Ask the Writer: Daniel Lenois
an interview with Jen Knox
Daniel Lenois (DL): I’ve wanted to become a writer for as long as I can remember. As an individual, you’re expected to conform, to mask yourself, to mold yourself almost exclusively to the liking of broader society. Conformity is far more desirable in our society than individualism. One of the few remaining exceptions is in the arts. I cannot draw or paint, nor do I have the remotest appreciation for poetry.
Narrative prose is where I feel I can best express myself, to reflect my own personality on the page. While the majority of my work is fictitious rather than autobiographical, each piece reflects a different side of me. I can only hope that, by the time my career has met its end, it all comes together to show a cohesive whole.
JK: What is the best piece of advice you've received as a creative person?
DL: Learn when to step away from your work. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, your story will inevitably have tons of problems. Sometimes some are major, and sometimes it’s just a ton of little things. But oftentimes, either way, it’s stuff you simply won’t see or have any idea how to fix as the author. Workshopping, especially with other authors, can be enormously helpful in shaping your story for the better.
I had the advantage of writing my first published story, and also now this one, as an English Literature student, with a Writing & Publishing minor, so I was surrounded four days a week by other aspiring writers. That said, there are plenty of writing communities online you can find for constructive support. Writing doesn’t have to necessarily be a solitary journey.
JK: Please share with us one (or a few) of your favorite lines, either from your own work or someone else's work, and explain what strikes you about the passage.
DL: One quote that sticks out to me as particularly poignant here would be from David Eddings, in book one of his five-book series The Belgariad, Pawn of Prophecy:
“It's only a story, isn't it?"...
"Who's to say what's only a story and what's truth disguised as a story?”
I’m relatively new to the field of creative nonfiction, but what I find so enrapturing about it is its inherently hybrid nature. You get to tap into the power of real lived experiences, even extremely personal ones, in my case. Then you get to command the fathomless linguistic dexterity of the English language, weaving together a narrative that (hopefully) is both honest and compelling to read. It’s a toolset I hope to continue developing in the coming years!
JK: How did you find your first publication?
DL: I had written a speculative fiction piece for one of my Fiction classes, as part of my Writing & Publishing minor, entitled “The Cost of Comfort”. It was a character-driven piece, grounded in a near-future science fiction setting. It had gone through multiple rounds of revision in-class, and people seemed to be enjoying it. So I thought it might be interesting to put its potential to the test.
I submitted it to The Helix magazine, as it fit their publishing requirements. Shortly thereafter, I got an email response, telling me my piece had been accepted and would debut a few months later in their Spring 2023 issue.
That first break gave me the confidence I needed to begin seriously pursuing my publishing ambitions.
JK: What are you working on next?
DL: I’m currently midway through writing a high fantasy novel, targeted at a young adult audience. I began writing it over the summer, and had hoped to be able to finish by my birthday in October, but when you’re working three days a week and attending six classes on the other four, sometimes sacrifices have to be made!
I find fantasy fascinating not merely for its aesthetic, but also for the technical challenges involved. If you have different species or factions, you have to represent their respective cultures and history, including, where necessary, their relations to one another. Where magic is involved, you need to develop a coherent magic system, so readers can easily learn the limits of what can and can’t be done with it in your world. And this is all on top of the usual fiction requirements like character development, pacing, dialogue, etc.
I think many aspiring writers become disillusioned with the fantasy genre because it’s very easy to go into this process, thinking worldbuilding, aka the foundation of any fantasy prose, is one static thing, when really it’s an amalgamation of so many individual pieces, all of which are enormously important to the reader's experience.
I greatly enjoy sharing pieces from my personal life, as I did here for “The World on a Stage”. It was an incredibly intimate experience. However, I don’t just want to be known as the autistic author writing about autism. At heart, I am a storyteller. There are a wealth of stories I want to tell in the time I have, fiction and non-fiction alike, so hopefully one day I can look back at this moment of my life as a gratifying early step along a steady, lifelong career.
Thank you so much for your insights here, Daniel!
Daniel’s piece, “The World on a Stage,” can be read here.
Daniel Lenois holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, with a dual minor in both Writing and Publishing and Cinema Studies, courtesy of Central Connecticut State University, where he also founded the university's Creative Writing student club. Prior publications include Blue Muse Magazine and The Helix.