Uplifting Conversations

Creative Careers Interviews

David Duggins: Author, Publisher, Musician

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Posted 6/1/07 | Updated 1/21/21

David DugginsDavid Duggins is the CEO of Voidgunner Press, and publisher and editor of the online magazine, Spacesuits and Sixguns. Currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories, as well as a new musical CD, this man of many talents has graciously taken some time from his busy schedule to speak out about creating a fun career in the arts. Read Dave's writing advice on Creativity Portal.

Q: What was your first job as a young man?

A: I had a paper route from seventh grade until I graduated from high school. My classmates teased me for keeping it when I could have made more money working a fast food job, but I loved it. It was a small town. I walked the whole route and then walked home, which left plenty of time for "daydreaming" stories. And my customers were also a rich source of inspiration.

Q: How did you make the leap from your day job to your dream job?

A: I got hit by a car, that's how. Nothing like a head-on collision with a drunk driver to give you some perspective. I was working three jobs — my full-time Air Force job and two part-time. I wanted to get out of debt and start my retirement on a good footing. But I didn't make that much extra money, and I never saw my family. My kids were like, "who's that guy?" After the accident, I started the websites, which evolved from a hobby into a full-time gig very quickly. It was love. That's the simplest way to explain it.

Q: The publishing world is notoriously competitive. What advice do you have for young professionals hoping to break into this field?

A: There is no competition. Write inside yourself, from the center outward. Write for yourself. Publishing has the appearance of a competitive industry, but the appearance is a lie. True competition only exists where fixed criteria can be measured objectively. Football is competitive because it's easy to measure who throws a ball farther, who runs faster. There are no objective criteria for measuring creative writing in a meaningful way. What constitutes a good story? Ask any group of five people and you'll get five different answers.

You have no competition. There is only one you. Fill your fictional world with your thoughts, your feelings, observations and philosophies. Live in it. That's hard enough without obsessing over who's number one on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Q: Describe a typical day at work. How do you schedule time for all of these different creative projects?

A: I don't — or I didn't until my recent hosting troubles forced me into crisis management mode. I'm still catching up from that. But normally, I have a lot of projects that have "soft" deadlines and I just choose what I want to work on each night. I'm a night person, so my work "day" starts at about 9:30 p.m. and runs until about 4 a.m. I work at least a couple of hours every day, so I don't have "days off " as such — but then, I don't really need them because what I'm doing doesn't feel like work.

Spacesuits and Sixguns has a hard deadline — and I hate the fact that the current issue is late, but it's unavoidable — but I have three months to prepare each issue. I normally have everything ready to go apart from a little polish a full month ahead of time. Again, the work is really enjoyable and I often devote entire evenings to it.

Inspiration is very important to me. Without it, I don't do good work. So I build plenty of flexibility into my work "schedule" so I never feel forced to do something.

Q: Explain the Basic Critique and Deep Critique processes in depth, so we have a clear understanding of how it all works, and how a writer's work can benefit from your critiques.

A: The Basic Critique is a two to three-page analysis of your story broken down into ten categories: title, setup/opening paragraphs, plot, exposition, setting, character, dialogue, pace, theme, and conclusion. I address your writing's strengths, what I see as your natural advantages, and break down areas that could be improved.

The Deep Critique builds upon that, with a line-by-line analysis, really digging into the meat of your work. The Deep Critique can be tough, but it is very instructive, especially early in your career. I had one done following several rejections as a young writer. I took what I learned from that and sold the next five stories I wrote — first market, first submission. It saved me months — maybe years — of trial and error, and I have never forgotten what I learned. The Deep Critique costs $47/4,000 words. Additional pages are charged at a flat per-page fee rate.

TANGENT: To fully experience the Deep Critique process myself, I sent Dave a copy of an unpublished short story I wrote a few years ago. It was recently rejected by an editor, and I wanted to find out how I could improve it. Dave's ideas and insights were wonderful. He gave me a lot of great ideas and resources for fleshing out the story's characters, stepping up the action, and improving the overall flow and structure of this work. I found his analysis of the story immensely valuable.

Sometimes, as a writer, you're just too close to your work to see what needs to be changed. That's where a critique comes in handy. Someone else can see so clearly the things you were blind to. This story came to me whole, in one piece; it was almost like taking dictation from the Muses, and I was afraid to change it. I think the most important lesson he taught me is that there's nothing holy about the first draft. It is merely a foundation for the completed work — something solid to build upon. Dave, thank you for giving me the tools I need to build the rest of the house!

Q: How do you unwind and relax? What is your favorite way to spend your free time?

A: I watch "Ben 10" with my five-year-old son, "Animaniacs" with my wife, help my daughter change her outfit for the fiftieth time — just hang out with the family. But I don't really need "unwind and relax" time that much because I spend 98% of my time doing what I love. My work is very relaxing. I'm totally loose and in the flow when I'm working. If something prevents me from working, that's when I get tense.

Q: Do you ever feel abandoned by the Muse? How do you deal with feeling stuck in the muck, blah, or just generally uninspired?

A: If I'm uninspired, I do something that inspires me. I don't write every day. Life is about experience. It's about growth. If you're uninspired, it's probably because you haven't learned anything new today. Go learn something new. Do something you have never done before. Then come back and write. Life is not a support system for writing. It's the other way around.

Q: What helps to recharge your creative batteries? How do you stay juicy and full of fresh ideas?

A: Live consciously. Be awake. There's a lot of stuff going on. When's the last time you were 100% aware of your drive to work? Most of us don't even remember how we got there. Check it out — something is going on that will reward your attention, and something different will reward your attention every day.

Here's a little exercise: for the next sixty seconds, try to be consciously aware of everything that is going on around you. Open your senses and let it all flood in — every sight, sound, smell and sensation. If you do this successfully, when that minute is over, you will be completely exhausted. Life is so full. There is so much going on. We spend most of our lives aware of only about 5% of it.

Q: Describe the experience of starting your own online magazine. What inspired you to create "Spacesuits and Sixguns"?

A: I was laid up after the car accident — arm in a cast, legs bashed. I couldn't write. I couldn't drive. I was pretty stuck. My wife said, "you need to find something meaningful to do with your time." She didn't say because you're driving me crazy, but she didn't really need to.

When I drew a blank trying to figure out what to do, she filled that in, too. "You've always said you wanted to start your own magazine," she said. "You need two hands to write, but you don't need two hands to read, do you?"

I put up guidelines at popular resource websites and started getting stories three days later. I've always loved pulp fiction, so I knew that's what I was going to publish. I try to freshen the approach by keeping it contemporary (but I'm about to break that rule in #3).

Q: What are the challenges you faced? What are some of the rewarding aspects of working in this field?

A: Putting together a magazine is expensive. There is very little precedent for monetizing this kind of content. People are used to web content being free. Each issue has cost around $750, so in a sense it's still not a business. The coaching side of the house pays for it. But I absolutely love doing it, so I'll figure something out.

That's really the only challenge, and it isn't a big one. I just haven't focused on it yet. The rest of it is all fun. I'm the editor, layout designer, publisher and content provider. All those jobs are fun. There is not one aspect of this that bores me — nothing I would farm out to somebody else if I could. It's easy and fun because I expect that. I meet wonderful, talented people every day — mostly via email, but those contacts are enriching and inspirational. My life is filled with amazing people because of the work I do.

Q: As you look to the future, what are your goals and dreams? Where do you want to be in 10 years?

A: I want to grow Voidgunner Press into a specialty house with a fiction imprint and a secondary imprint that sells high-quality coffee table art books featuring the artists I publish in Spacesuits and Sixguns. I have a couple of other web businesses I'll be growing in the next year. I've been a musician and composer for years as well, and I'm working on music for a new CD. I have a novel and a short story anthology to publish. Lots of irons in the fire.

Q: If you could travel through time to pay a visit to your thirteen-year-old self, what type of advice would you give your younger self?

A: Keep doing what you're doing. You're going to turn into a pretty cool grownup.

Q: What makes you smile, shine, and glow inside?

A: The look on a person's face when they begin to realize what they're really capable of. I was getting my teeth cleaned a couple of months ago and told the dental tech what I do. She got really excited and said that she had gone to school for graphic arts and had always wanted to get a job as an artist. I said, "so why don't you?" Her mother had given her the old "get a real job" spiel, and she'd bought it.

I asked her if she loved being a dental tech. She said no. She liked it, but she really wanted to draw. She just wasn't sure she could make any money at it. I told her she could not only make money at it, but make a career of it — a very lucrative career that would support a very comfortable lifestyle. I told her she could do enough research to get her portfolio together and start prospecting within thirty days. I gave her some ideas about setting up a plan, daily goals to help her get to the big goal.

I don't think anyone had ever said, "Yes, you can," to her, but once I'd given her some idea of how to go about it, she lit up like a candle and said, "thank you." I went back a few weeks later for a follow-up, and she was gone. Off to grab the dream. That's great. I live for that.

Q: Who forms your support system? Many creative souls would be lost without the help of family, friends, and other writers and artists.

A: My eternally patient, long-suffering wife, April, who puts up with my creative temperament. My two sons, Matthew and Kieran, and my daughter, Gemma, who love their daddy unconditionally even though he's a little weird. My brothers, Kevin and Jeff, who have provided everything from simple tolerance to monetary support over the years. And my great friend Keith Lambert, who gave me the best support a friend can give when he said, "you deserve it."

Q: When did you first discover that this is the type of work you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

A: I made a little book for a fifth grade English project. I wrote it, illustrated it and bound it together somehow — with twine, I think. In a way, that book was the spiritual birth of both my writing career and Spacesuits and Sixguns. All that from a class project. Who knew?

Learn more about Dave Duggins by visiting www.daveduggins.com.

©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

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