Always Be Worldbuilding: Highlights from The Waking Engine Author David Edison’s AMA

Tor Books’ own David Edison recently took to Reddit to have even less of a filter than usual! Edison seemed positively ebullient as he participated in an AMA, answering questions about his debut novel, The Waking Engine, his work as co-founder of, and his familiar, the beautiful Lena. (She’s the one with black fur.) Several people in the thread confused him with David Eddings, so it was touching to see that Eddings’ work was actually Edison’s introduction to fantasy, and he “always wanted to be near him on a bookshelf!”

How is the second book coming?

I don’t know if I trust myself to give out any hints on the second book—I did write the ending recently, but the middle has yet to manifest itself, so who knows what may change?

Does he regret not appearing shirtless in his author photo?

I have no regrets about not posing shirtless: you’ve got to have somewhere to go, after all.

On life as a debut author:

The hardest thing to adjust to, and also the hardest thing to explain to other people, is the switch in identity. I’ve always been a slacker—to go from “David Edison, aspiring novelist and video game player” to “David Edison, author of THE BLAH BLAH BLAH” has been a real mindscrew. It’s a very real 180° in terms of how I see myself, and what I need to whisper to myself to keep me sane: now I’m more about minimizing any potential ego-bloat, as well as keeping my head down working on the next books. Before I needed lots of self-encouragement just to look at myself in the mirror.

What was weirdest thing he learned from writing The Waking Engine?

That you could invent quotes from dead writers, as I did to begin each chapter, without legal repercussions. Okay, that’s not the weirdest, but it’s the weirdest that comes to mind.

Which comfort food best fuels the creative process?

Lots of chile relleno burritos and lasagnas.


What I’ve learned is that I’m a worldbuilder by nature. I think playing lots of RPGs (including tabletop games and poring over source books) basically gave me a great toolkit for the job.

I think about worldbuilding obsessively, although to me it’s just daydreaming. I know the cash crop of the second port city in the neighboring country that never gets mentioned once, and that kind of craziness really helps inform my writing. What do these people eat, where does their food come from, how do they think about the world that is different from how I think about the world, where does their poop go? These aren’t questions the reader needs the answer to, but the author better know.

Mostly I just kept building the world I saw in my head, because I kept seeing it. I know that sounds like a tautology, but… well I guess it is. It’s still true!

When neither sleep, nor side projects, nor looming-deadline-terror help cure his writer’s block, Edison turns to card tricks:

If it’s just a light block, or if I’m torn between two ideas, I’ll use the tarot deck. I’ve been reading cards for 20yrs, and they always help tell a story, whether you want them to or not—they’re made that way, to be modular story generators. Super useful for me.

Outliner or pantser?

Total pantser. Well, pantser-within-a-framework. When I write an outline, all I’ve succeeded is telling myself what my story won’t look like. Which can be helpful sometimes! But mostly, I just make it up as I go along. I’m an improv guy at heart, so I trust in the magic of serendipity and my own ability to tell a story.

Angry Robot Books’ Michael R. Underwood asked: “It seems like The Waking Engine has some aspects of the New Weird subgenre/movement. Was that intentional? If so, what are some of your favorite New Weird texts?”

Michael, I met you at my first WisCon in 2012. That was my first time ever meeting other speculative fiction writers. Believe it or not, I wrote the whole first draft of this novel essentially locked alone in a room. I had no idea that New Weird existed, although it turns out I was reading and writing it all along. I was all too happy to be assigned a genre, but that’s how it happened: they just told me: “So this is something called New Weird, congrats.” When I was writing, I knew I wasn’t conforming to genre norms, but my only genre-ish rule was “No Rules, Period.” It worked out!

That said, the Weird writers I was reading, like China Mieville and, I think, Storm Constantine, certainly made an impression on me, whether I knew the label or not.

He continued on influences:

British fantasist Storm Constantine was a huge influence on me. Her Wraeththu trilogy: go read it right now! When I read her, I said “Hey, maybe I can write the way I want to write.” Frank Herbert was another huge influence, as was the historical fiction of Mary Renault and Dorothy Dunnett.

And then continued some more!

In random order: Tim Powers, Storm Constantine, Frank Herbert, Neil Gaiman, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Mary Renault, Dorothy Dunnett, Anne Sexton, TS Eliot, John Ciardi, Peter Beagle, Dunsany, Shakespeare, Spenser, Greg Egan, James Thurber, Neal Stephenson. I will add to this list if I think of more. There are definitely more.

He also weighed in on his least favorite games of all time, Animal Crossing:

…I don’t wanna pull up weeds. Ever.

And finally, some advice for all you worried, overly self-critical writers out there, quoted in it’s entirety, because it’s perfect:

Overly critical? Prone to massive and complex procrastinations? Fallow periods of funk? Are you sure you’re not a published author already?

What I learned at Clarion West, more than anything, is that writers are a breed. We are horrible to ourselves! The only difference between those who make it and those who don’t, really, is perseverance. Half the time I sit down to write, I hate myself. The other half, I hate what I’m writing. If you appreciate that and don’t expect it to change, you’re ahead of the pack. If you procrastinate until you run out of things to do except write, and then you write? That’s as good as it’s gonna get. Now get to it!

Grab some nice wine and sit in the sun. At the very least, you’ll have wine and sun.

Check out the rest of the AMA, it’s pretty delightful.


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