An Interview with David Slayton

david slayton

Last year on a book tour, I first came across David’s book, White Trash Warlock, and I was immediately struck by the honesty that Slayton wrote the lead protagonist, Adam Binder. I immediately knew that what I was reading was a cut above it’s contemporaries. Adam Binder is not a flashy character; he doesn’t swagger or have false bravado. He is a man who has been put into untenable situations and uses his heart, empathy, and sheer force of will to get out of them. I loved this about the character.

david slaytonFurthermore, the Adam Binder series is set in Guthrie, Oklahoma. A place that most people would not be able to find on a map, but Slayton describes it down to the grain of sand and when you are done reading the first book, you feel like you know Guthrie as well as Adam does. These qualities, excellent writing, and world-building, as well as two amazing books in the series thus far made me want to know Slayton better as a writer. David was kind enough to oblige me and let me pick his brain a bit about Adam Binder, writing, fandom, and the environment.

 [GdM] Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Absolutely! I’m originally from Guthrie, Oklahoma, just like my character Adam Binder. I grew up in a trailer in the woods near Lake Liberty, and that background really feeds into Adam’s novels. I love fantasy but could so rarely find books about people like me, high school drop outs with a rural background, etc. so now I live in Denver, Colorado and write the books I always wanted to read.

[GdM] You are a big gamer and specifically liked Hades from what I read. I hear that Hades has an excellent storytelling element to it. What is it about Hades that you liked? 

I’m a huge student of Greek mythology and I loved that Hades includes deities like Thanatos and Nyx, who aren’t as well known. I even have a print of Sleep and His Half-Brother Death (Hypnos and Thanatos) by John William Waterhouse hanging in my bedroom.

Beyond the story and the incredible art style, I loved the gameplay in Hades, but a big deal for me is when a game can incorporate romance in a great way. Getting to romance Thanatos as Zagreus was a really nice touch.

Darren Korb’s voice acting for Zagreus was so perfect. Did you know he composed the music too? Eurydice’s song, Good Riddance, performed by Ashley Barrett haunts me.

[GdM] Are there any other games that you play? 

I’m a big RPG fan. The Mass Effect trilogy, on PC where I can run a mod so male Shepherd can romance Kaiden throughout the entire series, is probably my most beloved series, but I can certainly sink a lot of time into games like Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You might see me on Destiny 2 from time to time. I love the look and lore of that game.

Skyrim is like an old friend. I’ll power it up, up run a few quests, then put it down for a while. There are still corners of that game I’m discovering all these years later.

My happiest and most productive writing days are the ones where I write for a bit, go game for a few hours when I get stuck, and keep switching back and forth all day.

[GdM] You have a great article on your website about Star Trek Discovery and what Star Trek meant to you as a kid. Star Trek canon is moral, “that humanity could grow beyond petty squabbles and conflicts over religion or resources to do something bigger. We could spread out, explore. We could forgo economics, hunger, and internal armed conflict.” Do you think that Star Trek has lost its moral compass with its latest shows and movies, and how does it get it back?

I think the recent shows deeply connect to Trek’s original ethos, especially when you see how Discovery explores the challenge of maintaining Starfleet’s ideals in situations like war or a far future where the Federation is greatly diminished. I’ll admit I only made it through the first of the recent movies because I didn’t feel like it embodied any of that. It felt more like space opera without the underlying moral complexity that has always made Star Trek special to me. I’m very excited for Strange New Worlds and I’m enjoying Picard (despite some character deaths that hit me hard) and the animated shows. Lower Decks does so many wonderful callbacks to Trek lore and has poked some fun at the action-based movies. Still, I’m grateful to those movies and Prodigy for bringing in new fans. Prodigy is beautiful and heart-filled, though geared for younger viewers. I’d love to see Farscape get an animated reboot of that quality. I especially love Discovery though. The acting, writing, effects—it’s just incredible.

[GdM] You said that you liked Star Wars for different reasons. How do Star Trek and Star Wars differ for you? 

Trek is science fiction. It’s asking deeper questions. Star Wars is space opera and in many respects, fantasy. I love them both but for entirely different reasons, much like I love pizza and Greek food. I don’t think it’s fair to compare them and it’s okay to like both.

I go into watching Trek and come out feeling things and thinking. When I watch Star Wars I’m a little kid again, at the drive in theatre back in Guthrie, the Beacon, which still operates by the way, and full of wonder, especially when an X-Wing comes swooping onto the screen.

[GdM] Tell us a bit about the Adam Binder series and your latest book Trailer Park Trickster.

By the end of White Trash Warlock Adam uncovered a lot of secrets, things that had been affecting his world that he hadn’t even been aware of. In many ways that’s what the series is about: how secrets and past trauma, sometimes that of prior generations, can bleed over and keep affecting us even if we’re not aware of them.

In White Trash Warlock Adam had to leave Guthrie, go somewhere new, Denver, and reconnect with his estranged brother and mother. He was pretty angry. He still is really, but he’s starting to shed that and grow beyond it.

I flipped the script in Trailer Park Trickster. Adam has to rush back home, leaving his family behind. He also takes off without telling Vic, with whom he’s just starting to form a relationship, and that causes Vic to take off after Adam. Letting Vic take the second point of view in Trickster let me tell some very different stories in one book, including getting to write one of my favorite things: a road trip through the spirit realm. Though it has some dark moments, it was a lot of fun to write, and I hope readers can feel that on the page.

[GdM] I read, “Adam came later, and as I shaped his character, I quickly realized he was me. Well, okay, not me, but I poured a lot of myself into him. A lot of my pain and family history went into him” on your website. Was it difficult putting yourself into Adam, or did it organically flow as you wrote because you have similar personal experiences?

It was like opening a vein at times. So much of what Adam went through are things I went through, and dredging that up, processing it and dealing with it wasn’t easy. That said, the actual characterization was easy, because I’d lived it. I didn’t have to recreate the wheel to find those experiences and moments even if feeling it all again wasn’t easy.

[GdM] I love how White Trash Warlock is not formulaic like many urban fantasy stories out there. It is something different. What was the path like in the creation of Adam Binder as a character? Did he end up like you thought he would? 

There’s this alchemical moment in writing, at least for me, when you set out to create something and it takes on a life of its own, becomes something so different than what you expected. My best characters are happy accidents. I felt a lot of that with Adam. While I poured so much of myself into him, he is himself. He’s cockier than I am but I think he’s kinder too. Sometimes he surprises me, when I’m trying to plan what comes next, but Adam is a good person. His choices always spring from that so when I get stuck I go back to that. Adam always does the right thing even when it’s hard or no one’s looking.

[GdM] Who does Adam eventually want to be? 

I think he’s still figuring that out, but at his core, he wants to use whatever he has, no matter how little magic or privilege that might be, to help people. He’s a hero, doing the best he can for people with what resources he has.

Other powers in his world may have other plans. We’ll see how that evolves and turns out if the series continues, and I hope it does. I’d love to give readers the chance to meet Adam with a few more years on him and some fresh new tricks up his sleeve.

[GdM] You talk very candidly about mental health in the story—specifically Adam’s mental health and the fallout from being institutionalized in his teens. You wrote so eloquently and realistically about what he went through. Did you research mental health and institutions when creating Adam’s backstory?

I also have my own history that I don’t go into publicly, but I drew a lot from my own experience. While I have not been institutionalized, it’s been a part of my life, for people who are important to me. It’s not my story to tell so I’ll leave it at that.

My own mental health issues and history feed a lot into Adam’s, and I’m a big proponent of therapy and seeking help when you need it if it’s at all possible. It really does get better, and sometimes just have to hold on until better times come. That was where a lot of Adam’s experience with Liberty House came from, the times in my life when I felt trapped and isolated.

[GdM] Has anyone found any of the conspiracy theories and the easter eggs about Denver’s history you put in the story?

It’s very cool when someone connects the dots, but I think I might have hidden one or two things a little too deeply. I’ve gotten some great emails and comments in reviews. It’s really fun when someone finds them!

If we get to continue the series beyond book three I’ll try to weave in more of those things, because there is so much history hidden around us and a lot of it is important.

[GdM] Do you have an affinity for plants? One of the things I noticed when reading both White Trash Warlock and Trailer Park Trickster about the story is your descriptions of plants and their importance in the worldbuilding. 

My maternal grandmother was big on plants and while I didn’t inherit her gift for gardening, I try my best.

Growing up in the country we had nearly a full acre committed to gardening and food. We had apple and pear trees that my grandfather took careful care of. I’ve replicated a little of that in my own yard. Plants were such a critical part of my childhood, and so they tend to show up a lot in my writing. My grandmother was particularly fond of irises and I’m so grateful to have some of her bulbs growing in my yard.

Follow me on Instagram to see all the flowers and things I’ve planted when they bloom in the spring!

[GdM] You write Adam’s family life as realistic and complicated. Often, family life is written tropey or an afterthought in urban fantasy. But in Adam’s case, it is integral to who the character is and where he came from. Before writing Adam, I read that you first envisioned and created Bobby, Adam’s brother. Did that play a part in how important the interpersonal dynamics were between Adam and his family?

I love fantasy, urban and epic, but I often can’t connect with the characters. Their families are killed off to incite conflict, etc. and in the end that leaves me feeling like they’re reduced. One thing I’m constantly looking for in characters is an emotional connection, and that makes a too powerful hero or someone without those roots too distant for me.

Bobby is the version of me that left Oklahoma, had to get out, and doesn’t feel like he could survive there. Because it’s fiction, I’ve taken that to an extreme place and he made some bad choices. That sets up a nice counter to Adam, who feels abandoned by his brother, which he was, and gives emphasis to the class conflict between them.

[GdM] You nailed how Oklahoma feels. I have been to Guthrie a few times and lived in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Was this story always set in Guthrie? Are there any other locations you considered?

It had to be Guthrie. It’s my home town, my roots, and it was a vital part of what I wanted to put into Adam. I love Guthrie. It’s a beautiful little town. I’m proud to be from there, even if I almost never felt like I belonged. I’ve been gone a long time but that red mud sticks to my bones and memories, so it was natural to make it part of Adam.

Book Three, Deadbeat Druid, has another road trip and I used a lot of great locations and history. As always I had to leave some out, but I snuck in as many as I could!

[GdM] One of the things I did not expect in the second book was the talk about climate change. Can you talk about how this all came about and why you chose this as a plot point?

It’s all around us. Here, in Denver, our snow came months late this year and you might have seen the news of how a terrible fire destroyed hundreds of homes, killing pets and displacing people on a massive scale – in winter. A snow storm came the next day, just a little too late.

I feel like denying the effect we’re having on our world is a terrible thing. We only have one, and it breaks my heart to see species go extinct or wide scale destruction of natural habitats. The elves in my books get that need to preserve the past from me. Once something is gone, it’s lost forever. One reason I write the Spirit Realm the way I do is that creatures long gone from our world still thrive there. It was a way of easing the pain of that loss.

And ultimately climate change is a class issue, which is a big part of Adam’s books. While we can all do a little bit through reducing our impact, recycling, and reusing the truth is that corporate interests are the heart of the problem and have to be addressed if we’re going to make a change. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of that kind of money and the political power it buys, which makes it a natural way to relate to Adam’s position in the magical hierarchy.

[GdM] Let’s talk about Vic for a moment. He seems very realistic and well researched. Did you study the Denver Police Department in the creation of him?

My father was a cop for a long time, and worked in public service most of his life. That gave me the chance to see both the good and the bad in law enforcement. I talked to cops and read quite a bit on the Denver force before writing. We’re having an important conversation about the role of police in our society right now and I’m trying to engage with that, as is Vic.

Vic is a rookie and he’s still sort of naïve to the system he’s working in, which is a theme I’m exploring more as he grows as a character. His relationship to his job and what that means to him will continue to evolve in book three.

[GdM] Vic also grows significantly as a person and starts to question everything about his life, spirituality, job, and sexuality. Will we see more of Vic’s growth in the next book? Can you speak a bit about what part of Vic’s life you explore in book 3?

Deadbeat Druid continues the split point of view between Adam and Vic. By the end of Trailer Park Trickster they’d each come to some realizations about themselves and how they feel about each other, but it was important to me that Vic be his own person, have his own journey—apart from Adam.

I don’t want Vic to be just the love interest. I don’t want to spoil too much but Vic’s understanding of himself, his past, and what he’s clinging to and what he needs to let go of is a big part of his story in book three. Like Adam, he’s growing and adapting to this magical world he’s found himself in.

[GdM] What is next for you? What are you working on?

I’ve got several things cooking which I can announce soon, but at the moment I’m working on an epic fantasy and a space opera. I like to mix it up. My poor agent. I’m always throwing something new at her!

If anyone wants a sneak peek when I can drop some news, sign up for my newsletter at www.davidrslayton.com or follow me on social media. I’m on the edge of my seat to get to tell everyone

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Elizabeth Tabler

Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: instagram.com/elizabethtabler https://beforewegoblog.com/ https://www.pinterest.com/scottveg3/ https://www.goodreads.com/Scottveg3 https://twitter.com/BethTabler