Thursday, September 1, 2011

Interview: Author Dan Abnett

New York Best Selling Author - Dan Abnett
Dan Abnett is a New York Best Selling author who has written for some of the most famous fictional characters and universes man has ever known - The Terminator, Transformers, Doctor Who, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, Pendragon, The Punisher, Iron Man, Star Trek, Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, Judge Dredd, Sinister Dexter, The V.C's, Planet of the Apes, Wallace and Gromit, Aquaman, Batman, Superman, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - but who's counting?

As I mentioned earlier this week, the short story I submitted to Black Library was rejected (I can only assume since I didn’t actually get a rejection letter), and that left me a little disappointed. However, the next best thing happened. I got an interview with one of my all-time favorite authors - and Black Library’s most exalted - Dan Abnett. I’m totally geeking out on this one. I am both excited and honored that Dan accepted my invitation. It means the world to me for a number of reasons.

Let me explain.

Back in 2006 my father was diagnosed with Leukemia and spent many months in the hospital before he lost his battle with the deadly disease. Needless to say, I spent many days and nights at the hospital with him during that time. Some days I would just sit there holding his hand while he slept or while he was unconscious from the pain medications. On the occasions when I would sleep, I would continue to hold his hand and rest my head on the bed next to him in the off-chance that he would awake in the night. I didn’t want him to wake up feeling alone, and in a strange way, it comforted me too.

There was a great deal of quiet time for prayer and reflection; just the repetitive beeps of machines and the occasional nurse or visitor to break up the monotony. While making a trip to Walmart for some snacks and some items for Dad, I decided to swing by the book section in the unlikely chance there would be something interesting there to read. To my surprise, standing alone in the gallows of science fiction mediocracy, I saw a Warhammer 40K book. A Warhammer 40K book… in Walmart… in the small country town of Crossville, Tennessee. My eyes had to be playing a trick on me.

So I picked up the book and began to read the first few pages. I was instantly hooked. The book was, “Ravenor Returned” by Dan Abnett. From that day forward I began devouring his books one at a time. I finished off the Ravenor series, then moved on to his Malus Darkblade fantasy series, and from there to Eisenhorn. Not only did Dan’s writing inspire me to read and write more, it also helped me get through a very difficult time in my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Dan.

DP: Dan, you have compiled an impressive collection of written works: comics, short stories, novellas, full length novels, trilogies, and most recently, a screen play. When did you know you wanted to make a career out of writing? Was there a specific event or moment in your life that started you down this path?

Dan Abnett: I’ve always liked creating stories - I used to write and draw my own comics when I was kid. I knew it was something I wanted to do even if I couldn’t support myself doing it... and when I first started to get commissioned, it was a dream come true. Even when I’m struggling or frustrated by a piece of work (and that happens to everyone) I still count myself as very lucky to have made a living out of what I love.

DP: Have you ever experienced the gut punch of a rejection letter? If so, what was it like the first time it happened and do you recall what it was that you had submitted for publication?

Dan Abnett: Yes I have, many times. I can’t actually remember the first. Actually, it was an early attempt at a novel that I sent to a publisher or agent. Not only did they reject it, they sent back my precious manuscript soaked and stained because they’d dropped it in a puddle. If you want to write, you have to brace yourself for rejection and criticism. You have to have thick skin - and learn to use criticism positively.

DP: Can you describe the feeling you had the first time you got paid for something you wrote? What was the submission?

Dan Abnett: Delight and surprise. My first sale was an Action Force (GI Joe) script that I wrote on spec and sold to Marvel. It was then drawn by an unknown artist called Bryan Hitch. ;)

DP: Some have described you as one of the most prolific writers of our time, and rightfully so. How are you able to write so much high quality content? What is a typical day in the life of Dan Abnett?

Dan Abnett: I get up at 5 or 6 and do a chunk of writing before breakfast. I work on novels before lunch, and aim to do 2 or 3 thousand words a day. I switch to comics in the afternoon and aim to do a minimum of five (comic) pages a day. Usually it’s more. At the moment, I’m working six and a half/seven days a week.  I’m prolific because I enjoy it, and deadline pressure helps my process. I do better work when I’ve got slightly too much on my plate. Things actually slow down for me when I have more time.

DP: You have been equally successful as a novelist and a comic book writer. Do you take the same approach to developing characters and storylines for each medium?

Dan Abnett: Pretty much, given the different parameters involved. Novel characters tend to grow, comic ones tend to be more designed.

DP: You've written for characters, universes, and settings that are heavily canonized such as: The Marvel Universe, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Transformers, Warhammer, and Judge Dredd to name just a few. When you work in a universe as vast and well established as say, Warhammer 40K, how do you go about making sure you don’t accidently alter or destroy accepted facts of that universe? Do they hand you a 400 page canonized bible and say, “Here study this?”

Dan Abnett: Pretty much. You read all the ref you can, and ask questions and they fact check you too. We have long chats and planning meetings about continuity (because even in a well built universe, there are always contradictions and inconsistencies).

DP: Your highly anticipated new book, “Salvation’s Reach,” is coming out very soon, which centers on Colonel-Commissar Gaunt, arguably one of your most famous characters from the 40K universe. This will be your 13th book in the series. There is rumor that this could be the last we see of Colonel Gaunt and his infamous band of Imperial defenders (Gaunt’s Ghosts). Can you confirm or deny these rumors?

Dan Abnett: Deny. It’s the second of four books in this fourth arc. There will be another arc of at least two or three books after that. “Salvation’s Reach” is a very important book in terms of the series continuity.

DP: If there was just one bit of wisdom you could impart to aspiring authors what would it be?

Dan Abnett: Carry a notebook and write down ideas WHEN YOU HAVE THEM.

DP: If you could step into the shoes of any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Dan Abnett: It’s a silly answer, but probably Doctor Who - those shoes get to go to a LOT of places.

Don't forget to check out Dan's new book, "Salvation's Reach" available in bookstores in October, or you can pre-order it at Black Library or

Dan, you made a dream come true. Thank you for your generosity and your precious time. I look forward to reading more of your awesome works in the years ahead.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

What is your favorite book or comic that Dan Abnett has written? Is there a particular author that you admire that you've met before?

This has been submitted for Dude Write #11: Please go checkout these other fine gentlemen who write. Read. Comment. Share.  Thanks!

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