Evernight Spotlight: Interview With Marcus Damanda
Many apologies for the missed spotlight last month! It's been unbelievably crazy everywhere for me, but I am making the effort to return - and fortunately, the authors I'm interviewing are more than happy to still be here!
Today we have Marcus Damanda, aka D.A. Maddox, who writes adult and young adult, dystopian science fiction, horror, dark romance - if it's got a gritty edge, he's writing it! You may know his works The Salvation State (Damanda) or Savannah's Choice (Maddox), and they're just the beginning.
Plus, D.A. Maddox just released a new book, Commandments, which can be found on the publisher's website and on Amazon. Let's say hello to the man behind the brilliance!
Deidre: Hi, Marcus! Glad to have you with us today. Marcus/D.A.: The pleasure’s mine! Thanks for letting me play. I’m honored to be here. D: You've certainly gotten a lot of work out in the world! How long have you been writing? M: I’ve been writing for my own enjoyment going back to the age of nine and my first short story “Mighty War of the Dragons.” And I have to tell you, I thought that was pretty damned brilliant at the time. Oh, boy—did I ever have a lot to learn. Thankfully, I’ve actually kept every story I’ve ever written (and every rejection letter, from when those used to be actually mailed). Hopefully I’ve come a long way!
D: Rejection letters are almost like badges of honor, aren't they? It's always impressive when a writer can just know what they love doing at a young age!
M: Well, the shortest badge of honor I ever got in that regard was on a perforated sheet of paper about the length of a finger joint, reading “Thanks, I’ll pass.” Got that at fifteen. It’s a joy and a torture to know what you want to do early on. The plus side is you have a mission—the tough part is when you find out folks outside of your friends and family don’t automatically want to get on board. But I’m tenacious as hell. I love writing. D: And that's the right attitude to have. This is not an industry where you can avoid building callouses on your feelings, and it takes a determined mindset to take the criticism objectively and not as a personal attack.
M: That's 100% true. The best thing you can do from it is learn by it. I mean, there's not much you can do with a form letter rejection other than move on from it, but if you're lucky enough to get advice--or even reasons for the rejection--that's a win. When someone who works in the industry cares enough to tell you something, you should listen. There's even a chance you may get to reconnect with that contact later and show that you were paying attention. If you want to do this for money, you have to remember that, in the end, you're writing to an audience, not just yourself. And your first audience is either agents or publishers.
D: Fantastic advice for aspiring writers out there. Thank you. As for your writing specifically, you delve into some pretty dark stuff. What draws you to those genres?
M: I love make believe, the wilder the better. Real life has a way of slipping into the not-so-proverbial doldrums, so I like getting away from it as often as possible.
D: Fair enough. I think most people read to escape one thing or another, and writers do essentially the same thing. M: Everyone yearns for it. Not all the time—I believe life is more good than bad, generally, even when we’re in those doldrums and things are boring—but we all yearn for that letter to Hogwarts, you know? That acknowledgment that there’s something special about us. And we all have it. My way of expressing it is in telling tales.
D: Do your main characters have anything in common across your vast array of stories? M: In my teen books—particularly in The Salvation State and The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class—my main characters tend to be strong female leads put up against seemingly impossible situations. Whether it’s an out of control government of the future, where bad kids are sent to island camps for “re-education,” or high school bullies that drive a kid suffering from depression nearly over the edge, my kids tend to have to face down some pretty major issues/antagonists. They’re heroic, but also vulnerable and (I hope) real.
D: I, for one, adore strong women in fiction ever since I became obsessed with YA. I love it when other authors show the same passion! Are any inspired by women in your life, by any chance? M: My mother. She’s been in a wheelchair for the better part of a decade, and she remains the matriarch of my family. I love her to pieces, and I’m terrified of disappointing her. Also, I have a great respect for the young girls I teach at school. They’re driven and independent and determined to cut their own way and not have it determined for them. This was true when I grew up in the 80s and even before, to some extent, but the upcoming generation will not be pushed around—trust me.
D: I can certainly understand not wanting to disappoint! And I agree, teens these days - maybe especially young girls - have a fire I know I lacked at their age. I see it in my nieces and nephews and couldn't be prouder of them.
D: As far as themes in your stories, which are you most passionate about?
M: Friendship and courage. I think it’s very easy to feel either alone and/or defeated these days, especially when you’re young and still developing as a person, figuring out who you are. The bonds my characters form in adversity make them strong, give them a chance. Give them hope. If I’ve done my job right, that makes the reader more invested in the action, the scares—whatever genre I’ve dressed up the story world in.
D: I feel like every generation feels that the ones after them need more positivity than ever, and it's admirable you want to reach out to readers that way - especially for the teens. M: And things are very scary right now. In truth, most of my friends and I were kind of blindly positive when I was growing up in the 1980s, but I watched that disappear entirely in the 1990s and the years that followed. I think if people want peace and happiness, sometimes a bitter world will make them fight for it. A determined heart can win that fight.
D: I completely agree, very well said. Not to shift gears too hard, but I'm curious what your ideal writing conditions are?
M: Oh, I’m a morning writer and an evening reviser. I’ve got to have my coffee in my mug of Shakespearean insults to get my full mojo going. God know what I’ll do if I ever drop and break that mug! I have to have my black Ticonderoga pencils sharpened, my colored note cards on hand, my little golden Venetian plague mask propped right up against my sharpener—God, how OCD is this? I also write better when it’s raining outside.
D: Okay I love the concept of that mug. My favorite writing mug is a diatribe about revisions not killing you.
M: “It ain’t sacred text,” as my long time editor often reminds me…
D: Let's talk silent heroes for a moment. Is there an author who’s changed your life?
M: Ultimately, I have to go where so many have gone before and confess that Stephen King probably remains the greatest writer influence of my life. He writes kids so well, in particular, and that definitely had a huge impact on my writing.
D: There's definitely a reason so many have been impacted by his work. What about when you were growing up? Did he author your favorite book then?
M: As a kid, I was a writer first. Soon enough, though—age 11—I fell in love with The Lord of the Rings. After that, I devoured fantasy of all kinds like it was candy until I entered the world of Stephen King as a teenager. But my first love was Tolkien and Middle Earth, no question!
D: Sounds like you had a healthy appetite for all sorts of genres!
M: Yes—but all firmly in the realm of make believe. I just love stories, imagination, magic, all poured down upon realistic people we can believe in and root for (or against).
D: Well on that note, could you tell me a little about your latest release?
M: Last year I finished Revelation Way, the third and final book in The Salvation State series—and it’s been nominated for Evernight Teen’s book of the year!
D: That's right, it was! Congratulations!
M: In Revelation Way, our plucky preacher’s kid hero, Rebecca Riggs—and her small band of imprisoned, misfit friends—have to escape Angel Island, where they’re being held under constant threat of brainwashing and torture. It’s a wild ride, very action packed and kind of breathless in its pace. (Also, that whole trilogy, along with The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class, can be listened to via Audible. My narrator, Jessica McEvoy, did a tremendous job.)
D: Which I will helpfully link here as well as below. I listened to a sample of The Salvation State and she has a unique and engaging voice! I think I'm hooked!
M: Jessica’s a pro. We’ve been at it since 2014 when she narrated my self-published vampire horror book The Forever Show. Seven books total—and a couple dozen scary stories for the NoSleep Podcast, too, most of them near an hour in length, including the longest running series on that show, the 12-part Summer saga. It’s been one of the most fulfilling professional relationships of my life.
D: Tell me a little about your WIP.
M: I just finished my latest about a week ago! I can’t reveal the title yet—but it’s Regency-era naught book under the D.A. Maddox brand. I also have a new horror story on The NoSleep Podcast called “Midnight at the Acid Light Dance,” which operates in the same story universe as The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class.
D: Okay, I have to admit, interconnected stories like that are my favorite thing ever since I started reading Night World. And it's so cool you've crossed into a podcast as well!
M: It’s on the free half of the show, Season 14, Episode 6, 2nd story in. It’s more than an hour long, so pour your favorite drink and get comfortable.
D: I'll drop a second link here and everyone can check it out! So, aside from writing, what is your day job, if any?
M: I’m a middle school English teacher! And even after 24 years, I still have a great time doing it. My biggest problem with that kind of work, of course, is finding the time to write—and yet I do. I try to do at least 500 words every day before hopping into the car to go off to the day job. And it keeps me connected with young people—a very valuable asset to a writer who focuses on them.
D: That is excellent on all fronts! Staying connected with the incoming generations, carving out time to write - you sound like you have a healthy schedule and passion for many things. M: I’m very happy, thanks! But not content. There’s always more to do, as I’m sure you can appreciate! D: I definitely can. No rest for the wicked, right? It's been great having you here, Marcus. Thank you for sharing with us!
M: Delighted to have been here. I really do appreciate you having me.
And finally, Marcus, under D.A. Maddox, has released a new book! Commandments can be found on the Evernight Publishing website and Amazon!
You can follow Marcus Damada on Twitter and Facebook, or his adults-only counterpart D.A. Maddox on his Facebook, as well as find his works at Evernight Teen, Evernight Publishing, Amazon for his YA works and adult works, and, of course, on Audible!