.
Stephen King- I am a fan of his writing obviously, but the trials and travails of his pre-published career helped me to stay motivated and focused in trying to get my book published for 11 years. Seeing what he had to go through helped keep me on task.
Michael Crichton- I like his research (Airframe) and how he would not limit his imagination (Sphere).
Pearl S. Buck- I Ioved her vivid descriptions of the different setting the story took place in. I could visualize the scenes easily.
Dean Koontz- I am a fan of how he weaves hidden unexpected surprises into his story lines.
Herman Melville- He wrote an epic American Tale, and died never realizing the true success that Moby Dick would come to be. I am not saying I wrote anything nearly as profound as Moby Dick, but knowing Melville's unrealized success helps me to keep pounding the pavement promoting my writing. I am such a fan of his that I named my dog, QueeQueg in honor of one of my favorite character in Moby Dick.
Jimmy Hendrix- Voodoo Child (my theme song) - To me its's a song about a man that believes he can accomplish anything!
Gandhi- One of the most powerful men in history, courageous, brilliant, understated.
Jesus- I am not very religious, but have read the bible a couple times trying to understand the impact of this book. I still don't understand it, but I am trying. If you read it; minus the miracles, he reached out to those that could not help themselves and tried to make their world a better place for them at a time when almost no one else was. Who wouldn't emulate that. However that being said I'm more of an Old Testament guy... you know... an eye for an eye ...and such.
Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A. To me a good story has an education to it, if you will. A base, or a foundation that a reader will actually gain something from. A thought, a belief, a fact, something along those lines.
There are plenty of mindless "popcorn" types of entertainment that are fun at times... many times actually, when you just want to shut down and mentally ride the care free entertainment "Merry-go-round" for a break. But I prefer some foundation or to learn something when I am reading, or watching media.
Ancient Storytelling mainly served other functions or lessons. It passed on verbal histories or lessons, such as in Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, etc. This is how legends, lore, morality, religious beliefs were passed on from one generation to the next before the written word, or the mass ability to read and write. I am a fan of storytelling with a foundation.
Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
A. Yes, I will always have new goals. Or how do you keep pushing and striving through out this entire life? I hope that when I die, I have a whole bunch of new goals on my plate to accomplish, that way will know that I have tried until the end!
However that being said, I am going to keep my goals to myself. If any one that reads this and would like to discuss, please feel free to reach out to me directly at any of the contact info listed below and I would be more than happy to engage you in conversation.
Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
A. Yes???-- to answer all of the above. I am guilty of all of those things at one instant or another. There are times when I revise waaayyy too much, and then there are times when I should have maybe looked at things again and reconsidered. I think that is part of the process of becoming a writer.
I do over-prepare to send off to publishers, though. I figure you have only one chance to get their attention.
Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A. My very first editor was terrible! He came highly recommended and was an absolute joke! MY FREE ADVICE- If you are considering and editor, research their referrals first- a few of them, before you make a decision.
I have a group of people that edit for me. My thought is- the more people looking at it, the better.
Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. I'd tell them not to write. It's a sickness, that once it gets hold of you, it never lets you go. That they will never be truly satisfied with anything they put out and they will be amazed if any one else does. Then if they told me they still wanted to write after that, then my response would be...
...POUR YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO IT, AND NEVER LISTEN TO THE NAYSAYERS!!!
PUT EVERYTHING YOU GOT INTO IT-- AND DO NOT EDIT YOURSELF! By that I mean don't ever NOT put something out because you are afraid what others will think. Or that you will be embarrassed or hurt by what people will say or think. FORGET THEM (and that is me saying it the nice way)! I am sure that there are more written pieces of artwork sitting in people's desk drawers across this world that could rival ANYTHING that has been written so far, but writers lacked the courage or conviction to share their writing with the world. I call those "Desk-Drawer Tragedies." I wish more writers had the conviction to publish, no matter what the big publishing houses say. They are not the end-all, be-all of quality. They purely think in terms of marketability. Do not let rejections get you down! KEEP PUSHING!!! Do you need me to elaborate my point any more?
Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A. I could definitely see my book being a movie, but I might be a little biased. Many, many of my readers tell me or email me that they can see Dante's Cypher as a movie... I hope they are right! It really doesn't matter what I think. Some film exec has to see my story and think that. I just have to position it correctly so it gets in that film execs hands. Hopefully the story wouldn't be altered too much, but the movie is almost never the same as the book.
I would really like to hear an audio book of it. If the correct voice read it, it could be fantastic!
Q. What's the next step in your writing world?
A. I have two projects that I am working on directly, and finding the time has been daunting. One is a story that I am trying to polish up that has already been written and has had its first editing draft. The other project, which has been challenging; being asked to cut Dante's Cypher into a screenplay. I have a Producer/Director contact that has read DC and wants a screenplay to float around to some of his movie contacts. This is fun, nerve-wracking, and exciting. There are no guarantees, but I want to put my best product out there. It's my responsibility to guide this wave of activity/ excitement correctly. If it crashes... I'll learn, or I will ride this wave to who knows where. It's been thrilling to say in the least!
Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
A. Before all of this, I was a commercial fisherman on an off shore dragger.
Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?
A. NEVER...EVER...LISTEN TO THE NAYSAYERS AND GIVE UP ON YOURSELF!!
Web pages: https://www.facebook.com/tee.stephens.10 or
Twitter at: Dantes_Cypher