Extraordinary Adventures: A Journey of Discovery 

An exclusive Authorlink interview

By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris

October 2017


Extraordinary Adventures
by Daniel Wallace

Buy this Book
at Amazon.com

Daniel Wallace is not particularly interested in tracking the origin of his latest novel Extraordinary Adventures. In the years it takes to write a book, Wallace says the creation of the writing starts to get fictionalized.

“The story I am sticking to is I wrote a sentence that became the germ of all that followed. I wrote: Edsel Bronfman won a prize. His name is so explicitly him. Having won a prize, he is the kind of person it meant a lot to. From there I had to follow him around in the world and see what he would do.” said Wallace.

“I don’t have a plan or a plot. I don’t know what my books are about until after I write and publish them . . .”

Wallace wrote a short story about Edsel, then another and another. Over the next five years he ended up with eight or nine stories that helped build the novel.

“I try not to think when I’m writing. I don’t have a plan or a plot. I don’t know what my books are about until after I write and publish them,” said Wallace. “I don’t want that much control. I want the story to be a thing apart. I try to have fun, and be on the same process of discovery that the reader is on.”

Edsel is also on a journey of discovery. He lives in a rundown apartment complex, works as a junior executive, doesn’t use technology and isn’t close to anyone besides his mother.

In the novel, Edsel’s routine is disrupted when he wins a weekend for two in Destin, Florida in exchange for listening to a presentation on real estate. So begins his seventy-nine day quest to find a partner to accompany him on the trip.  In the course of the journey he tries to unpack a shadowy sexual experience from his past and determine whether or not he is a virgin.

“Edsel is breaking out and discovering who he is in the world at 34. I like the idea that things don’t happen to people at the same time. It is not a race,” said Wallace, who wrote for 14 years before publishing his first book and describes Extraordinary Adventures as his first serious comic novel.

“Agents have a distance you don’t and see things you don’t.”

Wallace found the ending of the novel late in the writing. “A lot of this work gets done in the dark. I need a long time to figure out whether or not something is working in the story.”

He went through a robust revision process with his agent, working on five additional drafts. “Agents have a distance you don’t and see things you don’t.”

Wallace went through the process again with his editor Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s Press, who did line and scene by scene edits.

“We definitely put a lot of meat on the bones and cut away the fat. The book just got better and better. She saw what could make this book the best version of itself.”

He believes the reason some writers don’t publish is that once they do they have to stop working on it. “Once you publish a novel it ceases to exist for the author. You don’t have anything more to do then and it is sad.” 

Wallace, the author of six novels, loves the process of diving deeply into a new projects. He brings the same enthusiasm to his role as the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his alma mater, where he directs the Creative Writing Program.

“When I am teaching a class of twenty students I’m really teaching twenty different classes. My job is to stay open and sensitive to what works for different writers and let them discover their own process.”

Wallace believes you can teach plot and characterization and the more nuanced art of being more conscious in the world and more sensitive to and brave about sharing ideas and feelings. “You can’t teach anyone to be a great writer. You can provide them with the tools necessary to be great, if they are going to be great.”

“Rejection is not a bad thing. I wrote five novels before my first one was published”

Rejection is an essential part of the process, according to Wallace, who had an article in the recent issue of Poets and Writers on his inability to get a short story in The New Yorker. He brings in a big box of rejections in to show students in class.

“Rejection is not a bad thing. I wrote five novels before my first one was published. It was devastating, but it would have been a terrible thing if they were published. There was not a lot there. Rejection was part of my education. If you believe in what you have you just have to stick with it.”

Wallace, a cartoonist as well as a writer, has written books for children and is the creator of popular animated book reviews done by Maddie the dog.

For now, Wallace is in the discovery process of a new illustrated story, a nonfiction piece on his brother-in-law and mentor William Nealy, a well-known cartoonist and creator of illustrated sports manuals that have a cult following, who committed suicide in 2001.

About the Author

Daniel Wallace is author of six novels, including Big Fish(1998), Ray in Rever se (2000), The Watermelon King (2003), Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician (2007), The Kings and Queens of Roam (2013), and most recently Extraordinary Adventures (May 2017).  His children’s book, published in 2014, and for which he did both the words and the pictures, is called The Cat’s Pajamas. In 2003 Big Fish was adapted and released as a movie and then in 2013 the book and the movie were mish-mashed together and became a Broadway musical. His novels have been translated into over two-dozen languages.

For more information see: https://us.macmillan.com/extraordinaryadventures/danielwallace/9781250118455

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.