Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest David S. Arthur author of The Oasis Project, The Kingdom of Keftiu: A Mystery of the Ancient World, the first in a series of novels featuring English historical sleuth Richard Quizzenbury and his feisty wife Emily and his most recent tome, Shaytan: A Journey into Evil.
Norm: Good day David and thanks for participating in our interview. Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background. As a follow up, how did you get started in writing and what keeps you going?
David: I have always been ambitious and by that I mean...I have accepted life’s many challenges for what they are...not barriers but opportunities to improve myself. I have to credit my parents for this, because of the examples they set and the expectations they had of me. I've done more than write novels. In my younger days growing up in Dallas, I was a champion swimmer and Texas state record holder in many events (at many ages) as well as high school All-State and All-American in multiple events.
a time in high school I was a garage band guitarist and lead
singer. I attended SMU where I became a collegiate All-American
and Southwest Conference Champion. I studied business as an
undergraduate, then transferred to the Meadows School of Fine Arts
and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in film production and screen
writing. I had always done well on essay tests but had never thought
of becoming a writer.
After graduating I worked as a documentary film maker for PBS, but I already had my sights set on the big screen. In the mid 70s, I did my time in Hollywood as a struggling screen writer but with only limited success – a few feature length commissions from independent producers and one episode credit for Battlestar Gallactica. (I still get the residual checks.)
Also I managed to publish my first novel, The Oasis Project, during that period. The hardback was self-published by a private investment group I formed with several friends in Texas and then an agent I met at a book fair in Marin County sold the paperback rights to Zebra Books. (She is still my agent.) The paperback sold pretty well, but nobody got rich.
After six years in LA and with few prospects, I returned to Dallas fairly disheartened and spent several years writing for other companies before I established my own production company – with me in charge of the production and creative and my wife handling the operations and financials. Finally I was able to combine my business training with my production and writing experience.
Happily the momentum changed and I enjoyed the good fortune of a long and successful career as a director, producer and writer of hundreds of video and large multi-media stage productions, primarily for clients such as Frito-Lay and Pepsi and the other divisions of PepsiCo, both domestic and international. I have retired from production and these days I am again writing screenplays in between books. I enjoy painting and sculpting.
I collect and play guitars. Looking back, I could have made other choices when faced with adversity such as competition from larger production companies or defending my strong client list, but somehow I found a way to persevere, probably due to my training as an athlete and my struggles in Hollywood, dealing with rejection and disappointment.
Looking forward I have great expectations. I still hanker after the big screen for my books and scripts. That’s what keeps me going.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Most useful. Research. I should think most young writers struggle
for good ideas. I did. Good ideas come from knowledge and general
learning – which means researching the subjects that interest you.
When starting out I had written an epic sci-fi adventure (similar to
Battlestar Gallactica) well before Star Wars broke onto
the scene and also a major pirate saga before Swashbuckler with
Robert Shaw and James Earl Jones. (And of course Pirates of the
But I wasn’t connected in Hollywood at first and without an agent I had no place to take my ideas. Also, I freely admit, I wasn’t that good a writer when I first got to Hollywood. My instincts were good, timing-wise with the market, but nothing clicked. My first novel – a spy thriller (Oasis) – was a breakthrough for me because it required a lot of research (laser technology, the US Airforce aerospace plane development program Dyna-Soar, world politics) – and the novel format gave me the opportunity to explore elaborate character development – something much more difficult to do in a screen play.
by then I had to earn a living and get a job that paid better than
Marley & Scrooge. So I began writing for corporate clients and
that meant researching their business and learning it from the roots.
Only then could I provide good ideas and sound advice on how best to
communicate with their customers and employees. You often hear
references to writer’s block. I don’t believe in it. If a
writer is blocked, he (or she) is either in need of a vacation or in
need of research.
When I write I am online constantly, a click away from information. I can’t imagine trying to write without that resource now. Beyond that, being able to edit yourself is also hugely important. Admitting the weaknesses in your work and figuring out how to fix them. Best to criticize yourself before someone else does.
The most destructive influence in writing for anyone is rejection. But it comes with the territory and you have to deal with it. Nietzsche once wrote, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Please summarize your writing process. As follow ups, what helps you focus when you write and do you find it easy reading back your own work?
David: Both logic and intuition play a role. A well told story must be logical and any loopholes in the logic of the story or the characters’ behavior or motivation must be plugged, resolved or justified. But for me story construction is very intuitive and I don’t consciously think about it. Instead I let the unanticipated idea work for me. And once I have clearly defined the characters in my own mind, I let them tell me where the story needs to go. I usually have a loose structure and I know where the story is headed, but only in the most general way. I do not outline nor do I resist the spontaneous side track if it illuminates the characters or the context of the whole.
When I am writing I am totally focused. And I write every day. But I am also constantly thinking about the work, weighing the options, figuring out solutions – problem solving basically – even in my sleep. And I do find it easy to re-read because for me writing is about editing – content, the use of the right words, the meter and flow of sentences. I probably spent several months on a single chapter of Shaytan because it was so important to get it just right – a dream sequence in which the hunter Victor Bloodworth meets the Hindu god Hanuman in his battle against the demon leopard – sees his own life come and go and experiences rebirth at the hands of Kalki, the final Avatar of Vishnu – confirming his faith. It is almost an epic poem and it did not come easily.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
family traditions were a blending of southern hospitality on my
mother’s side and the Celtic heritage of my father. Consequently,
with my family there was always a healthy diet of historical context
and influence. My maternal granny Anna Aday and grandpa Kenneth
Smedes came from Alabama and Mississippi respectively; both with
lingering family memories and stories about the Civil War. When their
homes were being evacuated, the Aday women sewed the family silver
into their hoop skirts, to hide it from the Yankee soldiers who
were about to burn the rest of their worldly possessions to the
ground. Granny had retained such an heirloom.
It was a dented silver and cut crystal salt shaker. A Yankee soldier had handed it back to her Aunt Olive (then a child) when it fell from its hiding place underneath her skirt. Grandpa's grandfather was William Crosby Smedes, an attorney and President of the Southern Railroad of Mississippi, a prime target for President Lincoln during the Civil War. W.C. Smedes made his home at Smedes Station in Vicksburg and was a member of Mississippi's Secession Convention. But despite their privileged upbringing, Granny and Grandpa were as humble as apple pie and as sweet as Southern Comfort.
Dad’s parents, the Arthurs, Winnie (aka Ethelwyn) and Cueball (aka Stuart aka Father) came to Dallas from Britain. Winnie (never grandmother or granny) was born in Edinburgh, but she grew up in Stow, a small village in the Scottish Borders. It was a region of many battles between the English and the Scots and perhaps foreshadowed the senior Arthur marriage.
Ball (John Felstead Stuart Arthur) was born in Haworth, West
Yorkshire; a tiny hamlet on the English moors. He was the
son of the Reverend David Stuart Arthur whose name I inherited, but
without his religious fervor. Cue Ball grew up in the
manse of the Baptist Church on West Lane where his father
preached for more than 25 years.
That was Bronte country, as in Charlotte and Emily; as in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The Bronte sisters were born, lived and died in their father’s own parsonage, which was also in Haworth. Cue Ball served as a Captain in the Royal Field Artillery during the Great War; officially the 49th West Riding Brigade, West Yorkshire Regiment, R.F.A. ‘Was you there Charlie?’ he would sometimes proclaim without warning, harkening back to the days and the men who were actually there with him in the trenches on the Western Front.
We learned all these things from an early age. Did this influence my writing? No doubt about it. My Quizzenbury character is very much like my Grandfather Cue Ball. I’m sure Emily is like Winnie, quick with the acerbic barb and sharp wit. Growing up we were also exposed to the classics of literature. And the history of two vastly diverse cultures. History is a cornerstone of all my writing and the distinctiveness of different cultures definitely paints my characters.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for Shaytan and how much research did you do before writing the novel?
David: First let me explain, Shaytan is a story about the hunt for a man-eating leopard, set in India in 1947. While touring the ancient monuments, British explorers Richard and Emily Quizzenbury unexpectedly find themselves involved in the hunt for this man-eater as the guests of Victor Bloodworth, an expert marksman of Anglo-Indian descent. During the course of events, the hunters become the hunted. But that was not always the scenario, nor these the characters.
You see, Shaytan was actually decades in the making.
It all began as a screenplay in 1977-78 while I was living in Los Angeles. Back then it was a story about a tiger and the title was The Man-Eater of Nepal. Over the years, I have picked and prodded at the idea but my producing and directing career (aka earning a living) always took precedent. In 1997, during a production lull, I rewrote the screenplay and re-titled it Shaitan – an Arabic term meaning demon. It was then that the tiger evolved into a leopard and I introduced the Vedic influences and superstitions that so dramatically shape the published book. Many monsoons later in 2011, with the publication of The Kingdom of Keftiu, my first Quizzenbury adventure novel from Brighton Publishing, I came to realize Shaytan could be a perfect vehicle for a Quizzenbury sequel.
As far as the genesis of the original concept, I grew up hunting like most kids in Texas (birds, rabbits, frogs, snakes etc.) and reading about real hunters of dangerous game. One in particular caught my fancy – a man named Jim Corbett, an employee of the Bengal and North Western Railway who had a thrilling career (1907 to 1938) stalking and killing some 33 Indian man-eaters – mostly tigers – but two leopards. I guess I just wanted to write about that kind of adventure. In Shaytan I have incorporated passages of Corbett’s actual book, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, by having Emily Quizzenbury reading it during the hunting expedition and commenting about it in her diary. This was intended to authenticate the incredibly deadly and terrifying behavior of these jungle predators and in that way heighten the believability and the horror factor of my own jungle tale.
I have explained prior, the research was huge and it was constant,
selecting passages of Vedic verse and mantras, exploring the evolving
pantheon of Hindu (Vedic gods) and weaving them into the story,
explaining the context of my saga set at the very time of India’s
independence from the British Raj, describing the history of the
British rail system in India as my principals travel from Bombay into
the forested heart of the Central Provinces where a man-eating
leopard is marauding.
A leopard the natives call Shaytan, which they believe is a demon who wears the skin of a man. Historically, India was the epicenter of world events, because it was the crossroads for the riches of the Far East, spices and silk. Consequently, the battle for control of the trade routes opened the entire world to colonization. The reason Columbus and Magellan sailed west in search of the Indies was to avoid the Portuguese sea lanes. And they discovered the new world. So in many ways Shaytan is a condensed history of the world as put into perspective by my Oxford scholar-adventurer Richard Quizzenbury.
Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of Shaytan that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
I once employed four-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback Terry
Bradshaw as a motivational speaker for a client’s sales conference
and he remarked that in any professional career “you
gotta learn how to sweat.” In my
career I have had many occasions to sweat including insisting that a
very fatigued Mr. Bradshaw come down early after arriving late from a
broadcast the previous night for a meet and greet with the client.
Professional and gentleman that he is, Terry was perfectly willing to
Generally, thanks to the First Amendment to the constitution, there are few if any areas I am afraid to venture in my writing – as long as what I am saying is the truth. Indeed, I delight in exposing controversy and myths propagated by history – such as Christopher Columbus – a mass murderer of hundreds of thousands of Caribbean native inhabitants – who is celebrated annually due to FDR’s Presidential edict – promoting the popular delusion that he discovered America when he got no closer than the Island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic/Haiti) – and went to his grave believing he had discovered the East Indies – despite the absence of spices. In my writing stepping outside the comfort zone is fair game as long as it is truth.
Norm: How did you go about creating the characters of Richard Quizzenbury, his wife Emily and their friend Victor Bloodworth? Is there much of you in Richard and/or Victor?
David: Richard and Emily were created in my first Quizzenbury novel, The Kingdom of Keftiu. It is a historical adventure mystery, an exploration of the ancient ruins on the island of Santorini (c. 1936) and an investigation into the truth behind the myth of Atlantis. Richard is an affluent historical cum archeological sleuth and he organizes an expedition to Santorini, based upon an ancient papyrus and a golden ring he acquires through somewhat questionable means in Cairo. Emily is an expedition member, a university trained archaeologist in ceramics. They meet, hate one another and ultimately decide to get married.
Victor is a character in Shaytan, which is a thriller. The most difficult part was inserting Richard and Emily Quizzenbury into the hunt for a dangerous predator, since they are archaeologists and explorers but not wild game hunters. Why would they go hunting a man-eater? I somehow needed to make the pieces fit. (Resolve the logic.) I already had the hunter in my screenplay Shaitan, Carson Bloodworth, an Englishman. I wanted to differentiate him from Richard (too many Englishmen in one hut) but at the same time I had to link them logically and believably. The link was Oxford University. I decided to make them school boy chums – World War I vintage. Change Carson’s name to Victor. Make Victor half-English, half Indian.
His Hindi name is Sanjay, which means victorious – a good name for a hunter. He is also illegitimate. His English father – who never married his Indian mother – was a professional big game hunter – deceased thanks to a pack of hungry lions in Kenya. Next I gave Victor an Indian uncle on his mother’s side – Ashok Kahn – once Victor’s father’s hunting guide – now Victor’s hunting guide, religious guru, stern mentor and fierce protector. One final twist –
Victor is a skilled hunter thanks to his father and uncle – but he is a conservationist and intends to take the man-eater alive! And thus the premise is resolved: On a post-WW II expedition to India, at a time when Hindus and Muslims are killing each other by the millions, Richard and Emily Quizzenbury visit Victor Bloodworth at his estate in Bombay. He has been commissioned to hunt a man-eater. Over dinner their first night together, Victor invites his old Oxford pal Richard and wife Emily to accompany him on the hunt. Being bold English adventurers, naturally they accept – how can they refuse the experience of a lifetime? So begins their journey into evil – and they are soon plunged into an alien world in which time marches to the pulse of the cosmos – where the spiritual and the supernatural merge and reality shares equal footing with illusion. And none will go unscathed.
Am I any of those characters? Maybe.
David: I began working on the first Quizzenbury, Kingdom, years ago as a conventional novel – author knows all and speaks for every character. I was never comfortable with that – author as god. I finally discovered, after the second or third reading, that Bram stoker in Dracula had solved my problem. Each character tells different parts of the same story through different voices in their personal journals, which happened to fit perfectly for my chronologies, 1935-1947, when diaries were still a popular convention.
In the words of one supportive reviewer: “I loved how this story was told. You’ll read this as journal entries from Richard, Emily, and Victor. They each wrote about what was happening and shared their thoughts. This made it very easy to understand their actions. The characters do, as they say, wax philosophical, and each contributes their own knowledge and beliefs, leading to many late night discussions with a good nip of brandy or gin. They don’t always agree and I also enjoyed the subtle disdain when one didn’t agree with the other.”
The use of private journals and different voices allows me to tell a large story on an intimate scale and for the most part keep the chapters short and the pages turning.
Norm: Do you agree that to have good drama there must be an emotional charge (or change?) that usually comes from the individual squaring off against antagonists either out in the world or within himself or herself? If so, please elaborate and how does it fit into Shaytan?
David: Yes I agree drama should involve transformation – but in different ways for different characters.
For Victor the transformation is profound – an acceptance of his Hindu faith through a spiritual encounter with his ancient gods and a deadly confrontation with evil – in the form of a real demon – a man-eating leopard. For Richard – there is no fundamental change but a reaffirmation of his primary belief that truth is sacred and through scholarly exploration, the myths of history and religion can be exposed for what they are – an elaborate deception of innocence and the naive – and that evil exists, not as some demonic supernatural influence, but as a result of man’s inherent corruption.
Richard also latches on to a favorite bit of Vedic wisdom. Truth is one; the wise call it by many names.
For Emily, who is a cynic and a woman of Christian faith, she experiences perhaps the most subtle metamorphosis, because she is the objective observer of the men and their individual struggles with the forces of nature and the imaginary demons haunting them. She must reconcile their shared experiences with her own beliefs and quotes this verse from a Vedic text.
Oh! Creator of the Universe, may we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light.
May Thou guide our intellect on the righteous path.
Does it really matter if his name is Shiva?
Norm: Did you know the end of your novel at the beginning and what is the most favorite part of your book?
David: I knew the end in some ways because I had written the story many times as a screenplay. But it was always changing. In the final analysis, I surprised myself with the ending because I always try to have a last minute twist, an ah-ha and I found one, as I did in Keftiu. But you’ll have to read it to find out what I mean. (Hint: each one has to do with ancient artifacts that are part of the story.)
My favorite part of the book is Victor’s dream sequence, which he experienced repeatedly while convalescing in hospital after his near-death confrontation with the leopard. I agonized over every word but I think it was worth it. And he too quotes a famous Vedic invocation to his gods.
I do not wish to know the mystery of your works.
I only desire to be assured of your goodness.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing Shaytan and what was it? As a follow up, if you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Shaytan?
I learned an enormous amount writing Shaytan
and also Keftiu.
In addition to being adventures, they are books about the history of
civilization. I write for the thrill of
discovery and I want my readers to share that experience. Palaces
in the jungle. Monuments in the desert. Lost cities and buried
treasures. Ancient religions, myths and legends. My novels
are journeys into mysterious worlds and distant lands.
I'm curious about what shaped the destiny of empires. What unexpected
events influenced human progress? What has been misplaced in the
rubble of antiquity? What I enjoy most is peeling back the layers of
time, digging up forgotten facts, looking for connections between
conjecture and truth, searching for answers about who we are as a
My intent is to entertain by taking my readers to exotic places they may never go and revealing things they might never know. Would I change anything about Shaytan? Maybe I’d put back some of the 120 pages my publisher diplomatically and perhaps quite rightly requested I should cut out of my original manuscript.
Norm: Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
David: I have a full plate of projects. A new Quizzenbury novel set in Scotland, dealing with Shakespeare and the mystery surrounding Macbeth. See my WEBSITE. And a number of screen projects including adaptations of my novels. You can read more about them on this page of my web site.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your novels?
David: My WEBSITE
And my FACEBOOK PAGE
You can also reach me on Twitter at: shaytanauthor@shaytanauthor1 and David S. Arthur@davidsarthur1
Both books are available on AMAZON and Barnes & Noble, or the local book seller.
Norm: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your novels, but nobody has?
David: Actually the question I prefer to quote is what everybody who has read my books asks: Why are they not movies?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
David: Thank you Norm. Many thanks!