Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hey everyone, I’m Dan Melnick and I’m 35.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m originally from Pennsylvania right outside of Hershey – where all the chocolate is made – but I’ve called the Midwest home now with my family for quite some time.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
Growing up in a small town, I was one of those kids who strived for new experiences. That led to me to pursue dual degrees in English and Communication at Loyola University of Chicago. I then did a master’s program in Ethnology in Folklore at the University of Aberdeen after graduation. It was a master’s degree, but it was really an excuse to live in Scotland for a while.
After that, I met my wife and settled in the Midwest where we have three small children that make every day equal parts exciting and exhausting.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’m working on the sequel to a book I haven’t even released yet. I’m writing the current manuscript while also getting its predecessor ready for publication and editing an entirely different third manuscript all at the same time. It makes for some busy days, but it’s good to have a number of things in the pipeline.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing novels for about eight years now. I started writing comic books. I’m a huge fan of comic books and I’d spend most of my life thinking I wanted to be a comic book writer when I “grew up” but companies rarely just hire you for that. You have to make enough of your own books for a while, get big enough, and then they might contact you to write something for them.
I knew it was a long shot, but I spent a couple of years trying to make my own comics and ran into one, giant hurdle. It’s really hard to convince someone else to draw something only I was passionate about. Especially when you can’t pay them with anything except for royalties on a project that may never get finished. I don’t blame them either. Who wants to work for free? I would have drawn the comics myself except I’d never been a particularly good artist. But I had an epiphany of sorts. Why was I spending so much time convincing other people to do this work for me when I can write my own stories and essentially “illustrate” them myself? I mean, these were my ideas and my passion so no wonder they weren’t as into it as I was. So one day about eight years ago I decided to just go for it. At that time, the most I’d ever written was like four short stories. That was it. I’d always been an avid reader but had never considered writing an actual novel myself. Once I got started, I never really stopped. So here I am eight years later with as many books under my belt.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It honestly wasn’t until that long ago. My wife has always been supportive, but I suppose I suffered from imposter syndrome like so many other writers out there. I’d have work around phrases like “I enjoy writing novels” or “I write novels in my spare time” instead of just coming flat out with it. It wasn’t until I had a couple of books that I was really proud of with definitive plans to self-publish at least one of them that flicked the switch in my head. I mean, if you write, you’re a writer. It’s honestly as simple as that. I was conflating a writer with being a published author.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
So like I said before, it was my frustration of getting into the comic book business. My biggest surprise was how much I came to enjoy writing. It’s honestly what I’d rather do. I mean, if someone wants to me write a comic book I’d never turn them down, but I now think like a novelist and not a comic book writer.
And that was hard in the beginning. When I first started, I thought like a script writer and all I knew of novels was as a fan of the stuff I loved. My first manuscript was a bloated, over and underwritten mess of an epic fantasy that was cliché, ambitious, and not that great as you can imagine. It took a few trunk novels and some work and practice learning about structure and craft until I created works I was happy with.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My first published novel is Fairfax Cleaners. It’s an urban fantasy about a cleaner – someone who cleans up dead bodies – for the fair mob of Chicago. I knew I wanted the title to incorporate Cleaners like a business, but I needed a name. I settled on Fairfax (actually a road in my town) because it sounded good and coincidentally worked with some of the historical aspects of the book as well.
The next book coming out, Altered Egos, is a play on superhero tropes as it stars a supervillain as the protagonist. See? If you don’t let me write comic books, I suppose I’ll just end up writing books about comics.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Not really. Fairfax Cleaners is in third person. Altered Egos is in first. Both incorporate lots of colourful characters and monsters. I consider myself a science fiction and fantasy writer, so coming up with fantastical elements isn’t that challenging for me. In fact, I don’t know if I even could write a story completely based in the real world. My challenge comes more with pacing, I suppose, keeping things interesting for the reader and not getting bogged down with all the cool stuff I know and want the reader to know, but just paring back and delivering an enjoyable story with believable stakes.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The only thing realistic or based on my experiences in Fairfax Cleaners is working for the mob. Totally kidding. No. It’s the city of Chicago. I spent six years there during undergrad and a little after, so I know the place fairly well. I’d always liked books that included details of the city as landmarks and character to really help sell the idea of place and Chicago was the only city I really felt like I knew so that’s where Fairfax Cleaners takes place.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
With three small kids at home, the only travel I get to do for research these days is via Google. I do lots of research and save pictures for inspiration and details. My desk has two monitors so it’s not uncommon that while I have the word doc open on one screen, there are a half dozen web pages on the other. Just today, I was writing a scene in the Altered Egos sequel that takes place in Stuttgart, Germany. I can’t just pop over there to check out a street corner, but a quick search in Google Maps got me something. I then switched it to satellite view, zoomed in, and rotated the camera to see what would conceivably across the street from my fictitious café. The internet is a wonderful thing!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Fairfax Cleaners was designed by Extended Imagery and I have to say Carl just knocked it out of the park. The only notes I had for him was that I had more of an idea of tone rather than a photo or photorealistic image of the protagonist – this is a pet peeve of mine in the urban fantasy genre – and Carl totally delivered. I’d rather have a bloodied hacksaw, rubber gloves, and severed foot. When Altered Egos is ready for cover treatment, I’m totally going back to Carl and Extended Imagery.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Have fun and maybe that fairies aren’t always nice, beautiful and spritely.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
New writers I think I have to go with R.F. Kuang. The Poppy War would have been a trilogy in itself in anyone else’s hands, but she condenses the story in an interesting way and just turns things up to 11! The sequel, The Dragon Republic is on my To Be Read list for sure.
I have favourite books, but I’m not sure I have a favourite writer. There are a number of authors who I’ll probably buy whatever they produce no questions asked like anything by Brandon Sanderson or China Meiville ought to be a good time. But for favourite books, I think Shogun by James Clavell, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and the Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman take the cake. Shogun is a tightly written character transformation in about a thousand pages, but still so compelling! Shadow of the Wind is the most beautiful, magical book I’ve ever read where both the prose and the mystery kept me coming back. And Sandman is just epic. I enjoy Gaiman’s comics more than his novels and Sandman in particular just opened up the world of possibility for me as it showed me that all of these things in folklore and magic or whatever that I already cared about can be treated with serious and deliberate care and make for an epic read.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
If I can’t include my wife as she’s family, then that’s got to be my friend Ross. We worked together for a couple of years before he switched jobs but we still keep in touch. He reads every book I write and has always been a champion for me, often beating me over the head with advice and encouragement if and when I need the self-esteem boost.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I’d love to. Honestly, I’d do this anyway. I mean I am right now. But I’ll be happy if this becomes a productive side gig. I have a day job at a university that I like and wouldn’t mind keeping even if writing money gets good. That said, if writing takes up too much of my time, I’d be A-OK making the full time change. The best parts of my day are untangling story knots, cracking plot problems, and just writing in general. I love storytelling and anything that lets me do that is good with me.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Maybe write it earlier? With anything I write, I try and leave some room at the end of every book I write for sequel potential. That’s because I don’t like finite endings, I guess. The characters’ journeys will continue to some extent. However, a rule I’d created for myself was that I would never write a sequel to a book no one would ever read. Meaning that if one book didn’t sell, why waste the valuable time and energy writing that sequel? I’ve changed my tune on this to some degree as I’m currently writing a sequel to a book that isn’t out yet, but that’s because I’m self-publishing the series. I only let myself work ahead after Ideveloped am action and marketing plan to make that worthwhile. I don’t think I would have been able to do that even a couple of years ago. While I wouldn’t mind having some earlier success, I learn something with every book I write and get better as a writer, so I don’t know if what I’m doing now would be possible without the stuff that came before.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Oh yes! I have a book that should be back from my beta readers within the next week or so that’s an Asian inspired epic fantasy. It’s the longest book I’ve ever written and has the most POVs I’ve ever done. Balancing that was difficult, but creating the world was more so. I don’t just mean the world of the book but the wold of the characters. I wanted each POV to feel different from the others. I’m still working on that now, but I wouldn’t be anywhere close if I hadn’t spent time to just work on the craft of writing prose. I took a class on just how to write better, punch up descriptions, create better metaphors, that kind of thing and it’s helped me in everything I work on now.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
If Fairfax Cleaners was a movie, I think Gus would definitely be played by Jason Statham. I didn’t write it that way in mind, but Gus is a weathered British balding guy, wears dark suits and fights a lot. I think I originally pictured like a younger Sir Ben Kingsley or something, but if that’s not Jason Statham than I don’t know what is!
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Just do it. Like a Nike commercial. I see things all the time like “I have a great idea but no motivation” or “is it normal to hate what you write.” These are people who just need the confidence boost. Look, nobody is going around with sword to tap you on the shoulder and say “arise, new writer.” I had to learn some of that for myself. But you’re never going to get there or be anywhere near happy with your progress if you don’t start. I think the greatest piece of writing advice I ever received was from a graduate assistant teaching a short story class when I was in college. She said whatever you’re working on, just finish it. You can always fix it when you’re finished. The hardest part is getting the story told, once that’s done, you’ve done it. She was mostly right. The hardest part is really in the editing, which is why I’m a firm believer in the Michael Creighton quote “Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” But the gist of what she’s saying is sound. I hate editing, but know how necessary it is. Still, there’s no feeling in the world like coming to the end of a finished manuscript for the first time.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I’m working on writing faster so you’re going to see a lot more of my stuff in the future.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just finished John Connolly’s The Killing Kind this morning. I have David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet primed and ready to go but haven’t cracked the cover yet.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
First “book” book might have been Jurassic Park. I read it in third grade. I have a friend who has a literal doctorate in astrophysics who read it in fourth grade. When we disagree about something we just remember “who’s smarter” and fall back on the fact that I read Jurassic Park before him. It’s our joking way to decide things easily.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Pixar movies. Ever since I became a dad I just turned into a big old softy. I love my kids so much and Pixar movies are usually about family. They know how to tug on the old heartstrings.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I’m sure there are a whole host of really important people I’m totally blanking on right now, but the first person to pop into my head is Paul Kern. He was a Hungarian soldier in World War I. He survived being shot in the head and a weird side effect was that he didn’t have to sleep anymore for the rest of his life! I’ve always had this fascination and animosity toward sleep. We waste a third of our lives doing it. I’ve always toyed around with characters who never had to sleep. How much more productive would they be at stuff. I used to joke with my astrophysicist friend that if I didn’t have to sleep, I’d become Batman. So yeah, it would be interesting to hang out with Paul Kern for a bit.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Reading, playing video games, Magic the Gathering, and Dungeons and Dragons. Collecting comic books, whichshouldn’t surprise anyone by this point. I also used to be an avid runner, but it’s hard to get out of the house with little kids these days.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Right now I just finished Netflix’s Dark Crystal Age of Resistance. Wow what a good show! My wife and I just got on the Schitt’s Creek train and are enjoying that immensely.I’m also really digging Amazon’s Carnival Row at the moment. It’s like the offspring of two books I’ve written so I’m both delighted and devastated it exists. Quit mining my subconscious!
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Food: Indian. Give me some goat vindaloo and garlic naan anytime. Colors: green and gray. Music: I’m not a big music person. I mean I like music, who doesn’t, but it doesn’t drive my identity so it ends up changing a lot. Right now I’m back into an 80s kick and glam rock.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I will always write even if no one is reading it anymore. So if such an occasion of me not writing occurs than the end of the world is finally upon us and the robots have risen up and tired of their human masters. In that case, I guess I’d go with resistance fighter and hope that if I ever got hit, I’d be lucky like Paul Kern.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
With my family. Goofing around with my kids and making them laugh. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. See? What did I tell you? Big softy.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
With great power comes great responsibility
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Places to get the book:
Good Reads Author Page: