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Daniel Wallace has Bigger fish to fry 

Author discusses new novel at Park Road Books

Daniel Wallace is still riding the waves of success from Big Fish, his 1998 novel-turned-motion picture and soon-to-be Broadway show in September. But the N.C.-based author, who teaches creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, has also penned a steady flow of other works since the best-seller. His most recent novel, The Kings and Queens of Roam, was published this year and is already receiving praise for its fairy tale mixture of fantasy wrapped around concepts of good vs. evil in a story of sibling reciprocity and rivalry.

Wallace, who had no expectations of Big Fish going mainstream, sees the book's success as an adventure. "It's another example of the life that a book out in the world can experience separate from the author. My part in this whole phenomena is having written the book. It's other people who have found the book and decided to do something more with it," says Wallace. "There are so many great things about that. For me, one of them is that more people read my book and another is that I get to experience these adventurous times with getting to go to Hollywood and getting to go on the set of a movie and see a musical being put together. It's just fun."

But Wallace intentionally dabbled in other jobs and occupations — he worked for a bookstore and trading company and as an illustrator and veterinary assistant — before he took up writing. "I wanted to try to do something that had nothing to do with writing because I knew that the life of a writer was a very difficult one and I've always believed, and still do believe, that if there's anything you can do other than write, you should do it." It took Wallace a whopping 14 years before he published Big Fish, his first book.

In the classroom, Wallace encourages his students to learn the art of writing in the hopes that they can decide whether or not to pursue the slippery path. "In all my years of teaching, I've probably taught two or three people who've actually gone on to try to be writers, and that's about the average I think," he admits. "I teach them how to write and the path towards being a writer, but after that it's all up to them."

His fifth book, The Kings and Queens of Roam, had an unusual evolution. It stems from a paragraph that he wrote years earlier. Subscribing to the belief that every book is, in a sense, autobiographical, Wallace struggles to find what exactly in his life inspired the narrative. The book, written with parallel stories, also lacks his noteworthy glass eyeball staple.

Wallace has an assortment of around 70 prosthetic eyes at his home in Chapel Hill. The unusual collection was inspired by a childhood friend with a glass eye. Growing up, Wallace and his friend had a school day ritual of taking it out and washing it in the restroom. Up until now, Wallace has featured characters in his books that are distinguishable through their vision.

"I stopped doing it because I didn't want it to become a thing, that people would always look for the glass eye in my book," Wallace says.

Stylistically somewhat similar to Big Fish, The Kings and Queens of Roam differs in the sense that the entire book is like a tall tale. Thematically, its plot is filled with characters who want certain things. "It's about how far they'll go and what they're willing to give up. That's what you see in almost every character, is this desire for something through good and through evil," says Wallace. "I also think a theme of the book is forgiveness and how that's achieved and whether it's possible in some cases. Those are the two big things that stand out to me."

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