Meet the Author: Dan C Gunderman ** Author Interview**
Today, Books, Life and Everything is featuring the author Dan C Gunderman whose novel, Synod, was published in January 2018. Before we hear from Dan, here's a little about Synod:
The year is 1829. The gruff, self-reliant Goldfinch, a veteran of the War of 1812, has become the anointed leader of an idyllic religious community named Synod, nestled in the Ramapough Mountains of northern New Jersey. Thanks to the advice of the village's Founders, Synod will become a stop on what would soon be called the 'Underground Railroad.' Goldfinch oversees this transition, bringing in a broken runaway family. As southern bounty hunters follow their path and seek to reclaim stolen property, Goldfinch meets a shadowy abolitionist with close ties to the federal government. As the man recruits Goldfinch into a wider crusade against slavery, Goldfinch also contends with recurring visions—both fiery and prescient. He’s also pitted against a corrupt politician whose lone pursuit is to eliminate runaway slave dens. Will Goldfinch return to his roots and take up arms as this conflict reaches the Governor's desk? Will he be able to protect his village from destruction and damnation?
Welcome to Books, Life and Everything, Dan.
Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?
I started writing at a young age—dabbling with stories in grade school and finding a passion for film, which carried over to long-form storytelling. During my undergraduate years, I also focused on literary journalism and fiction. Journalism pushed me toward film criticism, which exposed me to different craft elements. By the time I was a graduate student, I knew my debut story, Synod, was best suited for a full-length novel. That process took three-plus years to come together. I was simultaneously writing for the N.Y. Daily News, and realizing that I got the most gratification from the creative arts.
What are you interests apart from writing?
Outside of writing, I have an innate passion for history. For years now, I’ve kept tabs on more distant history—Wars of the Roses, the Tudor Dynasty, the English Civil War—along with the Revolution-era U.S., and Victorian England, with its fascination in the supernatural, gothic and prosaic. These interests—say “new” science of the nineteenth century, magical realism, military history and dynastic politics—began to coalesce and become distinguishable interests of mine. I carry all of these influences with me as I write. Outside of history, I’m also an active film critic (TheCriticalCritics.com), and an avid New York sports fan.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I grew up on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, starting with The Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone, which debuted in 1998. That quickly rose to the corresponding film series. There was something special about Rowling’s magical prose and worldbuilding. In later years, I enjoyed Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other classics. An all-time favorite is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—with gothic elements, scientific undertones and characters that leap off the page. Shelley’s prose is something that stays with me to this day.
Tell us about your latest book without giving the plot away.
The year is 1829. The gruff, self-reliant Goldfinch, a veteran of the War of 1812, has become the anointed leader of an idyllic religious community named Synod, nestled in the Ramapough Mountains of northern New Jersey. Thanks to the advice of the village's Founders, Synod will become a stop on what would soon be called the “Underground Railroad.” Goldfinch oversees this transition, bringing in a broken runaway family. As southern bounty hunters follow their path and seek to reclaim stolen property, Goldfinch meets a shadowy abolitionist with close ties to the federal government. As the man recruits Goldfinch into a wider crusade against slavery, Goldfinch also contends with recurring visions—both fiery and prescient. He’s also pitted against Nance, a corrupt politician whose lone pursuit is to eliminate runaway slave dens. Will Goldfinch return to his roots and take up arms as this conflict reaches the Governor's desk? Will he be able to protect his village from destruction and damnation?
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I spend my days writing and editing, too—I was a staff writer for the N.Y. Daily News, and I’m currently the associate editor of a site covering cyber security. But my passion is creative writing, which I’m able to do in the evenings. Depending on the stage of the project, I might spend my nights reading supplemental material for my next project, drafting a chapter (I love to move chapter-to-chapter to stay disciplined), rereading, or copy editing. One activity I tend to mix in is watching film/TV to get closer in touch with various eras—and the costumes, dialogue, and overall ethos. Altogether, I might spend two to four hours in the evening on creative stuff.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
As a historical novelist, this is an extremely crucial part of the process. Before embarking on the actual writing, I read novels, nonfiction books, relevant memoirs, and conduct intensive online research—bouncing from article to article and/or video to video. Luckily, the historical research is my second passion, so it comes naturally and is exceedingly rewarding for me. If it’s applicable, I might also do in-person visits to historical sites. For example, Synod is inspired by an area in northern New Jersey I know quite well. That way, I can readily visualize the setting.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
For me, the drafting process is the most rewarding. I might move swiftly from chapter to chapter as I visualize the plot and live with my characters. At that point, the story needs to get on the page. There’s no better feeling than having the various plot threads come together. Personally, I love a strong cast of characters—and have always paid close attention to secondary characters. Some of these facets, at the periphery, are very crucial to me. The most difficult part has to be the editing process, as you begin to see the same content over and over, but still want to pare down and polish. While that, too, can be rewarding, I prefer that initial creative rush.
How do you select the names of your characters? Are they based on anyone you know?
I found that my character names emerged from all walks of life—and fiction. These could be geographic regions, our predecessors, or characters from television programs I watch religiously. Name schemes are a ton of fun, and when you match a perfect name to a personality, you feel as though you’re actually bringing people, places and stories to life.
How long on average does it take you to write your first draft?
The first draft took me about a year and a half. The remainder was rounds of editing. My novel is on the longer side, coming in at just under four hundred pages. So, getting the story down with a day job can be complicated.
Are there any secret references hidden in your books?
I would just say I draw inspiration from a variety of films, TV shows, and books I’ve read. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Michael Crichton, and others have impressed themselves into my subconscious. At times, I try to emulate what I feel worked for each and every one of them.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
That depends on the day and the stage of the project. Most of the time, though, I’d say that it energizes me. I am a storyteller and love recreating interesting parts of society and days gone by. I’ll even throw in a bit of the supernatural, or sprinkle in elements of fantasy.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be prepared for the challenges that come along with the writing lifestyle—time, effort, rejections, criticisms, etc. Yet, no matter what stage you’re in as a writer, the most critical part of the equation is discipline. If you can remind yourself of the importance of art and culture, and language, then you know you can do something that’s really special, and ubiquitous. Be bold and remain steadfast.
Can you give any hints about any upcoming books you have planned?
I’ve been wrestling back and forth on which project to pursue next. It came down to a tale set just after World War II where a concentration camp survivor seeks vengeance on the Nazi officer who unjustifiably killed his father, and one set in the nineteenth century along the Long Island Sound. This one has elements of murder mystery, fantasy, history and literary prose. It seems I’ve opted for the latter, and can’t wait to embark upon the journey. Cultish visitors arrive and begin to harness the power of the barrier island’s lighthouse. It comes down to geopolitics, survival and a jaded N.Y. police detective. The working title is The Lighthouse Statesman.
About the Author
Dan C. Gunderman is an author of historical fiction and nonfiction who holds an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Fairfield University.
His forthcoming books include two biographies for an educational publisher in the Spring 2018, and a six-part YA fiction series. He specializes in writing nineteenth-century historical fiction and screenplays.
Dan’s particular research interests include Tudor and Victorian England, along with Gilded Age U.S. politics.
He is a former staff writer for the New York Daily News, where he also served as a film and television critic. He is currently the associate editor of a B2B media site, and contributing film critic to different outlets.
Dan lives in West Milford, New Jersey with his three dogs.