Author Interviews

An Interview with Daniel Wallace

When Daniel Wallace began writing, at the age of 25, he was able to create worlds bursting with “magical realism…where the supernatural fits alongside the ordinary, where storytellers stretch the plausible”.

Quite where this inspiration came from was a mystery – Wallace describes his Alabama childhood, where he grew up with his three sisters, as “completely average in every way…the most uneventful part of my life.”

Of his four novels, ‘Big Fish: a Tale of Mythic Proportions’, is the most well-known, due to the film version starring Ewan McGregor and directed by Tim Burton (2003). Wallace has also written a children’s book, ‘Elynora’ (2008) and ‘O Great Rosenfeld!’ (visit to find a snippet of this).

As well as being a successful writer, Wallace is also a keen illustrator and used to designing greeting cards and magnets for the bookstore where he worked (if you’ve ever seen any of Daniel’s work, watch out for his running motif of glass eyes).
Daniel is currently a professor and lecturer of English at the University of North Carolina.

Hi Daniel,
Firstly a huge thank you from World of Books for agreeing to chat to us today. The worlds you create in your novels are fascinating, so we’re thrilled to be able to meet the man behind the magic!

Q: To start with, a nagging question you’ve probably been asked lots of times before: have you got any other work in the pipeline for us to look forward to?

– I do. I’m finishing up a long novel right this second. It’s called ‘A Cure For Blindness’. The story: two sisters, one of whom is blind. The sighted sister creates a fictional world for her blind sister to believe in . . . what could possibly go wrong?

Q: One of the first things we noticed about your site was the sparseness of words and the presence of images instead. In the film of Big Fish there seemed to be a huge emphasis on visual richness, something that comes across in your books through the imagery you construct within the text. What do you prefer: words or images? Or, do the two go hand-in-hand?
– I think words make better pictures than pictures do, because they give each of us the power to create our own. In the best writing we can see, smell and touch the world – a world that seems to have been made just for us. A narrative mimics the arc of our own lives. Books give us more life than we could ever have – or stand to have – on our own.

Q: How surreal was it appearing as a cameo in the film of Big Fish? Were you pleased with Tim Burton’s creation?
– It was a blast. Nobody seemed too irritated as I insinuated myself into the production, but I knew I would never have the chance to be directed by Tim Burton again. I thought he did a great job, but the wonderful script, written by John August, made his job much easier.

Q: Daniel, please, relieve us of our excitement, are the rumours true: a Big Fish musical?
– True! The songs and the book have been written, and now they’re beginning the arduous process of putting the thing together. They say it might hit Broadway in fall, 2012, but that seems ambitious to me. And yet, what do I know?

Q: You have been quoted as having said that “art is the distillation of experience”. Can you elaborate?

– No, because I distilled my elaboration in that jewel of a quote *Insert smiley face here*.

Q: In your career as a teacher of English and creative writing, can you list your top three tips you’d give a young writer today?
1. Describe the world, not how you feel about the world.
2. Write every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
3. Steal from as many good writers as you can.

Q: What is the most common question you get asked as an author? And what’s the answer?
– I’ve written this story . . . would you mind sending it to your agent? I wish I could, but I can’t. We all have to find our own.

Q: How do you find inspiration for your ideas? Does it come easily?
– Inspiration comes to me through language itself, from the sounds words and sentences make rubbing against each other. I never have a story in mind when I write, or not much of one; I let it develop the same it develops in the mind of the reader: word by word. Sometimes it comes easily and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s never very good in the beginning, regardless of what I think at the time.

Q: Who has been your favourite character in your books? (ours has got to be Henry Walker from Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician – he makes a reader uncertain because he is constructed as dark but seems to have a deeply human side at the same time).
– Of my published work, I agree with you: I love him. One of the sisters in the book I’m working on now, Helen Teasdale, is my current favorite; she is so mean, and so doesn’t want to be.

Q: And finally, here at World of Books we are dedicated to providing good quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– This is exactly what we should be doing with what is, in effect, the body a book lives in. It should be used and used again, until it’s all used up.

Q: Thank you.

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