Interview: D. Thomas Minton, author of “Dreams in Dust”

Interview by Kevin McNeil

D. Thomas Minton recently traded a warm tropical island for the Pacific Northwest of the continental USA, where he now lives a short walk from vineyards and an alpaca farm. When not writing, he gets paid to “play” in the ocean, travel to remote places, and help communities conserve coral reefs. His fiction has been published in Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and Daily Science Fiction and his idle ramblings hold court at dthomasminton.com.

What is the appeal of apocalypse fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

That’s a great question. For me, the world after the apocalypse is a no-holds-barred place where people need to rely on their wits to survive. It appeals to my concept of rugged individualism. In many ways it’s a simpler world that allows me, as a writer, to explore base and visceral emotions in my characters. I think many readers and film-goers connect with this.

What are some of your favorite examples of apocalypse fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Believe it or not, I’ve not read much of what I would consider stereotypical or classic apocalypse fiction. That said, one of my favorite novels is A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’ve read it several times over the years and find new layers in its complex story every time I pick it up. I have several other apocalypse novels (Wool, The Stand, World War Z) on my shelf waiting to be read, when I can find the time.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process and what inspired “Dreams in Dust?”

“Dreams in Dust” was inspired by a regular feature at io9 called “Concept Art.” For this feature, a picture is posted as a writing prompt. Back in February of 2012, the prompt was a picture of a man with a camel in the desert, with the wreck of a submarine in the background. That wonderfully evocative picture led to a chain of ideas that resulted in this story.

I don’t think my writing process is anything special: I write every day (often in the dark hours before the sun comes up). I don’t start writing until I have a complete story in my head, because I like to know where I’m going. Usually I finish a rough draft in a couple of writing sessions. After few days, in which I let it “simmer” untouched, I revise it, delving deeper into the characters and conflicts.

The dystopian setting for this story is incredibly vivid. I found it particularly interesting that a marine biologist would choose to set a story in a desert world. What can you tell us about the creation of this world?

I would have been a desert biologist if I hadn’t become a marine biologist. I find deserts incredibly beautiful, and have spent some time wandering the American Southwest. I can’t get enough of them. That said, Keraf’s world is fairly generic, but what makes it special to me is that Keraf feels like he is of this world, and not simply a modern-day man transplanted from suburbia into the sand. Everything Keraf does and thinks has been shaped by growing up and living in this world, and that is what I think sells it to readers. I hope that I have created a world that is deeper than the sand dunes.

In “Dreams in Dust,” Earth has been de-watered by the Orbitals. The result is devastating and raises thoughts about our own environment and the climate change we are experiencing. Is this an issue you feel strongly about?

As a marine biologist, I see the impending impact of climate change every day. The places I love will be (and some would say already have been) irrevocably altered by our changing climate. It still amazes me that anyone can continue to deny something as obvious as the changes that are occurring.

In your story, “Thief of Futures” (Lightspeed, September 2011), also dealt with the idea of a future in peril, although on a more personal level. Each story left me thinking about the need to protect the future for our children. Is this a theme you tend to revisit in your work?

I’ve never thought about it, but this is a theme I tend to explore in my work. My daughter inspires me, and I think often about what her future will be like. One of my greatest fears is that I will leave behind a world that is a much worse place than when I grew up. She deserves more than that. Unfortunately, until we all start thinking about our children and their children and stop thinking about short-term gains, I don’t think much will change.

Your story ends on a hopeful note, although Keraf still has a struggle ahead of him if he’s going to be successful in bringing water back into the world. Why did you choose to end the story at this point? Do you have more stories planned in this world?

I chose to end this story where I did because I wanted to focus on Keraf’s immediate and very personal problem—his lack of water. Bringing water back to the Earth is such a large challenge, it transcends Keraf alone. He cares passionately about his greater mission, however, and I found it interesting to explore how he struggled with his immediate problem in order to continue on his quest to solve a larger global problem.

I intentionally left many things vague in this story because they were larger stories than I wanted to tell. I’ve finished the first draft of a novel that examines some of these things. Keraf’s world is complex and rich, and “Dreams in Dust” only touches the surface.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about this piece? What’s next for you?

I hope your readers enjoy my story. Next up for me is finishing several short stories and a couple of novels that are nearly complete.