Dacia M Arnold!
So, in continuing my "Indie August" series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dacia M Arnold. A recent transplant to Pennsylvania from Colorado and an armed services veteran, she served as a combat medic in the Army. Now with me being former Air Force, I won't hold her choice of military branch against her. Especially since accounts of her ten-year Army career have appeared in The New York Times (November 2019) and the award-winning military history magazine, Full Mag Volume III (Full Magazine Press, 2021). I mean, you gotta respect that, right? Not to mention her military experiences would serve her well in her civil occupations. And, as you will read in the interview, serve as a springboard influence for her dystopian sci-fi "DiaZem" series. Now, let it begin.
KD: What got you into the writing industry?
Dacia M Arnold: My father published a book when he retired from the Army. When I was getting out of the Army I read it. I got a job working the night shift at a very slow emergency room (shades different than Baghdad ER). I was bored and decided to take a stab at writing my own story. That stab, two years later, was signed to a small publisher and is what the world knows as Apparent Power.
KD: How long have you been writing overall?
Dacia M Arnold: Since 2015, so six years ago. But I’ve only been writing for less than five of those six years. I did absolutely no writing after the release of Resistance in 2020 because of working COVID response for the State of Colorado.
KD: Resistance is Book Four of the series. Give us an overall view of the DiaZem series.
Dacia M Arnold: Crap hits the fan, and a mom saves the world instead of a teenage girl. A dormant gene awakens in a quarter of the population. A totalitarian government rises to maintain the purity of that gene. The best way to control a mass amount of people is to have less people, and Valerie Russell stands between the New World Council and worldwide genocide.
KD: That's pretty deep...and intriguing. Now, I read Apparent Power. The first of four in the series. With it being dystopian sci-fi, how much research went into the series itself? How long did it take to pen?
Dacia M Arnold: I did a lot of research around metabolic science and the functions of DNA, RNA, and a ton of other physiological systems of the body. There is a whisper of the people of Atlantis, but that rabbit hole isn’t a key player in the storyline.
KD: That's bringing to mind for me a bit of Robin Cook and Michael Crichton. So, Valerie Russell, your main character, clearly had some tough decisions to make. Is a bit of you in Valerie, or was she inspired by someone else?
Dacia M Arnold: The biggest thing I struggled with when I got out of the Army was not having a critical role in disaster response. In the Army, I knew where to go, where to get my orders, and exactly what to do. As a civilian, I held all this crazy knowledge and skills but felt they would go to waste if no one knew I could help.
Writing a dystopian world let me play out a “Sh*t Hitting the Fan” scenario and map my way to survival, not only for myself but my children also. Being a mother and soldier aren't identities that can exist at the same time. You’re first a soldier, then you are whatever else you have time for. As a civilian, it was the ONLY identity I had, and it was not easy to navigate.
Valerie Russell started out as me in an apocalypse situation, but evolved into her own person and was managed by a Myers-Briggs personality to keep her consistent. The last we see of Valerie in the series isn’t who she started out as at all.
KD: Any other projects in the works?
Dacia M Arnold: I wish I was only working on finishing Book Five (of the DiaZem series), but I have two other shorter books coming out before Book Five next year.
Dirty Bombs follows a soldier in Iraq who is experiencing biological warfare in the form of tainted bombs that turns casualties into zombies.
During my first deployment to Baghdad, a friend let me read World War Z by Max Brooks. This led to years of stress dreams about zombies attacking my compound in Iraq. Fourteen years later, this story is coming to life and I am really excited about it.
The other book is called The Executioner and is not based on any life experience, but is a lot of fun to write. It’s a violently sexy thriller with a twisted ending. That’s all I’ll give away, but it's based on a shorter story from my collection, The Brightest Firefly (currently free on Amazon).
I am currently pitching my memoir to literary agents. It’s called Memoirs of a Dacia: The Super Woman Next Door. This inspired my new podcast, "The Super Woman Next Door" where regular everyday women tell their secret heroic stories they live without anyone otherwise ever knowing.
KD: What are your thoughts on the writing and publishing industry overall?
Dacia M Arnold: My thoughts on the industry… I’m just happy to be a part of it. My personal goal is to have a bigger part; to be a name people use when someone needs help, advice, or just to use my experience as an example. So many people graciously sat me down and pointed me in the right direction. The least I could do is offer the same guidance and continue to feed the monster.
The industry is a unique one in that ANYONE can choose to dabble or work their butts off to hone the craft of writing and make something of themselves. There are many arbitrary aspects of publishing, but learning each aspect will not only make you a well-rounded writer, you’ll learn transferable skills you can use outside of the literary industry.
I’ve been both traditionally published, and independently published. No one is going to respect your time and work more than you. Granted, there are hidden gems who will give your work the right amount of attention, but if you’re doing the majority of the leg work as far as publishing goes, you’re almost always better off publishing yourself and getting the most amount of royalties per book.
KD: What advice would you have for other writers?
Dacia M Arnold: So much advice. The best advice I could give is to be disgustingly optimistic. If you don’t believe in you, you’ll have convinced someone else to, and you’re going to need them when things get hard.
Listen to and consider ALL criticism objectively. This skill can be transferred to personal and professional settings too. When we know better, we do better.
Read read read read read. I struggled a lot with this because there is a level of guilt associated with sitting down and blocking out the rest of the world to read. Audiobooks are not “cheating”. When you’re driving, doing dishes, or other tasks that don’t require your brain, listen to a book. I would often say “If I have time to read, I have time to write.” You really have to prioritize reading into an everyday schedule.
KD: Pretty solid advice right there. Who were/are your writing influences?
Dacia M Arnold: Margaret Atwood, Veronica Roth, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Gillian Flynn, pretty much everyone I’ve ever read. This recently includes Josh Malerman. The fun thing about stories is you can't unread them. They add a layer to the lens through which you view life. The smell of lavender and peppermint influence my writing. As do coffee and tea. Music especially. Writing is so immersive for me that I will literally grab onto anything within my mental reach to build an immersive experience on the page.
KD: I like that your influences aren't just other writers, but senses and sensations as well. What makes your pen flow? In other words, what inspires you to write?
Dacia M Arnold: Dreams. I rely a lot on my subconscious to solve many of my plot problems in writing. Also, if I’m not sleeping, there is zero chance of me writing anything of substance. I drink a lot of coffee, tea, water, or broth while writing and keep open bottles of essential oils nearby. When I take a break, instead of scrolling social media, I’ll smell one of these and get back into writing.
“What next?” Helps me keep the story going. “Where do we need to go? How do we get there?” are driving questions that challenge me to push through boring parts of writing.
KD: Little known fact: there are indeed boring parts to writing. So, if readers want to know more about Dacia M Arnold, where would they go?
Dacia M Arnold: All of my social media tags and even my website are all the same: http://daciamarnold.com (be sure to include the middle initial). I mostly hang out on Facebook, but Instagram and Twitter are platforms I use frequently too.