In the spotlight today is Eric Dontigney, author of the fantasy novel Falls. Raised in Western New York, Eric Dontigney has lived in New Mexico, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He currently resides in Memphis, TN. An early introduction to Tolkien sparked a lifelong fascination with fantasy literature. Tolkien eventually gave way to other fantasy writers, such as Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Jim Butcher. His love of reading extends well beyond the fantasy genre and embraces writers as diverse as Maya Angelou, Tim O'Brien, James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Annie Proulx.
What role do you believe speculative fiction plays in society?
Of course, there is a simple escapist element to speculative fiction. Who doesn’t like losing themselves in fantastical or futuristic world? At a deeper level, though, I think that speculative fiction provides a safe framework for society to explore particularly painful, divisive, or complicated problems. The X-Men comics, for example, are a very self-conscious examination of bigotry and xenophobia. The television series Babylon 5 explored questions about abuses of governmental power that are still relevant today. Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods and his Sandman series look at the relationship between human beings and their mythologies.
I also believe that speculative fiction, though perhaps not by design, is one of the main entry points in society for philosophical material. David Brin’s novel Kiln People is a fantastic primer for philosophical questions about the nature of personal identity. Borges was deeply preoccupied with existential concerns. Robert Heinlein also took a crack at some philosophical content, such as his not-so-thinly veiled attack on puritan sexual ethics in Stranger in a Strange Land.
Why do you write in this genre?
I blame Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman. I was reading them both during my late teens and early twenties, which seems to have been a formative time in my life as a writer. I was amazed at the skill they both employed in layering fantastical elements, substantive themes and character development. I couldn’t articulate the thought at the time, but my nascent impression eventually evolved into this question: “Why would anyone choose to limit their imaginary worlds to the borders we all know already, when they could do this?” I wanted to write fiction that could expand the horizon and speculative fiction is, in my opinion, the genre that best accommodates that goal.
How did you come up with the idea for Falls?
I didn’t come up with the idea for the book, as much as I came up with the idea for the ending. I had a very particular visual scene in my head, and I knew that it would be either the last or one of the very last scenes of the story. Since my approach to fiction writing is an organic one, I started with the most bare bones conception of the central character I could, pointed that conception toward the ending I had in my head and started writing. The rest of the book grew out of the necessity of getting that character to that scene.
What was your biggest challenge in writing it?
I think the biggest challenge I faced in writing this book was learning to trust my intuition. It’s very easy to get off track by trying to push characters to do what you think they ought to be doing instead of trusting them to lead you where they need to go. I stalled for a long time in the middle of the book because I was pushing the characters to do things that violated their basic natures. Once I stopped doing that, the story started moving again.
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I’m working on the first draft for the third book in the Samuel Branch series and recently released a short story set in the same universe. I’m working on a kind of novelty book with a friend of mine that I don’t want to disclose too many details about before it’s closer to going live. I’m toying with an idea for a limited run comic book series that I’ve done some basic plotting on, but I still need to pin down a lot of details to see if it’s even feasible. I’ve also completed a script for a short, YouTube-style film that I’m hoping will get filmed sometime this year.
Samuel Branch is a man capable of wielding the energy around him to devastating effect. In another time, he would have been revered and feared as a wizard. In an age of technological miracles, the world has no need of his services. When a dangerous messenger arrives with orders from the ancient and unimaginably powerful Lords and the Ladies, though, Samuel Branch has no choice but follow the trail of a rising darkness. To complicate matters, when the sister of a friend-turned-enemy goes missing, an old lover resurfaces demanding that he intervene. When it all comes down, Samuel Branch may find that a rising darkness is the least of his problems.