An Interview with James Lloyd Dulin - The Fantasy Review

An Interview with James Lloyd Dulin

Here is my interview with James Lloyd Dulin. His debut novel, No Heart for a Thief is out now! To check out my review for it, click here.

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The Interview

How do you get the ideas for your novels?

My ideas typically start with a grain of sand of an idea that builds layers as it jumbles around in my mind like a pearl in an oyster. For No Heart for a Thief, it started with one aspect of the magic system. Another story I’m working on began with a potential antagonist.

Interview with James Lloyd Dulin

Years ago, I was walking my old dog around the neighborhood, and I started thinking about sin eaters. I love the idea of a sin eater, a magical/mystical ability that allows the user to absorb “sin” or turmoil from another. That evolved into a magic system in which a small subset of magic users could absorb the magic of others. The idea grew and adapted into the magic system for No Heart for a Thief.

At the same time, there were themes I wanted to engage with around colonialism, power, and whiteness. These themes meshed with the magic system in an interesting way, and complicated each other to make an interesting world.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I wish I had a typical writing day. Before the pandemic, I wrote on the train to and from work every day. Since then, I have tried writing before the kids wake up and after everyone went to sleep, but I don’t think I have found the right balance yet. My goal is always to find at least four nights a week to sit down and write or edit.

I will say that time restrictions forced me to use the time I have. I don’t have the option to wait for inspiration. When I find the time, I need to focus and get to work.

What makes a great character?

Specificity. Specificity is the key to relatability, which can feel counter intuitive. You might think generalities are more relatable because more people fit within them, but generalities are difficult to connect with in a real way. Whereas specific details bring to mind people we know or aspects of ourselves. They help us see the humanity in a character.

For me, this starts with a core truth about a character. I’m not talking about motivation or goals. I’m referring to that key truth that informs how a character sees themselves and the world around them. Do they see themselves through the lens of their guilt, their righteousness, or their ability to nurture others? The story they tell themselves about who they are informs how they approach their goals.

What is your writing process? 

Before I write the first word, I have told myself various pieces of the story dozens of times in my head. I usually know how it is going to start, where it’s going to end, and a few key scenes in between. Then I sit down and tell myself the story as I type. 

I never stop to edit or rewrite as I work through the draft. Once I finish a chapter, I am done with it until I’m ready to edit the entire draft. I’ll make notes of changes, but if I stop to edit before I make it through, I’ll get lost in my perfectionism.

As a result, I stack up drafts upon drafts as I whittle away and find the final story.

What elements of fantasy make you like reading and writing in the genre?

For me, it’s story specific. Fantasy elements are highlights in the stories I love. They enhance character arcs, make stakes and themes more cutting, and give worlds a sense of wonder. 

Take The Realm of Elderlings by Robin Hobb. The magic is subdued, especially in the Farseer Trilogy. Magic serves to give Fitz connection in a world and a family in which he is an outcast. Simultaneously, his magic makes him a greater outcast. That tension defines much of the character.

In Mistborn, magic is more central to the story. Allomancy manifests in different abilities and who the characters are is greatly affected by the ways they use allomancy.

Neither of these stories are about how cool magic is. They have complex themes and the magic helps communicate those themes in more accessible ways.

If you could be any fantasy character, who would it be and why?

I feel like I need to read more cozy fantasy to answer this question. So much of the fantasy I read truly traumatizes the characters. 

It could be interesting to be a Master at The University in The Name of The Wind. Master Kilvin spends his days exploring the mysteries of sygaldry, a magical science based on the use of balancing energy exchange through runes. That could be a good life.

When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?

Reading felt like a chore for most of my childhood. When I gravitated towards something, I was told that I had to read something else. But when I read The Name of the Wind, I fell in love with reading—not necessarily fantasy.

The Name of the Wind started me on a path of reading a lot of literary fiction books about personal journeys, like The Kite Runner or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I would read the occasional fantasy book, but it took me finding Robin Hobb and N. K. Jemisin to really dig into fantasy.

I don’t reread books often. I’m more interested in finding my next great read.

What are some of your favourite recent reads?

I am reading The First Binding by R.R. Virdi and loving it. I adored The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrew Stewart. Last, I have to shout out A Touch of Light by Thiago Abdalla, which I finished a few weeks ago.

What do you enjoy doing outside of writing and reading? 

I love cooking and making unique cocktails, so I try to enjoy those pastimes when I have the chance to experiment. My two toddlers, Gladson and Dominic, keep me busy playing games of chase around the living room or serving as a human jungle gym for them. Between family time, working, and writing, I don’t have much time for hobbies.

If you only had one piece of advice to give to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Learn to be okay with imperfect/bad writing. If you demand perfection from the first words you put on the page, you will never finish your story. If it’s not on the page, you cannot improve it. 

Being an author is pulling a story from your head, putting it on the page, and doing the least amount of damage to it as possible in the process. The damage you do requires polishing, but you can only do that if you get it out in the first place.

Are you working on any new books or other projects at the moment?

I am currently working on editing Malitu Book 2. If all goes well, it will be out in the fall. In that time, I’ll also be working on Book 3.

In the meantime, I also have several projects I am developing, figuring out what my next series will be.

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Owner and Editor of The Fantasy Review. Loves all fantasy and science fiction books, graphic novels, TV and Films. Having completed a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative writing, they would like to go on to do a PhD. Favourite authors are Trudi Canavan, Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson.

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