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Interview: Paul Leone

Questions from Gary Oswald

This Interview is with Paul Leone, a regular SLP author.

Hello and thanks so much for talking to us. First of all, how did you get into Alternate History and what appeals you about writing in that genre?

When I was in high school, I happened across one of Mike Resnick's Alternate Anthologies books at the mall and picked it up. I was at the right impressionable age for the better stories in that series to sink deep into my imagination. And while it's only loosely alternate history, I was also a big fan of Marvel Comics' What If? at the time. Being able to try my hand at the same kind of stories I liked so much thirty years ago definitely appeals to me. I was also a history major in college, something I suspect I have in common with a lot of alternate history writers.

You wrote 'In and out of the Reich' for SLP, which is just about the only completely straight Nazi victory scenario we've published. What made you want to try your own interpretation of arguably the classic AH scenario?

One of my absolute favorite AH books is Robert Harris' Fatherland. I wanted to try and explore what a world like that might look like fifty years further on - paranoid, poor, crumbling around the edges, forever finding new Others to oppress.

There's something of a bitter debate about the extent to which you can write AH scenarios where fascism wins without glorifying fascism and making it seem more competent than it ultimately was. 'In and out of the Reich' avoids that by depicting the Nazi state as a decaying failing state instead, how much was that a deliberate aim of the piece?

100% deliberate. The model in my mind was the Soviet Union c. 1980, although the specific situations are a lot different (the post-Stalin USSR not being so totalitarian and genocidal, for instance). The Reich might be able to build nuclear battleships and transcontinental Über-trains, but in every meaningful way, it's falling farther and farther behind the other great powers.

'In and out of the Reich' is your only SLP book, but you're a prolific horror and sci-fi writer with a decent sized back catalogue. What's your favourite book you've written?

The Governess of Greenmere. I had so much fun writing that weird blend of Arthurian lore, high fantasy and 19th century urban fantasy. The main character is one of my favorites, too.

Your books tend to have female protagonists, as a writer why do you think you make that choice?

It wasn't really a conscious choice on my part to begin with. I started writing with fanfic during the 1990s and my show of choice was The X-Files. I tended to like Scully more, so I wrote stories focusing on her, and I guess that sort of locked me on the female protagonist track (with some exceptions like In and Out of the Reich and a few of my short stories).

The other classic AH book that you've written is 'Murder in Jérusalem' about a surviving Crusader Kingdom. What appealed to you about that setting?

The chance to take a more obscure point of divergence and really go wild - history changing on that big a scale so long ago means that world c. 2015 is going to be completely different than our own. I wanted to paint a picture of an utterly different 'Western world' without the impacts of the Renaissance and Reformation.

You're a prolific writer of short stories and have released several collections of them. Do you find it easier to write a short story or a full novel and how do you know if an idea is best suited to which form?

Short stories are easier for me. I have a hard time planning out all the plot beats and character arcs that make a novel interesting. With a story 7-10k words long, the process is a lot simpler.

Your 'Vatican Vampire Hunters' series was praised by for being appropriately and frankly surprisingly respectful and reverent towards the Catholic Church while telling a story about an evil conspiracy of vampires. Are you religious yourself and did you do much research into the religion to try and not be offensive while writing about it?

I am Catholic - I grew up Lutheran and converted about twenty years ago. There wasn't a huge amount of research needed on the religious front - the Catechism doesn't have much to say about vampires for some reason - but I did some work to figure out how a team of Catholic vampire hunters might work alongside the Church's hierarchy, what kind of blessings and prayers they would use before battle, and how to come up with a concept of vampires compatible with Catholic theology. I like to think those two novels managed to be entertaining and non-offensive; most of the reviews have been pretty positive regarding the latter, thankfully.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I have another collection of short stories, The Third Crown and Other Weird Tales, currently being edited; I hope to have it out by the end of the year or early next year at the latest!



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