Three years is the time it took American author A P Duvall to write his debut novel Ichor. ‘And the entire time,’ says the recently turned 31-year-old, ‘I never knew if it was going to be finished or if anyone would ever read it.’ As the Florida-based author utters these words, I sense a mystical depth in his voice, a depth that cannot be described in words. Be that as it may, the sentences he constructs are well-articulated, and soon an urge develops deep within me to get to know and understand the author, who, by the way, pets a dog and a few cats.
Controlling my urge, I ask him to talk at length about Ichor, and he begins by telling me that the very first chapter of the book came in a flash, making him laugh, so he made a note of it and sat on it for a long time. ‘Ichor was strange at first,’ Duvall says with a laugh. ‘It started in one of those moments where your mind is empty and an idea strikes,’ he tells me, adding, ‘I had this idea for the first chapter and some more scattered ideas, so I thought to just throw it all in a pot together and decided to see what the hell would happen.’
Duvall also lets out that he didn’t really have the entire plot in mind before he started working upon Ichor. ‘I had vague ideas of who I wanted the main characters to be, and others only revealed themselves when writing,’ he shares, going on to say, ‘The plot, especially the ending, changed drastically from beginning to end, but I knew how I wanted the audience to feel at the end, so that’s what I aimed for.’ There’s a large section of the novel, about three-quarters of the way through that Duvell had no idea what to do with, but he had written himself into a corner. ‘And the only way out’, Duvall says, ‘was through’. He explains, ‘Once I got over the fear of not doing my idea justice, I just went for it, and of course, it became one of the easier sections of the book to write. So much so that there’s probably another novel worth of ideas just from that section alone that I just had to shelve because the novel didn’t need them!’
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Explaining Ichor’s storyline, Duvall says, ‘There’s an alien force that’s looking to stop the destruction of the universe, and they’re looking for any intelligent life in the cosmos that might hold an answer. They land in a small Floridian town that resembles the one where I grew up, and they unleash chaos, and no one knows why.’ Divulging the fact that this was his first attempt at a novel, and if it was going to be something, he wanted to swing big, Duvall, who started getting serious about writing when he was about seventeen, adds, ‘But ideas came with a lot of starts and stops. I’d spend months trying to figure out how to get from A to B and do it in a way that felt honest to how I saw the world, people, and storytelling. Life seemed to always find a way to point me in the right direction, and eventually, I hit the end and realized that as different as it was from what I thought it would be, it was everything I wanted it to be.’
Wanting to get to know about his personal life, I ask him to tell me a bit about his journey as a writer. Soon, Duvall begins talking about his childhood days, telling me he knew as a child that he always wanted to write. ‘I felt I was pretty good at it,’ he states, adding, ‘I read a lot as a kid, always wanted to read beyond what was approved for kids my age; and I was never discouraged from reading what I wanted. For a long time, I thought I was going to direct movies, write my own screenplays and all that, but I eventually realized I probably don’t have the patience that would be required.’
Nonetheless, it looks like writing novels and poems became more of Duvall’s style. In fact, while entering high school, Duvall already had it in his head that he was going to be some kind of writer, so a lot of things fell by the wayside. ‘I became kind of drunk on being creative – I couldn’t really help it or stop it. I’d write short stories, screenplays, poems – it didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to create something that would get a reaction from anybody,’ he explains. It was only then that the author’s need just ‘festered and grew’ over the years. ‘Finally, I was lucky enough to marry someone who wanted me to get serious about my passion, so I decided to be original and write a novel,’ he lets out with a laugh.
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On being asked what inspires him to write, the author, who loves to watch movies while procrastinating, doesn’t take a second to splutter author Stephen King’s name. Calling the veteran’s ability to hold his readers’ attention amazing, Duvall states, ‘I am in awe of how he can pull it off. As a horror writer, I have to bow at the altar of Stephen King.’ David Wong, who wrote the ‘John Dies at the End’ series is another source of inspiration for Duvall. ‘I knew of him from his comedy articles, then discovered he wrote a book, and it was incredible,’ he says. Besides, renowned late author Kurt Vonnegut also came into Duvall’s life at a ‘very weird time’. ‘And books like Slaughterhouse V, Timequake, and Breakfast of Champions, made me laugh, cry, think – all the things a great book is supposed to do. The way Vonnegut saw humanity was really helpful to me, not only in real life, but also in drawing characters,’ says Duvall, and I only end up finding his thoughts resonating with mine.
Talking about his works-in-progress, Duvall, who uses music to help him write, says he is planning to release a collection of poetry sometime next year. ‘I’m thinking of doing a short story collection as well,’ he lets me know. And is there anything that he would like to tell budding authors who lose motivation if their works don’t succeed? ‘I think I would like to stress that it’s good to absorb as much as you can and wherever you can. Undoubtedly, you’ll have a lot to learn and you won’t even know which questions to ask, but all you can do is get to work.’
On being asked what’s the thing that he would want to be changed in the world, Duvall doesn’t take more than a second to give me his answer. ‘Greed seems to be the thing that is behind most catastrophes, plights, and sufferings, he says, adding, ‘so toning that down would probably change all things drastically for the good’. Although he feels it’s natural for humans to covet, he is not for what he calls ‘unquenchable greed’. ‘We’ve seen what such greed does to individuals, entire groups of people, and the whole of the planet,’ he signs off on a serious note.