John Scalzi recently interviewed David Anthony Durham, the award-winning author of the novels Gabriel's Story, Walk Through Darkness, Pride of Carthage, and Acacia.
One of the exchanges:
Acacia is your debut into the world of fantasy, but before this you wrote well-received historical novels, including Pride of Carthage. What advantages did writing historical novels provide you when it came time to create your own world, with its own history? What things did you have to unlearn?
I think I would’ve struggled with the world building a lot more if I hadn’t already done it a few times in my historical novels. Each of them required that I portray a realistic and detailed world that is very different than our modern one. Gabriel’s Story was set in the American West of the 1870’s. Writing it I had to research cowboy lifestyle, the lives of African-Americans on the Plains, cattle markets, horseshoeing, sod house construction, rifle mechanics – not to mention relearning the geography of the Western States. With Walk Through Darkness I had to become a temporary expert on fugitive slaves, plantation practices, Annapolis history, the Scottish Highland Clearances, Yellow Fever. And writing Pride of Carthage – in addition to requiring research into ancient warfare, Carthage, Rome, mythology, Mediterranean geography – was also a lesson in the convoluted intricacies that plague grand endeavors. It was bloody complicated, and nothing ever proceeded entirely to plan.
It was great to have had those experiences to use when approaching a fantasy world. I loved having the freedom to make things up, but I still had a framework of things I knew I needed to deal with because I’d dealt with them in those earlier books. It’s part – I hope – of what makes the Known World feel real. The intricacies of the economy, the mythology the nations use to explain themselves to themselves, the difficulties in communicating across cultural barriers, the unfortunate tendency to turn idealism toward self-interest: all these things and more emerged in my fantasy world just as strongly as they had in my historical fiction. I think that’s a good thing.
I don’t think I had to unlearn anything, except I had to get more and more comfortable with letting my imagination roam, with letting the fantastic in. That was a great pleasure.
Read the entire interview.