Meet … Dustin Porta

Dustin Porta is an author/illustrator whose book Whalemoon is part of the SFWA Fantastic Beasts storybundle.

You can find Dustin on the web, @dustinmporta, or Facebook. If you want to do your part for charity and get some ass-kicking books for the price you choose, check out the Fantastic Beasts storybundle. Make sure you check the box for charity!

Q: You seem to be one of those disgusting creatives who’s good at both writing and art. Did you get into art from writing, the other way, or … what?

A: It’s weird because the art and the writing don’t overlap. The come from very different headspaces. Art has always been social: group classes in gradeschool, working all night in the pottery studio at college, running printing presses together. When I had my own workshop, we’d have late night parties, people would bring their paints, pottery wheels, instruments. Writing happens when I’m alone. There’s a bit of connectivity to the reader: like low budget telepathy between me and some person in the future. I’m better at writing, and I enjoy being alone, so writing wins out most of the time.

The only exception to the rule of separation is poetry. Poems have always been very social.The old haiku masters used to pair their poems with woodblock prints, merging art and writing. They were sort of the original meme artists.

So when I wrote Whalemoon I wanted to bring those two parts of my personality together. I wanted something personal and quiet, but I wanted to make sure it had little poetic stories inside, that I could read in front of a crowd. (That kind of storytelling comes from reading old green narrative poems like Aeneid.) And now every new woodblock carving that I make has something to do with the story of Whalemoon, because I wanted storybook posters to hang when I do a live reading.

So to answer your question, art and writing were always separate, but Whalemoon brought them together.

Q: You moved to the coast to live and work on the ocean … Did Whalemoon come before or after that?

A: I’m kind of proud of the fact that Whalemoon came about because of the Florida Keys.
We lived on a beautiful little canal about a mile from the beach and I would go for walks to the beach and back with an audio recorder. Along the way I’d pass all sorts of little crabs and lizards. Sometimes there were manatees in the canal, rays down on the beach, sailboats coming and going from the harbor. So I was writing the opening lines of this book and it became populated with all of these little critters. They became the lifeblood of the story. And the poems came about in the same way, the cadence of walking always makes poems jump into my head.

That’s not to say I didn’t bring a lot of luggage with me into this story. The sailing is from my life. I was obsessed with old schooners for a while and did a couple of long sailing journeys on these traditional ships and wound up in some very unusual places. The boat in the story is the same old wooden boat that I lived on up a creek in Alabama. And the magic system in the story was inspired by an even older idea. I’ve always wanted to write a fantasy from the perspecitve of an enchanted sword, not the short-lived people who owned it. Whalemoon doesn’t go quite that far. The swords don’t get their own POV, but they’re very much the great powers of the world. The magical weapons twist fate to control the story even if the characters in the story don’t realize it

I had been waiting for a long time two write that kind of fantasy world, where artifacts rule over people. And I’ve been waiting for a decade now to put my sailing story down on paper. I just needed something more to bring it all together. And that was the Keys.

Q: I sense a fellow Earthsea fan. The timeless things about Earthsea I love are the messages of doing what’s right, but also making mistakes while trying. Will readers find more of that in Whalemoon?

A: Oh, Earthsea was my first fantasy novel. You’ve struck the nail on the head. Doing the right thing is exactly what Whalemoon is about. The hero is not all that brave or heroic. She’s just taking her turn as the atoll’s guardian, like all young islanders do. She’s not particularly good at her job. Not a great fighter. Impatient. Slightly dishonest. She thinks that she’s clever, but gets outwitted by just about everyone. The only thing she does right is kindness. She can’t quite bring herself to do the wrong thing on purpose. And the moral is that somehow, that’s enough to be a hero. It’s the most realistic hero I’ve ever written.

I won’t give away too much, but you begin to learn that past guardians haven’t been all that good either. They’ve all made mistakes and there is a lot of dark history. As the series goes on she’s going to uncover even more troubling things about her origins. This is a character who grew up hearing stories of killing whales. But when she meets her first whale and learns that they talk, she’ll have to reevaluate some things. So while the first book is all about doing the right thing in the moment, the series as a whole is about the power of stories, for good or evil, and how grand tales told by the victors can hide past evils and cause people to make the same mistakes over again.

Hard to say how much of that comes from Earthsea. I read it so long ago that I almost don’t remember it. It’s sort of just dissolved into my memory. For a while I didn’t even know the name of this book that I’d grown up reading. Only that there was a boy name Ged who summoned his own sailing wind and ran from his shadow. It’s hard to say how much of Whalemoon was inspired by Earthsea because of how fuzzy my memory is. But I don’t think I’ll read it again anytime soon. I’d like to keep it as warm, fuzzy memory from a time long ago.

Check out Whalemoon in the Fantastic Beasts storybundle:

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