Though a relative newcomer to writing, author T. Allen Diaz has a pair of titles under his belt that have quickly established him as a name to watch in the dark science fiction genre. A lifelong resident of the Tampa Bay area, where he serves as a firefighter, Diaz published his first novel, Procythian Reign, in February of 2013. The book tells the tale of Laura Clabar, who lives a life of luxury and privilege as the niece of a powerful ore baron. But when Laura falls for a member of the working class, she begins to question her role in society.
Diaz released the second book in The Proceena Trilogy, entitled The Proceena Crusade, in March of 2014.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
Childhood’s a funny thing. I used to think that I had the best life in the world. In hindsight, it was a much more complex than that. I had a few friends with whom I would run and play. But, I was an only child for eight years and learned to entertain myself. I would go out into the woods or ride my bike. I loved to read and daydream. I used to go to my room or out in the backyard and imagine up stories and adventures in which I was often the main character. I think that really fostered a vivid imagination.
My home life was okay. I learned that anger and love could coexist. It was a lesson I would learn too well and it would later cost me a marriage. My folks taught me to believe in myself. My dad taught me that people would not always like me and that was okay. He also cautioned me to never make fun of anyone for not being good-looking or smart, and to have compassion for those less fortunate. It’s one of my most important life lessons and I hope it’s one I’ve learned well.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences?
I would have to say that the single biggest influence on me was history. The stories of men like George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Thomas Jackson captured my imagination. I became enraptured with history, especially the Civil War! I read every Civil War book in my school library. My parents bought me the Time-Life books on the Civil War. I would get one every other month. Each book would be read in a day.
I gravitated towards Stephen King during my adolescent years and remember gobbling up Pet Cemetery, The Dark Half, and Needful Things. I was impressed with all the moving parts of Needful Things and loved the complexities of all the stories and how they wove together into a single piece at the end.
I also enjoyed some of the classics: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and Animal Farm by George Orwell were both books that appealed to me for their portrayal of Humanity as a flawed and corrupt creature. I believe you’ll find those concepts alive and well in my works, too.
What was the inspiration behind the story of The Proceena Trilogy?
I suppose the trilogy started as a space opera that would, more-or-less be The Proceena Crusade, though it bears little resemblance to the original version. I wrote the first couple of chapters and let my friend Charles read it. He was blunt and honest. In a word: it was terrible. I went back and tried to find a better story there. I wanted to do something different, something that wasn’t a bad Star Wars knock off.
Then, one day, I had a dream. It was one of those non sequitur visions of a medieval coastal town besieged by a fleet of wooden Man o’ War-type ships. There were friends in this town who for reasons I’m not sure I ever remembered didn’t get along very well. One of them was the daughter of the king. I remember jealousy and fear. I also remembered that they watched the entire siege on T.V. If you read Procythian Reign, you’ll recognize most of those influences.
After that, it was just a matter of continuing the story.
What sort of challenges did you face in writing from the perspective of a female protagonist?
I don’t feel I was hampered by writing from a female point-of-view. After all, women are people, too. I like strong characters who are self-reliant and deal with their own problems. It’s a trait I try to put in all of my characters (male and female, hero and villain). I did find it difficult to put my protagonist in Procythian Reign in physical danger. I didn’t want to turn her into a Princess Leia, who shot down bad guys with military precision when her background was more spoiled aristocratic socialite than military-trained warrior. I hope I did a good job, but it’s the reader who gets to hand down the final verdict on that.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Stephen King says something to the effect that if you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or tools necessary to write. I think I agree with that. I read a book or two book a month and listen to two or three more. I think it’s great to see how others approach the craft and I feel it sharpens my mind and helps hone my skills.
I find that I really write faster and make more progress when I’m reading others. I think it helps keep that part of the brain active and exercised.
What’s the story behind your most prominent scar?
That’s a funny story. Not counting a chicken pox scar, I only have one scar and it’s kind of boring. But, there is the scar that wasn’t. I’m a mild-mannered firefighter by day and sci-fi novelist by night. About ten or twelve years ago, my department changed the face pieces we wear on our breathing apparatus. The new masks had an earpiece because it integrated our radios with the air system.
So, I was on my way to a working townhome fire and my nomex hood caught on the speaker that sat right next to my ear. This left a slight crease of skin from my temple to my lower jaw exposed. I’m getting dressed in a fire truck going down the road, there’s no mirror and I’d dressed this way hundreds of times without issue, so I didn’t think to feel along the edges of my face piece.
We arrive at a fire that is still one of the hottest I’ve been in to this day. I was on the nozzle and was being backed up by an awesome firefighter who has since been promoted to one of the best captains in our department. Every time I opened the nozzle, the steam would come down on me and find that crease of exposed skin.
It was as intense a pain as I’ve ever felt, but this is the fire department. You don’t drop the nozzle and run because you’re getting a little singed, and fires like this don’t come along every day. So, I would put out a little fire, the pain would become unbearable, I would shut down the nozzle, and turn my head to try to protect my face.
The guy behind me doesn’t know what’s going on, so he tells me to keep moving, that there’s a lot of fire left to be put out. I told him that it was hot and that I was getting burned. He says, “Of course it’s hot! The building’s on fire!” Well, we put out the fire, and he went upstairs to deal with fire that had extended to the second floor. I got pulled out because of my injury.
Later, I went to the hospital with a second degree burn that went from my temple to my jaw. I really wanted it to scar. What a great story, right? But it didn’t. I still joke with that guy about when he tried to burn my face off, and we laugh.
If you could change one thing about the world of society, what would it be?
I really think I’d try to get people to stop taking themselves and their views so seriously. Everyone has a story and a reason for being who they are. If we could accept that people believe in different things and worship in different ways without judging or hating, it might still be an imperfect world, but it would be a far better place.
I think it’s our most tragic flaw. It’s also one that makes us so fascinating. I’ve worked to put some of those flaws into my characters, because, like I said: it’s fascinating.
What are you working on next?
That’s a pretty tough one. I tend to be secretive about my upcoming projects, but I am almost 75,000 words into the first draft of the final installment of The Proceena Trilogy. I’m hoping to have it done by the fall. It’s going to be close. So, we’ll see.
After that, I’d like to try to get another Lunatic City installment done. And then, I have a really exciting project that will be a whole new direction for me. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that it’s an ambitious multi-book fantasy series! After that, I’m toying with another futuristic noir series with a very different feel and concept as Lunatic City.
So much to do and so little time.