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SunLit interview: Author wrote “the kind of book I always wanted to read but could never find”

David R. Slayton, a high school dropout and gay, found plotlines in his impoverished youth and melded them with fantasy -- plus his study of Denver history

David R. Slayton grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. Now he lives in Denver, Colorado, with his partner, Brian, and writes the books he always wanted to read. In 2015, David founded Trick or Read, an annual initiative to give out hundreds of books along with candy to children on Halloween as well as uplift lesser-known authors or those from marginalized backgrounds.

Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

Like Adam, the main character, I grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma. His economic background is the same as mine. Like him, I’m gay and a high school dropout who loves fantasy novels.

“White Trash Warlock” is the kind of book I always wanted to read but could never find, about someone like me who gets to be the hero.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

It’s always hard to choose an excerpt, and while I considered something that reflected Adam’s journey to Denver and some of the history and places I incorporated into the story, I decided to share the beginning of the first chapter, because it introduces you to Adam and the tone of the book, how it has one foot firmly set in the real world and one firmly in fantasy.

Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book? 

I used a lot of my own life for Adam’s story. His food insecurity, etc. I wanted the chance to work through some harder stuff while also getting to tell a story about elves who steal cars.

I also have a degree from Metropolitan State University in history, so I incorporated as much local history as I could. I put in all of my favorite Denver landmarks, like Lakeside Amusement Park and a certain Mexican themed restaurant with cliff divers.

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

This book surprised me, especially when I wrote the point of view of Bobby, Adam’s older brother who ran away from Oklahoma to live his life in Denver. The more I dug into Bobby’s motivations the more he surprised me.

I really feel it’s hard to hate people if we understand them. I started out not liking Bobby, but by the time the book was over I understood him, and that helped me work through some issues with my own family.

Another surprise was Vic. I won’t spoil it, but that first big scene came out of nowhere, with a bang, and it had to go in the book. From there I had to connect the dots on how to keep Vic in the story because he’s one of those characters I want to get to know better.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

“White Trash Warlock” is the first urban fantasy I’ve written. In some ways it was easier than writing epic fantasy. I don’t have to explain what a car or coffee is. That makes it more accessible for casual fantasy readers, but it also meant I had to make a lot of decisions about what to incorporate from the real world and what to leave out.

The biggest surprises came from the characters. They started doing or saying things that I hadn’t predicted but I realized that they were being true to themselves. There’s a magic to it, when a person who only exists in your head and on the page comes to life and does something the writer can’t predict. That’s how I know I’ve gotten a character right, when they take on a life of their own.

Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?

I’ve been so grateful for the feedback, which has been largely positive. The book released in fall of 2020, which means that it was already at the printer when the protests around the role of police in our society began. That led to some conversations about Vic’s role as a cop in the story, and it’s a conversation I’m continuing in the sequels.

I also have to say that hearing from readers with a background like mine has meant the world to me, knowing that the book has reached LGBTQ people in rural areas.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

I have a day job, like most authors, so it means I have to carve out time to write. I’m fortunate to have an office, a writing room, a dedicated space. I try to get up every morning at 5 a.m. and write as much as I can before my day starts, getting in two to three hours daily. I spend the majority of my weekends writing and editing. It’s like the gym or another practice in that it takes discipline.

I also have deadlines now and a lot more stories to tell so it’s officially a second job. I force myself to focus and avoid distractions like the Internet. It’s not always easy. I miss watching television. I miss the gym, but every time I’m doing anything but writing I want to be writing.

How does “White Trash Warlock” involve Colorado and Denver in particular?

Adam travels to Denver when his sister-in- law, Annie, is possessed by a spirit so ancient that not even the immortals know what it is. It’s a chance for Adam to tell his brother I told you so, but he also genuinely wants to help Annie. 

The mystery of the spirit possessing her requires Adam to explore Denver, and that gave me the chance to work in a lot of what I love about the city and some of the fun urban lore like the stories about our airport.

I also embedded some Easter eggs for long term Denverites. Look closely and you might begin to wonder how much of the book is happening in the real city and how much is in the spirit world, which remembers buildings and sights that no longer exist.

Tell us about your next project.

I have finished writing the two sequels to “White Trash Warlock” — “Trailer Park Trickster” (out in October 2021), and “Deadbeat Druid” (October 2022). This means I get to go back to my first love, which is epic fantasy.

My agent just sent one out on submission. It’s a book I’ve had in my head and heart for a long time called the “Last Son of the Night.” I call it my feral firstborn. It’s about a street rat named Raef, the last worshipper of the moon goddess, whose murder stopped the tides and left the ghosts of the dead without a path to the underworld. It’s dark but also hopeful, with some great twists and a sweet love story. I hope we sell it and I get to share it with you soon!

Read an excerpt from the book.


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