Author Feature: David Vining

Crystal Embers


A civil war ends, and a knight returns home to a land and wife he no longer knows. A wife mourns over her lost child as her husband returns from years of civil strife. Alone, they have nothing, but together perhaps they could rebuild.

Before they can try on their own, though, they encounter a dragon on their land. Swept up in the flying monster’s beauty and power, they pack up and leave the home that holds nothing for them anymore.

The pair travel through the war torn countryside, seeing the remnants of violence that plague the land while chasing a dragon that flies above it all.

In a land of dying magic and open wounds, follow the knight and his lady as they search for meaning in a new world for both of them.

Author David Vining’s Thoughts and Experiences On Writing

I first began writing in the third grade. I remember the grade specifically because of a specific memory around a specific project. It was a group assignment to write a fairy tale, and my friends and I had decided to write the most epic of tales. I can’t remember what it ended up being about (maybe Rumpelstiltskin), but I do clearly recall the long, thin strip of paper that was the result of our output. It was no more than eight hundred words total, which is the short end of a move review I throw up daily on my blog.

I wrote off and on for years. There was the fall I wrote Star Wars fan fiction. There was the spring in high school when I tried to write a Lord of the Rings knockoff. College brought me my first real taste of concentrated writing and a sense of the size of my own ego. I wrote a lot in a lot of classes, all while convinced that I was already the next James Joyce. I recently revisited some of that work, the best of it, really, and discovered, to my horror, that I wasn’t actually very good. The story that I wrote as an application to get into the MFA program (which I was actually waitlisted for) was unfocused, obvious, and muddled all at once. I actually burst into laughter at the first line. It was not meant as a compliment.

Like most people who write, it’s not my day job. My first year at the company I currently work for was really rough. At the height of our busy season, I considered quitting every day, never doing it because I knew that my wife would murder me in my sleep should I follow through. I considered my career and the fact that I didn’t want to be in a Software as a Service environment for the rest of my working days and decided to take my writing seriously.

That decision happened roughly five years ago, and I’ve written almost every day since. In that time, I’ve written five novels, twenty-five short stories, self-published a handful of the work, and turned to blogging to try and maintain an audience while between releases. As the years have passed, I’ve learned several lessons about the process of writing.

The first lesson is that writing is as much a job as my real job. When I say that I write everyday, I mean that it’s a bare minimum of an hour every workday, and I usually go for at least two. I haven’t regularly taken a lunch at work in those five years. What I do is take my writing off to an abandoned corner of the building, whichever I can find, and write for an hour. I then go home, spend time with my family, and then write some more after everyone else has gone to bed. If I don’t find the time to write consistently, a few things happen. First, and most importantly, the writing doesn’t happen. My pen is not going to magically lift itself off the desk and run against the paper to form words. Only I can do that. The second thing that happens is psychological. If I don’t write for a day, I feel bad. If I don’t write for a whole week, I feel off, like something is wrong.

The second lesson I’ve learned is that the most important skill a writer can learn is to learn how to read one’s own writing critically. That doesn’t mean hating everything, or loving everything. It’s about finding what does work and what doesn’t, and identifying how to address both. A quick example. Earlier this year, I picked up the second novel I wrote, a fantasy novel titled Crystal Embers, which I hadn’t touched in about four years. I had given it to some friends and family who had all given me warm, but generic, notices. I had this book in the back of my mind as something that I could potentially turn around in quick fashion to self-publish. Well, when I finally revisited the book earlier this year, I was aghast to discover that I hated large swaths of the book. I didn’t rely on my friends and family being nice to me, and I didn’t hate everything. I ended up writing roughly a hundred new pages in that rewrite while cutting at least one hundred and forty out of a book that was originally about two hundred fifty pages long.

The third lesson I’ve learned is about the importance of process. My daily lunch habit is a small part of this, but the rest is about how writing actually happens, from the physical elements to the cadence of drafting. I insisted a few years ago that my first drafts will always be handwritten. There are a few reasons for this, but one of the biggest is that the aesthetic appeal of using my own hand to form every single word on paper really appeals to me. This actually has a side effect of forcing me to work harder in moving from first to second drafts. Not only do I need to rewrite, but I need to then type up that rewrite, which creates a sort of draft 2.5 when it’s completed. The process extends even further beyond that, though. When I complete the draft of one work, I drop that work and move to another work entirely.

Another quick example. I wrote the first draft to my fourth book, a fantasy war epic (at least temporarily) titled Corstae. It took eleven months (the last time I allowed myself such slow output), and I put that first, handwritten, 500-page draft to the side. I was so sick of thinking about the plot and characters that forgetting it existed for just a month or two was a reprieve. I moved on to the third draft of my third book, the published The Battle of Lake Erie. Once that was done, I then returned to Corstae to rewrite it. At the close of that second draft, I moved on to the first draft of my next book, the historical novel The Sharp Kid. I work through this cycle because it keeps me working and provides me some distance from a work before I rewrite it.

I’m not saying that this process of mine is the greatest, just that it works for me. I find it highly rewarding.

That’s a view of my macro-level process. My processes within a single draft are a bit more thought out. When I begin a new book from scratch, I’ve tossed the idea around in my head for a minimum of months, if not years. It’s won in some level of competition with a handful of other ideas. I write a pitch to myself. No more than three or four sentences, it’s the simplest distillation of the idea I’ve been kicking around. I then write a first outline of between two and three pages that attacks the story from a 10,000 foot view. After that is done, I usually have a good idea of primary and secondary characters, so I jump into character profiles. Each profile is roughly a page long and details the history and wants of each character up to the starting point of the story. From there, I can dive into a detailed outline that’s usually about twenty pages long. By the time that’s completed, I’m itching at the bit to start writing for real. The first draft then becomes a simple act of following directions. Creativity ceases to be a part of the process; that was what the pre-writing process for.

Writer’s block hasn’t been a serious part of my writing experience since college, and I assign that to two things reference above. The first is the pre-writing process. Within a book, there’s never a question about what to write next. I just need to look at my outline to know what follows. The second is the fact that I’m constantly bouncing ideas around in my head for the next project. At the current moment, I’m in the process of writing a second draft with a first draft set to start next. That will be a super low-budget thriller screenplay that I’ve bandied about in my head for a while. The next first draft (whenever that will end up being) will be an adventure novel I’ve had the structure and basic plot to in my head for about two years. Then will be either my book about minor league baseball in 1920s Charleston or another screenplay (this one a musical). I’m also eager to write another collection of short stories, I just need to assemble a series of pitches I can work through. I could manage that in a few days if I ever put my mind to it. I really should write down my ideas more. I have notebook dedicated to it, but I simply don’t use it like I should, believing more in my memory than I should. I’ve probably forgot more ideas for books than I’ll ever write. When I do start to run out of ideas, I’m really going to kick myself pretty hard for not writing down those lost ideas more.

These ideas I pull from wherever I can. I watch a lot (a lot) of movies, and I occasionally see something that I feel contains an interesting concept, but is done poorly, so I begin to juggle around ideas of how to re-approach the same idea in a way that I find more interesting and potentially successful. I’ll also focus on small images and blow them up into stories, transplanting something I see on the side of the road to another environment and then extrapolating how it gets there. Or, I’ll focus on a genre and wonder, oftentimes for months, how I can approach it in a new and interesting fashion.

As you may be able to infer, I love the act of writing. If I never sold another copy of anything I wrote, I’d keep doing this because it makes me happy. I remember reading something George R.R. Martin wrote about how if you’re writing to make money, you’ll never succeed. I’ve also read Tom Clancy’s admonition to just write the damn book, and I’ve heard tales of Stephen King snorting copious amounts of cocaine to keep himself outputting. It’s all boiled down to the idea that I need to keep writing because I love it. I also do maintain hope of getting paid a bit now and again.


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