Scoop got the chance to interview David Dresner, author of young adult fiction including The Discovered Sanctuary and The Blighted Fortress.
When did you start writing?
Writing is just another form of communicating. I communicated at a very early age. Before writing I mastered yelling for more sweet tapioca pudding. Whether we’re yelling early, or writing a little later, we’re expressing ourselves to an audience.
For me, writing started in the first grade. It was fun and painful at the same time. Fun was showing off my writing creations to parents and getting praise for my scribblings. Pain came from staying between the lines and making smooth curves as my cursive teacher frowned.
Starting out after graduate business school, I had to write very mind numbing, technical documents. These documents need to be precise in their language, no imagination please. As I advanced in business, I had to write sales documents. These documents had to capture a reader’s interest. The writing had to convince a potential client you were the consultant they needed to hire. Eventually, as a CEO, I wrote to our staff about how we were doing. The trick is to be upbeat and honest at the same time.
After taking early retirement I began to write YA fantasy fiction for school age students. There are no rules for doing this successfully. First comes a story idea, you hope it’s a good one. Then comes the prose to express the story in a way that does the story justice. Story and prose are intertwined, neither succeeds without the other.
What was your favourite thing to read as a child?
I got captivated with reading early on. Our neighbor, Jean Johnson, was a talented high school English teacher. I was only around age 7 when she introduced me to the stories of Thornton Burgess.
I loved the animals and they became people in my mind. They helped me develop an active imagination. A lot of the outcomes were funny. I’d sit and laugh hysterically, my parents likely thought I was slipping a cog or two.
The tales are timeless, I read these stories to my own children.
Have you been to Transylvania?
Beware reader, this is vampire country. Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula, lived there. He was a very real person long before starring in movies.
My father was from a remote village in Transylvania named ‘Nadrag’. It’s nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. I visited Nadrag using a surrogate. I hired a Romanian schoolteacher to go there, he took pictures, including old tombstones, and emailed them to me. There were no ‘Vlad Tepes’ references on our family resting places.
A true, funny vampire experience came when I was teaching a group of 8th graders in a rural school. I had a small study group of two boys and two girls, I was helping them with some algebra. Suddenly they had become very quiet, they were staring at me. Staring is common for middle schoolers, quiet is not.
I’m looking at them wondering what’s up. Finally, a girl says, ‘We think you’re a vampire.’ They are serious. A bad pun would be, ‘They are dead serious.’ Maybe it’s my long dark hair or the black leather vest, who knows what a middle schooler sees.
I immediately decided to have fun with them. Responding with a straight face, I say how observant they are. Indeed, my father is from Transylvania. I proceed to describe how vampires are comfortable in daylight, they just don’t have their powers until the sun goes down. I expand the tale until I see they are now really, really quiet. I’ve pulled them into my tale, and they are taking me too seriously.
To ease their concerns, I put on my cape, rose to the ceiling, then flew out the open window.
Kidding about flying, that’s Transylvanian humor. The story is true.
Are your kids old enough to read books themselves now?
Tempus Fugit. Yes, they are old enough by many years. The youngest is 22.
A big compliment for me came from my daughter. She loves my books and wants me to keep writing. She is an English major with a master’s degree and is in Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society. She grew up reading a lot of fantasy fiction, from Lord of the Rings to all the Harry Potter books.
Does the fall of Rome resonate today?
When the Roman empire collapsed in 475 AD, civilization fell into the period known as the dark ages. The impact of the Roman collapse effected every walk of life around large parts of the western world.
Yet Rome survived. It is called the ‘Eternal City’ for a reason. More than a collection of buildings, modern Rome presents the physical achievements and ideas of ancient Rome. While the heavy tread of marching legionnaires is gone, ancient Rome lives on in our language, art, engineering and philosophies.
History is all around us if we only recognize it. I am working out at my health club and engage an older man in conversation. It turns out he is a Canadian who was a fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain. He described climbing into his propeller driven fighter every day. Rising into the sky, with machine guns blazing, he engaged German fighters and bombers. If England had lost this air battle where would the country and the world be today?
History found in books can be a great teacher. Read and learn. Reflect on the reality that each of us write our own history every day. Make your personal history one you will be pleased with in your own distant future.
Is the scholastic balance of separating art from science getting stronger or fading?
To me the answer appears to be that ‘the arts are fading’. The arts increasingly take a back seat as money is significantly shifted to science. This is a shame since studies show strong connections between music and math and how they support each other. Importantly, the arts can present a strong case that they make for a stronger civilization.
There is no question that learning math is hard. One school day, while teaching the Pythagorean theorem to eighth graders, Charley asked me, ‘Mr. Dresner will we ever use this?’ The class is closely watching me expecting some answer like, ‘All your life Charley.’ I answered, ‘Probably not this theorem, Charley. What you will use is the thinking skill you’re developing. That skill you’ll use all your life.’
Quick Fire Interview
If you had to choose only one, would it be swimming or dancing?
Swimming. I swam in college. I also have two left feet.
If you had a spirit animal what would it be?
Black cat. Cats are magical. Theo, my god-being in the series Allies of Theo, takes the shape of a giant black cat.
Car journey: audio book or music?
Audio book. My wife and I do a lot of long-distance driving. The story making the miles speed by.
Fall. When you live with spring’s insects, summer’s heat and winter’s slippery footing, fall is an easy choice.
Walk by the sea or in the woods?
Walk in the woods. I’m a tree hugger. Grew up in boy scouts, camping in the woods.
If you had a superpower what would it be?
Intelligence. With this tool everything else can be created.
Save the planet or move to Mars?
Save the planet. No woods on Mars.
Can you tell us a joke?
Sherlock Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip. After setting up the tent, making the fire and cooking dinner they crash.
It’s late at night when Holmes wakes and says to Watson, “Tell me what you see.”
A little groggy Watson looks up and says, “I see millions of stars. We are so tiny and insignificant in the universe.”
Holmes says, “Yes, yes, but what else do you see?”
Watson stares upward concentrating even harder. “I think with all the stars there must planets that support life. We are not alone.”
Shaking his head Holmes says, “You’re an idiot Watson. What I see is that someone has stolen our tent.”