With just a week to go until the launch of Lost Wings by Don M. Vail, I wanted to share the first-ever interview with this mysterious debut author.
And there’s still time if you want to get an advance PDF version of Lost Wings. Send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll send it to you. And if you post a review to Amazon (doesn’t matter whether you liked the book or not, we’re just looking for honest reviews) by October 1, we’ll send you a signed copy of the paperback!
I set out to interview Don M. Vail, the author of the next book from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. It’s a very different novel for EBP, which to date has published novels written for young adult and middle grade audiences, though many of the stories in EBP’s anthologies are written with adult protagonists and with adult audiences in mind.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Tenderloin. Don came with his alter ego, Robert K. Lewis, author of the Mark Mallen crime fiction trilogy: Untold Damage, Critical Damage, and Damage. Of course, Don is the pseudonym of Robert, and he explains the genesis of not only the pen name but also the story behind Lost Wings, Don’s “debut” novel.
Elephant’s Bookshelf: What inspired the character of Richard Eastman and this story?
Don M. Vail/Robert K. Lewis: Well, it’s really about redemption. With me, it’s always about redemption. With the Damage Series, the protagonist, Mark Mallen, is on a road to redemption. He had a life that he lost. A home, a wife, and a child. All that Mallen wants to do is make it right, win back what he’s lost. That’s of course what redemption is all about for me: an attempt to make things right, to atone for past sins. This sense of redemption is what fuels Richard Eastman. He finds his chance in helping this wingless angel named Avesta. And given who Richard is, I feel sorry for anyone who wants to stop him.
When did you complete your initial draft of Lost Wings?
Jesus, I think it was about twelve years ago. Lost Wings was the third book I’d written, and it’s been said that it takes two or three books before you really get a handle on the form. From the beginning, Lost Wings felt like my first “real” book. So, yeah, I think about 2005 is accurate regarding the time I finished the first draft.
Why did it take so long?
(Laughs) Well, because nobody wanted to run with it. Like I said, Lost Wings was the first book that really felt like “a book.” I queried every agent out there, and also any publishers that dealt with Urban Fantasy, Sci Fi, or even Horror. I got close, but no cigars. So, after getting nowhere, I put it away in my desk drawer and went on to the next project, the one that would eventually get me published, Untold Damage. However, over all those long years since its inception, I would take Lost Wings out of the drawer and rewrite it again. Like so many other authors, I had “that” book; the one a writer just can’t let go of and always keeps around in the hope that at some point in time, it would see the light of day. For me, Lost Wings was that book.
What was it about the story that kept coming back to you?
(Pauses) I believe that every person has a small kernel of hero inside them, and that this kernel is just waiting to come out, given the circumstances. In Lost Wings, Richard is not a hero in the classical sense, like the paladin figure of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. He’s, in my opinion, closer to Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone where the hero is the reluctant hero, called by the “horn of fate.” Maybe in a more modern, non-sword iteration, Richard Eastman is more akin to John McClane from the movie Die Hard. I love a story about a person that crawls from the wreckage and keeps on moving forward. That’s Richard Eastman in a nutshell. You can’t stop him. Yes, he’s a derelict war vet. Yes, he’s drowning in his own pain, and also the pain of the Tenderloin. But even then, when that horn sounds, he stands up and starts down that road of redemption. I love pain-filled heroes, but then again… I guess all heroes are filled with pain.
Aside from your affinity for down-and-out characters living in San Francisco, there isn’t much that is similar to your crime novels. How is writing urban fantasy different from your other work and what do you see as similar?
The first thing that comes to mind is that when I’m writing crime fiction, there is an inherent reality in the world that I’m working with. It’s San Francisco. It’s the Tenderloin. Along with that reality comes a certain set of expectations. There are cars on the street, there are criminals that have to be arrested. There will be bullets and blood. However, I found writing urban fantasy to be incredibly freeing. I mean, sure, there is the Tenderloin, there is San Francisco, there are bullets and blood, but now I’m free to add a wingless angel, or Lucifer as a little girl who runs a pawnshop, or even a hero that both visually and metaphorically takes a trip through hell. In crime fiction there is no visual trip through hell, that trip only exists in a metaphorical sense. Again, it was incredibly freeing to write urban fantasy, especially after growing up on Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. However, at its core, the similarity lies with the fact that both Richard Eastman and my detective Mark Mallen walk the same hero’s road, and that they both possess a moral compass that is always kept, well… pointing north.
Where did you come up with the back story of Don M. Vail?
All three Mark Mallen novels are dedicated to my best friend, life partner, and spouse, Dawn M. Vail. This time, since I took a pen name, I thought I should shake it up, and so Don M. Vail was born. She’s had to put up with so much in regard to me being a writer, and since I can’t afford to give her combat pay, I felt that this was the best homage I could come up with under the circumstances.
The book noticeably has “Book One” on the cover. What can we expect of Richard and Avesta in book two?
(Pauses) How can I say anything without giving away too much? All I can say is that the seed that is planted in book one will come home to roost in book two, x 2.