NiFtY Interview with Darryl Varner

Darryl Varner, organizer of the Sacramento Writers Group, is prolific,  funny, and…published. After a negative experience with the “traditional” publishing route (i.e. literary agent and publishing company), Darryl started self-publishing his books.

I met Darryl when I joined the Sacramento Writers Group last year, and have been impressed with not only his writing and his ideas, but his persistence in keeping the group going. Without further blah blah, I give you…Darryl!

BH: Tell me a little about your writing. How many books have you written?

DV:  Officially, I’ve done five novels. Unofficially, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many books I’ve written over the years. The first published book, Tracker, was co-written with a buddy, John McLean. It was a lot of fun having someone to share ideas and work out plot twists, but, due to our schedules, it actually took us over five years to finish it. I won’t go that route again. We did a couple of book signings and speaking appearances, which, again, was a lot of fun. John and I have personalities that naturally “clicked” in front of a group. We were kind of the Abbot and Costellos of bookdom.

BH: What did you learn from Tracker?

DV: The finished novel won a “best book” award when it came out in 2003 and was picked up for the permanent collection of the San Diego City Library. So, on one hand, it really was a shame we weren’t able to work things out to do a sequel. On the flipside, though, there were compromises which I still regret. I think it’s much better in the long run for a writer to work alone or, if you have the resources, to work with a paid staff where you can call the shots and have others do some of the heavy lifting. There’s a lot to be said for that approach for anyone who’s trying to develop a franchise in this business.

BH: After Tracker, you wrote the Methridia Chronicles, right?

DV: Yes. It was about five years later that I started writing a book entitled Globesplitter. I really enjoyed this one. It was a story that pretty much wrote itself. All I had to do was find time to sit down at the computer and whack it out. It’s set in the 1890s with a main character ala the Jules Verne/Edgar Rice Burroughs mold. A wealthy British “tinker”, Jonas Christianson, builds a machine that drills deep into the earth’s crust, breaking through to an ancient underground civilization. I just let my imagination run with it. Lots of action. It was fun inventing a hidden culture. That book took me, maybe, six weeks at the max to finish. Almost immediately, I did a sequel, King of the Moon in about the same length of time. A couple of months after that, I wrote a third novel which is entitled Wizard at the Gate. So, in essence, within a few months I’d done a complete trilogy. Not quite a year after wrapping up Wizard I woke up one morning with an idea for a fourth book and about a month and a half later, I’d finished The Third Gate. I decided to wrap them all under a blanket title of The Methridia Chronicles, named for the underground kingdom where they took place. One thing that I found especially satisfying was that these stories could be read by any age group. I’m certainly no prude, but this confirmed my opinion that it’s quite possible to write a LOT without including a single four-letter word or gratuitous sex scene.

BH: Do you think you will ever publish an e-book? Or have you already, and I just don’t know about it?

DV: I have put all publication on hold for the moment. Right now, I’m working out the “best” way for me to market my stuff and I’m not in any hurry to jump the gun. I will say, though, that there’s a lot to be appreciated by going the e-book route, not the least is the ratio of royalties to publishing expenses. Through electronic publishing it’s quite possible for an author to bring in a very respectable profit without having to have his audience spend an arm and a leg to purchase the book.

BH: What benefits do you see in self-publishing?

DV: In a word: control. Simple as that. Providing that an author is able to work out distribution – which is always an issue, regardless of how a book’s published – it can be a very good way to go. Before the Internet, “self-published” was pretty much synonymous with “vanity press”. That’s not necessarily the case today.

BH: Can you share a little bit with us about your current work-in-progress?

DV: At present, I have so many stories started that I don’t really know which one to develop. I “like” them all, but it’s similar to dating several women at the same time. Making the commitment to one is the hard part. Sooner or later, something will strike my fancy and I’ll do it. Likely as not, it will end up being a complete surprise to me when it comes along.

BH: When did you realize that you were a writer?

DV: In ninth grade. I “forgot” about a poetry assignment until I walked into my 3rd period English class on the morning when it was due.

“Wow, I completely forgot to bring it. Is it okay if I go back home and get it?”

Well, apparently the request didn’t sound unreasonable, so my teacher said it was okay and, as long as I got back before the class ended, she’d accept it. So, I wrote a poem in my head on the walk home, typed it out as soon as I got there, and was back at school in time to turn it in. Ain’t I a stinker?

BH: Where do you get most of your ideas and inspiration?

DV: I plagiarize Stephen King and Tom Clancy. 🙂 Not really. Dreams are a very frequent resource. Also, I’m constantly tuning into snatches of random conversations when I’m out and about. I write Sherlock Holmes stories because I read everything Doyle wrote and I wanted more. Doyle certainly wasn’t up to putting anything new out, so I decided I’d have to take it on as a do-it-yourself project. Ideas are never a problem. Finding time to get them on paper’s another issue, unfortunately.

BH: Do you have a set writing schedule, or do you wait for inspiration?

DV: I write 1) when I’m in the mood and 2) when I have time. The “set” part of my schedule is that I write a minimum of at least one complete scene – generally a chapter – whenever I write. If I start a second or a third chapter, I’ll almost always finish it before I call it quits. I do a little spot revision as I’m working, but generally most of my stuff ends up pretty much as I wrote it in draft form.

BH: Which of your characters do you think is most like you?

DV: I don’t write about boring characters. Can’t say any of them are much like me.

BH: Aww. Not true. What does your writing workspace look like?

Darryl's Office

DV: Here are a few snapshots of where I write when I’m home. I wander between my library/AV room and my office. I think it’s important to have everything I need within reach, so my printer’s close at hand in the office and “the world’s best critic”, a heavy duty shredder, is a few steps away in the library. I have a great sound system, too. For me, I find that I often work best when I have music playing in the background. Generally, I listen to light classical stuff. I love rock, of course, but I can get sidetracked by listening to the lyrics, so I almost never play it while I’m writing.

When I want to get out of the house, I tend to head to either Barnes & Noble or Panera Bread. Lately, I’ve been favoring Panera because they have more variety on the menu. Now, if I could only get them to take my Barnes & Noble membership card, I’d really be a happy camper. When the weather’s nice I’ll often drag my laptop out to my deck. That’s where my photo was taken, as a matter of fact.

BH: You started the Sacramento Writers Group in 2009, right? Where do you see the group going in the future?

DV: Super Bowl. No question about it. We just gotta get our defensive squad in shape.

Actually, that’s a difficult question to answer. I’ve been disappointed that it’s been pretty much impossible to develop a core group of writers who will turn up faithfully month after month. That sort of on-going input is what’s really helpful for a writer who’s seeking meaningful help with a project. I hope it will eventually happen, but, honestly, I don’t have a clue how to make sure that it will ever come about. I find that odd, too, since I had a group in southern California that worked for years with the same group of writers showing up like clockwork.

BH: What are some of the problems or issues that go with being a group organizer?

DV: Developing a true membership is at the top of the list. Too many “joiners” and not enough “show-uppers”. I’ve gotten very jaded as to the intros of people who are joining via the Internet, too. As soon as I see the word “passionate” in someone’s bio (as in “I’m very passionate about blah-blah-blah) I figure I’ll maybe see that person at one meeting and that will be the end of it. Maybe it’s like relationships in general. Passion will carry things along only for so long. I suspect a lot of people would prefer to find a new source of inspiration rather than put out the time and effort it takes to actually develop a talent to the point where it’s actually worth something. Then again, there are a lot of “groups” in the area. Maybe a lot of people are just looking for cheap entertainment. Who knows?

BH: What is your favorite book on the writing craft?

DV: The Elements of Style.

Darryl's Library

BH: You mentioned writing Sherlock Holmes stories. I read one that I would love to see published. Do you ever submit your shorter pieces to journals or magazines?

DV: To be truthful, Beth, I’ve never submitted anything to magazines. There’s just not enough of me to go around. I’ve thought about getting an assistant to help me with that sort of thing but so far I haven’t been able to justify the expense. Maybe one of these days, though.

BH: Not only do you run the Sacramento Writers Group, but you’re the organizer for at least two others, is that correct? Where do you find the time for all these pursuits, in addition to your own photography and writing?

DV: I don’t sleep and I strap a feedbag to my face so I can eat while I’m on the run.

BH: What is the best advice anyone has given you with regards to your writing?

DV: Don’t quit your day job.

BH: At first I wanted to write off that advice as totally useless. But then I realized: this writing thing isn’t easy. If you’re filthy rich, go ahead and quit, live off your saved money in a sweet villa on the Mediterranean, and write your little heart out. But if you’re like the rest of us? Work, and then write. Go to sleep. Get up. Repeat.

Darryl, thank you so much for the interview. It was a pleasure!

Blog business note: no post on Monday, as I’ll be in the beautiful eastern Sierras, editing Savage Autumn and critiquing other fabulous pieces of writing for my writer’s groups. Oh, and relaxing with family, hiking, and trying not to get attacked by crazy insects. 🙂


  1. Jo Hart · July 2, 2010

    Glad to see I’m not the only writer who doesn’t feel it is necessary to include swearing and sex. 🙂

  2. Vicki · July 10, 2010

    Great interview! You have a talent for asking good, inquisitive questions. I’m glad I clicked over to comment because Google Reader doesn’t show the author’s pic at the top of the page 🙂

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