The Write Stuff – Monday, May21 – Interview With Charles Gannon

Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s award-winning Caine Riordan/Terran Republic hard SF novels have all been national best-sellers, and include 3 finalists for the Nebula, 2 for the Dragon Award, and a Compton Crook winner. The fifth, Marque of Caine, is forthcoming in January 2019. His epic fantasy series, The Broken World, is forthcoming from Baen Books. He collaborates with Eric Flint in the NYT and WSJ best-selling Ring of Fire  series, and has worked in the Starfire, Honorverse, Man-Kzin, and War World universes. His other novels and short fiction straddle the divide between hard SF and technothrillers and have appeared through various imprints and in various magazines. Much of this work includes collaborations in the Starfire, Honorverse, Man-Kzin, and War World universes. He also worked extensively in game design and writing, as well as being a scriptwriter and producer in New York City, where his clients included the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and PBS.  Other credits include many short fiction publications, game design/writing, and scriptwriter/producer in New York City.

A Distinguished Professor of English and Fulbright Senior Specialist, his book, Rumors of War and Infernal Machines, won the 2006 American Library Association Choice Award for Outstanding Book. He is a recipient of five Fulbright Fellowships and Travel Grants and has been a subject matter expert both for national media venues such as NPR and the Discovery Channel, as well as for various intelligence and defense agencies, including the Pentagon, Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy (CNO/SSG and ONR), NATO, DARPA, NRO, DHS, NASA, and several other organizations with which he signed NDAs.

Charles, I’ll start out by asking you about the wizard behind the curtain. Caine’s Mutiny is exceedingly complex. What tools do you use to keep track of the characters, the various species’ techno-sociological idiosyncrasies, and the story’s multiple plot lines?

Well, I certainly depend upon spreadsheets. Without them, I could not keep track of the most complex, but easily missed, challenge of writing in the Caine Riordan series: the timeline. Even leaving out the protagonist, if you consider the number of major characters engaging in activities at great remove from each other, and not at the same moment in time, there are certainly a lot of moving pieces to keep track of. Making sure that they are not in two places at once, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, does require a little bit of calendar work.

I’m fortunate enough to have fans and readers who come forward to help with various other challenges. My friend and fellow 1632 author Rick Boatwright massaged a whole bunch of my notes into something like an integrated writer’s reference for the Consolidated Terran Republic. Another astounding project was undertaken by Mark Gutis, who created an alphabetical compendium of the entire series and the unusual places people and objects populate it.

But a lot of the tracking involves old-fashioned memory, particularly when it comes to how various plots and motivations evolve over the course of the series.

As I read, I found myself increasingly fascinated by the behavior of the exosapient, Hkh’Rkh. For example, one character, Yaargraukh, felt “his eyes retract behind their protective folds, then under their bony ridges,” to represent misgivings over something he had been told, and later “clacked one set of opposable digits, releasing his adjutant from the submissive posture”. Are these entirely products of your imagination, or did you draw upon real world human or animal behavioral parallels?

The exosapients of the Caine Riordan books are products of observationally informed imagination. I’ll unpack that: while I don’t usually take something directly from terrestrial examples, I let the constants of animal and human behavior inform various  exosapient actions and traits. For example, consider the way creatures signal threat/aggression, or the expression of amusement, and you might find some likely parallels. Possibly even inevitabilities. Some examples:

In the case of threat and aggression, it is difficult to imagine a creature which would do so by curling up into an unnoticeable ball. That is not an arbitrary behavior. It transcends speciate differences because it is the creature’s practical attempt to remain undetected by physically limiting visual signature. Attempting to appear smaller, less noticeable, and vulnerable is arguably one of the most certain and clear ways to signal a desire to avoid rather than engage in conflict. Conversely, therefore, aggression displays in almost every terrestrial species involve one or more of the following features: an attempt to make oneself seem larger, loud noise, violent movements, posture that is clearly preparatory to a strike, and the baring of teeth.

The latter is a particularly rich source of potential confusion, since logically therefore, a human smile would appear to be a threat display. Many other species presume that is exactly what it is until it is explained to be almost the opposite: a reflex that indicates amusement.

The expression of amusement in another species is also something I derive from a basic observational constant: that the experience of amusement usually depends upon surprise. Specifically, amusement arises when a being says or does something that is not expected, or is in some way contrary to logically productive activity. The typical human response to this is what we call laughter. Fundamentally, it is a spasmodic muscular reflex. To put it another way, laughter may follow from a very complex series of revelations, reversals, and surprises which are all cognitive, but the signifying reaction—laughter—is involuntary: a muscular reaction to the stimulus we call amusement.

How does this impact my creation of amusement reactions in other species? It tells me that if an exosapient is capable of the same kind of amusement that a human is, surprise is once again integral and inherent to that experience. Consequently, the exosapient’s expression of amusement will also be involuntary, not voluntary, and therefore will reflect an uncontrolled and/or spasmodic property in its physical expression of amusement.

The Arat Kur also display a curious set of relational posturing and dominant/subservient interchanges between an officer and its inferiors. Would you care to elaborate on how you developed their hierarchical thinking and attendant behavior? It appears you have more than a little earthside anthropological education to aid in your depiction of this species.

Most of my developmental processes are informed by an interdisciplinary approach (anthropology is one of many). In the case of the Arat Kur, their hierarchy and social patterns actually evolve out of their dawn of intelligence origins. Starting out as subterranean, they had huge resource limitations when it came to protein. Consequently, they became trappers. That started as an accident, resulting from opportunistic finds of dead animals that had fallen into pits. That led the Arat Kur to take the natural step of seeing if there wasn’t some way to encourage those accidents to become a little more frequent.

The logical impact on their population was profound growth. The more successful they became at wielding their new skills and tools, the more profound that population growth became. In short order, they had completely obliterated whatever modest subterranean competition they had. That left their potential growth unchecked.

This is a moment when zoology and animal behavior plays at least as large a role as anthropology. Any social creature with an independent consciousness cannot afford to have unchecked population growth. The consequences are well known to us and reprise the grim roles assigned to the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. However, the Arat Kur also realized that their profound population growth also provided them with innumerable opportunities to expand their resource base and dominate their environment.

So how does one avoid the disastrous consequences of population growth while retaining the benefits of it?

The answer is the same one we observe in a considerable number of human societies: preprogrammed and even rigid hierarchical organization. The larger the society becomes, the more control it requires in order to keep it from melting down in response to internal stresses, or crumbling under its own incorrectly balanced weight. That is the origin of the seeming rigidity of the Arat Kur, who are physically and temperamentally far more suited to a highly regimented social order than human beings are. As evinced in the novel, Trial by Fire, they have little tendency towards internecine strife. What has not yet been shown is how their means of reproduction are completely detached from territorial or property control. As such, they find communal coexistence, even in a clearly defined and somewhat rigid hierarchy, far more amenable than humans ever could. Indeed, in the same way that the Arat Kur are comforted by enclosed rather than open spaces, they take comfort and pride in the identity that comes from the role and caste that define them as individuals.

How did you become involved with SIGMA and what can you tell us about the advisory role you play with intelligence and defense agencies?

Oddly, I became involved with Sigma before Sigma even existed per se. When I was conducting research for my dissertation on speculative fiction, I contacted Jerry Pournelle to ask some questions about his work with the Citizens Advisory Council and their/his book Mutual Assured Survival. That became the start of our friendship. That was in the mid-90s.

About 12 years later, I had reason to revisit the entire topic of the influence and  exchange that existed between writers of hard military science fiction and defense agencies and contractors. By this time, Sigma existed, largely having grown up out of a number of core participants from the CAC. My friend and fellow science fiction author Bud Sparhawk was on Sigma, so I asked him if he could contact Sigma’s organizer and chief cat-herder, Arlan Andrews, with the view to my interviewing some of the members. A few weeks passed. I figured that I was going to be turned down, but in fact, when the reply finally came back, it was to invite me to become a member of Sigma myself. So you might say, I became the topic of my own research.

Since then, both under the aegis of Sigma or independently, I have been a consultant or workshop participant at most of the major three- and four-letter defense and intel agencies inside or just outside the DC beltway. At this point, the only armed service I have not worked with the Coast Guard.

My role is mostly to provide the kind of blue sky and braintrust speculation that such organizations are really not equipped to initiate internally. These days, it’s rare to find any defense or intelligence agency committed to in-house technology projections that reach out more than five years or so. Most are now down to an even closer horizon  than that. The exception has been the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, which is a direct report to the SecDef. Their mandate is essentially deep future speculation/projection, so I’ve been involved with over half a dozen of their in-house projects, either inside the five-sided squirrel cage itself, or those that are facilitated by external organizations like MITRE.

In a 2015 interview with Brad R. Torgerson, you listed a number of research sources you used to project the cost of exploring interstellar space, stating you kept your figures on the conservative side until 2040, which you declared “a reasonable fulcrum point.” Why that year in particular?

I think there’s a little misunderstanding about what I was saying in that particular response to Brad. Although I was using the decade by decade economics projection spreadsheet to look at space spending, that really was not the sole or even primary focus of the larger exercise. And certainly it’s not as though there’s any built-in presumption that any nation was looking to allocate resources to interstellar travel throughout all the years leading up to the Caine Riordan series (2105 start). Quite the contrary.

Rather, what I was doing was projecting world population and DGP growth according to CIA World Factbook and Almanac stats, using what’s called a Kondratief Wave effect to built in period variation in growth, rather than (highly dubious) straight-line modeling. Using what were standard budgeting benchmarks from the 1990s, I then projected forward the dollar amount of each decade’s total GDP output that was earmarked for space. The change after the 2040s occurs because of linked social and technological changes: specifically, advances in power generation, drive efficiency, and permanent orbital / lunar construction sites. Together, these factors made the cost of more ambitious projects lower, in the same way that any developed infrastructure makes bigger follow-on initiatives not only more possible but more economical. Ultimately, in the Caine Riordan series, when events conspired to prove that supra-luminal travel is in fact an engineering possibility (in the mid-2080s), that told me how much economic progression and investment in space had already accrued. That, in turn, gave me a legitimate starting place from which to project how much budget was available to devote to the achievement of the drive itself. It also reduced the cost of building the ship which would be furnished with the drive, since prior achievements reduced the total expenditures required. In other words, a lot of subsystems were available off the shelf, rather than requiring special new construction and research.

Do you have an ETA for the Broken Worlds trilogy? Can you provide teasers, e.g. is it set on this world or another al la Middle Earth? Anything else about it?

I can’t tell you the actual publication date of the Broken Worlds trilogy with any authority, I can tell you that I should be writing the first book by this fall. I suspect that it will be slated for publication sometime in 2020, but that is pure guesswork. The series is not set on this world, although readers will immediately detect some tantalizing echoes and resonances of Earth from various periods and locations. Those are quite intentional within the informed reality of that world. In other words, if you see parallels to Earth cultures, that is not because I am simply plugging in some easily accessible (and tired) terrestrial tropes. They are there for a reason. And that reason is part of the genre-subverting core of this trilogy.

The world on which this trilogy begins, known as Arrdanc, is indeed a broken world. However, almost none of the inhabitants are cognizant of the contradictions which exist all around them and under their feet. The story focuses on the protagonist, Druadaen, who, by dint of chance and birth, stumbles across these cracks in the apparently seamless and well integrated social and physical reality in which he lives.

How did your collaborations with Eric Flint and Steve White come to be?

I want to start by saying that I cannot imagine being more fortunate in a pair of collaborators than having the pleasure to work with Eric Flint and Steve White. Both partnerships developed from earlier acquaintances that rapidly became friendships.

In the case of Steve White, we began meeting over bourbons at conventions in the tidewater region, where I listened to his laments about his then-collaborator’s inability to complete the Starfire novel that ultimately became Extremis. It was mostly rewritten from the ground up. It was a great experience and the first novel I ever wrote.

At roughly the same time, I met Eric on a panel at Lunacon and wrote him a novella which he accepted immediately even though he wasn’t sure where he could use it. Before I had a chance to really do anything more, he, too needed someone to jump in on a novel. And on pretty short notice. That novel became Papal Stakes and I have since completed two other novels in the Ring of Fire series.

Are there any other projects in the works that you’re free to discuss? Any future collaborations, perhaps?

The sixth and seventh novels of the Caine Riordan series are already contracted, and Toni Weisskopf has accepted the outlines for novels eight and nine. She has also accepted two more novels in the Consolidated Terran Republic universe which feature other major characters as protagonists. One, Misbegotten, is mostly centered on Riordan’s son, Connor, and is the story of his development as a young naval officer in the midst of Earth’s transition to a more integrated set of armed forces. And if you know anything about my books, you know that that will not be an easy or pleasant transition. At all. There’s one other character in the book that I don’t want to give away here, because that would just be way too big a spoiler.

The other book in that universe is titled Triage and will be a collaboration with Eric Flint, who’s now going to be playing in my sandbox for a change! Keep an eye out for the Ktor villains you love to hate!

I can’t reveal a sekrit projekt that I am in the process of finishing for another very well known series. I can say that it’s  a considerable stylistic departure for me, told in first person.

After writing the Eddie Cantrell sequel this summer, Eric and I will embark upon what may be the most epic single project in the ring of fire Universe to date. Tentatively slated for writing next year, it is essentially what you might call the world at war. Without giving away any outcomes, the series is currently at a major historical tipping point. That point is defined by whether or not the Ottomans continue their advance, are held fast in a durable stalemate, or are driven back from Austria and the Balkans. Suffice it to say, that when readers get to the end of this book (or two-book dyad), they will have a lot more answers to that question.

There is another Ring of Fire book that I am now completing with Robert Waters entitled 1637: Calabar’s War. It is set in South America and the Caribbean. The title character is in fact drawn from a fairly famous (and in some people’s view, notorious), historical figure from Brazilian history.

In the very near future, the first anthology set in the Caine Riordan universe will be coming out through Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press. The anthology is titled Lost Signals and is mostly written by fellow professionals who also happened to be fans of the series, many of whom approached me about doing such a project years ago. For a variety of reasons, Toni Weisskopf and I decided that this project was probably not right for Baen, since its very structure would probably make brick and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble’s gaze askance at it. Not to give too much away, it’s called Lost Signals because the overarching conceit is that there are a variety of news stories presented as brief bits of IINS wire copy. Then, each piece of fiction shows the real truth behind each piece of wire copy. Those are the invisible truths that gives the book its title: Lost Signals.

You just returned from New York’s Heliosphere, a new event in the Greater New York area, where you were the Guest of Honor. Will you tell us a little bit about it and what you discussed with attendees?

Heliosphere was an absolute blast. I was there for its first iteration in 2017 as a special guest. I guess I didn’t repel anybody that strongly, because they reached out again and made Eric Flint and I the guests of honor for 2018.

It’s an extremely well-run convention, not too big, but growing consistently. It is also where we held this year’s 1632 Minicon, an annual event that enables fans of the series to gather with the major authors of the universe and to ask them questions and get glimpses of coming events that have not been revealed elsewhere.

I would recommend anybody who can get to the con to go. Heliosphere is a great weekend.

If your followers care to conduct a face-to-face with you, where can they find you over the remainder of this year?

My activities for the rest of the year include Balticon on Memorial Day weekend, then Fyrecon in Utah, where I have been invited as a master guest. What that means is that I teach extended seminars on practical writing topics. Fyrecon is primarily a gathering of  hopeful, journeymen, or more advanced professionals, first and foremost. And I am honored to have been asked to be one of the master presenters.

After that I share the guest of honor spot with my old friend and gaming companion Jane Lindskold at Congregate in South Carolina.

Next on my roster is Libertycon, where I am one of the guests of honor, this time by dint of being the master of ceremonies. I look forward to getting together with the many friends and readers that I am fortunate to see there every year.

Then it is on to being one of the Guests at Dragoncon, which is always a huge amount of fun and a complete madhouse.

Finally, my last solid commitment for the year is at  the ever-excellent and reading-focused DC area con, Capclave.

To give my site’s visitors a better feeling for Charles Gannon, the man (as opposed to Charles Gannon, the author), would you care to share something about your home life?

My home life is a very rich one but often so hectic that it’s hard to get the writing done on schedule. I have four children ranging in age from 11 to 21. Inasmuch as my wife works in an executive position well away from our home, I’m almost always the guy on the other end of the phone when any given domestic wrinkle or crisis comes through. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Thank you, Charles, for taking time out of your schedule to share with us. Before I present my site’s visitors with an excerpt from Caine’s Mutiny, followed by the links where they may follow you and purchase a copy, I’d like to conclude with a traditional Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: brother from another mother.

The one thing I cannot do without is: time to write.

The one thing I would change about my life: increase the time available in which I can write.

My biggest peeve is: People who ostensibly take pride in being part of our Democratic Republic and then don’t stop to examine evidence and claims carefully, and/or who forget that if there is no courtesy in discourse, soon there will be no discourse left at all. At that point, people tend to start shooting—or worse.

The person(s) I’m most satisfied with is/are: my children.

Excerpt:

Riordan stood. “Sergeant Fanny, secure both the mouth of the cave and your present six. I’ll be there in two minutes.”

“You, sir? Coming out here?”

Riordan felt all three pairs of eyes on the bridge upon him. “I say again, I will be joining you. Hold the creepers in position, out of sight. I want two of the personnel you have covering the cave to swap out their lethals for suppressive rounds. Low juice feed, high rate of fire. And gas grenades for your tubes. If possible, we are going to keep this from turning into bloodshed. Keep me updated. Riordan out.”

“Sir—” started Sleeman and Solsohn.

“No time,” Caine interrupted. “And no time to equip a Know-It-All rig.”

“Even so, sir, protocol in this situation—”

“Does not encompass the variables here. Of which, one is paramount.” He was already at the ready locker just beyond the valve to the bridge. “Who here speaks Hkhi?”

Silence.

Riordan grabbed a duty suit already fitted with a ballistic liner. “I speak about four hundred words. That’s probably at least three hundred ninety-nine more than they’ve heard from a human so far. So if there’s a chance to talk our way out of a fight, this is the moment. Once blood is spilled, it becomes an Honor issue. Finding a way back to a parley would be difficult and highly unlikely.”

“Yeah, I heard about that crap,” Karam muttered. “Scuttlebutt is that once Honor is involved, they become bushido bear-aardvarks beating their horse chests and making much ado about nothing.”

Caine pulled a CoBro 8mm liquimix rifle out of the ready-rack. “It’s life and death to them, Karam. Talking to them, rather than shooting at them, in the next five minutes could mean the difference between getting our people out of here peacefully, or going to war. But if if comes to shooting, I’m going to need to know if our suppressives will work, Dr. Sleeman.”

“Right. I’ll get on the research. With the eye that’s not watching the sensors.”

“Commodore,” Duncan murmured. “Protocol says you must be wearing an armor shell—a cuirass, at least—before you—”

“Major, you are correct to quote the regs. I am exercising commander’s privilege to disregard due to extenuating circumstances. And if those circumstances become more extenuating than we hope, you are in charge of Pullerin the event of my—my prolonged absence. You will also inform Major Rulaine that he is brevetted to lieutenant colonel and to carry on as the mission CO.” Riordan grabbed a helmet, moved toward the ventral bay.

Duncan cleared his throat. “Good luck. Sir.”

“You save that luck, Major. This situation is well in hand,” Riordan lied with a smile, then resumed his short jog to the bay.

***

Through the combo goggles, Turkh’saar didn’t look different from any other biogenic world. The outlines of the plant life were so repetitive in form as to be interchangeable and there was no color, not even of the corrected variety. Since the atmosphere on Turkh’saar was an unknown as far as humans were concerned, Riordan was running with a sealed helmet, the filtration set on maximum. The fact that other humans had already been operating here didn’t prove much. For all he knew, they were using filter masks. But, glancing at the Huey again, Caine was coming to doubt that more and more.

The rest of the team showed up as blue triangles on his HUD display, located just ahead, three aiming into the cave, three aiming outward, one hunkered down in the center. Riordan headed for that central triangle, overrode the voice-activation of his tac-set, made sure the external speaker was on. “Coming in on your six,” he said quietly.

The external audio pick ups crackled as Fanny responded. “We see you, Commodore.” If he noticed that Caine was not armored to protocol, he didn’t say anything.

Riordan crouched low as he approached, staying well out of the threat-cone defined by the cave mouth. He took a knee next to where Fanny was keeping his attention divided between the two fire teams. “Sitrep, Top.”

“No movement in the cave, sir, but when our audio pickups are on max gain, we get what sound like voices.”

“Human or Hkh’Rkh?”

“Too faint to say. This cave probably goes back a way. Forty meters, probably more. No further thermals, but we can see inside the first ten meters or so: abandoned sentry posts, noncombat load dumped all over the place. Everyone left in a hurry. Funny they didn’t take these two helicopters.”

“Not if they heard Puller. They probably figured us for Hkh’Rkh and that we’d shoot them out of the sky the moment they took off. What have the creepers found?”

“Solid rock in there, sir. If I send them in further, we’ll lose line of sight and have to resort to broadcast. And that might not be much better. Creepercam shows us what look like some sharp switchbacks. That’ll baffle-block the hell out of their weak broadcast units.”

Riordan wasn’t about to try a blind advance into a cave for which he had no ground plan. “Top, who’s your best with comms and remote ops?”

“Lance Corporal Somers, sir. Head and shoulders above the rest.”

“Okay. When we go in, she’s going to keep one creeper advancing so that it remains just within LoS of our point man. I don’t want to send them an automated greeting card in advance, but I’m not about to charge in there blind, either.”

“And if they tweak to the creeper?”

“Then we’ll have already closed to within ten meters or so.”

“That could get messy, sir. Hand grenades?”

“That’s our last recourse, Top. I’m here to talk to the Hkh’Rkh, not splatter them.”

You can follow Charles Gannon on his website: http://charlesegannon.com

You can purchase a copy of Caine’s Mutiny here: https://www.amazon.com/Caines-Mutiny-Riordan-Charles-Gannon/dp/148148317X

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The Write Stuff – Monday, June 19 – Interview With Gray Rinehart

This week’s guest, Gray Rinehart, is the only person to have commanded an Air Force satellite tracking station, written speeches for Presidential appointees, and had music on The Dr. Demento Show. His fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies, and his first novel is forthcoming from WordFire Press. His nonfiction includes applications of quality improvement principles to education and the military. He is a contributing editor (the “Slushmaster General”) for Baen Books and a singer/songwriter with two albums of mostly science-fiction-and-fantasy-inspired music. He fought rocket propellant fires, refurbished space launch facilities, “flew” Milstar satellites, drove trucks, processed nuclear command and control orders, commanded the largest remote tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network, and did other interesting things during his rather odd USAF career. His alter ego is the Gray Man, one of several famed ghosts of South Carolina’s Grand Strand.

He describes his forthcoming novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, scheduled to be published this month by WordFire Press, as follows:

Every frontier, every new world, tempts and tests the settlers who try to eke out an existence there. In Walking on the Sea of Clouds, a few pioneering colonists struggle to overcome the unforgiving lunar environment as they work to establish the first independent, commercial colony on the “shore” of Mare Nubium, the “Sea of Clouds.” What will they sacrifice to succeed—and survive?

What can you tell us about Clouds?

Most science fiction fans are familiar with lunar colonies of one type or another: the scientific outpost in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the penal colony in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the helium-3 mining outpost in the film Moon, and so forth. Often lunar colonies are established locales, whereas the colony in my story is just getting started; the characters have to build a lot of the infrastructure and deal with problems inherent in setting things up for the first time.

To a degree the colonists feel like unwanted stepchildren in the whole effort because the colony is only meant to support asteroid mining operations. It’s not like a city growing up along a waterway or a main road; it’s more like a mining camp, a company shanty town, or a village that just happens to be a convenient overnight stop between two more important places. But without that mining camp, without the workers in that company town, without that village, things get much more difficult and expensive (if they’re even possible). So the colonists know they’re important to the overall venture, but they sometimes have trouble convincing other people of that.

What was the inspiration behind it?

In many respects this story grew out of my experience as the Chief of Bioenvironmental Engineering at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base. That was my first assignment, and I was responsible for industrial hygiene and environmental compliance for every test program at the lab from small satellite thruster firings to open-air test firings of full-scale Titan solid rocket motors. I learned a great deal about propellants and rocket systems, and as the Chief of the Disaster Response Force I also led real-life emergency responses and cleanup of two rocket propellant fires. So, a lot of things in the book were inspired by things I learned or experienced in that assignment. There are tidbits from other assignments as well, including the year I spent at Thule Air Base, Greenland.

Throughout my career, I was constantly impressed by the technical competence and professionalism of the people who built and maintained and operated the space and missile and communication systems I came in contact with, whether that was as part of the Titan launch business at Vandenberg AFB or doing mobile command and control at Offutt AFB or whatever. I wanted my characters to portray those qualities, but more than that I wanted to explore the stories of people involved in the day-to-day work, the daily struggle. So many stories focus on the people running the show, the commanders and directors making big decisions, but these ventures are so complex that multitudes of people work on them and make them successful. They all have their own parts to play, their own stories to tell, and I wanted to tell them.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

Probably the challenge that pervaded the whole book was trying to portray the scope of the project—it’s a huge undertaking—without getting so bogged down in the details that the story ground to a halt. That may be why stories and histories of other big projects focus on the big personalities that drove them: Oppenheimer and the big-name scientists in the Manhattan Project, von Braun and the astronauts in the Apollo program, and so forth. Each of those programs—every big program—had thousands of people who worked “in the trenches” whose stories have rarely been told. That was one reason I enjoyed Hidden Figures so much: here were ladies who made such an impact on the Mercury program that it would not have succeeded without them, whose stories were previously known to very few. Unsung heroes—why not sing their praises, too?

Establishing a lunar colony would also be a monumental task, and would take a tremendous amount of time and require a huge team of people. I managed some big projects in the Air Force, including the early stages of an eighty-five million dollar construction project, and the sheer number of highly trained, highly motivated, very specialized people who had to work simultaneously doing different tasks in many different parts of the country was mind-boggling. A whole lunar colony would put my measly solid rocket handling facility to shame.

Add in the layers of bureaucracy and oversight, some of it necessary and some of it not, and that would make for pretty tedious reading if we went too deep into it. Nobody wants to read the minutes, let alone the transcript, of a preliminary design review! So the challenge was to include just a few small details here and there, and to mention other details but keep them in the background in order to concentrate on more interesting things. And, for me, since I have some experience in emergency response, the “more interesting” usually had to do with some emergency or other.

What else are you working on?

I recently started writing a fantasy novel that I outlined earlier this Spring. I sent the outline to some friends in the industry to see if they think it tells a story worth pursuing, but even though they haven’t gotten back to me I was interested enough to start organizing electrons into language-like patterns for it. I confess that it’s more epic in scope than I originally thought it was going to be, so I’m not sure what to expect from the effort; I hope my friends agree that it’s a worthwhile project, and I’ll probably work on it for the rest of the year (at least).

Tell us about your path to publication.

How far back do you want to go? Instead of going all the way back to when I first tried (and failed) to write fiction that would sell, let’s concentrate on this novel.

I actually wrote the bulk of this novel not quite a decade ago, after I attended Dave Wolverton’s novel writing workshop. I had already written one novel, way back in 2001, and turned down an abysmal publishing contract on it before eventually trunking it and turning my attention to short fiction.

About the time I started making professional short fiction sales, in 2010, I was ready to shop the novel around. A couple of publishers and agents had nice things to say but didn’t pick it up because the novel doesn’t fit into any convenient categories: it’s a near-future story with no aliens and no threat to all of humanity, not a far-flung space opera in which the fate of millions hangs in the balance; it’s very much a story about people, their motivations and relationships, but it’s not a romance; that sort of thing. So after I made the rounds of the major publishers, I started sending it to small presses.

The story garnered more interest at the small presses—plural, because I’d send it to one, and after a while if they didn’t say “no” I’d send it to another, until at one point it was at two other places besides WordFire Press and all three of them were still considering it. Then a fourth, much newer, press offered me a contract. I told them a few other places had been looking at the novel, and I contacted each of the others and let them know I had a contract in hand. And that was when WordFire said (effectively) hey, wait a minute, we’ve got dibs. Which made for a bit of an awkward conversation with the house that first offered me a contract, but everything was out in the open and we were all professional about it.

So, something of a “long and winding road” in terms of getting this novel out.

I find that process interesting. Every now and then an author shows me a slightly different approach—in this case multiple, simultaneous submissions—with a differing outcome.

Stepping back onto more familiar ground, I’ll ask what compels you to write?

I wish I knew. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse trying to write!

Seriously, I don’t have a good answer for this because in some respects I think I enjoy the product more than the process of creation.

I do, however, enjoy the challenge of finding ways to describe or articulate things so they’re understandable, so they make sense. From that aspect I think I’m better at the craftsmanship side of writing than I am at what I think of as the “design” side. I’m more of a wordsmith than a storyteller, and since I was a carpenter in my youth I use that as a metaphor: when it comes to my writing, I’m a much better carpenter than I am an architect. I think that’s part of what made me a pretty fair speechwriter: I loved the challenge of taking a speaker’s message and finding a way to fit it to an audience and an occasion so it would resonate with the listeners.

Maybe the question I really find hard to answer is why I write fiction in particular. I do like writing various kinds of things, but I find creating a story from scratch to be very trying. But when it works, it’s worth the effort.

Tell us about your job at Baen Books.

I’m a contributing editor (unofficially, the “Slushmaster General”) for Baen Books. I evaluate the vast majority of our unsolicited manuscripts, and recommend those I think are good candidates for the Baen line to the publisher for her consideration.

Do you have any pet projects?

I don’t know if they qualify as “pet projects,” but I have a lot of interests outside of the usual writing and editing.

My music is probably my best-known creative pursuit outside of writing prose. I have a couple of CDs out, two of my songs were played on The Dr. Demento Show, and a few conventions have even let me do concerts. At one point I thought I’d be recording a third CD this year—which would’ve been pretty cool, to have a novel and a new album in the same year—but it didn’t work out. I’m still writing new songs, but a new CD will wait a little longer. Instead, I’ve been cobbling together some music videos of songs from my existing albums.

Speaking of video, I started another new project this year: a video series I call “Between the Black and the White.” The episodes are only a few minutes long, and most so far have been education-related: kind of companion pieces to the new version of my nonfiction book on education. I’ll keep that going as long as I’m having fun with it—and I’m always looking for ideas for new episodes!

Thank you, Gray, for spending time with us. Before I share your social links and provide an excerpt from Walking on the Sea of Clouds, I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… Renaissance Man. Seriously, he tells people that pretty frequently. It’s a great compliment, but a shade embarrassing.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Oxygen.

The one thing I would change about my life: Only one thing? I have so many… Here’s a big one: I would like to have been more forgiving of myself.

My biggest peeve is: Rudeness.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: My wife. We’ve been married 32 years as of June 1st.

 

Walking on the Sea of Clouds excerpt:

The only warm color in the room was the red-brown ribbon of blood that flowed through translucent plastic tubing from Stormie’s right arm to the scanner and back again.

The rest of the antiseptic room blazed cold under the fluorescent lights: the row of cabinets labeled with machine-like precision, the stainless steel table with its orderly array of implements, the ubiquitous anatomy poster. The IV drip into her left arm was clear as ice water. Even the scanning and filtration unit itself, squat and boxy in its cream-colored housing with sky blue faceplate, seemed unwarmed though her blood flowed through it.

Over-conditioned air bit through the hospital gown, and Stormie wished she had taken the thin blanket the nurse offered. At least the gown was a tri-fold—a wrap-around with three arm holes—even if it had to be the standard putrid green.

Nothing to be afraid of, she told herself. Nothing but a million microscopic hunter-killers coursing through your blood.

Stormie squirmed a little on the padded table, and the paper covering crackled loud as thunder. The tubing pulled against the tape that secured it to her arm. In places where the light hit the tubing just right, her blood looked as dark as her skin.

Dr. Nguyen’s smiling face appeared in the wire-crossed glass set in the door. He waved, then came in carrying the brushed aluminum clipboard with all the release forms she’d signed. She hadn’t read them, of course; she supposed no one did. Written in the most obscure dialect of legalese, their clauses and codicils were inaccessible to those uninitiated in the lawyerly arts, even people who were otherwise smart; if system administrators could erect electronic barriers as formidable as lawyers’ linguistic barriers, no computer firewall would ever be breached. The papers all boiled down to I-understand-the-risks-associated-with-this-procedure-and-accept-the-improbable-but-very-real-possibility-that-it-may-result-in-my-death-or-permanent-disability. She had signed them with barely a first thought.

Dr. Nguyen’s black, greasy hair stuck out above one ear, as if he’d just gotten up from a nap at his desk. “How are you doing?” he asked. He reached out his slender hand and Stormie shook it for the third time this morning. “Everything still okay? No irritation?” He bent toward her arm and examined the needle site.

“Seems okay,” Stormie said. “I’m cold, though.”

The door opened again and the same stout, blonde nurse who had witnessed the paperwork—Nurse Myracek—carried in a plastic transit case about the size of a six-pack cooler. The dark, almost hunter-green case contrasted with the room’s stark brightness. She set the case next to the equipment on the steel table as Dr. Nguyen asked her to bring Stormie a blanket. She gave Stormie an “I told you so” look, but smiled and nodded to make it a friendly comeuppance.

“You’ll want to lie back now,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Stormie complied, and the clean paper sheet scrunched against her back. Her empty stomach complained about the preparatory fast. In a moment, Nurse Myracek had her expertly swaddled under a soft, robin’s-egg-blue blanket and put a small pillow under her head.

Stormie remembered something in a poem about the night, lying on the table … something about anesthesia … she tried and failed to recall the line. It might be appropriate, somehow.

Dr. Nguyen snapped opened the clasps on the transit case. They clattered down one by one, then he took off the lid and lifted out a syringe about the size of a cigar. He started making notes on his clipboard.

“Just think,” Nurse Myracek said. “That came from outer space.”

Stormie smiled a little. The nurse made it sound as if the picophages in the syringe were alien creatures brought back to Earth by some survey team. They didn’t come from outer space per se, they were grown and processed in the high-vacuum, medium-orbit foundry that the Low-Gee Corporation developed from the space station nanocrystalline laboratory. “Pico-” was marketing hype: they were smaller than almost any other nanomachines, but not three orders of magnitude smaller. So far they were one of only two commercial products that seemed to require low-gravity manufacture, but on that shallow foundation Low-Gee had built a small technical empire. A greater hurdle than making the things in the first place had been figuring out how to prepare them for descent into the Earth’s gravity well; the shock-and-vibration-damping packaging was expensive, but still cheaper than sending people into orbit for treatment.

Stormie nodded. They came from outer space. And you’re going to put them in me.

 

Visitors can follow Gray Rinehart at the following links:

Website:         graymanwrites.com

Blog:               graymanwrites.com/blog/

Facebook:      facebook.com/gray.rinehart

Twitter:          @grayrinehart

 His author page on Amazon, where you can purchase his non-fiction work “Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It” while you’re waiting for Walking on the Sea of Clouds’ forthcoming release is: https://www.amazon.com/Gray-Rinehart/e/B001KINULM/

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, May 8 – Interview With David Boop

I am pleased to feature today’s guest, WordFire Press author, David Boop. David is a Denver-based speculative fiction author. He’s also an award-winning essayist, and screenwriter. Before turning to fiction, David worked as a DJ, film critic, journalist, and actor. As Editor-in-Chief at IntraDenver.net, David’s team was on the ground at Columbine making them the first internet only newspaper to cover such an event. That year, they won an award for excellence from the Colorado Press Association for their design and coverage.

His debut novel, the sci-fi/noir She Murdered Me with Science, is back in print from WordFire Press after a six-year hiatus. His next novel, The Soul Changers, is a Victorian Horror tied in to the Rippers Resurrected RPG from Savage Worlds. Additionally, Dave is prolific in short fiction with over fifty short stories and two short films sold to his credit. In 2017, he edited the weird western anthology, Straight Outta Tombstone, for Baen. While also known for weird western series The Drowned Horse Chronicle, he’s published across several genres including horror, fantasy, and media tie-ins for Predator, The Green Hornet, The Black Bat and Veronica Mars. His RPG work includes Flash Gordon and Deadlands: Noir for Savage Worlds.

He’s a single dad, Summa Cum Laude creative writing graduate, part-time temp worker and believer. His hobbies include film noir, anime, the Blues and Mayan History.

Two of his works came out on the same day of April this year: She Murdered Me with Science, a noir sci-fi gum shoe detective novel and A Whisper to a Scheme, a self-published novel of the same ilk. Whisper can be quickly described with its back cover blurb:

My name is Noel R Glass and I’m not your average gumshoe. What I am is a pariah from the theoretical physics game; a former wunderkind who watched his future dissolve like the victims of my failed experiment. Years later, I’m finally putting my intellect to work solving crimes with science, not instinct. Well, mostly. Instinct told me the angelic damsel in a black dress who walked into my office was bad news. What made it worse is she admitted to possibly killing her husband, Millionaire Mercantile Maverick Marlin Black. Now I have to find Mr. Black, or his corpse, before the cops do. Otherwise, they won’t look beyond the bedroom eyes of his gorgeous widow. But I know different. It’s not just a hunch, but the science of the bullet that took down Black doesn’t add up. I’m on the run to find a rifle that kills without making a sound. Even my genius brain might need help on this one. Who can I turn to? Certainly not the Widow Black or any of Marlin’s associates. They’ve all got motives. No. The type of assistance I need comes in the form of a Japanese gangster with a Chinese Name. But if Wan Lee helps me, what will he ask for in exchange? Damn those dames singing the “Save Me” blues. Why aren’t I smart enough to just walk away?

As for She Murdered Me with Science, here’s a quick introduction:

My name is Noel Glass. I once was a respected scientist and madly in love. All that ended in a splash of scarlet. I can never forget, and I will never forgive myself.

It’s 1953 and I’m a shamus working the streets of Industry City. I don’t rely on instinct; science is my game. The cases I get, and the booze I drink, keep oblivion just a step away. That is, until some rich recluse walks in and tells me that accident from all these years ago was a set-up, a frame job, and I was meant to take the fall.

Now I have to clear my name… like that’s easy. Everyone’s keeping secrets. Who can I trust? My neighbor, the mysteriously connected Wan Lee? Or the songbird Merlot Sterling? Her lies are almost as beautiful as her voice. Even the muscle-bound bodyguard I inherited can’t keep the hit men, spies — or my own government — from trying to put me six-feet under.

You see, this secret organization believes I know something and wants to keep me quiet. All I do know is they’re aiming to remake the world into their own twisted image using a device I created. They’ve already axed one world leader, and Ike could be next.

God, I could use a shot of bourbon and some answers, but neither comes cheap these days.

Tell us about your most recent release.

I have two. One, the re-release of my first novel, She Murdered Me with Science, which has been out of print since 2010. It’s a sci-fi noir set in the 50s. Noel R. Glass was once a child prodigy, tops in his field of physics, but then at the height of his fame, an experiment goes wrong and kills several people including the woman he loved. Fourteen years later, he works doing an early form of forensics, considered a dirty science at the time. A rich recluse walks into his office and tells him the accident wasn’t his fault, he was set up. Glass goes on a quest to clear his name, but runs afoul of lies, deceptions, and conspiracies in a world on the verge of a global war. WordFire Press was kind enough to re-release it. I also self-published a prequel, set one year before the events in the novel called, A Whisper to a Scheme.

What was the inspiration behind it?

I grew up switching back and forth between reading mystery novels and sci-fi/fantasy. When I set forth to write a novel, I wanted to bring the best of both worlds into it. The pulp setting of the 50s allows for the seamless blend of weird science with the detective noir voice. However, it was the prolog that really set me on this course. I dreamt the prolog, much as you read in the book. It involves a murder, and when I woke up, I knew I had to invent a character to solve the murder from my dream.

I created a character that reflected the best traits of the pulp detectives I loved: hard drinking, fallen hero, seeking redemption – a combination of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin in one person. But I also needed supporting characters that were familiar, but not clichés. I have an Asian sidekick who constantly does the last thing you’d expect a sidekick to do. I give Noel a femme fatale, but made her African-American to reflect the racial tensions of the era. I put in assassins, spies, and real people from the times. I wanted the book to feel like it was written in the fifties.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

Revision has always been my bane. I’m very ADD and the revision process is almost physically painful to me. And then going back some ten years since I first started writing it and seeing all the errors was grueling. However, the fact I could see them now was uplifting, as it meant I’d definitely improved as a writer over that time.

What other novels have you written?

I have a novel for Pinnacle set in the Savage Worlds roleplaying game. It’s a tie-in to their Rippers world, a Victorian Horror setting similar to the Penny Dreadful TV series. It’s called The Soul Changers and will be out later this year. I also have some fifty short stories in print, with another several due out this year, including a Predator story co-written with Peter J. Wacks. Additionally, I edited an anthology of weird westerns called Straight Outta Tombstone for Baen.

What else are you working on?

I have several projects due this year, including a historical fantasy, a WWII sci-fantasy middle reader in the vein of Hugo Cabaret, the follow-up to the SMMS, and a Flash Gordon RPG I just finished a sourcebook for.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I’m a binge writer. I write whenever I can, as much as I can, and then I go throw up. Seriously, I have no writing schedule. Life won’t let me.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Novel, yes. Anything shorter, no. Having a good outline can mean a lot to an editor.

Why do you write?

Because I’m no good at anything else. No, seriously. I’ve held well over 100 different jobs in my lifetime. I used to work two or three at a time. I’d get bored and move on. Writing is the only thing that allows me to sleep. I have a lot of ideas and they won’t let me go until I trap them on e-paper. I cannot imagine doing anything else.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Keeping a rhythm. Novels flow best when they are worked on at a steady pace. I do not have a steady pace sort of life. I wish I did. I would love a routine that allowed me the freedom to write a certain amount of hours a day. As it is, I spend most of my time researching, then creating the outline, and then, if I’ve done parts one and two correctly, I should be able to drop in and just following the outline. Easy-peasy, right? Instead, the flow is disrupted by edits for other projects due yesterday, kids needing stuff yesterday, and bills that need to be paid yesterday. It’s a glamorous life, no?

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

You can do that? Really? I never knew. Hahahaha! I do a whole talk on this subject. Since my novel first came out in ’08, I’ve been plagued with loss: family members, mentors, close friends. I’ve been hit with health issues. My son was diagnosed as autistic. I’m suddenly responsible for my 93 year old step-father. So, it’s been a bit overwhelming. But what got me through was never losing sight of the goals. I wrote short stories when novels were impossible to write. I wrote flash fiction when short stories were impossible to write. I kept my name out there even when I lost 50% of the fan base I’d built during the first release of SMMS. It’s why I now have so many anthologies. Little steps. Trying to go big will cause failure. Breathe. Write a gunfight. Build the story around why later. Just get some words on the page. Write badly. Fix in post. Keep your professional friends close around you. They’ll remind you why you’re doing this. Their successes will motivate you. And have faith, if only in yourself, but a higher power isn’t bad either. If I didn’t have my faith, I would have packed it in some time ago. I know that being a writer is my purpose. I can’t stray too far from the path that has been laid out for me.

Do you have any pet projects?

I love working on RPGs. I’ve done two for Pinnacle, so far. They use the Savage Worlds system. I just did a Flash Gordon sourcebook for them. I’m also writing for Moonstone Books, doing classic pulp heroes. I might also be editing an anthology for them in the near future.

Before I give visitors a sample from She Murdered Me With Science, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. Please answer in as few words as possible.

My best friend would tell you I’m … Certifiably insane, but creative.

The one thing I cannot do without is: TV

The one thing I would change about my life: The amount of TV I watch.

My biggest peeve is: Being called by my last name by people who don’t really know me.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My past. It got me here.

For those who’ve been waiting for it, here is the excerpt from She Murdered Me that I’ve Promised:

As I reached my apartment door, I found it already unlocked and open a crack. While I might have still been suffering a little barrel fever from the night before, I remembered clearly closing and locking it. I listened and heard the subtle sounds of rustling inside.

I had no weapon to speak of, save for a pocketknife. I unfolded the blade and launched myself into the apartment.

The wall I ran into felt suspiciously like someone’s back. I looked up until I found a neck. Sure enough, the mountain in front of me was a man. I jumped back into the hallway as the wall turned around. What best could be described as a shaved silverback gorilla smiled at me. His frame filled the doorway, keeping me from seeing who else was in the room.

“Sir?” the gorilla said, “I think he’s here.”

A weak voice came from somewhere behind it, err … him.

“Does the man have dark hair, intense eyes, and a hawk-like nose?”

I had never been sized up so quickly, but there it was.

“Yes, sir, that’s him.”

“Well? Let the man into his own place, Vincent. We have to talk.” Vincent stared at my hand.

“He’s got a weapon. Should I take it?” The question left no doubt as to if he could, just whether he should.

“Heavens, no! A man can defend his castle, no matter what form that castle takes.” He let out a hollow cough then, “Now move out of the way.”

Like a boulder rolling aside to open a cave, Vincent slid over, allowing me access to the room.

“Open sesame,” I whispered, but I’m sure the man-mountain heard.

I surmised from the angle of the second voice, the man running this show was in my lab. I moved cautiously past the gorilla-man, folding the blade back into its protective sheath.

As a child, you are taught opposites. The man looking over my blueprints was the best example of a contrast to his partner I could imagine. While Vincent was swarthy and bearlike, his master was anything but: tiny; frail; blotchy skin; and, as he ran a finger over the designs, seemingly intelligent. He used a cane to steady himself as he leaned over my drafting table. Dangling from his neck, a gold chain with a ring hung low. An indentation on his skeletal ring finger indicated that he had gotten too thin to keep it there anymore.

“This design is sound. You finally fixed the catalytic converter, I see.”

I never like to look surprised. It has added to the legend that I’m some sort of genius. I had to come up with some quick deductions to keep the ball in play.

“Along with a few other changes, Mr. Reece, but then you haven’t seen The Atlantis designs in quite a while. Not that you should have seen them at all, but I guess a man as affluent as you are has first dibs on everything coming out of NMIT, right?”

He kept running a finger around the prints. “First guess. I’m pleased your attention to detail hasn’t weakened in your banishment. I was also glad to hear what you had chosen to do in the private sector. Keeps those skills sharp, doesn’t it?”

“Okay, you know me and now I know you, Mr. Reece.” With my sarcasm dial fully engaged, I asked, “How can I be of service?”

Old Money didn’t want to let the designs go. I stepped in front of him. Vincent placed a hand on my shoulder as a warning. I stared up at him incredulously while I waved a finger at Reece. “Tsk, tsk. Just like the bearded lady at the circus, you get one look for free. You need to pay extra for a closer look.”

He tittered at the comment. Maybe he liked bearded ladies and was remembering some long-lost encounter. I don’t know; maybe he just found me amusing. He slid away and slowly moved into the area I call an office. Vincent heeled, helping him into the most comfortable seat.

I entered the room, took my usual chair behind the desk, and leaned forward expectantly.

“I’m being murdered, Mr. Glass, and it’s your fault.”

And here I was, thinking this day was looking up.

 

If you’d care to follow David online, you may do so via these links:

Website:         www.davidboop.com

Facebook:      www.facebook.com/dboop.updates

Twitter:          @david_boop

You can purchase his books here:  http://a.co/bBlXBRP