Being an author is like being a musician: You’re anxious to share your work with the world, but you wonder is if the world will respond.
Nevertheless, author Daniel Peyton remains undeterred by those prospects, and, with five books under his belt, he seems to have found a path to fulfillment. Born in Stillwater, Oklahoma, he moved to Morristown, Tennessee, in 2000 and has continued to pursue his muse ever since.
Inspiration apparently comes easy for Peyton. He first began writing in the fourth grade and has yet to stop. An award-winning author, as well as a cook, dancer, embroiderer and stage performer, his love of storytelling dominates all aspects of his life. His work has been featured in short story e-zines and flash fiction blogs, and just last year he was signed by Cosby Media Productions to create a fantasy trilogy and two other novels set for release in the near future.
Peyton’s latest fantasy series, “Legacy of Dragonwand,” rings with a kind of Harry Potter-esque plotline. It tells the story of ancient wizards who were destroyed after the Wizard Wars 1,000 years ago. The one who started the war still remains and has embarked upon a quest to find the last Dragonwand, which will allow him to regain his powers as a dark dragon. The story’s hero is a teenager named Markus who is in search of a wizard who will give him guidance – and a letter of recommendation for the College of Wizardry. During his journey, Markus stumbles upon Tolen the Wise, who sends him on a quest to end the darkness and find the Dragonwand before it gets into the wrong hands. The question is whether Markus will find what he needs to complete Tolen’s task before the ancient, dark wizard uncovers the wand and forever changes the fate of those involved.
BLANK recently spoke with the author and asked him to share his backstory and to answer a few questions concerning his creative process.
BLANK: Firstly, what made you start writing? And how did you first find an audience?
Daniel Peyton: I fell in love with writing in the fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Rogers, gave us free time to write in class. I wrote my first stories then and never wanted to stop. It was addictive. Though my ambition was to be an actor, I truly never stopped writing stories.
I found my first audience in the ninth grade. My English teacher, Mrs. Smith, asked us to write whatever we wanted. Our grade depended mostly on just doing something. I started writing on a story that kept going. She read some of it and let me have more time to finish. Prior to Christmas that year, I handed in a full length novel. It was a “Star Trek” fan fiction piece. Over the holiday, she lost it. She was upset that she couldn’t give it back to me, and of course I was dismayed to have lost it. Three months later, she found it. Her mother, an English professor at Oklahoma State University, accidentally picked it up while she was grading papers for her creative writing students. On the top of the paper was a marked-through “C” and a note written from her mother. She complimented me for having created something worth reading, with real character development, believable descriptions and a solid plot line. All the way through the story, she had written notes about what she liked and what I could improve upon. It was then that I first had the inclination that being an author might be my future.
I started letting my friends read the stories I wrote. I wrote all the time at home, just for myself. Now I had friends loving my work, asking about characters, and suggesting ideas for the next stories. I had their friends coming to me and asking about them. At that time, I didn’t realize how special that was, but now I look back and see that I had done something extraordinary for a ninth-grade kid.
What prompted your move to Tennessee?
In my freshman year of high school, my father changed jobs. He started working for a company out here in Morristown. I missed home, but I didn’t miss the tornadoes. I fell in love with these mountains pretty quickly and still sit in awe of their beauty.
Do you write every day?
I try to write every day. Some days, life gets in the way. If I don’t have any current work in progress, I will pull out a completed rough draft and start editing on it. However, my goal is to write every day, and, even if I am editing on something, I will plan out a new story to start on. I take one hour every day and dedicate it to writing … sometimes more … okay … oftentimes more. But I know that if I don’t set that hour aside, my time will be used up by everything else, and I won’t get the chance.
What was your first published book?
My first published book was called “The Jalan Chronicles: The Eyes of Amaterasu.” There is a terrible story behind that publishing disaster. Back in 2007, I finally decided to focus on becoming a published author. I had been writing for years, but mostly just fan fiction types of stuff. It was all for fun, not for publishing. My mother encouraged me to try and write something entirely my own and look into publishing, so I wrote “The Jalan Chronicles.” I had no idea about the publishing industry. I had my mother edit it, and that was the end of any work on the story.
I looked for a publisher online and found one called Publish America. They made grand promises and boasted about their stature in the industry. They accepted my book, and I was on cloud nine. Sadly, that bubble popped pretty quickly. They convinced me to publish the book without any further editing, telling me it was in such good shape that we could cut a year off of the wait and just get it out. That should be a red flag to any author, but I didn’t know better. I accepted and watched my book come out.
My first hint this publisher wasn’t entirely honest came when I went into Barnes & Noble and asked to see where they put my book. They gave me a funny look and then checked the title. They told me that they would never carry anything from that publisher. One of my publisher’s grandiose boasts was that they were the number one supplier to Barnes & Noble. When I asked about this, I got no response.
Then the reviews came in, and people noticed the bad editing. I grabbed a copy of the book and looked and found that there were mistakes all over it. When I asked about that, Publish America sent me a form email with an offer to edit the book in return for a lot of money – way more than I had. They also informed me that, by their lengthy, binding contract, I could not have anyone else edit this book. I either had to pay them a huge amount or live with a mistake-riddled mess of a book. I was devastated. I had a six-year contract with a publisher that was a pariah in the industry.
Fortunately, a few years later, other authors became fed up and sued, and my book qualified to be part of the class-action suit. Publish America was guilty of actually putting mistakes into their books to sell editing services under their binding contracts. They also made promises about publicity that they never truly fulfilled. They were shut down, my contract ended and I ran from them as fast as I could. It took me several years to trust anyone in publishing again. Fortunately, nice people in the honest publishing world helped me see that not everyone is as slimy as that publisher was.
Now I do my best to warn other authors about making the same mistake. Yes, Publish America is gone, but there are several like them out there. And the owners of that company merely opened up another company under a different name.
How many books have you had published?
Not counting that first mess since it is no longer available, I currently have five books out, with the sixth coming out on May 5th.
What sort of response have you gotten from both readers and industry folks?
Readers have generally enjoyed my work. You have some who don’t care for it, but that’s part of life. Readers contact me regularly to tell me how much they enjoy the stories. Many tell me that they couldn’t put it down and binge read one of the books in a day. In fact, I was at Con Nooga [Tennessee’s largest multi-platform fan convention, in Chattanooga] earlier this year, where I sold copies of my book “Legacy of Dragonwand” all weekend. I had people pick up the book on Friday and come back to me on Saturday and tell me they finished it the night before, staying up all night reading it. They wanted me to know that I cost them sleep, but they didn’t mind. It was the best kind of review I had ever had.
Do you have a publisher or are you self-published?
Both. After I felt better about publishing, I wrote a book called “The Crystal Needle” and shopped it around for a bit. But, ultimately, I decided to self-publish with Amazon and Createspace. This time I had a lot more rounds of editing and work, but I learned a lot about how to publish.
Then, in 2015, I began shopping around another book series I wrote called “Legacy of Dragonwand.” Cosby Media Productions picked that up. Book one came out last spring, book two came out in the fall and book three is set to come out May 5th. They also have two more books from me outside of the “Dragonwand” series that they are going to publish in the near future.
You seem to have a lot of different pursuits, how do all of them tie together and what would you say is your primary day job?
Most of what I do stems from my love of art and creativity. I draw, play music, sing, cook, stitch and write. In a way, they are all related when you really think about it. Of those, the one that I simply cannot live without and have done the longest is write. Outside of that, I love to teach. I study and research and then teach at my church. In a way, it ties back to writing since you do have to do your research to make your stories flow just right. I can’t even begin to tell you all the various things I have had to study to write one short story.
My day job currently would be … author. At this time, I am not working a regular job, so I spend a great deal of my free time working on publicity, editing, doing interviews, researching or whatever. Most people aren’t aware of the amount of time and cost every author puts into publicity. Whether big names or unknowns, authors are the primary source of publicity for their books. It is hard and time consuming. For every hour of writing I get in, there is at least five hours of promoting. And I’m not counting the time and money I spend going to conventions, book signings and other events to promote my work.
How frequently do you release a new book?
I want to release a new book once a year if possible. Since 2011, I have published five books, only missing two years in that time. However, during those two down years I published works for online games and some fiction blogs and online e-zines.
What have you written about in the past? Is your focus now mainly on science fiction or have you ventured into other realms, as well?
Actually, four of my five currently published books are fantasy, so that would be my focus. I have one Christian fiction published called “Wisdom Springs.” Outside of that, I have a post-apocalyptic novella, as well as a superhero novel, a steam-punk-inspired novella and a pure science fiction epic that’s being shopped around with the help of a publishing agent. Those are all completed works – some published, others just about there. I love to test myself by stepping outside of my comfort zone.
What made you write this book? Were you influenced by something or someone? And how did you come up with the story to begin with?
A few years back, a friend of mine issued a writing challenge: I had to write a fantasy story in less than 10,000 words. I took the challenge … and failed. By the time I got to the 10,000-word mark, I was hardly through the beginning of the book. I set that aside as a failure and went on. Then National Novel Writing Month came along, and I decided to use what I had written as a base to participate. I wrote 50,000 more words in that month, and the story was still not finished. So I kept writing until I was through. Three months later, I had the rough draft for “Legacy of Dragonwand.”
What is your inspiration?
Several factors inspired the story elements. First, I pick up items that I think are interesting and put them in my writing area. One such item was a unique, handcrafted bubble wand from an artisan at Dollywood. It looked like a cool fantasy wand to me, so I picked it up. It became the wand Markus receives early in one of my stories.
Second, I love to draw characters. Sometimes they are characters in existing stories of mine, and sometimes they are just drawings that I may use in the future. I drew a picture of a dog-man a couple years prior to writing the book. When the main character came across a fantasy race that would help him, I flipped through my art files and found that guy. He looked unique, and I crafted a whole race from the drawing.
Finally, in a general sense, at the time I started writing “Legacy of Dragonwand,” I had just read the entire “Chronicles of Narnia” series and a couple of the “Harry Potter” books again, and I was working on “The Hobbit.” I was also playing Skyrim for the first time. All of these inspired me to craft a fantasy world of my own.
Do you think about film rights when you write? Do you consider who you might cast to play some of these characters?
As I was writing this, I really didn’t think about a movie off from it. I was focused on writing the best book that I could. However, my publishing agreement with Cosby Media Productions includes a film option. They will be actively seeking to produce this as a movie in time. Now, with that in mind, I couldn’t help but think of who I’d like to play some of the parts. For Markus, William Brent comes to mind. For Treb, Dwayne Johnson. For Donna, Alex Kingston. And for Morris, Dean Cain. As for the other characters, I haven’t really pinpointed any who I would immediately spot for the role.
What do you feel is your connection with your audience, and what do you base that on?
Mutual love of the genres. I am a fanboy of the genres I write in. When I go to the conventions to sell books, I understand most of what’s around me. I step away to go and meet an actor, buy a collectible or peek in at the costume contests. I write what I would want to read [or] would want to see as a movie or TV show.
What inspired you to pursue a career as an author?
Ever since I was little, I wanted to contribute to what I loved. This is why I wrote fan fiction way back when I didn’t even want to be a professional author. I wanted to be a part of the creative process. I want to continue to give this world the stories of the fantastic and wonderful things that fuel the hearts of every fanboy and fangirl out there.
Even at a young age. I understood that it was through people like Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert and many more I could add to that list who gave birth to the fantasy we love. I will never say that I am better than or even as good as these true giants, but I admire what they accomplished. I want to join them, to create that fantastic world to escape to, to adventure into, to fall in love with. The truest connection I can make with my readers is that I want the stories which we mutually love to continue being fresh and new.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I love to communicate. If you like my Facebook author page and want to comment or even private message me, I will do my best to respond. Also, I love reviews. Not just for my work, but for all authors. The industry thrives on reviews. Readers do not realize how much those reviews matter to advertisers, publishers and promoters. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth critique worthy of The New York Times; a single sentence saying that you enjoyed the book is all that is needed. We authors live and work in quiet places. We don’t know if you’ve read our work or not. The silence can be deafening. Let us know you enjoyed it. If you would applaud at a concert, you should do the same when you finish a book.