Urban Fantasy for the Argumentative Soul – Interview with William Dooling

Today’s blog is an interview with urban fantasy writer William Dooling. Dooling has self-published his first novel Synchronicity on the Amazon marketplace for $3.99.

I usually review gay smut, and my previous interviews have been with up and coming gay erotica star, Brock Wilder. When I asked to interview you, I told you this, and you hinted that there may be some content in Synchronicity my readers would find familiar. So, tell me, do we get to see the smutty side of urban occult mystery? 

Well, I’d hate to be accused of false advertising so I’ll say up front that I’m a product of the Catholic education system and, while they did a good job preparing me for life, they stunted my ability to write excellent smut. As your readership no doubt knows, writing good smut is very difficult, and bad smut rings really hollow…so there is not as much of it here as there will be in future books. However, as a preview: the book is largely about categories and the challenges of putting people neatly into them. One thing I’ve never been comfortable with, regarding urban fantasy and fantasy in general, is this idea that “virgin” is this tight little category that some people fit into and other people don’t (IE “Only a virgin can slay the demon/assemble the seeing stones/tame the unicorn”). Of course, in the modern world, what separates virgins from non-virgins is this extremely fuzzy line that everyone draws in a different place. This virginal ambiguity kickstarts the early plot…so yes, there is some mild smuttyness.  Future books will have more, and I already have a major story arc about a character from this story becoming the most sought-after sperm donor on the Eastern Seaboard.

Who are the heroes of Synchronicity?

I’ve had the basic idea for this story for a long time. The basic premise is simply that a collection of very different people are in the library the same day a bomb threat is posted on the door…so our heroes are a diverse host of folks you’d expect to find in a library: there’s a priest, an engineer who believes in psychokinesis, a chemist who doesn’t, a homeless dude, a world-renowned physicist, a school reporter, a children’s english teacher, a geriatric librarian…and so on. The idea is essentially to shove a big cast of characters that all believe slightly different things into a box and have them fight it out.

Who is the ideal reader for Synchronicity?

I don’t know yet. I only decided to self-publish after some soul-searching about whether this book would actually matter to a special kind of person. I’m convinced that it will. I’ll put it like this: I wanted to write a book that was half Urban Fantasy (the sort of thing Jim Butcher would write) and half an Encyclopedic novel like Infinite Jest or Gravity’s Rainbow. Now, this sort of book has the potential to build common ground among disparate groups of intellectuals (for example people who read Fullmetal Alchemist and people who seriously study 16th century alchemists) but it also has the potential to piss everyone off. I’m just about to figure out which.  I would like to think that no matter your religious or political worldview, there is at least one character in Synchronicity that wins at least one argument on your behalf. Basically, the ideal reader of Synchronicity is the sort of person that likes having arguments and listening to them.

In another interview, you mentioned that you hired a professional editor, even though you’re self-publishing. Many of my readers are self-publishers, or aspiring self-publishers. Having used a professional editor, do you think the future of self-publishing has a place for the freelance editor?

There’s some important caveats here. Every writer should have an editor, but I strongly discourage the use of online editing services…or basically anyone you don’t have a long-term relationship with. Editors need to know their writers. Most freelance editors simply know markets.

The relationship between a writer and an editor is one of the most powerful and deep ones in the entire span of the human experience, and grave violence has been done to it in recent years. One thing that I mentioned in that interview you linked to is that in the old days, writers would work with dedicated editors for many years and across multiple projects, such that the editor would get a feel for the author’s artistic vision and have a good understanding of what constructions worked…and didn’t work. Nowadays, “mainstream” authors will tell you all kinds of horror stories about big publishers laying off, overworking, or constantly switching their editors…because they realize that the mass market doesn’t really care about the kind of tiny details editors exist to refine.

This is my first attempt at self-publishing, I have very little working knowledge of what I’m doing, but I would advise anyone starting out to find an editor who knows and understands their work. An editor is like a close friend who gets paid money to tell you when you’re being an ass. My editor did a very good job with this, and the book is better as a result. I also think that an editor serves an important function in the self-publishing world, similar to what good cover art does for a comic book: It shows that serious effort went into the final product…that it’s not just crap. This wasn’t a lark. This was something I put time and money into.

At one point, one of your characters says that “Philosophy is a profoundly disappointing field of inquiry,” a statement I happen to agree with, but I’m a little bit surprised to hear it from a man with a Philosophy minor. What, if anything is the value of philosophical study in a modern world?

In the specific passage you mention, the characters are discussing what is usually called an “Ontological Argument” for the existence of God. The idea is that you can prove God is real using basic logical constructions no one could possibly argue with. Most theists are dimly aware that this is possible, but often do not take the time to learn exactly what this sort of argument proves, when executed correctly (the answer is “very little”). They just assume it works, and go about their day to day. People do that a lot. Philosophy is, and should be, disappointing in the early stages, because what you end up learning is how shaky the foundation of knowledge actually is.

As you get better at it, you start to gain a better understanding of why you do the things you do. This is quite valuable. In writing (and incidentally, in sex) you never get very far if you simply let your initial impulses and assumptions control you…if you don’t think about other people, and what they want, and why they want what they want. You end up being that kid that doesn’t eat vegetables, that boyfriend that doesn’t perform well in bed, or that author that just writes crappy knock-offs of other people’s stuff. I’d like to think that studying philosophy…or anything really….helps a person examine their life, and in the process be a better person. It has absolutely no utility in “winning” arguments, proving how smart you are, getting a job, or making money…but it does, I think, make you better at being a person, and a friend to other people.

Anything you’d like to add?

The real promise of self-publishing, and the information age in general, is that we can build communities that would be impossible in “real life.” I get very cynical about the modern world sometimes but I am very glad that blogs like yours exist, because you and your readership have an eclecticism that makes real art possible. Thanks for letting me share my art!

Also, chapter two, scene two of Synchronicity contains an attempt to write the most obscure joke in the history of humankind. If anyone “gets” it, please write me at [email protected] because we should talk more.

I will continue to read your blog with great interest!

Thank you, and thanks for the interview. That book again, ladies and gentlehumans is Synchronicity, and it is for sale on the Amazon marketplace for $3.99.