An Interview with Author David Dvorkin

Interview by Ed McManis

“I’m more invigorated artistically now than I have been for decades,” says author David Dvorkin in his soft, lilting English accent.  We’re sitting in a quaint coffee shop discussing his new novel, Cage of Bone. The novel, he explains, is a crime thriller with telepathy, psychological components and a science fiction twist. 

It is his 32nd publication; 24 novels, a book of short stories, and seven non-fiction pieces. One of his non-fiction books, When We Landed on the Moon, is his short memoir about working for NASA and the Apollo project that landed on the moon. 

Dvorkin, 80, grew up in the Golden Era of 50s pulp magazines, comics, science fiction and space aliens. One of his first ambitions was to be a “Spaceman. This was before astronauts.” A Star Trek devotee, he wrote three Star Trek books including one with his son, Daniel. 

In 2009, he started his own self-publishing business with his wife of 56 years, Leonore. “It’s DLD Books,” he says, sipping his tea. In addition to his own books, he’s published hundreds of titles for the blind community including children’s stories, memoirs, and longer novels. 

Dvorkin, born in Reading, England, is a fit and energetic 80; he lifts weights, brushes his teeth with honey, and has no intention of slowing down. His next project is his magnum opus which he’s been reworking for the past forty years. “Every year, I say it will be done by my birthday, which is in October. So I’ll say it will be done by October of this year. Or possibly October of some future year.” Something to look forward to. 

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Ed: Your latest novel is Cage of Bone. Can you tell me about this book?

David: It’s a crime thriller, with telepathy. So, it’s got a science fiction twist and a psychological component. The gimmick came to me years ago, and the plot kind of evolved from that. Our protagonist starts hearing these terrible thoughts. (Other people’s crimes and murders.) The theme—the psychological part—is how this man is shut off from the world and then is forced to hear these terrible things. Sometimes I start out with a theme and sometimes it suggests itself to me as the book progresses. 

Ed: Are you the type of author who plots the story first?

David: I try to plot it out. In the beginning I used to write a book one scene at a time. As time has passed, I’ve started plotting more in detail. And that way I can also jump around. I don’t have to go chapter one, chapter two. I can jump around to something I already have in the outline. Sometimes I write the beginning and ending first, then I finish the parts in between. 

Ed: Have you ever started a book, even finished it, then abandoned it?

David: Never permanently. Like this one, I started probably twenty years ago. My magnum opus, which is up to 200,000 words now, I started that forty years ago. 

Ed: That’s the next project?

David: Yes. Well, every time I finish something shorter I say, “Now I’m going back to the big one.” But I don’t stick with it. I switch to something shorter again. Something  I can complete.

Ed: This magnus opus. What is it about?

David: Well, everything. That’s the problem. It’s somewhat autobiographical. It starts decades in the past and goes decades into the future. It’s the same characters all the way through. I like to think of it as a modern-day Victorian novel. 

Ed: Did you study that period of literature?

David: No. I was a techie. But I always loved reading, loved Victorian novels. 

Ed: Speaking of tech, weren’t you with NASA?

David: Yes. From 1967 to 1971. That’s recounted in my memoir, When We Landed on the Moon.

Ed: What was your degree in college and where did you go?

David: Math. With a minor in physics and astronomy. Indiana University.

Ed: An English Hoosier!

David: Yes. (Laughs). Then I got my Masters in math at the University of Houston while I was at NASA. 

Ed: Did NASA pay for it?

David: They did, actually. 

Ed: Well, that’s a good use of American tax dollars, right?

David: They actually gave me a semester off with full pay to finish the degree. 

Ed: So, at the top level of math. What are some of those courses?

David: In pure math, stuff like algebraic topology. Very abstract and theoretical. When I was in college, pure mathematicians looked down on applied math. In one way it almost merges with philosophy, especially logic. It may or may not have application to the real world. Let’s suppose you have this object floating around (points to coffee cup) in nowheresville, with such and such properties…what theorems can you prove about it? What can you learn from the starting point? Now change the properties, and now what can you prove? That’s a whole career for some. 

Ed: My son was also a math major.  Sometimes we argue about math. He’ll tell me, “math doesn’t lie” and I say, “math lies all the time.” 

David: Well, logic doesn’t lie. You have to support what you say properly, or there are holes in your reasoning. 

Ed: I guess I’m intrigued about where math butts up against philosophy or “belief.” Like, who are the theorems really for at the end of the day? I’m not convinced math really cares about math. I guess I believe more in language than numbers. 

David: With math, there’s no true or false when you start. It’s a hypothetical. “Suppose this is true,” and you go on from there. 

Ed: Growing up, did you want to be a scientist?

David: No, I wanted to be a spaceman, as I called it then.  This was before astronauts. Later, I got into physics, then math, and then I ended up at NASA. After that I came out here (Colorado) to Martin Marietta and worked on the Viking Mars Lander Project. When I got laid off there, I ended up as a software developer. Which of course also uses the rules of logic. 

Ed: So, when did the writing appear?

David: Oh, that’s always been there. I loved science fiction as a teenager. The 50s was the Golden Era, the pulps were out. Silverberg, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov. Science fiction at that time was a lot more hard science. 

Ed: You were writing at this time?

David: Oh yes. Great space operas. Then I got sucked into making a living, I got married, raised a child. 

Ed: When did you meet Leonore, your wife?

David: College. Indiana University. 

Ed: How long have you been married?

David: Since 1968. Fifty-six years coming up. 

Ed: Now, you wrote a book with your son, Daniel? 

David: Two, actually. One Star Trek book and one alternate history book. 

Ed: What was it like working with your son?

David: It was great. I started with an outline and we chose different pieces to write. At that time his writing style was similar to mine and after the fact I couldn’t tell who had written what. 

Ed: Interesting. Do you think he maybe saw you writing and decided he wanted to write?

David: That’s probably true. Then later, he saw how stressful writing was and decided that was not going to be his main goal. He went into science. 

Ed: So, he’s a scientist?

David: Yes. He has a Ph.D in bioinformatics. Mathematical modeling of biological processes, often using a lot of statistics. 

Ed: Very specialized then.

David: Yes. Highly specialized. He’s behind the scenes on many things, modern medical decisions and so on. 

Ed: What was your first publication?

David: It was The Children of Shiny Mountain. It came out in April, 1977, I think. 

Ed: Short story?

David: No, a book. Too long a book. In fact, I had to cut it way down for publication. It was quite the learning experience. That’s when I realized how much garbage and pretentiousness there was in my writing. You know, the young writer. 

Ed: Who was the publisher?

David: Pocket Books.

Ed: Did you have an agent?

David: No, not at that time. That was when you could do that, you didn’t need an agent. You could send proposals around. Query letters. 

Ed: Pre-computers.

David: The paperwork was awful. Now, you can just attach a file to an email. 

Ed: Now, you did three Star Trek books? You were a Star Trek fan?

David: Oh yes. A big fan. As I mentioned, I wrote the third book with Daniel, my son, and two more before that on my own. 

Ed: Did they give you writer’s guidelines? 

David: Not for the first one. That was the nice thing in those days. It was after the first series and before the first movie. It was like writing an episode and I had leeway. By the time I got to the third book, with Daniel, they sent me the bible for The Next Generation. These are certain things you must never do and never say. Rules. 

Ed: How was the Star Trek pay?

David: It was quite good. Money up front, quite generous. Even today, decades later, every six months I get a tiny royalty check. They sent me copies, too, of the foreign editions of my Star Trek books. When I left NASA, my going away gift was a build-out kit of the original  Enterprise. I put it together and it hung from the ceiling in Daniel’s room. We had his room filled with space toys and things from NASA. I think we were trying to brainwash him. 

Ed: Did Daniel have kids?

David: One son. He’s a sweet kid. Kid! He’s a young man. Almost thirty. We communicate occasionally by email. 

Ed: How many novels have you written?

David: My new one, Cage of Bone, is book number 32. So, there are 24 novels, one short story collection, and the rest are non-fiction. 

Ed: What were some of the non-fiction topics?

David: Well, there’s one about atheism, one about being a Jew; one on self-publishing. And there’s the short memoir, When we Landed on the Moon, about my time at NASA. 

Ed: Did you take any heat for the atheism piece?

David: Not as much as I had hoped. (Laughs). I hoped it would be condemned from the pulpit. I guess it’s too late in the day for that. Maybe that would have happened forty years ago. 

Ed: Your father was a rabbi. Do you think the push toward atheism was a reaction to the religious upbringing?

David: Well, I think it was more science, really. It’s more that I became a convert to the realistic view of the world. The scientific view. The rest became increasingly silly and fictional. 

Ed: Did your father have a congregation?

David: Oh yes. I grew up as the Rabbi’s kid. We lived in small towns. Lots of pressure. The other Jewish kids didn’t want to play with me; I was kind of an alien, son of the Rabbi. Christian kids didn’t want much to do with me either. 

Ed: Did you get picked on?

David: Not really. More isolated. Alone. Which is why I read a lot of science fiction. 

Ed: Shifting gears, you’ve been in the writing professions since the 70s. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen. 

David: One is the disappearance of the small publishers. I was never a great success, and as the years went by, I became more and more invisible. And that’s one of the big reasons I switched to self-publishing in 2009. 

Ed: What’s the name of your business?

David: I run it with Leonore. We call it DLD Books. 

Ed: Now, you’ve done quite a bit of publishing for the blind community, right?

David: Yes. It started accidentally. Leonore had done some editing for some people she knew online. A friend of her sister’s had a blind friend who had written a children’s book and didn’t know what to do with it. So, we got the books published for him. They’re very charming children’s stories. They have a tremendous network in the blind community. We started getting requests from others in the community. We’ve done, I don’t know how many, maybe a couple hundred. Some short, some really long novels. Memoirs and short story collections. 

Ed: Well, it’s great that they have a resource such as yours. It seems federal assistance, some other resources would be available?

David: One of our clients gets State funds. 

Ed: Back to the changing industry; you mentioned the disappearance of small and independent publishers. 

David: When I finished my first novel, I made a list of publishers to submit it to; it was a long list, maybe a hundred or so. Established names, back in the 70s. And they’re all gone now. Now it’s down to what, a handful? Three? Then, publishers were more personal, family–owned and small businesses who might take a chance on something. Now, they have to hand off profits up the chain. For beginning writers now, it’s a terrible, terrible time. 

Ed: Joanne Greenberg (I Never promised You a Rose Garden) talks about this. She said, wistfully when I interviewed her about Rose Garden and the 60s, “I came in on a sea of gin. There was a team. An editor, a publicist, foreign editor…you were forging a long lasting relationship.” It seems today with the introduction of the PC, the individual writer is now that team. You are the writer, editor, publisher. 

David: Oh yes, the convenience today is great with computers. The downside, there is a lot of stuff being self–published that shouldn’t be. But, there are really good and really interesting books and stories that never would have been published by traditional publishers. I’m not selling many books, but I’m more invigorated artistically now than I have been for decades. I can do what I want, when I want. 

Ed: As I think about the difficulty getting an agent, getting published, queries, rejections, comings-and-goings of the personnel; you start with someone and they leave, just the run-around—

David: Oh, it’s exhausting. You just want to get your book out there. 

Ed: Currently who are you reading?

David: I have my Kindle full of 19th century novels. I have the complete works of Jane Austen, the complete works of Charles Dickens, and many others. 

Ed: So, not contemporary, you’re going the other way.

David: Yes, I’m going the other way. I’ll never catch up. 

Ed: Who are your top three?

David: Oh, Thackeray, Jane Austen, H.G. Wells. 

Ed: Back in graduate school, I remember we had to read all of George Eliot in a ten-week course. It’s all gone. Couldn’t tell you one thing about Middlemarch. I think I remember a baby appearing in Silas Marner?

David: I remember vaguely. I read it once. That’s how I feel about math. I spent so much time studying it and now it’s all gone. 

Ed: A “use it or lose it” thing?

David: Very much. Like foreign languages. 

Ed: When will we see the magnum opus?

David: Every year, I say it will be done by my birthday, which is in October. So, I’ll say it will be done by October of this year. Or possibly October of some future year.



Editing and self-publishing services:

About the interviewer: Ed McManis is a writer, editor, & erstwhile Head of School. His work has appeared in more than 60 publications, including The Blue Road Reader, California Quarterly, Cathexis, Narrative, Lascaux Review, etc. He, along with his wife, Linda, have published esteemed author Joanne Greenberg’s (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) novel, Jubilee Year. Little known trivia fact: he holds the outdoor free-throw record at Camp Santa Maria: 67 in a row.