When I asked NC author Danny Birt about the hardest part of writing Ending, the recently-published fourth book in his Laurian Pentology, I thought I might get an essay about the tumultuous landscape of publishing that led to both a delay between the book and its predecessor and to a new publisher, Dark Quest Books. Instead, Danny writes here about stepping beyond “write what you know” (which for Danny certainly includes a playful sense of humor, revealed in his “Rum and Runestones” short stories, his YA novel Between a Roc and a Hard Place, and certainly in his filking) and the journey not just as an author but as a person such a stretch can become.
By Danny Birt:
Attempting to write against one’s nature may be one of the hardest parts about writing (at least for me).
Most people have heard the usual bits of authorial wisdom such as “Write what you know” and “Part of an author goes into every story.” Well, what happens when you have to write outside your usual self? To some extent we do it all the time, of course — writing characters of an opposite gender, crafting dialogue which would never come out of our mouths in normal conversation — but what about when you dig deeper, to the foundational bits of yourself? How do you write around those?
Take, for example, humor. Anyone who is familiar with my filk albums in addition to my fantasy and science fiction literature recognizes that humor is arguably an intrinsic part of me. Life without humor wouldn’t be worth living, speaking personally. Recently I had a conversation with my girlfriend during which I was challenged to name any story of mine which was devoid of reason to laugh. I thought I had found one — a zombie/horror short story which has not yet been published — only to be shot down: “Dude, what about what happened to the goat in the moat?” … “Oh, yeah.” It just comes out, I suppose.
Other examples of foundational bits are reason and honor. I (like most people) consider myself to be a fairly reasonable and logical person, and honor is a way of life so basic one rarely even has to think about it. Yet, if every character in a story agrees upon what is reasonable and honorable, and they all act reasonably and honorably, there’s really not much conflict left to the story, and if there’s not much conflict then there’s no resolution necessary, and… uh… where’d the story go?
One of the ways around getting yourself stuck in that rut is by making sure that different characters place different emphasis on the same values. For example, in the penultimate book of the Laurian Pentology, “Ending,” one character tries to kill her erstwhile mentor, obviously betraying his trust in her — yet, from her perspective, he brought this vengeance upon himself by harming one of her family members. That the harm happened during a legal, arbitrated duel doesn’t matter to her: family comes first.
These are all good explanations of why some of the best and most prolific authors you’ll ever meet seem to always have their mind wandering “somewhere else” during a conversation: if an author is firmly rooted in their own head to the point they can’t see another person’s point of view, all their stories will soon start to have the same tone, same plot, same characterization. Being able to go outside oneself in a variety of differing directions is essential to good long-term fiction writing… and, if one may be so bold as to point out, be ye author or reader, going outside oneself and looking back can be life-changing.
Award-winning author Danny Birt was born about three decades ago in Washington State to Irish and Californian parents, and has since lived in Idaho, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Hawaii, Virginia, and North Carolina. He attended high school at New Mexico Military Institute, studied music therapy and psychology at Loyola University New Orleans, and most recently graduated from Shenandoah University with his Master’s Degree in Music Therapy.
Danny has been a contributing author to several sci-fi, fantasy, and professional magazines, anthologies, and journals. Formerly, he was an editor for Flashing Swords Magazine and small-press publisher Ancient Tomes Press. His first children’s/YA novel “Between a Roc and a Hard Place” won recognition with The National Parenting Center’s 2010 Seal of Approval, Creative Child Magazine’s 2010 Seal of Excellence, and was named one of Dr. Toy’s Best Picks of 2010.
In addition to literary publication, Danny composes classical and filk music, such as his nonstop hour-long piano solo “Piano Petrissage,” and the ever-peculiar album “Warped Children’s Songs.” Danny’s humorous music has been featured on radio and internet programs such as The Dr. Demento Show and The Funny Music Project.
Danny has now settled in eastern North Carolina where he is a faculty member at a local college. In his spare time, Danny’s hobby is finding new hobbies.
You can follow @Danny_Birt on Twitter, and/or find him at these upcoming conventions: