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The Sky Is Burning

Matt Dinniman sends shivers up readers' spines with print and e-book versions of 'The Shivered Sky'

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From pizza boy and telephone psychic to published author, Tucson's Matt Dinniman even left an obituary writing job in his wake before selling The Shivered Sky to Silver Lake Publishing in June 2003.

Dinniman, a 15-year Tucson resident, conceived the fantasy war novel as a Sabino High School student in the early 1990s. A decade later, the midtown work-at-home dad (whose house, on a completely random note, recently got hit by a bullet from a drive-by shooting) is collecting royalty checks for his 452-page paperback that includes his favorite literary elements--fantasy, horror and lots of explosions.

"I try to mix all three in my own work," says Dinniman.

The Shivered Sky is the critically acclaimed tale of war in heaven. It all starts after five young strangers die and find themselves on the outskirts of heaven. For Indigo, Dave, Gramm, Rico and Hitomi, death is more dangerous than life. With a smoke-filled sky for a backdrop, the five face a world crawling with bloodthirsty demons, defeated angels and a burning heaven. Together, they face a war beyond their wildest nightmares. And so goes the book's description.

Where does this Tucson writer find inspiration for fantasy plots and the otherworldly creatures that have earned 13 pages of glossary and hierarchical information in his book? Dinniman--the creator of characters like Gollop, a mighty serpent that tried to eat eternity, and Razer, a single-eyed porcupine--says Guy Gavriel Kay inspires him. Kay is the author of The Last Light of the Sun, the Sarantine Mosaic duology and other fantasy novels that have earned him worldwide best-seller status.

"I don't really write anything like him, but he's so damn perfect that I just want to beat him up every time I read his prose," explains Dinniman. "That simultaneous awe and jealousy is one of the reasons I write."

As a teenager, Dinniman would imagine a horror plot--like a disaster that wiped out a population--and then search for books to complete the story in his head. Authors like Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon often fit the bill. But when Dinniman went searching for a war fantasy between angels and demons set in heaven, he turned up mostly Christian novels. Unimpressed with the selection, Dinniman took matters into his own hands.

"Eventually I gave up looking and decided to write one myself," he says.

Like many authors, Dinniman began his writing career as a little kid, providing silly stories and poems to adoring childhood fans. When he decided to get serious about writing as a college freshman, Dinniman realized he hadn't paid enough attention in English class.

"You don't have to be college educated to be a great writer, but it sure helps if you know your English," he says. "I had to actually start paying attention in my English 101 and 102 classes."

The grammar brush-up paid off. At the age of 28, after several drafts, Dinniman sold his novel to Silver Lake Publishing. It's one of the Pennsylvania publisher's 17 fantasy titles. Dinniman says the book is available from Amazon and www.mattdinniman.com, and can be ordered through most North American bookstores.

The recently released e-book version of The Shivered Sky was ranked on Fictionwise's fantasy best-seller list (fictionwise.com). The ranking led to beefed-up online discussion of the book's angel and demon societies. Dinniman says it's fulfilling to ego surf the Web and find discussions about his book on more than 100 Web sites.

Are e-books a flash in the pan, or will they be the demise of Doubleday? Dinniman doesn't buy into either prediction of e-books' fate, citing a demand for both formats. He offers the bloated Borders and Bookman's shelves as evidence that traditional books aren't going away anytime soon. On the flip side, Dinniman knows there are romance and erotica authors cashing in on e-book sales.

"I personally prefer the feel and smell of a real book," admits Dinniman. "Until they develop an inexpensive e-book reader that you can curl up with in bed and drop in the bathtub, I don't think Doubleday has anything to worry about."

Whether authors prefer traditional saddle-stitch bindings or downloadable e-book files, Dinniman thinks most fail at the editing process. Experience and conventional wisdom tell him that it's a rarity for a writer to draft something, run it through spell check, submit it and have it accepted by a publisher.

"Everything needs to be refined," he says. "When I'm done with a piece, I put it away for six months and do my best to forget about it. When I pull it out, it's a lot easier to edit and rewrite."

Dinniman's A Trailer Park Fairy Tale and Other Stories is due out next year. He's currently working on a dark fantasy novel set in Tucson. As for the two young-adult novels he's written, they're collecting dust, awaiting his editing pen.

It hasn't been six months yet.

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