Daniel Rodrigues-Martin’s ongoing fantasy serial, The Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois brings readers both action and laughs in equal measure. He talks about that adventure and offers his experience to aspiring writers.
Q. As a writer, what kind of stories do you like to tell?
No matter the story, there’s got to be humor, because humor is medicinal. And I don’t believe we need more absurdist, nihilistic art that seeks to shackle us with all the world’s pervasive darkness and injustice. As if we needed reminding of this any more than we need reminding of the sky’s hue. Of thirst. Of hunger.
This doesn’t actually answer your question. I’m not sure the following neatly does either, but stick with me:
“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing. This shadow, even darkness, must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.” [quoted The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers film]
I recognize the need and the very certain reality of frowning. But I would hope to tell stories that, in the end, make people smile. This is perhaps an allegory of the Christian life, and a formula for the sorts of stories I mean to tell.
Q. For those who haven’t yet read our Fiction Spotlight about it, can you tell us what The Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois is about?
The Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois is a humorous autobiographical anthology starring an 1890s circus strongman (Thaddeus), a suit-wearing gorilla (Hastings), and a twenty-something writer (me; also the narrator) in the midst of an existential crisis…with time travel.
Thaddeus wants to get back to his family in his original time, and for reasons yet unrevealed, I’m the person who must help him do it, and the only way to do it is to unravel the mysteries of space-time by traversing it. Along the way, we visit some fantastical historical locales and people, and I learn lessons about Thaddeus, myself, the choices I have (and haven’t) made, and what it means to grow up.
Ultimately, it’s a comedic adventure that’s super-fun to write, because I get to take all the things I think in my daily grind and turn them into something coherent that, I’m thankful to say, a lot of people have appreciated.
Q. Stephen King thinks every author has an ideal reader. Who is the ideal reader for Quantum Fall?
THOUGHTFUL RESPONSE: People who like to read. People who like to think. People who like to laugh.
ACTUAL RESPONSE TO AN AGENT OR PUBLISHER: English-speaking geeks, eighteen or older, familiar with contemporary American cultural references.
NICHE MARKET RESPONSE: Steampunk cosplayers. Anyone who knows me even a little.
Q. Thaddeus himself is such a larger-than-life character. What inspired his creation?
[NOTE: Thaddeus has advised me not to tell you the truth, as it could very likely jeopardize our timeline.]
Several years ago, on my favorite online writers’ group (Scribophile.com) the site would take you to a confirmation screen after you submitted a private message to the site owner. On this screen was a diagram of a 19th-century strongman boarding a giant crossbow. Several paragraphs of text narrated the strongman’s story of printing out my message to the site owner, tucking it into his shorts, and boarding the crossbow before launching toward the secret coordinates of the owner’s office to deliver the message.
I thought this was funny and intriguing. I kept asking the site owner what the deal with the strongman was. After I pestered him enough, he announced a contest on the site: “The Mysterious Man Contest.” The writers’ job was to compose a back story for this “mysterious man.”
The piece I composed for the contest is now the prologue to The Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois.
Thaddeus is the ideal classic gentleman of western society. Physically fit, well-read, polite, intelligent, friendly, generous, humorous, perpetually shirtless. Whereas, in a lot of stories, the mentor is the ideal the protege seeks to attain to, in Quantum Fall Thaddeus never encourages me to be like him. He’s a time traveler. He already knows me. So, he wants me to be who he knows I can be.
I was going through a lot personally when I started turning Quantum Fall into a serial in Denver International Airport on October, 2014. Thaddeus in many ways represents the part of me that understands deep truths and nudges me toward self-actualization.
Q. If you had to cast an actor to play Thaddeus in a movie, who would you choose?
A younger Timothy Dalton. It’s the voice more than anything else.
Q. Do you listen to music while you write?
Ninety percent of the time. Typically it’s something without words, and typically it’s something that captures the mood I am trying to convey at the time. I’ll usually tap into video game (Squaresoft games in the mid to late 90’s) or movie soundtracks, though I have listened to classical pieces.
Q. Have you published other stories, besides Quantum Fall?
I was first published for a narrative poem I wrote in 2004 called “The Gray Lady,” about a beach house in South Carolina I stayed in with friends for 10 days. “The Gray Lady” was published in the St. Petersburg Times, June 26, 2005, if I’m recalling right. The newspaper’s section editor called me to tell me he was impressed and thought I had a future in writing if I wanted one.
I had a smattering of things featured in small publications after that; nothing too worthy of note. I think I earned a total of $200.
One of my proudest moments was in 2005, when a poem of mine was read to the tune of a metronome and performed by a mixed-ability dance group working out of the University of South Florida. Seeing something I wrote performed to choreography was a privilege and a joy.
I, of course, write reviews and editorials for Geeks Under Grace.
Q. Who are the writers/storytellers that most inspire you?
John Gardner, Stephen King, Kazushige Nojima, Joss Whedon, Patrick Rothfuss, Rick Bragg, Michael DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko, Kathy Tyers, Kevin J. Anderson, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Craig Thompson, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright.
Q. What is your “Desert Island” book?
Probably The Name of the Wind. I love Rothfuss’s literary style and the strolling, “scenic route” nature of his narrative. The Name of the Wind inspired me to write how I wanted to write. The story and writing are great, but to me, it’s also symbolic of staying true to yourself.
Or I could say something theological…..uhhh…The Imitation of Christ?
Q. What has been your experience with publishing and getting your stories out there?
In the early days I was, of course, contacted by several vanity publications that wanted to offer me the opportunity, for the low low price of fifty dollars for processing, to have my work published in their annual anthology. I was thankfully wise enough to realize then that such publications are scams. Buyer beware.
More recently, I submitted a short story starring a character in my sci-fi series (Ark) called Some Measure of Peace to the Writers of the Future Contest. I was rejected twice. Everyone who’s read the short enjoys it a lot, so the validation afforded by professional applause is not necessary. I might write something new at some point and try the Writers of the Future again.
Self-publishing Quantum Fall was my first choice for that story. After I finish episode three, probably within the next few weeks, I’ll release it digitally, but I’d also like to shop the story out to publishers and get a paperback version of the first three episodes bound. It’s a fun project and low risk for me. The reviews have been solid and I’ve chosen very critical, very discerning beta readers who I know are not just padding their reviews. With proper marketing, I believe Quantum Fall could do well.
Scribophile.com was formative in my writing. It also provided a venue for a variety of other writers to engage with my work. I have garnered a few fans on that basis, which is of course flattering because writers are tougher critics than most others.
Self-publishing is difficult. If you’re essentially unknown like I am, you have to do all your own marketing. You have to fight for your fans one by one: get active on Twitter and Facebook (or, if you’re lucky like me, find a great gig writing for a site like GUG). Talking to people in coffee shops, book stores, or at school, telling them what you’re doing, getting them excited…it takes a lot of time and effort to build a following and get people buying and reviewing your work.
For traditional publishing, I’ve been polishing the first Ark book for a while (principle writing was complete in 2014). Now that I’m done with grad school, I think I’m ready to do my very last edits and try the big leagues. It’s scary, but I’ve had a few years to read up on the process and absorb plenty of advice and horror stories. Here’s to hoping some agent or editor reads past my first page.
Q. What do you think makes a “Christian” story? Do you classify your own stories that way?
It’s a problem of definition. Some people believe a Christian story is a story written by a Christian that features overtly Christian themes in an overtly Christian narrative. This is certainly a type of Christian story. It is not the only type of Christian story any more than the Gospels are the only type of Christian literature.
Being overt is not necessarily what makes a story Christian. What makes a story Christian is the foundational perspectives under-girding it, because despite genre, despite content, despite everything else, what an artist truly believes in their core is what bleeds out of their art. I can attest that this is true for everything I write, because no matter how dark a place I must bring the reader, there is a Christian moral and spiritual core present. Jesus has something to say about this (Matthew 5:17-20).
The Bible itself portrays graphic violence (Judges 4:18-22). This does not mean violence is good. It does not mean a contemporary Christian writer portraying violence is condoning said violence. I write about human slavery and trafficking in my sci-fi not because I love it, but because I hate it. I hate it so much that I create imaginary scenarios where it’s destroyed by people with the power to do so. Some of these people seek justice for the enslaved. Others, revenge. Others, reckoning.
What I am saying is that evangelism is street preaching, but it is also a quiet conversation. Worship is at the altar on Sunday, but it is also in a sweating brow and a brief prayer.
I don’t write overtly Christian fiction for the same reason I don’t street preach and door-knock (PS: I’ve done a bit of both): for me, it’s not genuine, and I always want to be genuine when I’m doing art and when I’m doing ministry. This doesn’t mean overtly Christian literature or door-knocking are bad. They aren’t. I’m just not the person for those things. I want people to see that I’m different in my behavior, my attitude, and how I treat others, and I want spiritual interactions to be real, not fabricated. I want my writing to go and do likewise.
Q. What advice can you give aspiring writers?
If you’ve gotta pee, go do it now, cause this’ll be a long one.
At the expense of being self-contradictory, don’t digest every piece of advice uncritically. A lot of people spout witty, punchy aphorisms about how to write sellable material, but the truth is everybody operates differently. Learn what works for you. Hemingway wrote drunk and edited sober while working at a standing desk. I do my best work when I’m able to vary my day-to-day activities, or travel to a new location, whether a new city or a new coffee shop. I write cyclically, meaning I edit as I go. Stephen King writes 2,000 words every morning, then goes on with his day. He edits when he’s done with the book. I don’t mean to speak of myself in the same breath as these giants. I’m just saying, we all managed to write a novel or two, and we took different paths to get there.
Don’t let what publishers say sells (or, more likely, what people you know say what publishers say sells) dictate the bones of your story. It’s okay to polish here or trim there or even to make more substantial edits on an editor’s advice, but if artistic integrity matters one lick to you, you won’t let business models drive the proverbial ship. Conversely, if you’re writing fiction to make money, you’re either in for a very unpleasant surprise, or, in the most likely of circumstances, you’ll end up writing supermarket romance novels for a living. Things might go differently if you’re aiming to be a technical writer, journalist, or blogger. You can make money doing those things if you find the right niche. I’ve been writing two sci-fi novels (presently totaling over 250,000 words), a serialized story, short stories, blogs, articles, and a master’s thesis consistently since 2009. Though some consider me to be quite good at what I do, know this: I will earn more money over two weeks in June, 2015 photographing two weddings than all the money I’ve earned for all the writing I’ve ever done in my whole life combined.
Recognize the difference between being a successful writer and being a financially successful writer.
Find and embrace your literary voice.
Adverbs are not intrinsically bad. Using adverbs badly is intrinsically bad.
Write poetry and read poetry. It will teach you to economize words and to appreciate the beauty of English.
Develop a robust vocabulary.
Learn to recognize unnecessary words, which tend to be carryovers from spoken English that don’t mesh well with written media. “That” is a big offender. “He said” is easier on your reader than “He said that.”
You don’t need an MFA degree to write well. You need to write well to write well. Stephen King doesn’t have an MFA.
Develop addictions to TVTropes.org and Wikipedia. Become educated, whether or not you have a legal document verifying it. This will improve your ability to write authentically as well as provide you inspiration and ideas.
Use Scribophile.com, or at the least, engage in a somewhat consistent exchange with a small group of other writers. You will learn to critique and you will be critiqued. When you recognize the weak points in others’ writing, you will intrinsically begin to see them in your own. You will be better for it, and you’ll help others do the same. If you need advice on what critiquing looks like, I have an article on it published here.
Immerse yourself in stories, and not necessarily written ones.
Bob Ross (yes, the painter) wisely said: “Talent is interest applied.”
In the words of the late John Gardner, “One has to be just a little crazy to write a great novel. One must be capable of allowing the darkest, most ancient and shrewd parts of one’s being to take over the work from time to time.” This is true. It’s not just true of the novelist, though. It’s true for all us writers.
Read On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner.
Read On Writing by Stephen King.
Read Art for God’s Sake by Philip Ryken.
Read The Christian Imagination edited by Leland Ryken.
You’re not as good as you think you are.
You’re not as bad as you think you are.
Recognize that God has created you with gifts and talents. You are not alone in this (Exodus 31:1-11). Be good at art. It’s part of what you were made to do.
Always write the truth.
Q. Can you tease us with what’s in store for Daniel and Thaddeus in the next episode of Quantum Fall?
The mysterious questions raised in the climax of episode 2 had to be addressed before Thaddeus and I could continue traveling together. In episode 3, I finally got some of the answers I was seeking. Keyword: “some.”
Thaddeus knows me well enough not to drop everything on me at once, and there are some secrets that you can only believe by seeing them. A lot more was going on than I’d previously thought.
The fact of the matter is, I died. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Q. What is your favorite…
The Name of the Wind.
It’s a tossup between Terminator 2, Dumb & Dumber, Tombstone, The Dark Knight, and The Matrix.
It’s a tossup between Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger, and Skyrim.
…comic book character?
I never read comics growing up, but the answer is obviously Batman.
1 Cor 15:10b – “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I’m also privy to Revelation 12:12 – “He is filled with fury, because he knows his time is short.”
Too many lovely pieces to note. Instead I’ll recommend Glen Hansard, Nobuo Uematsu, and Yasunori Mitsuda.
Of books? Rothfuss. But Stephen King gives great advice.
Q. And finally, off topic and just for fun… what do you think the new Star Wars trilogy needs to be awesome?
Anyone directing it other than George Lucas, and I mean that. Lucas is brilliant at constructing a deep and intricate mythopoeia, but he is just awful at the nuts and bolts of storytelling; especially dialogue and your characters eyeballs getting sucked out when they leave the Millennium Falcon to walk into open space and NO, I DON’T CARE IF THEY WERE IN THE GULLET OF A SOCK PUPPET SPACE WORM BECAUSE THAT’S NOT HOW SPACE WORKS.
So many brilliant stories in the SW universe have been told by other storytellers, and the best SW film (Empire; don’t even argue with me about this) is one NOT directed by Lucas. Star Wars is awesome because it’s one giant collaborative effort with an official oversight committee. Imagine if J.K. Rowling canonized a bunch of fan fiction and afterward streamlined it with the main HP stories. In some ways, that’s what’s actually happened with Lucas’s creation. An exercise in modern myth-making. That is amazing.
Folks are total nerds for SW. Hand the world off to pretty much anyone else, and you’ll find a butt ton of people who are ready to sweat, cry, bleed, and love to make it great. And really, that’s what every story needs to be great.
What do the new movies need to be awesome? Talented, hard-working visionaries who respect the art and cultural significance of the source material while also possessing the courage to move in new directions.
You can follow Daniel on his Facebook Page for news about updates on Quantum Fall and other stories.
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