Dave Wolverton—A Friend and Mentor
On Friday, my writing mentor Dave Wolverton (who also wrote under the pen name David Farland) passed away in his sixties from complications relating to a fall. It’s with complex emotions that I approach writing a few things here. The community has lost a great and wonderful man, and I thought maybe a few of you would like to hear about him.
Over the last decade or so, Dave had leaned more into his teaching and mentoring, and less into publishing. Therefore, I suspect that many reading these words are less familiar with his books than people might have been in the 90s. His Runelords series to this day contains one of the most intriguing uses of magic I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy world. But it’s not his writing I want to talk about, it’s his compassion.
Dave was one of those strikingly kind individuals who, in a soft-spoken way, finds out what you need, then gives you that–and much more. So many of us in the local community here wearing coats straight off Dave’s back. I’d have assumed he lived his life cold–except for the fact that he had a warmth about him that no chill could extinguish.
When I met Dave, I was unfamiliar with his work. I was nearing the end of my undergraduate degree at BYU, and heard through the grapevine that an actual working sf/f author was going to teach a class. I was curious, and so I signed up, even though it was being listed as a low-level English class. I didn’t realize how foundational that choice would be for my career.
Here was an author–a real, working author–who talked about things like character arcs, narrative pacing, and even contracts. Here was a man who spoke of writing as a career, not just something you did when the whim suited you. Instead of literary theory, he talked about literary practicality, and about what it was to be a storyteller as much as a wordsmith. I still use many of his examples, terms, and lessons in my own teaching.
I remember distinctly one day after, where I mentioned I’d finished several novels already. Surprised, he took me aside (to his office, which was fun, since he had never used it before) and talked me through what I’d been doing in my writing. Impressed, he told me, “Here’s what you’re going to do next. You’re going to go to the Nebula Awards, Worldcon, and World Fantasy convention next year. Find the money somehow. You’re going to meet editors and start submitting to them.”
I’d meet Joshua, who became my agent, at the Nebula awards that year. I would go on to meet Moshe, who bought my first book, at World Fantasy Convention a few years later. But Dave’s mentoring didn’t stop there–when he heard I’d published, he took me on book tour with him the next time he went. Letting me, brand new with only one book out, do readings to an audience who had come to hear him. (At that point, Dave had hit the New York Times bestseller list. I, obviously, had not.)
When the opportunity came for me to teach the class that he had vacated when he moved four hours to the south, I accepted in part because I wanted to be more like the person Dave was. Someone who gave to the community, and who supported writers on their journeys.
Dave remained a friend all these years, and I–like everyone else who knew him–was shocked by the news early Thursday that something had happened to him. When he eventually passed on Friday, I was heartbroken. To me, this is like losing Robert Jordan or Terry Pratchett, though Dave’s work for all of us was a little more quiet, a little more hidden, a little more personal. The world would be a colder place now, safe for the fact that Dave’s warmth was the kind that spreads in hearts.
Regardless, I’ll be forever grateful for the coat of his I still wear, taken and given freely by a veteran to a young man facing his first storm.
We’ll miss you Dave.