Denton Salle’s Fiction Is an ‘Extension’ of His ‘Terrible Tendency to Tell Lies’

Denton Salle’s fiction caught my attention when I saw that he wrote about Slavic mythology in Texas. Then there is his Amazon Author Page biography. In it, he makes a connection between his “terrible tendency to tell lies” and his stories. That made me chuckle. And after getting to know him a bit, I figured it would be fun to do a Q&A about his work. He provided witty insights and opened up about his Slavic fantasy world and his other tales.

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Paul Hair: You have an interesting Amazon Author bio, particularly the parts mentioning how your “stories tend to be extensions of a terrible tendency to tell lies and make things up” and how pandas fascinate you. Care to elaborate on any of that or is that all there is to say about those things?

Denton Salle: I grew up with tall tales and shaggy dog stories as well as hearing my father’s friends tell “No s**t” stories about their time in the service. My mother would make things up on the drop of a hat, as well as pass on the old fairy or wonder tales she grew up with. And tall tales are still a family tradition. I guess I realized how much I did it when a coworker told a class we were teaching: “Anything he tells you technically you can bet on, anything else you’re on your own.”

Of course, to get even, I spun a tale about his wearing an ankle monitor and we being so proud of him for going straight. I got away with it for two years before someone mentioned it to him. There are a bunch of stories like that over the years until I funneled this tendency into writing fiction. I still tell shaggy dog stories, though.

And pandas? Pandas are cool. There’s a long, shaggy dog story for some future time but at one job, I made many trips to China. On one, I got to visit the Panda Research Center near Chengdu. You watch these animals, and they don’t come across as silly in a more natural environment. (They used the more modern, natural-looking, large-area enclosures.) How could anyone ever doubt those beasts were bears? The resemblance to black bears was apparent.

I remember reading Gould’s The Panda’s Thumb when I was younger—I considered paleontology once, but decided I liked regular meals—and read a lot of his work. He was kind of a rock star in the field. I thought his argument about the panda’s thumb was, well, silly. A bit later in my schooling, a professor showed a reaction necessary for life and said, “Isn’t nature smart?” In both cases, there was a, “Huh?” response. Anyway, both made me start thinking about my agnosticism. It took a bit more for the cure to stick but that was the start of it. The end was the Orthodox Church.

PH: You’ve published quite a few stories in a variety of genres. Do you have a favorite genre or do you enjoy dabbling in whatever catches your fancy?

DS: I dabbled a lot when I started writing but I think I’m finding I really prefer fantasy, even in such things as mysteries and romances. I think my training as an experimental scientist makes it very difficult for me to read most space operas and science fiction. I tend to scream a bit at things like transparent aluminum. Fantasy lets me have more freedom, and, honestly I think the world is poorer without rusalka, house spirits, and samovile.

Grandma always said be careful around the cattle pond. I always assumed that was because those swans were really something else.

PH: Your fiction involving Slavic mythology in Texas caught my eye because it’s such a unique idea. Which book should readers start with if they’re interested in that and how would you summarize that particular universe that you’ve created?

DS: I grew up loving these stories of heroes and wonder—especially the books with the rich illustrations of bogatyrs and tsars, of fair maidens and firebirds. Texas is very ethnically diverse. We had a large German and Czech influx early on. Later, a lot of Eastern European folk. Dallas has a Russian Orthodox Cathedral as well as a bunch of Eastern European restaurants, bakeries, and even a banya. No bannik that I’ve seen, alas. So I wondered, What if?

The world, in what I call my Hall of Heroes series, is a modern North Texas where the creatures of myth and nightmare walk. My characters are native Texan of mostly Eastern Europe or Greek extraction, Orthodox because the faith is so intertwined with these stories. And so you will get a bit of Orthodoxy, both theology and practice.

Slavic or Slavonic mythology is interesting in that it is so poorly documented. Unlike a lot of pagan mythologies, the local Christian Church didn’t record or collect much, which is odd. The Prose Edda, for example, and maybe the Elder Edda. Similarly, the fathers discuss the Roman beliefs. Russia very little. So the modern Slavonic neopagans end up guessing from folklore.

And the folklore was rich. There was a whole bunch of stuff called double-belief the British and French anthologists claimed, but recent academics have suggested it was basically a myth itself. Well, the Brits should be notorious for what they do to history and sadly much in the U.S. comes from them. Sometimes it’s totally wrong. See Spain under the Moors, Gibbon’s treatment of the Eastern Empire…the list goes on. And, of course, the Soviets encouraged it to weaken the Church.

So there is a lot of stuff to play with, and much is vague enough I can indulge my tendency to make stuff up.

Anyway, there is this group, a brotherhood, that those who need to know are aware of. It exists to enforce an agreement from St. Boris-Michael of Bulgaria that sets down some rules between the denizens of the Otherworld and humans. The group tries to maintain this but they aren’t cops and they have no official standing. So their solutions are not always legal, and sometimes they can’t do anything. If you are going to freely sleep with a rusalka, insult the vila, or poke around Baba Yaga’s hut, what happens is your problem. They might try to help, but it’s on you if they can’t.

The POV character for many stories is Jim, who stumbles into this world trying to help his friend, so it’s best to start with book 3, which is where he becomes involved in this world. So, volume 3 kinda introduces you to the main players. In the other two books, both collections of short stories, you meet other denizens of the world that is hidden from us. I expect at least one more collection, as neither the Samovile or the Ala story are in either.

I should add I grew up with this stuff, so a lot of the spelling and words might be off slightly due to memory and dialect. I tried to standardize it but the Slavonic world runs from the base of Finland to the top of Greece. There are lots of local flavors. It’s fantasy, remember?

PH: Sworn to the Light (The Avatar Wizard – Book 1) is your latest work. And it looks like you’ve gone all-out on it. It’s available as an eBook, in paperback, and in hardcover. How would you tease the story and how big do you envision the series becoming?

DS: In a world where the lines between good and evil are sharp and magic works—but don’t call it that—a boy starts randomly turning into a bear. A panda to be exact. Which is not the best thing when your family runs an inn. Customers get twitchy when there’s a bear in the kitchen.

When his parents take him to see Master Anthony, Jeremy is told that the bear is his avatar and he is a wizard born. Does he want to bind his power or become an apprentice and master it? He chooses to stay and learn the path of the wizards who swear to the Light. And then the Dark stays, trying to kill him…

He finds friends and enemies, his own and from his father’s choices, as well as adventures in a world where the myths of the wonder tales and Slavonic folklore walk with us. Come and join Jeremy in his adventures and his stand against the powers of Darkness.

After I wrote these, one of my readers pointed out that these are very much like the sci-fi or fantasy of the past. Heroes are valiant and chivalrous, women are lovely, and evil is that. None of the post-modernist anguish or damaged personalities we see in so much of fantasy these days. It should be fun to read.

The series is about six books now and I’m not sure after that. Five have been worked on to some extent. I don’t want to run it into boredom as you see happen in some series, so I’m not sure. Not to spoil things but Jeremy starts young, so he has a lot to learn and much to do before he masters wizardry.

Short stories in Jeremy’s world can be found in Fantastic Schools, Middle Schools, by J. Wright and C. Nutall, as well as Adventure Stories for Young Readers by M. Burnett. Both should be out this fall.

PH: Where can readers follow you online? And is there anything else you’d like to let readers know?

DS: I’m not the best at being online of late. However, I can be found on MeWe and Facebook, under my name, although I am slowly moving away from the latter. You can also find me at I’m starting a newsletter you can sign up for there, mostly to tell people when books are out.


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