Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines. Robert H. Schuller

Daniel C. McWhorter Interview Published on: 27, Apr 2019

Being an avid reader, what types of books do you read? Did you always dream about writing for a living?

I read pretty much everything, but my favorite genres are sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, I am reading “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson for something different. Next up are “Crucible” by James Rollins and “The Lights of Alexandria” by Jack Massa. I try to read for at least an hour a day, usually right before bedtime.

I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but life took me in other directions. I started my first novel in the mid-90s, and it might finally see the light of day…after I finish the Restoration series.

Why did you choose the science fiction genre? Who is your favorite science fiction and fantasy author?

I like the freedom of sci-fi. The only limits are my imagination, and I like imagining all the fantastic possibilities our future might hold. With Restoration, my goal was to project a future that might realistically occur given where we are today. I don’t write “hard sci-fi” in the strictest sense, but I did a ton of research to make sure that the technologies I imagined were at least plausible based on what we know (or think we know) today.

It is really hard to pick just one favorite sci-fi/fantasy author because there are so many great ones, with many more getting published every day. That said, I am a big fan of Evan Currie’s work (especially the Odyssey One and On Silver Wings series), and I am excited that R.A. Salvatore has started a new “Drizzt Do’Urden” series (I’ve missed that old friend). Of course, I would be remiss to not mention Asimov and Tolkien because it was their works that turned me into a sci-fi/fantasy fan in the first place!

Why did you decide to have careers in telecom, software engineering, and talent development?

I’m afraid the best answer to that question is too long for this interview. The short answer is that I am an opportunist and challenge-seeker when it comes to my career choices. I started an internet company in 1996 even though I knew very little about telecom. When that ride ended, I shifted to writing learning management software for the healthcare industry, which ultimately led me down the path of leading a learning and talent development function. I managed to achieve success in each of those fields, even though I had no formal training in any of them, because I am a hard worker and a fast learner. Hopefully, those traits will serve me well as an aspiring writer!

What motivated you to leave corporate America and start writing in 2017?

The last healthcare system I worked for struggled to adapt to the changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (a.k.a. “Obama Care”) and, specifically, how reimbursement rates changed for in and out-of-network providers. They had an expensive care delivery model and they were no longer being compensated adequately for a lot of the services they provided. This caused them to have to adapt and shift to a leaner business model, which meant cutting operating costs and reducing the size of their workforce. Unfortunately, the learning and talent functions are often seen as “low hanging fruit” when it comes to saving money, and I got laid off, along with 90% of my team, in March of 2017.

So, as had happened in the mid-2000s, I once again found myself searching for my next challenging opportunity. This time, however, I decide to look backward rather than forward, and I chose to return to a dream I had long since abandoned—writing.

Which is the ideal setting for you to write in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia?

I live with my wife and our three dogs, nineteen chickens and seven goldfish on six acres a few miles outside of a small town (pop. 611), and the whole thing is pretty darn idyllic. Our nearest neighbors are tucked back in the woods several acres away, and we are the only house on our road, so it’s very quiet (except for the occasional dog barking). I usually write in our sunroom because the floor-to-ceiling windows let in a lot of light, and I can look up at the beautiful scenery whenever I need a break from the computer screen.

How often do you go for hiking, boating, fishing and experiencing the exceptional beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains?

As much as I can when the weather permits. This past winter has been exceptionally wet, and my wife and I haven’t been able to get out much. As I write this, May is just a few weeks away and we are chomping at the bit to get our boat in the water. We just got back from a four- day get-a-way to Gatlinburg, where we were blessed with several sunny days that allowed us to make the pilgrimage to a couple of beautiful water falls. We also got to hike a nature trail that took us through some of the most verdant, undisturbed forest I have ever seen. Hopefully, we will get to do that many more times between now and fall!

What was the highlight of writing the book, "Restoration" What are the elements of good science fiction and fantasy story?

I loved being able to follow Evan on his journey, and to imagine what it would be like to find myself in his situation. I also really enjoyed the world building aspect of writing the book. As the book progressed, I found that I could see the future world I was creating very clearly, and it wasn’t a great stretch to imagine living in it (or through it, as the case may be). Even though I conjured a dystopian vision of the future, I tried to project a sense of hopeful optimism through the thoughts and actions of my main characters.

For me, good sci-fi and fantasy stories all have three things in common: they are filled with robust and compelling characters; they feature an intriguing, mission-driven story; and they happen inside of an interesting and believable world.

Even though Restoration is solidly in the “dystopian sci-fi” category, I worked really hard to create characters and a story that would appeal to even non-technical readers. Of course, I also tried to include enough science and imaginative technology to appeal to hard-core sci-fi fans, like me. I hope that I struck a good balance and that people will enjoy my work regardless of where they are on the sci-fi techie spectrum. My wife is a great beta reader for me because she’s not a huge sci-fi fan (e.g. she likes “Orville”, the TV series, but I have to drag her to Star Wars movies), and her thoughtful, honest feedback helped me to cut several thousand words of overly descriptive “geek speak” (as she calls it) from my final draft.

According to you, what elements grab the attention of readers from the first page to the last page of your books?

I structured Restoration so that readers will (hopefully!) find themselves wondering “What will happen next?” from the moment they meet Doctor Evan Feldman and his daughter, Lily, in Chapter One all the way through to the very end. I tried to incorporate techniques from some of my favorite mystery novels, and I purposefully reveal information in ways that keep the reader interested and guessing, even when they think they have it all figured out.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I think that Evan’s post-mortem video message to Lily in Chapter Two, wherein he implores her to continue work on “Project Second Chance”, is a pivotal moment that will pull readers in and motivate them to keep reading well past their bedtime (assuming they are night-time readers like me, of course).

Bonus Trivia: The working title for Restoration was “Project Second Chance” at first, and then I changed it to “A Second Chance” somewhere along the way. I decided I needed a better name after finishing my first draft, and I settled on Restoration because it made both a good title and series name.

Why did you decide to set Restoration in the year 2075? How much did you research to write this book?

I arrived at 2075 by constructing a historical timeline for my fictional world that included all the events that had to occur (starting from the present day) in order to enable key backstory elements like the rapidly diminishing human population, human cloning, digital memory transfer, interplanetary travel, etc. I did a ton of research in order to come up with realistic portrayals of the various technologies I wanted to incorporate, and to be able to predict a plausible future based on where we are today. It took me nine months to write my first draft, and I would say that half of that was spent on research. Every technology in the book is grounded in modern science and/or scientific theory.

Hint: If you read the book on your Kindle (or in your Kindle app), you can use the X-ray feature to learn a lot of “behind the scenes” details about most of the characters and technologies that appear in the book. Google and Wikipedia are my best friends!

Who inspired the character of General Secretary Dianne Merkel?

Dianne Merkel is a composite of several strong women I’ve met and/or read about over the years. My goal was to portray her as a powerful, yet compassionate, person who truly believes in the rule of law and the idea that no one is above the law, regardless of their motives and motivations. Hopefully, readers will be able to see how conflicted she is about her role in the story. She has a job to do, but she’s not happy that she has to do it.

Note: The General Secretary is of no relation to the current Chancellor of Germany, but I’d like to think that Angela might see a bit of herself in Dianne if they were ever to meet.

Who are the other authors and poets you look up to?

Honestly, I am not really a poetry guy. I read a fair bit of poetry in high school and college because I had to, but not so much since. That said, I have read some of Maya Angelou’s work and I think she’s great. I remember when she read “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Unfortunately, the unity that she called for that day remains elusive in our political discourse.

As far as authors go, I really admire people like JK Rowling, John Grisham and Stephen King—all authors who struggled for years in other careers before finally achieving fame as writers. I’m also a fan of James Rollins, Clive Cussler and Evan Currie—authors who built successful careers by finding their niche and building on their success with each new book and series.

What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?

I thought writing was hard until I began the publishing process! The challenges of publishing today are very different when I first looked into it back in the mid-90s. Back then, you had to pretty much go door-to-door with hat in hand hoping that one of the well-known publishers would agree to publish your work (or find an agent willing to go hat in hand for you). Today, publishing a book is as easy as uploading your manuscript and filling out a few fields on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. That was my favorite part. There was a little bit of a learning curve at first, but it is a pretty straight-forward process overall.

The problem now is that, on average, 9000-10,000 books are published every day on Amazon. That means that the book that I poured myself into for over a year lies buried under something in the neighborhood of 2 million other books that have been published since August 3, 2018…the day I clicked the “Publish” button on Amazon.

Which brings me to my least favorite part of the publishing journey: marketing. Writing is a full- time job. Marketing your work is also a full-time job. That means that, as an indie author/publisher, I have to work two full-time jobs if I am ever to have any hope of building a large enough fan base to make a living. Some weeks, I spend more time on marketing Restoration than I do writing the next book!

That said, social media is a huge force multiplier, and I am starting to get some traction on Twitter and Facebook. I still haven’t figured out how to effectively leverage Instagram yet, but I’ll get there.

How do you think concepts such as Kindle, and e-books have changed the present or future of reading?

Kindle was a game changer for sure. It’s like YouTube for authors in that it’s totally democratized the content creation and publishing process. There are no agents, no gatekeepers, and nobody to tell you that your work is garbage and that it will never sell. Of course, that means that a lot of stuff gets published that shouldn’t. For example, have you heard about the bots that churn out and publish dozens of “books” a week? Or how about paying people in low income countries the equivalent of a few dollars an hour to post fake five- star reviews? Finding a good book from a new author on Amazon is kind of like finding a grain of rice hidden at the bottom of an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with sand!

And then there is the looming threat of artificial intelligence (a central theme of Restoration, by the way). I say “threat” because it won’t be long before someone creates an AI that can write an entire, fully edited and formatted novel in just minutes. Just give it a plot topic, go grab a cup of coffee and, voila, your book is ready! I’ve read several articles recently that claim that machine learning is already being used to write a lot of the news content out there (especially “fake” news), so it’s only a matter of time.

That said, e-book platforms like Kindle, Apple and Kobo have made it cheaper and easier than ever to explore the massive realm of content that exists in the world today. Personally, I am far more likely to take a chance on a new author if I can read their first book for a dollar or two…or better yet, free. The good news is that people seem to be willing to pay $5-$15 dollars for e- books from authors they know and like, so there is still a viable path to financial success for authors who are willing to keep grinding until they get to that point.

I think that over the next 5-10 years we are going to see a shift away from the idea that a fiction novel has to be 80k+ words. People want their content more “bite-sized”, as evidenced by the proliferation of sub twenty-minute videos, and even Netflix is experimenting with short-form content in an effort to win over mobile users and maybe take some eyeballs away from YouTube, Twitch, etc.

How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

A lot! I have outlines for two more books in the Restoration series, and outlines for four more unrelated books beyond that (one of which is already at the first draft stage, but I recently decided to wait to publish it until I finish the Restoration series).

My working title for book two in the Restoration series is “Revival”, and I am thinking either “Rebirth” or “Reunion” for book three…but we’ll have to wait and see.

I can’t really say much about Revival without spoiling the end of Restoration for those who haven’t read it yet. I will say that I’ve had quite a few readers (and even one reviewer!) ask for/suggest that I write a sequel to Restoration, and I am excited to give them what they want. Revival will continue to challenge our beliefs and stretch our imaginations about the future of humanity, and I promise that many of the lingering questions from Restoration will be answered! I am hoping to release it this coming August, and as close to the one-year anniversary of Restoration as possible.

Are you enjoying your experience with AllAuthor so far? Would you recommend this platform to your author friends?

I sure am! AllAuthor is a fantastic resource for authors at all stages in their career. As a new indie author, I really appreciate AllAuthor’s Author Program and Cover of the Month contests. The service is reasonably priced, and you get great value for your money. The Tweet Scheduler Tool is especially helpful, and the Weekly Mockup Banners are a lot of fun and make a great addition to my social media image library.

And last but definitely not least, let’s not forget our readers! The author and book directories are a fantastic resource for readers, and Personalized Author Websites make it super easy for readers to learn about and connect with their favorite authors on social media. I highly recommend AllAuthor to authors and readers alike!

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