Hullo there, GGA fam! I had a chance to Zoom it up with David R. Slayton, author of White Trash Warlock and Trailer Park Trickster. We chatted about his novels, climate change and his favorite fandoms. Spoiler alert: he’s a total Trekkie. For all the fun, check out the interview below!
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Interview with David R. Slayton
Melis Amber: I’d like to give you a chance to introduce yourself to our readers.
David R. Slayton: I’m the author of the Adam Binder novels from Blackstone Publishing: White Trash Warlock, which came out last year, and Trailer Park Trickster, which comes out this year. The third book, Deadbeat Druid, will be out in October 2022.
I write fantasy, mostly, urban and epic. The White Trash Warlock series is urban, but I do write other genres: space opera, epic fantasy, most notably, and mysteries. I like to play with a lot of different stuff.
MA: Fun. So, do you have stuffed lined up after the Adam Binder series?
DRS: We have a lot of stuff on submission, and I have one contract that I’m just this close to being able to sign and say what it is. I should say everything I write is — because I grew up gay in Guthrie, Oklahoma — very diverse, particularly focusing on gay characters from rural backgrounds or backgrounds like mine: rural, poor. My stuff tends to use a lot of my own experience.
MA: Do you want to give us an elevator pitch for the Adam Binder series?
DRS: Sure. Adam Binder is a broke, gay witch from Guthrie, Oklahoma who has to reconcile with his very problematic family. To rescue his sister-in-law, he comes to Denver, Colorado and that leads to all sorts of new experiences, relationships and drama.
MA: Yes! I really loved the books. They were so fun. One thing I really appreciated was how detailed the world and the magic system were, in that you had elves and then you had this tiny American town. How did you build that?
DRS: There are certain things I love in fantasy, like elves. But, when you look at urban fantasy, it’s usually this tough, badass character who can throw fireballs and kick a lot of butt. I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to do somebody a little bit different, somebody who’s an underdog. So, Adam’s very low-powered.
We’ve got this low power magic user — just barely any spark at all — and what’s the opposite of that to show contrast? That led to these very god-like beings. Also, I wanted to mix up some things, ’cause it gets boring, and I hate being bored in fantasy.
So, I used things like leprechauns and gnomes. I tried to use different races and creatures and monsters, though I had to put a dragon in there. I had to slip one little dragon in there.
MA: It’s not fantasy without a dragon.
DRS: I got the chance to use megalodons, extinct giant sharks, in book two. That was fun too, ’cause I do like to use history and weird stuff, or just things people don’t know. I build my world around what readers will find interesting. And I start with what do I find interesting? So, I think megalodons are fascinating. So I was like, “How ’bout we have a chance in the spirit world to see a megalodon in book two?”
MA: The first time I read it, I was like “Oh, we have dinosaurs!” And you know, it reminded me — and not in a bad way — of what a kindergartner would imagine the spirit world to be, because it was really whimsical, but also really terrifying.
DRS: I don’t think that’s an accident. One of the things that happens as we grow up is we lose our sense of wonder, and we lose our sense of magic. Adam is 20, 21 in the books, but he really isn’t. In some ways, he’s not as mature as a 21-year-old should be, and that’s referenced a few times.
His development has been slowed by his life and what’s happened to him. And part of that is because of his fixation or draw into the spirit world has slowed him. And I think you actually catch on something there, which is, I think that magic should be fun and it should be lively, and it should be kind of childlike, but it should also be terrifying.
MA: Another thing I really appreciated was the interpersonal dynamics and how realistic they are. Like, you have exes as friends, and family being important, even when it’s really crappy. Why is that so important for you to get into your writing?
DRS: Because it’s missing out there. I read a lot of urban fantasy as a genre. So often, it’s kinda cliche or tropey, and that’s great if that’s what you want, but I wanted something deeper. And I love that fantasy can take us to another world, and it can make us deal with these big high-stake situations, which I try to incorporate, even in this series.
But, my family life is complicated, my family is complicated, my emotions with them are complicated. When you are gay in a small town — in Denver, despite its kinda large-city size — I’m gonna have to run into my exes, they’re out there. And I’m friends with a lot of them. The relationships aren’t just cut and dry. And you tend to meet your friends through dating a lot. So, relationships for me are messy, and I feel like they are for so many of us — just in the world — and I wanted to reflect that.
At the beginning of White Trash Warlock, Adam has to go help his brother Bobby, who for very good reasons, Adam is extremely angry with. And people will often ask me, “How could he do that?” Well, come on, wouldn’t you help your family? Like you said, even when they’re crappy, It’s still my brother, it’s still my sister-in-law that’s in danger. I still have to help. Again, it’s complicated.
MA: Half my family is from Louisiana and then the other half is from Turkey, so I get it, but I feel like a lot of Americans who are from the coasts, maybe don’t get it as much.
DRS: That’s another thing! I really wanted to — I’m from Oklahoma; I’m right in the middle. I live in Denver, which is more west, but it’s not coastal. It’s funny, I read some statistics on romance novels, and the majority of people who read romance novels are in the midwest or the south. And they still consider the coasts, especially New York, to be an “exotic place.” And it’s like, “When’s somebody gonna write about us? You know, from Louisiana?”
Something I really liked about Charlaine Harris‘s Sookie Stackhouse books is that she wrote about poverty. Sookie deals with poverty a lot; you know, the very mundane stuff that grounds all the magical stuff going on. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to show somebody who’s from Oklahoma.
The food Adam eats is the food I ate; the food his mom cooks is the food that my mom and my grandmother cooked. And Manhattan’s great, it’s a great setting, but I wanted to go small town. Because so many of us are small town.
MA: Another thing I wasn’t expecting to be this huge side quest was climate change. All of a sudden, it became this thing in the second book. Was that just because the world is imploding or —?
DRS: Kind of. It’s a big show on my personal values. We only have one planet. It’s just that simple. I try to mitigate my own carbon footprint — but at the same time, when we look at what’s killing the planet, it’s something like a hundred corporations.
We went on a cruise a couple years ago, and they were like, Everybody’s on paper straws now, ’cause we don’t want to get anything into the ocean. And that’s great, but to be honest, that’s not even gonna make a dent. If we all stopped using straws, that’s not even a dent compared to the damage that some of these corporations are doing.
And it is such a large problem that is systemic to our world, right? It’s not just me, with plastic straws or people who drive hours a day in cars; it’s larger systems that we don’t have as much control over because we live in a capitalist society where these corporations have so much.
That’s kind of the feeling I wanted to give that moment in the book. And that’s from Vic’s point of view, for anyone who hasn’t read it. And Vic is in a world where he’s dealing with being exposed to all of this. He’s such a small fish in a big pond, which puts him kinda closer to Adam’s perspective sometimes, and he doesn’t have the power to stop these huge events that he’s witnessing, at least not in that moment. It all kinda reflected that for me.
I get hopeless about it sometimes, but then I try to figure it out. What can I do? Maybe I can plant some more clover for the bees, right? Or, conserve more water by taking out my front lawn, which I did, and my neighbors hate it, but whatever.
MA: I want to talk about Vic for a sec. And I want to phrase this question carefully. What was your thought process going into it, especially in the climate of the US right now, having a cop, who’s a person of color, who turns into a Reaper? — He does come off really nuanced and likeable — How did you build his character?
DRS: Well, I have to say, I’d completely written this book, sold it. it was on its way to the printers when everything happened in the summer of 2020. One of the things that often happens to us as writers is we craft these books years before you ever see them. White Trash Warlock was in the can, ready to go, literally being printed when everything exploded between Black Lives Matter and the police.
And I had to sit down and think more deeply about my relationship to police. I’ve had some readers reflect on that. That said, I had done enough research. I didn’t just write Vic as a police officer because I wanted to fetishize police or talk about the cops in copoganda. When you look at Denver Police Academy graduating classes, they are largely people of color. Just Google that. It’s easy to see.
The Denver police force is not an all-white presenting police force. It’s pretty diverse. That’s not to say that the Denver police force does not have problems, particularly around the area of Black lives. And I looked into the cases around that.
What’s nice, though, is that this is a series. And Vic has the opportunity to question. So, his whole worldview has been disrupted. Very early on in White Trash Warlock, he encounters Adam, and that scene is a banger — pun intended. And it completely upends Vic’s worldview.
So, first of all, there’s an afterlife. That’s confirmed. There’s a whole spiritual world out there that he has never seen before. Vic is educated — he grew up with a professor for a mom. He didn’t just grow up, like I did, with a family that wasn’t curious about the world. He grew up with a mom who’s a college history professor. She teaches at Metropolitan State, which is where my history degree is from — of course, she’s fictional, the school is not. Sometimes I forget they’re not real people. They get a lot of real estate in my head.
But, Vic is not close-minded. And meeting Adam and having a relationship with him is also something that’s a revelation to him. Adam questions everything. Like, “Oh my gosh, I’m eating macaroni. Do I like macaroni, or am I eating macaroni because it’s what’s available, or is it really good?” He’s always questioning. Vic has the self-confidence that Adam does not. So when they meet, and Vic is like “OK, I’m attracted to a guy. Eh, didn’t see it coming, but OK, let’s roll with that.”
And I like that Vic gets the second point of view in books two and three because we get to get more into his head and heart. We get to see his thought processes that we didn’t get to see in book one as much.
But back to the police thing. He is questioning his role in law enforcement and book three will particularly deal with that. Book two has some of that because again, he’s growing as a person. He’s seeing things he didn’t see before about being a police officer. I was a little — but I did talk to people in the Denver Police, I did talk to people who are cops. I didn’t just write this book in a vacuum of their perspective.
It’s not an easy topic, and anybody who’s reading this, I don’t deal with easy topics. Nothing’s surface here. Vic is asking a lot of questions, his mom is asking a lot of questions. I’m asking a lot of questions, as an author, about how he reconciles that.
Every police interaction I’ve had in Denver has been with a cop of color. I have not had interactions with white cops in Denver. All my stops, all my traffic tickets, or the one time I was arrested on an outstanding traffic ticket, warrant — most of my interactions were not with white police. So this idea that it’s this monolithic force of white people — Yes, there are definitely those factors, but when you look at the demographics of our police force. Like nothing else in life, it’s just not simple.
MA: That’s really interesting, especially because I don’t know much about Denver and would have assumed it’s a highly white population?
DRS: Denver is fascinating. So, there’s a big conversation right now about the Afghan refugees and where they will populate across America. Something people don’t know is, since 1910 — I don’t have the exact date in my brain — Denver has taken in about 10,000 refugees a year from across the world.
MA: Oh, wow!
DRS: I used to take the bus when I worked in an office. That gave me a chance to see the city in a way a lot of people didn’t. I was going through parts of the city that, if you’re just driving to and from work for a tech job, and you’re stopping in an affluent neighborhood for groceries, you might think, yeah, this is a very white city.
But to be honest, Denver has all these cool neighborhoods. We have such a diversity if you just know how to look. Denver’s so much more than that surface thing, and I love this town. I’m trying to incorporate more and more of that into the series as it returns to Denver if we get books four, five and six.
MA: Oh, OK. There will be more, in theory. Hopefully.
DRS: It’s all about sales, right? So if people like them and spread the word — But yeah, I would love to spend more time in Denver with Adam and these people and exploring some of these parts of the city.
MA: You mentioned you have another job. Do you wanna share what that is and if it has an effect on your writing?
DRS: I’m a software implementation consultant by day, and that can be very demanding. And I like it. It pays the bills. It’s more than I ever expected I could get being a high school dropout from Oklahoma. But, it can be challenging. I really like my job, and I get to work with a lot of cool people in many industries.
That said, sometimes it means I don’t get to write. Yesterday was one of those days. It just took all the brain points. I was gone most of the day, working some pretty heavy data exchanges and got a lot done and proud of the work I did. I tried, I logged out of one computer and logged into the writing computer last night and said, “Nope, this is not happening, I’m just going to bed.”
MA: So, it’s mainly, “It gives me the money to write, but then I lose my time?”
DRS: Young aspiring writers will ask me what I wish I’d known. And that’s one thing. Find a job that pays well that doesn’t take up all of your brain points until you can write full time. Hopefully, I’ll get a few more contracts in the couple years, and I can write full time. That’s the dream.
MA: I saw on your website that you have the “Trick or Read” program, which is awesome. Could you please talk about that a little bit?
DRS: Unfortunately the pandemic has stalled that a bit, but the idea of “Trick or Read” is very simple, and anybody can do it. When you give out candy to kids, you put out a table with children’s books, some middle-grade books and young adult. I even put out some adult books with a little sign: “For the Grownups.” And you just give out books. So when kids come to your door, you give ’em a book.
That started as something I was just doing out of my own house with the trick-or-treaters I got, but I wanted to go bigger. So, I started throwing a big party, using my contacts in publishing, using my agent, saying “Hey, does anyone wanna send books?” And then what we did was throw a big party, everybody brings books to get in, and then we bagged them up.
The last time we did it, in 2019, we got up to about 100 people. We took in about 600 books and gave them out on Halloween. It’s also spreading to where people have just picked up the idea, so they might live in a different state, and they say, “I’m going to go to my local thrift store and look for gently-used kids’ books to give out. Or, go pick up some new ones from my local indie book store.”
MA: Fantastic. I love it. Anything that is getting kids to read is awesome.
DRS: Some people are like, Well you have friends who live in a nicer neighborhood, where they might have like 100 trick-or-treaters. But what’s cool about that is, you may not be from the nicer neighborhood, but you go to the nicer neighborhood to trick-or-treat, so you’re still getting books to kids who need them.
MA: So, what are you reading, watching, playing, these days?
DRS: I miss video games so much! I don’t have time for them. It breaks my heart. I’ve been replaying — Mass Effect came out on Legendary, the new release. Since I’m writing a very epic, gay space opera with a love story between a pilot and a marine, I was like this is a good time to have another look at Mass Effect. Especially since somebody got the mod out, so I can run the gay romance, between Kaidan and Male Shep, in Mass Effect One. Super excited about that. I tend to play video games that reflect where my brain is, or what I’m working on. So, for example, if I’m writing epic fantasy, I might dive back into Skyrim.
Reading-wise — whatever I’m writing, if I’m writing urban fantasy, I won’t read urban fantasy. I’ll flip. So, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and history to prep for my next epic fantasy. I’ve also been feeling kinda down about just the world and everything, so I’ve gone back to Clarissa Pinkola Estés who wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves, and I’m going through her other books and listening to some of her lectures, just to kinda feed my soul a bit. It’s a compost heap situation, where you need to put things in and let it ruminate and bake.
The only thing I’m really watching right now is Star Trek: Lower Decks, which is their cute animated show and waiting for Discovery to come back in November. I’m really excited for the next Star Trek.
I did really like Disney’s Jungle Cruise, by the way, because I wanted something lighter and a little on the happier side — not up for the dark stuff right now; the world’s too rough. If someone took Gail Carriger‘s Steampunk series and put it into a movie, you would get a lot of Jungle Cruise. It has that vibe: awesome unconventional woman, creative use of hatpins as weapons, and there’s a cute little coming-out moment for the gay brother, which I liked.
MA: I think that your answers are really going to endear you to our readers. Do you have an all-time favorite fandom?
DRS: That is so tough. That’s like asking me to pick my favorite book of my books, like which of my kids is my favorite. My main fandoms are really Mass Effect for the Kaidan-Shep romance because it really just inspired this whole thing in my head. But, probably Stark Trek. I love Star Wars, especially when I thought we might have a Poe-Finn —
But, probably Star Trek because of the hope. I grew up in that trailer in Oklahoma. One of the things that really helped was every night at 6 o’clock on reruns, on channel 34, they had Star Trek. I watched the original series over and over, and I memorized it.
I was around when The Next Generation premiered, but it always stung a little bit. Because as much as I loved it — Oh, so I wasn’t allowed — my mom became very religious in Evangelical Christianity, so she wouldn’t let me read any books with magic. I wasn’t allowed to read fantasy at all. That was forbidden. But, she had grown up with Star Trek. She thought Star Trek was safe, so she would buy me Star Trek novels when she went to the grocery store, when she went to town. That opened up my mind to all these different ideas and diversities and concepts.
And it introduced me to incredible writers, like David Mack. But it was always a little bittersweet because I was never there. In all of Star Trek, which is supposed to be so diverse and so amazing, there were no gay characters, especially on-screen — a couple of the books went there at different points in my time.
There’s a really nice moment in Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Novelization, because again, we didn’t have access to DVDs or VHSs, but we had the novelization, where Gene Roddenberry, made a support of gay rights, made a support of gay people. That little bit, was just: Uh, thank you!
And then, finally, when Star Trek: Discovery came around a few years ago, there’s the toothbrush scene, where the two gay guys, who are a couple, they’re just brushing their teeth and having a typical couple conversation about their day. And it’s just this five-minute thing, and I’m like there, there I am! That’s all I wanted, my whole life. My whole heart grew three times.
MA: Excellent answer. That’s all the questions I have. Do you have anything else you would like to share, add?
DRS: If you’re trying to write or you’re trying to create, there’s an audience for it. If you think, “No one’s gonna wanna read about a character like that or a character like me,” which is a lot of what I struggled with in my confidence, I promise you, you’ve got an audience.
Just persist and don’t give up. And your journey to it might be fanfiction, or it might be self-publishing, it might be traditional. Don’t give up on the things you dream for yourself.
Trailer Park Trickster is out October 12. Pick up a copy at your local indie book store or library.
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