David Edmonds is an award-winning author who recently took home the silver for his non-fiction short story at the Royal Palm Literary Awards.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I’m a Southern boy, raised in rural areas of south Mississippi and Cajun Louisiana. No surprise that I went to LSU where I later became a professor of economics. I also attended Notre Dame, Georgetown, and American University and hold a doctorate in international economics.
I moved from Nicaragua to Florida in the mid 90’s to be with my lovely wife Maria, who recently passed away. I now live on the Anclote River in beautiful Tarpon Springs, Florida.
My work background covers a lot of territory from the days I served as a US Marine, then Peace Corps Volunteer, Fulbright Professor of Economics, academic dean, and US government official or scholar in several foreign countries—Iceland, Norway, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Brazil. And, yes, there’s a story in each of those experiences.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
My most recent literary award at the Florida Writers Association was for a creative non-fiction short story called “The River of No Return.” It’s the story of my participation in an ill-fated drug raid in the Peruvian jungle in the early 1990s. I wrote a fictionalized version of the same event in Lily of Peru (Peace Corps Writers, 2015) about a professor’s search for his missing girlfriend. Lily was inspired by my participation in the search for a young American woman who threw in with the guerrillas during the dirty little war between the Peruvian government and Shining Path subversives in the early 1990s. It won a number of top literary awards.
My second novel, The Girl of the Glyphs (Peace Corps Writers 2016), is about a young woman’s search for a mysterious “glyph” cave in war torn Nicaragua. The cave was a native holy site in pre-Columbian times and also a hiding place for pirate treasure. Glyphs was inspired by my search along with former Sandinista soldiers for their hiding place in a Mayan jade mine during the war. I co-authored this with my late wife Maria, who encouraged me to write about it. Glyphs also won a number of top literary awards.
A third novel, The Heretic of Granada (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing 2018), is a prequel to Glyphs and also received a number of literary awards. It’s the story of a Jesuit priest who discovered the same cave in 1740s and refused to divulge its location to Inquisition fanatics who wanted to destroy it. He escapes on the day he is to be burned for heresy and is chased across the Spanish Main by soldiers of the crown, agents of the Inquisition, pirates, and even bounty hunters. Heretic also has a strong romance element.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
I began Lily of Peru many years ago when I was a young Peace Corps Volunteer in a dismally cold Mapuche Indian village in southern Chile. It was supposed to be a romance about my involvement with the girl who got away—a young Peruvian exchange student who had to return home. Graduate school and employment interfered so Lily remained on an old floppy disc until I was back in Peru in the early 1990s with US/AID (Agency for International Development). The story evolved during a period of intense danger and bloodshed, but was not completed until I retired and my late wife encouraged me to submit it for publication. Although the novel is fiction, it’s based on many actual experiences, so I had to change names, locations, and circumstances, hoping the bad guys (and there were many) wouldn’t find me.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
The success of my first published book, Yankee Autumn in Acadiana (UL/Lafayette, Center for Louisiana Studies 1979) was unexpected. The book was inspired by Civil War events that took place in and around my old family home in Louisiana. The house was constructed in 1790 and was used as a stagecoach stop from New Orleans as well as a meeting place for vigilantes in the 1850s and a Civil War hospital and headquarters during one of the Union invasions of 1863. Yankee Autumn won the top literary award in Louisiana that year and gave a big boost to my literary aspirations. It was also the basis for a couple of stage productions about the Civil War in Louisiana. My second non-fiction book, Vigilante Committees of the Attakapas, was adapted into the movie, Belizaire the Cajun, starring Armand Assante.
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you?
Favorite dead authors—H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, W.H. Hudson, Herman Wouk, Robert Louis Stevenson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Michener, Cornelius Ryan, and Hemingway.
Favorite contemporary authors—Ken Follett, Nelson DeMille, Ann Patchett.
Strongest influence—For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I write almost every day, beginning in the morning until about 2-3 pm. As for rituals, I research every subject, every item, every period and location. This slows my progress but I want every detail to be as accurate as possible—the way people spoke or dressed, the issues of the time, what they ate, the cars they drove.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I enjoy international travel, exploring places I’ve read about but never visited. I also love exploring the streets, restaurants and docks of Tarpon Springs. I’m active in my local Rotary club, history society, and serve as moderator for a writers’ group, and am on a museum board. I have seven beautiful grandchildren and try to spend time with them and also time with relatives and friends at my old family home in Louisiana.
Share some tips: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
I have enjoyed my work and occupation but often wish I’d studied to become a professor of creative writing instead of a professor of economics. I also wish I’d worked harder at being an author when I was younger instead of waiting for summer breaks or retirement. On the other hand, my adventures/experiences in my occupation have been an important resource—sooo I probably wouldn’t have done anything differently.
As for writing tips, I have a few. When I switched from non-fiction to fiction I prepared myself by attending classes on creative writing, by reading dozens of how-to books, by joining writing groups (or creating my own groups) and studying the craft by analyzing every movie I watch and every book I read. I’ve since taught a couple of college level courses on creative writing centered on what I call the elements of best-selling novels (or blockbuster movies).
I believe serious wannabe authors can master the craft by using each book they read (or movie they watch) as a learning process. Focus on the following elements to see how it’s done. The protagonist. The inciting incident that sets the story into motion. The goal. The consequences for failure. The obstacles hindering the character. The supporting cast. The setting. The clashes of the character with the obstacles. The final showdown. The resolution.
Here’s the bottom line for me. In order to keep my attention, a good novel must have certain crucial elements.
1. A character faced with a BIG issue that he/she must resolve. This issue may have been thrust upon the character by circumstances or an issue the character takes upon himself/herself.
2. Serious consequences for failure.
3. Formidable barriers standing between the lead character and the goal.
4. Big clashes with these barriers. Conflict is what keeps the reader turning the pages. Will he/she succeed or fail?
In short—no big issue, no stakes, no barriers, no conflict = no interest.
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her: firstname.lastname@example.org