Welcome to Author Daniel Diehl
Daniel Diehl, author, writer and investigative historian, has over thirty years’ experience in his field. His canon of work includes twenty non-fiction books (translated into ten foreign languages) and scripts for more than one hundred and seventy hours of documentary television for A&E, Discovery, History Channel, History International and Biography networks.
Approaching the Writer’s Craft and the Fantasy Novel
People have been led to believe that writing – as opposed to almost any other profession with the possible exception of painting pictures – is somehow magical. According to most sources – most of which are my fellow writers – writing is ‘inspired’, it takes endless amounts of time (possibly augmented with alcohol, pot, insanity, or some other outside stimuli) to ‘get in the mood’ or to ‘be inspired’. Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said of the Victorian romantic poet, Algernon Swinburn, “Algernon could only write once he had found his muse; unfortunately his muse lived at the bottom of the second bottle of port”. Seriously, folks, this is all a lot of propaganda put out by writers to make their job look somehow magical.
There is nothing magical about writing. Being a writer is a job just like any other skilled trade or profession; you have learn your craft through a lot of study and hard work and you have to practice for years to get it right. Obviously it helps if you have a real flair for storytelling, in the same way that the difference between being a good cook and a great chef is having a built-in affinity for creative cooking. But both the competent cook and the great chef had to start out learning how to boil water.
If writing is not magical it is certainly mythical – at least in the way non-writers seem to imagine it. People think writers can work when they want, take endless vacations lying under palm trees and drinking tall, cool Cervesa beer. Wrong. Writing is done in private and if you are not a self-starter who can spend days and weeks on end shut off from the world you will never be a serious writer.
Writing is lonely, generally badly paid and most people who know them think writers are more than a little ‘weird’, but the fact is I write because I love writing. I enjoy writing more than I enjoy anything else I have ever done. Where else can you invent a world, or an entire reality, of your own choosing and then sculpt it and mold it – along with all of the people in it – into whatever shape you want? The only other place I am aware of that you can shape your own reality is during a psychotic break from reality and while writing probably won’t ever make me rich it does pay a lot better than insanity.
While writing is a serious undertaking, the writer’s work need not be serious in tone – indeed, if you are writing fantasy it is my humble opinion that your characters should never take themselves too seriously. The characters in a fantasy novel probably don’t have much to say that is really important to life in general, so they need to have the capacity to laugh at themselves and the absurdity of their world. At least, that is my view of fantasy literature.
I am not going to name names of those who suffer from the malady of over-serious fantasies, because that would look like sour grapes, but in my humble opinion any writer who dips into the vast and fun-filled well of fantasy and can’t find a few jokes has probably had their funny bone surgically removed. Fantasy is GREAT. It is just designed to poke fun at itself and the whole real world on which it is based. I think my three favorite living fantasy novelists are Terry Pratchett, author of endless dozens of DiscWorld novels, and the less known but just as weird Christopher Moore, author of such mind bending wonders as ‘Practical Demonkeeping’ and ‘Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove’ and Malcolm Pryce author of some of the weirdest Welsh fantasies ever to crawl out of a human mind. These guys, along with dozens of other contemporary fantasy writers, really know how to have fun.
I have tried to bring this sense of fun to my latest novel ‘Revelations: book one of The Merlin Chronicles’. Sure, there are times of serious peril, desperate situations, more adventure than you can shake a stick at; and in the person of Morgana leFay we have a wonderfully vile baddy that you will just love to hate; but more than anything this is a book about having fun. Real life, particularly in today’s politically, economically and environmentally uncertain world doesn’t offer a lot of chuckles so we all need somewhere to hide from the ugliness and enjoy a ripping good yarn with a few good laughs. Today’s prescription to overcome reality-induced melancholy: Read two chapters of ‘Revelations: book one of The Merlin Chronicles’ tonight and call me in the morning.
Jason reached his arm around her and pulled her close. “I think I wish I was crazy. At least that would make some kind of sense. But the fact is that neither Merlin nor I are crazy and this is all too real.” Then, turning to Merlin, he continued. “I think you need to prove to Beverley who you are.”
At first she didn’t see anything unusual. But then, after a moment, Merlin’s legs, just above the top edge of the coffee table, began to shimmer and fade until they disappeared altogether. The process continued upward till all that was left of the old man was one disembodied hand holding a glass of wine. Slowly, the glass raised itself toward unseen lips, spilling its contents down an invisible gullet.
“Oh, my God! That’s so amazing. How did you do that?” Eyes shining, she stared at the vacant space where the wizard should be. “Do it again. Do it again.”
Instantly Merlin reappeared, sound and whole. “I’m glad I didn’t frighten you, Beverley, but the important thing is that you understand that I really am who I say I am and that everything we have told you is quite real.”
Laying her hand on her chest to catch her breath, Beverley suddenly sat up; her eyes sparkling. “How did you do that?” Then, glancing toward Jason, “That was amazing. Did you see that? How did he do that?”
Jason reached out and hugged her close, knowing it would be ok. He wasn’t going to lose Beverley, and she would be able to accept everything he and Merlin might do in the coming weeks.
“Mr. Carpenter. I mean, Merlin. Would you do another one? Please?”
Theatrically, Merlin thrust his right hand forward, throwing the sleeve back to the elbow. Twisting his hand as though turning a doorknob, his fingers began to close. As they clenched inward, the illumination from the floor lamp halfway across the room left the bulb and floated through the air, coming to rest in his palm. The room was as brightly lit as ever, but the bulb in the lamp was completely dark. Merlin massaged the ball of light in his hand, causing it to pulse and shift like a ball of putty. Suddenly he snapped his hand shut into a tight fist, sending tiny shards of light spiraling through the room like a thousand miniature spiral nebula. One by one, the sparkles spun homeward toward the light bulb as Merlin brushed his hands together as though clapping off dust, sending the last few sparks into the air.
It was a long minute before Jason finally broke the silence. “How the hell did you do that? I’ve never seen you do anything like that before?” His face was a mask of pure amazement while Beverley’s shone with delight.
“My boy that is nothing to what you may witness over the upcoming weeks. I have used very little of my power over the centuries, but I think it is time I got back into practice.”
“You really are a wizard, aren’t you old man?”
“I told you before, there are no such things as wizards. But the things I do, I do very well. Now, are you ready to help me take on that le Fay creature?”
Jason kept his voice calm and even when he repeated the question “You’re a wizard, aren’t you?”
“Oh, alright, I lied. I am Merlin Emrys ap Morfryn, the greatest wizard in the history of the world. My power transcends science, nature and time itself, and I need your help. Are you up to the challenge?”
What do you do in your free time?
Honestly, I have very little free time. When I am not actively working on a book I am developing a book or television documentary or keeping up with publicity work on my most recent projects. I think the concept of writers taking time off whenever they want and laying on some beach swilling cocktails laced with fruit and paper umbrellas, while they wait for ‘inspiration’ to strike, is about as far from reality as anything can be. Writing is hard, emotionally draining, time consuming work and I have never learned how to make the process any easier. Maybe if a writer is on the level of Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, J K Rowling or Steven King they can afford to take time off between books, but mid-level writers who depend on their writing for their total income just don’t have that luxury.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with music?
As I mentioned in the above question, writing is extremely time consuming work and it demands 100 percent of the writer’s concentration. I have to work in complete silence; if I have music playing at least some part of my brain will be processing that and I just can’t risk being distracted by noise, no matter how pleasant that noise might be. In truth, I do not own a radio nor a television set.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I never understood what ‘writer’s block’ was. I have vastly more ideas for books than I could possibly write in any one lifetime, so there is no problem there. Writing itself is not an art or a process that requires some magical inspiration to take place. Writing is a learned craft. Like any craft skill, say becoming a chef, only those with a real knack will become great but anybody can learn the process. So, if I have plenty of ideas, and know how the writing process works, what is there that would ‘block’ the process?
Do your friends or enemies ever find themselves in your books?
I often use physical likenesses of people I know when creating my characters but never their personality traits. Not only do I think this would be an invasion of privacy but a character needs to develop their own personality, not borrow one from someone else. The same is true for putting myself into my books. In ‘Revelations: book one of The Merlin Chronicles’ I physically appear as Dr Carver Daniels but he and I are nothing alike.
About how long does it take to write a book?
When I moved into fiction after writing 20 nonfiction books I thought the writing process would speed up. I had always assumed that about 70 percent of my nonfiction writing time was consumed by research and I thought that by eliminating that step I would save tons of time. Because I demand that my locations and background information be historically correct I still put about 20 to 25 percent of my time into research and creating situations out of thin air – rather than taking them from reference material – demands considerably extra time not required in nonfiction. Consequently, I find that I don’t save one minute. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, I need 4 to 5 months (8 hours a day, 6 days a week) to write a book. At least that is true under normal circumstances. I have one work of historical fiction, which I have not released yet, that devoured more than 2,000 hours of work time – that is a full year with no time off for vacation.
Favorite Literary Characters
I tend to like classic literary misfits. I always gravitated toward Sherlock Holmes (a high-functioning sociopath) and Hercule Poirot (a smug, egotistical prig). I have no idea why these people fascinate me – I certainly wouldn’t want to know either of them in real life.
Pieces of Advice you have for aspiring writers.
Become a plumber instead, it is less demanding and pays WAY better.
Things you wish you knew before you published
That only a crazy person would ever depend on writing for their income.
Words you try not to use.
Stygian – Time and time again I see some really good author rambling on about ‘stygian darkness’. There are plenty of words to describe the night and darkness other than stygian and I have never once used this thread-bare old word.
Movie you watch over and over again
I suppose my two favorite movies are ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘The Lion in Winter’. The first is not only the film for with the term films noir was coined but it has one of the greatest ensemble casts in all film history. The second, Lion in Winter, features both Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn at their finest and is one of the most historically accurate film representations of the middle ages ever made.
Revelations: The Merlin Chronicles
Merlin the magician only exists in myth and legend–at least that is what archaeology student Jason Carpenter thought until he discovered the mysterious orb that housed history’s greatest wizard for 1,600 years. Forced into an uneasy alliance, Jason and Merlin are sucked into a web of deceit, intrigue and murder sending them on a chaotic race to outwit, and out run, Merlin’s ancient nemesis, the evil sorceress Morgana LaFay: a gang of drug smugglers and a 500-year-old Chinese necromancer. It is a race against time to complete their quest before an army of dragons are unleashed on a vulnerable and unsuspecting 21st century world. In The Merlin Chronicles: Revelations, Daniel Diehl has created an adventurous blend of Arthurian legend, biblical prophecy, classic wizard fantasy and contemporary urban fantasy to create a world exactly like ours — except that Merlin and the age of magic return full-blast to battle ancient evils and save civilization. Revelations is the first book of as gripping new fantasy series by award winning author Daniel Diehl.
2 winners will each receive an Ebook of Revelations