Getting to know our sixth winner: R. Daniel Lester
by Miles Rausch Views: 771
R. Daniel Lester was the winner of Mash’s sixth competition, and his cyberpunk story blew readers away. Just like his accomplished use of dialogue, R. Daniel proved elusive, but we eventually tracked him down to pick his writing brains on literary nourishment. So, from one Mash winner to another…
Miles Rausch: Tell me your history with writing. How did it start? Who are your favourite authors?
R. Daniel Lester: The kickstart for me was all the way back in August 1999, when I enrolled in a full-time writing programme at Vancouver Film School. After that I rediscovered writing fiction, which is something I’d done here and there since I was a kid.
I’ve always been an avid reader and have a ton of influences, without which I probably wouldn’t be a writer today. I think I learn something from every author I read.
If I look at my development and those that have shaped the way I write (or wished I could write), then some of the particularly memorable ones are: Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, William Gibson, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy…and the list goes on.
Miles: Tell me about this story. Where did the initial idea come from? How did the ideas form?
R. Daniel: The first idea I had for this story was the skate kids hacking the streets and ledges of a future city. This idea that certain technologies would exist to stop so-called aberrant behaviour like skateboarding, but that hardcore skaters, especially young ones, would find a way to circumvent them, necessity being the mother of invention. And if you’re a skater, you gotta skate. Next up was the Budgie character. All I initially knew about him was that he wasn’t really a skater and he had a connection to a cult-like organisation. I always liked that idea of him being spirited away in a white van at the end. For the name, it just came to me, that image of a little budgie in a cage, alone, chirping, and I knew it was right. I never had another name for that character.
Miles: Your story has a very “cyberpunk” aesthetic. Is that a genre you write in often? Who do you cite as inspirations for that style of writing?
R. Daniel: I haven’t written in the cyberpunk genre often but I love it. Like, really love it. I’m a sucker for all that kind of stuff. Big inspirations would be Philip K. Dick, Rudy Rucker and, of course, William Gibson. That guy is amazing. I’ve read the Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) more times than I’d care to admit…actually, no, I’m proud of it—probably 4 or 5 times now. Neuromancer starts with one of my favourite opening lines in a book ever: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Gets me every time.
Miles: For a story like this, where it’s set in such a different world than the one we all live in, did you put a lot of time into developing support materials? Or did everything come to you as a whole?
R. Daniel: For better or worse, I tend to dive in head first, get a story on paper, figure out the style and feel of it, let it breathe, and then, if necessary, work on the background and the history of the world and the characters. I keep a lot of info in my head and then slowly build the world. I should probably make more notes, actually. Especially with this one, since it is a world I want to do more with. If all goes according to plan then Budgie will be part of a trilogy of novels that take place in the same city, but at different times. So we would meet Budgie as a kid and then again when he was an adult. I think it would be interesting to see where Budgie ends up.
Miles: How did you come across Mash Stories?
R. Daniel: I believe it was a Facebook friend’s link to an Aerogramme Writers’ Studio article about new and exciting writing contests. And I really like writing contests because they give me an external deadline to meet.
Miles: What’s your favourite piece of writing advice that you would like to share with the Mash Stories readers?
R. Daniel: I think Stephen King said it best when he said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Because there’s no cheat code for that, no app to buy or weekend course you can take. Just read and write and you’ll get better. And no matter what, at least you’ll get a chance to engage your brain and learn and explore a lot of different worlds, some of them even your own.
Another invaluable piece of advice given to me is to start as late in the story as possible. I’m always reminding myself of that.
Miles: What’s next for your writing? Do you have other projects you’re working on?
R. Daniel: I have a ton of potential projects, from novels to screenplays to web series to comics/graphic novels. Short term, my goals are to edit an existing detective-noir novella and write some more short stories/flash fiction. The shorter stuff really suits me right now because it’s like having small snacks to stay nourished versus having the time for a big, sit-down meal. For me, if I’m going to write a novel I need consistent, steady time and mental space to make that happen, which I don’t have at the moment. So for now it’s small, frequent snacks to feed the creative hunger. And someday I hope to have time for a big meal…or maybe, dare I say, a trilogy of big meals.
Miles: Thanks, R. Daniel, for talking to us about your creative hunger and how you keep it sated. Mashers, what are your thoughts on creating different worlds? And how do you manage your own hunger when it comes to writing?
Miles Rausch is a web developer from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he lives with his wife and two children. Miles is always writing something. He likes to unwind by playing with his kids, reading, and watching TV with his wife (but in a real serious, connoisseur kind of way). You can follow Miles on Twitter (@awayken) or his writing website, Miles.ink.
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