Interview with author and businessperson Dusk Peterson

Good morning readers!

I’d like to introduce Dusk Peterson, author of historical speculative fiction which often includes romance. Please join me in welcoming Dusk!

How long have you been writing?
How long has it been since I was a little kid, playing pretend with my friends? It simply reached the point, at age eight, where I wanted to write down the stories in my head.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Like today, you mean? I switch to editing and layout. I always have plenty of that to do.

Since I possess hyperfocus, usually my only problem is getting past the first few sentences. Then my hyperfocus clicks in, and it’s smooth sailing from that point on.

Do you have a day job? If so, is it related to your writing?

It’s the other way around, actually: I researched history for a long time before I began to write historical tales.

History was my focus in college, both during my undergraduate years and in graduate courses. During the 1990s, I worked as a journalist, a history writer, and an occasional historical researcher for other authors. Eventually, my interest in history began to permeate my fiction, so that I ended up specializing in historical speculative fiction: historical fantasy, alternate history, and retrofuture science fiction.

I recently opened a new business, Historicalfic: Historical Research for Fiction Writers, to provide research services to any writers who need a helping hand with research, or don’t have access to certain electronic resources I can access, or simply need to farm out some of their research because they’re too darned busy, the way most of us writers are.

What sort of readers do you think would like your books? Have you been able to find those readers?

Most of my current readers are from the romance community or from the romantic-oriented portion of the fan fiction community. I belong to both communities, so I’m delighted that these readers have found my writings.

However, I’m a multigenre author. In addition to romance novels, I’ve written stories that are historical, fantasy and science fiction, crime and suspense, and/or young adult. I’d like to be able to pull in more readers from those fiction communities.

I’d especially like to attract more readers of friendship fiction, because I write a ton of that, as well as stories about romantic friendship – that is, intimate relationships that are nonsexual.

Also, my characters are diverse. I have characters who are disabled, people of color, working class or homeless, LGBTQ, immigrants, religious minorities, etc. It used to be quite difficult to attract readers who were interested in diverse fiction, but that has changed, thanks to We Need Diverse Books, We Need Diverse Romance, and similar projects. So I hope that more readers of diverse fiction will find my stories.

What many of my readers seem to have in common is that they like dramatic stories in which ethical issues are tussled with. My characters nearly always end up having crises of conscience.

Where did you get your inspiration for the Waterman series?

That particular series (and its young adult companion series, Young Toughs) has more origin points than any series ought to have. It’s like Waterman is trying to show off how whacky my mind can be.

Part of the series came from a prison story I wrote when I was fourteen. Part came from a boarding school tale I daydreamed during my twenties, inspired by a chapter in Mary Renault’s World War II novel The Charioteer. Part came from a speculative fiction story I’d written in 2002, set in a nation where being a master or a servant is considered to be an indelible part of one’s identity. Part came from The Jetsons and other visions of the future that existed during my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Part came from the Chesapeake Bay, which I lived near for most of my life without knowing that its watermen (fishermen) had engaged in furious and sometimes violent battles over fishing grounds during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

All of this came together with the help of a side character I borrowed from a bisexual romance series by Sabrina Deane, with her kind permission. The result is a love story, but a peculiar one, mixing together alternate history, Age of Sail fiction, school fiction, and science fiction.

What made you decide to give Layle in the Eternal Dungeon series the occupation of torturer?

I don’t decide these things. My characters saunter in and proceed to take over my mind, without permission.

The real problem with the Eternal Dungeon series was an ethical one: the fact that Layle falls in love with one of his prisoners. I very much wanted to avoid a Stockholm Syndrome story or a tale that seemed to suggest that torture is an acceptable way to extract confessions (or acquire romantic partners). Yet at the same time, I didn’t want to impose my own views on my characters. So I handed the problem over to my Muse, and my Muse handed me back the Code of Seeking, an ethical code that binds the workers in the Eternal Dungeon.

The moment that I saw the Code of Seeking, Layle’s personality became clear to me. He’d been rather hazy before then, but now I realized that his central conflict was between being a man who was strongly drawn to damage other people, and being a man who wanted with all his heart to adhere to this ethical code. And then a new prisoner enters Layle’s life, and all hell breaks loose.

Do you have dreams of your books becoming movies?

No, I dream of my books becoming fan fiction. Or fan art. Or fan vids. I gush over every fan work that’s inspired by my stories.

Who’s your favorite author?

I have a long list of favorite authors, but at the top is historical novelist Mary Renault. She seems to me to get everything right: characters, plot, theme, style, and research. She has an amazing ability to casually insert historical facts into her stories about Ancient Greece, in a way that makes me feel as though I’m listening to someone at a bus stop chat about current events, rather than historical characters talking about events that took place more than two millennia ago.

What are you reading right now?

Two novels, both speculative fiction.

Through text-to-speech, I’m listening to Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia, part of the Queen’s Thief series. The publishers describe the series as young adult historical fantasy, though it’s really more of an alternate history, imagining what the eastern Mediterranean area would have been like if classical traditions had continued into later centuries. The series is full of high drama, a romantic subplot, and a cleverly deceptive protagonist.

With my eyes, I’m reading Patricia A. McKillip’s fantasy novel Song for the Basilisk. When I was sixteen, I read the first novel in Ms. McKillip’s Riddle-master young adult trilogy, which ends on such a cliffhanger that I begged and received permission from my mother to go to the public library after dark, so that I could check out the second volume. The trilogy is part romance, but the plotline that really caught and held me was the unexpectedly evolving relationship between the protagonist (a young prince) and a centuries-old bard.

How do you deal with rejection? Negative reviews? etc.

I adore constructive criticism. As an example: When I first started the Eternal Dungeon series, I gave it an imaginary dating system, so that I wouldn’t have to commit myself to any particular years during the late nineteenth century (which is when the series is set). Unfortunately, a reader thought this three-digit dating system referred to the classical era and wrote a review damning me for my anachronistic references to post-classical objects.

The moment I read that review, I slapped my forehead and said, “Oh, no! Other readers might be making this mistake too!” It was a really easy mistake to make. So when I brought out new editions of the stories in the series, I was careful to translate all of my alternate history dates into the dating system of our world (somewhat modified). And that became important later on, when I found that I did want to commit myself to particular years when historical events had occurred in our world.

So I ended up feeling like sending that particular reviewer a thank-you note.

Honored in the Rainbow Awards, Dusk Peterson writes historical speculative fiction with diverse characters: historical fantasy, alternate history, and retrofuture science fiction. Friendship, romantic friendship, and romance often occur in the stories. Dusk Peterson also runs Historicalfic: Historical Research for Fiction Writers. A resident of Maryland, Mx. Peterson lives with an apprentice and several thousand books.

Dusk Peterson’s latest novel is Sweet Blood, from the award-winning alternate history series The Eternal Dungeon. The Eternal Dungeon has been split by a civil war, with the division clearly marked by a quarrel between two Seekers (torturers) whose faithfulness to each other has already become legendary. Into this explosive situation arrives a new Seeker, one who is determined to see that past evils do not continue in the dungeon. But can he keep control of himself when assigned a prisoner who falls in love with him?

“The word-building in this story is phenomenal, and the fact that it’s inspired by historical events is even more exciting. . . . While most of the characters begin the novel under some kind of duress, each one reaches their own kind of happy ending – interestingly, each of these resolutions is dependent on relating to others with understanding and compassion. No one is able to achieve their goals without realizing and accepting the love they have for others, be it the bonds of comradery or romance.” —Rainbow Awards 2017 judge.

Author links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Goodreads | Wattpad | Archive of Our Own.

Researcher links: Website | Twitter | Facebook.

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