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Daniel Wallace

Daniel Wallace is an American author. He is best known for his 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions. He is author of six novels, Ray in Reverse (2000), The Watermelon King (2003), Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician (2007), The Kings and Queens of Roam (2013), and most recently Extraordinary Adventures (May 2017). His stories have also been published in a number of anthologies and magazines, including The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

His children’s book, published in 2014, and for which he did both the words and the pictures, is called The Cat’s Pajamas. His work has been published in over two dozen languages, and his stories, novels, and nonfiction essays are taught in high schools and colleges throughout this country. His illustrations have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Italian Vanity Fair, and many other magazines and books, including Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers, by George Singleton, and Adventures in Pen Land: One Writer’s Journey from Inklings to Ink, by Marianne Gingher.

His novel, Big Fish, was made into a motion picture by Tim Burton in 2003, a film in which the author plays the part of a professor at Auburn University. In 2013, the book and the movie were mish-mashed together and became a Broadway musical.

Daniel is the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Daniel was born and raised in Mountain View, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama in 1959 and has three sisters. He had a complicated relationship with his father, whose marriage to his mother ended in divorce. Daniel attended Emory University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying English and philosophy, but left before graduating. His first job was as a veterinary assistant cleaning cages. He did not graduate from college until May 2008, instead taking a job with a trading company in Nagoya, Japan.

He lived and worked there for two years, then returned to Chapel Hill. He took a job in a bookstore where he worked for thirteen years and began to write in his spare time. It was thirteen years before he sold his first novel, Big Fish. During that time, he supported himself and his family as an illustrator, where he designed greeting cards and refrigerator magnets. He currently writes both novels and short stories and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Laura, a social worker, and their son, Henry.

Daniel’s novels are episodic in structure, with elements of magical realism and allusions to classical mythology. They frequently highlight father-son relationships. Two of his books are set in the fictional Alabama town of Ashland, based on Cullman.

A running motif in his works are glass eyes; Daniel has stated in numerous interviews (including the one published in the back of the paperback edition of Big Fish) that he collects glass eyes.

Of his political beliefs, Daniel has stated, “It is fair to say that I’m left of center. Far left.” Daniel claims he is an agnostic in terms of religious beliefs, stating:

I think a lot of people default to Jesus when something inexplicable happens. I write things I didn’t know I was capable of writing, and sometimes that feels like magic. It isn’t; it’s just me. A similar thing happens when a tornado blows someone’s house away, but their cat is found unscathed in an oak tree: God must have been looking out for Pooky. We’re hard-wired to do this, I think, because we’ve been doing it since the beginning.

Before Daniel’s most famous book Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions was accepted for publication, he wrote five novels which were rejected by publishers. Since then, his books have been translated into 18 language.

In a 2011 article for Pure Movies, he wrote about how absurd he found it that Big Fish was the book that was adapted into a film when all his others have clearer narrative structures. Daniel says he tries to write everything he can, but mainly focuses on novels and screenplays.

He believes that “art is a distillation of experience”, that “writing requires only a pen and paper, and not paint, brushes, canvases, nor expensive film or photographic equipment, so it’s seen as something ‘anyone can do’.”

Of his early writings, he claims:

I thought I was a much better writer then than I do now. I loved the stories I was coming up with, and was really amazed I could put enough sentences together to make a paragraph. It was like magic, seeing the little black marks all come together. I sound like I’m making fun of myself but I’m not. If a writer writes, I was a writer. I couldn’t see very far beyond that though. The pure pleasure of invention, of making stuff up, clouded over everything else. I couldn’t tell the difference between a good story and a good story told well. I wrote three hundred pages about a pair of billionaire twins, each weighing just over 500 pounds, who ‘rent’ the mistress of one of their friends. What did I think was going to come of that? Nothing much did. And I wrote a few other books equally as promising. As I wrote I was learning to write (having not gone to school) and I was learning what not to write as well. I also finally figured out that I was writing the kind of books I thought other people wanted to read, not the kind I wanted to write. That’s when Big Fish happened, and why it was a breakthrough for me.

As a child he loved the science fiction novel Dune, by Frank Herbert. Daniel lists his favorite writers as Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Faulkner. He also loves the novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell.

Read the Interview with Daniel Wallace by Dan Schneider, Cosmoetica, 2008 and by Southern Literary Review, Interview with Daniel Wallace, 2004. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Visit his homepage.