- a veteran journalist, research editor, writer of both fiction and non-fiction
Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to D. W. Welsh.
D. W. Welsh/David W. Wooddell is a veteran journalist, retired from National Geographic magazine in 2009 as a Research Editor. Since that time, he has self published a few non-fiction history books, and two novellas. David served as editor & publisher of his wife’s book about the cleanup in Ellicott City, MD after the 2018 flood, called EC Stories. Under the pen name of D. W. Welsh, he has begun publishing novellas.
David, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
I think the genetically engineered living fur pet that appears in one of Lois Bujold’s novels would be lovely. Don’t have to feed it except with cuddles, don’t have to clean up after it, and it is always glad to see you.
My sheltie dogs are like that, and so is my hound named Baby Bel, but of course, I do have to feed and water them, and take them out to do their business, and clean up after them. I love them, but sometimes it would be great to have a less burdensome pet.
The perfect choice to curl up on the couch with — with a good book!
What do you write and how did you get started?
I write a little of everything. I love history, so I wrote a history of a Civil War regiment that was 30 years in research. I was trying to answer my grandfather’s question of what happened to his grandfather in the war – because Warwick Wooddell was mortally wounded on May 19, 1864 while a private in the 31 st Virginia Infantry, and my grandfather never had a chance to meet him.
Coming out of university, I wanted to be a novelist. I was a very bad writer, the stuff was crap on paper. But many of the plots, characters, and settings worked well. I seem to do better at the story aspects, and less well at the actual writing, so I’ve had to work hard on learning to write better. I’ve tried my hand at that a dozen times, but this past summer I finally produced two novellas I felt were good enough to publish.
Wow! What a wide variety. And a great reminder that we’re often our own greatest critiques.
What issues are important to you in your writing?
Human rights and the dignity of all humans is the most important theme for me. For instance, in my novella Argonaut, the main character named Angel is concerned with the disparity of wealth and poverty, and immigrants to America were influenced by poverty in 1897. In the yet-to be named sequel, in 1898, she travels to Jamaica where she encounters the situation of the “coolies” who were the migrant, indentured laborers brought to the Caribbean from India and other parts of Asia to replace the slaves.
Definitely some heavy stuff. It’s easy to tell where your real-world concerns show through in your writing.
What do you like to read?
I love good historical fiction, including Alan Furst’s very atmospheric novels about the resistance and spies in Europe during WW2. I also love science fiction. I’ve read and listened to many audio books, but have almost memorized the Vorkosigan novels of Lois M. Bujold. The Expanse books of James S. A. Carey are absorbing. Jacqueline Carey’s work is a major favorite, I love the novels she writes, and listen often to the audio books of her work. I think her Starless is one of the best fantasies out there.
For suspense and mystery, the Virgil Flower novels of John Sandford; the work of Louise Penny, Jusi Adler-Olsen, and surprising to me, Robert Galbraith’s wonderful detective novels (written, of course by J. K. Rowling under her pen name.) I love the character she created of the one-legged private detective Cormoran Strike. I’m also a great fan of Sarah Waters, and her novel Tipping the Velvet.
You’re taking the advise to be widely read to heart, clearly! What a great selection.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
Conflict is necessary on every page.
All of them, apparently! I’m not a natural writer, so I have to work hard at writing a legible sentence. I’m not a stylist – I have stacks of books by famous authors on how to improve style. Bah! I place them near the head of my bed so the advice will sink in, but it never does. I was an English major in college – but didn’t graduate because my grades were so bad and I just couldn’t bother to attend classes often enough. I’ve had six years of undergrad and still no degree.
But on a more specific note – the idea that conflict is necessary on every page is vastly overdone.
The theories were the product of the writer’s rooms of television sitcoms. Yes. There must be some sense of tension, but life is not conflict at every turn. Television shows need conflict, but most of us don’t write for TV, nor do we write for half-hour shows that only get 18 minutes of actual screen time because of commercials. I don’t watch TV news, I read the news online from the NY Times, Washington Post, and many other quality journalism organizations.
TV news is so absorbed in reporting conflict that I wonder if their reporters and anchors ever experience long form journalism. Or get out of the studio and experience life. I don’t believe in or agree with the idea that we should be putting a conflict on ever page.
I believe interesting characters and situations make stories worthwhile to read. When I read stories by European writers, in translation, I find a totally different feel of characters, places, and the plots are not all based on bang bang bang, conflict conflict conflict.
I also think too many writers think violence is the centerpiece of conflict. I’ve been trying to write non- violent stories in which interesting things happen. There are conflicts, but there are also mediators, and people who help resolve conflict, or who look for alternative ways around the conflicts. For instance, when violence happens in Argonaut, it is a surprise to the reader, just as most often violence occurs as a surprise in real life.
With your background as a journalist, it’s not surprising that this issue is so heart felt. And I agree, there are plenty of ways to build tension and get the readers emotionally invested without outright conflict. So many writers think that conflict needs to be physical, or the readers will miss it. Readers are more intelligent than some give them credit for.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
Write every day.
Set aside a time that works for you, and stick to it. Write your journal, if nothing else, even if you were boring and did nothing, you should make it sound like something. When in doubt, describe the room, the art on the walls, the glimpses of nature through the window. Write. Write. Write. And practice interviewing people without them realizing that is what you are doing. Record patterns of speech, and make notes of conversations.
That’s one I have to pass on (unless you count social media), unless I’m actively creating a rough draft. But I do do my best to make sure I’m sitting down several times a week to work on my writing..
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
Under my non-de-plume of D. W. Welsh:
Argonaut: An Angel and Gabri Adventure is a historical novella that brings the reader into the high-tension end of 1897 and the belle époque.
Angel and Gabri must put on a brave front in the face of danger and intrigue to succeed and survive in the high-stakes game of international arms. From Paris to New York and Baltimore, two young French researchers move through privileged berths to gritty shipyards in search of the prized submarine secrets of the Argonaut.
But who is really paying them? Are they the natural children of the famous author Monsieur V, or the dupes of secret services across Europe?
Jars is a relatively gentle comedy of manners.
Following a massive population crash, Lem, Jane, and their children, like so many others, turned to farming.
But now, civilization is returning and with progress comes choices. Families can be created in many ways, and so can children. Everyone wants to live happily ever after, including gay curmudgeon farmer ‘Jars’ Wilson, who builds his family of choice with lesbians Liz and Sylvia.
Set largely in rural America, it shines a warm and humorous light on our right to live as we choose.
My stories often have people of alternate sexuality or gender in them. I have many friends who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or some mixture of all or none of above. I don’t look to exploit such themes, but rather include them as I do in real life, as part of the multi-faceted real world.
For my non-fiction:
If you read archives of the National Geographic magazine, you may spot me referenced in the footnotes on many articles, credited as a researcher under David W. Wooddell.
Hoffman’s Army: The Thirty First Virginia Infantry : A book that has been described as “one of the best narratives of the war fought by the soldiers themselves.”
Steam Locomotives: Nineteenth Century Engineering is a visual catalogue of historic illustrations of steam engines, from the origin of such inventions to the 1870. It’s a book for railroad enthusiasts.