Interview: David Walton, author of Quintessence

Please welcome David Walton to the blog! David’s brand new novel, Quintessence, is out today, and he took some time to talk with me about the book, what inspired him to write it, and more!

davewalton016David, your first novel, Terminal Mind, won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback original novel, and your 2nd novel, Quintessence (Tor), is out today! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Thanks, Kristin. My desire to be a writer stemmed from a childhood filled with reading, but it wasn’t until late college that I really tried my hand at writing fiction. A good friend of mine, Mike Shultz (who has published a novel in Germany), showed me some of what he was writing and told me about magazines like Asimov’s and Analog that published science fiction and fantasy short stories. Soon I was receiving my first form rejection letters from those magazines, quickly followed by dozens more. Years passed before I saw one of my own stories between the pages of Analog, but I had the writing bug. Now, although I have a full-time job programming software and six kids at home (with a seventh on the way!), I can’t imagine ever giving it up.

Will you tell us a bit about the world of Quintessence and what inspired the story?
The world of Quintessence is one that sprang from my love of science. I love the stories about how men like Galileo and Newton observed the world around them and determined the rules by which it worked. I always thought magic should work like that. Instead of a world where the rules of magic were already well-known and practiced, I wanted them to have to be discovered, step by logical step, and be as deep and complex and logically consistent as the laws of nature are in our world. So I set Quintessence at the dawn of science, in an alternate sixteenth century, a time when an experimental philosophy was challenging everything people believed about themselves and God and life and the world around them.

Some people assume that a book’s main character was also the author’s favorite one to write? Was this the case with Quintessence?
I think my favorite to write was the alchemist-adventurer, Christopher Sinclair. Stephen Parris, the central protagonist, is more of a straight man–he discovers things along with the reader, and he’s a generally good man who tries to do the right thing. Sinclair, on the other hand, is mysterious and unethical, willing to steal and deceive and whatever else it takes to reach his goal. That might not make him a person you’d like to spend time with, but it sure makes him fun to write.

quintessenceWhat are some of your biggest literary influences?
The biggest would have to be Orson Scott Card. I was devouring his books just as I was starting to write myself, and his “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” and “Characters and Viewpoint” were the first books on writing I read. Card is a master at drawing empathetic characters, and I learned a lot from reading his work. More recently, Robert Charles Wilson’s books have been an influence on my writing, in the way that he introduces a central mystery and weaves a plot and characters around it.

If someone were dipping their toe in fantasy for the first time, what would be a few of your recommendations to start them off?
Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind is the one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read, and I would think pretty accessible to those not familiar with fantasy in general. His prose is musical, his characters enchanting, and his system of magic phenomenal. As in Quintessence, the magic is approached scientifically, but with a deep well of terrifying mystery and power that the book knowledge doesn’t touch. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is another favorite, Mr. Norrell being one of the most pathetic and tragic figures in fantasy literature.

What do you love most about writing fantasy and SF?
It’s the sense of wonder and mystery that catches me, both in reading and writing the genre. It’s the exploration of the impossible, the characters that are recognizably human in a world that is subtly changed. For me, writing a novel is a similar experience to reading one–I get caught up in the world and unfolding plot–except that when I’m writing, I can shape the story to my liking. It’s an intoxicating feeling.

What book(s) are you reading now?
I’m reading Ark, by Stephen Baxter, the sequel to his novel Flood, in which the entire world is flooded over the course of a generation. This series is my first foray into Baxter’s work, and I’m definitely planning to come back for more. I’m also reading Whispers Underground, the third in Ben Aaronovitch’s brilliant series about Peter Grant, a policeman in the magical branch of the London Metropolitan Police. It’s as clever, witty, and charming as the first two, and I hope he keeps writing more.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Writing novels is what I do in my free time! As I said, I have a full-time job to pay the bills, and seven children ranging from 0 to 12 years old. Between helping with homework, making dinner, and changing diapers, it can be pretty tough to squeeze in writing time, but I’ve gotten to be a much more efficient writer than I used to be. I do also like to play jazz piano when I get the chance, a creative experience that can be similar to writing a novel. You can enjoy listening to a piece of music, but how much more wonderful it is to take control of it and shape it at the same time, to experience the beauty of the song at the same time you’re inventing it.

What’s next for you?
In 2012, after completing Quintessence, I wrote a near-future SF thriller called Superposition. It’s a quantum physics murder mystery with the kind of reality-twisting feel of films like Inception or The Prestige. Stay tuned for when you might expect to see that one in print. My current project is a sequel to Quintessence, which I’m nearly finished writing. I’m enjoying writing it just as much as I did Quintessence, so I hope readers will as well!
Keep up with David: Website


Imagine an Age of Exploration full of alchemy, human dissection, sea monsters, betrayal, torture, religious controversy, and magic. In Europe, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the Earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares only about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.


  1. That sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read it!

  2. I read an excerpt on during sea monsters week and have been impatiently waiting for it since!

  3. Pingback: Tell Us About Yourself | David Walton's Fiction

  4. Just letting interested folks know that the sequel, QUINTESSENCE SKY, is now available:


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