Questions from Gary Oswald
This Interview is with Robert E Waters, a regular writer for Baen Books who can be found at his website.
Hello. First of all, thank you so much for talking to us.
Hello and thank you for inviting me.
How did you get into writing Speculative Fiction and what appeals to you about writing in that genre?
I got into writing spec fiction roughly around middle school. At the time, I was reading a lot of these fictionalized biographies about famous Americans in history: Sam Clemons/Mark Twain, George Washington, the Wright Brothers, etc. and I started to grow tired of them. So, in my school library, there was a science fiction anthology. I don’t remember the story that I read in it, but from that reading, I was hooked. From there, I started reading a lot of horror fiction (Nick Sharman, James Herbert, Stephen King, etc.), then fantasy, and then science fiction. During this reading blitz of different sub-genres, I tried my hand at writing, and I discovered that I loved writing. So, I decided that that’s what I wanted to do.
What appeals to me the most about speculative fiction is the “what if” aspect of it. Although it can borrow heavily from real events, real science, technology, etc., it asks us to imagine a different world, a different history, and (more often than not) a better future than what we are likely to have. That, most of all, is what appeals to me about speculative fiction.
What tips would you give to less experienced writers, in terms of getting pieces published?
To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, “You must write, you must finish what you write, and you must submit for publication what you finish.” To be a published author you must follow these three steps. And it may take a long time. I was in my thirties before I got my first publication, over 23 years after I started writing and submitting stories to magazines/anthologies. Another good thing to do is to attend science fiction conventions: attend panel discussions about writing, participate in writing workshops. Basically, networking. Get involved in the industry, meet people (authors, editors, publishers, etc.), and learn from what they know. And finally, have a thick skin. It took me over 23 years to get published. Rejection can be debilitating—I know. But stick with it. The more you read, the more you write, the better you become.
You've worked regularly with the late, great, Eric Flint on his epic 'Ring of Fire' series. What appealed to you about writing in that series and how did you become involved?
I was invited to write in the series by Charles E Gannon, one of the main authors in the series. This was in 2009-10. I spent about a year reading in the series before giving it a try. By that time, there were about a dozen novels and anthologies in the series. I read several of them and then gave it a shot. In the fall of 2011, my first story written and accepted was “The Game of War.” Since then, I’ve published about 15 stories in the Grantville Gazette and in a couple of the series’ anthologies. I also have two novel co-authored in the series: 1636: Calabar’s War with Charles Gannon, and 1637: The Transylvanian Decision with Eric Flint.
What appeals to me the most about the series is the alternate history aspects of it. I love alternate history. The idea that a small, rural West Virginian town can be transported back to the Thirty Years’ War and begin to alter the course of European history is quite interesting to me. The characters that Eric created are also very appealing. The size and scope of the series is appealing as well. It’s no longer just confined to Europe. The Americas, China, Russia, and India are also being explored and changed by the so-called “uptimers” who came through the Ring of Fire.
And what was it like working with Eric?
It was a great experience. He and I had talked several years back about collaborating on a novel. Those conversations never bore fruit, but in 2019, we discussed it again and over about a year of planning, working on the outline, etc., 1637: The Transylvanian Decision came alive. We discussed the novel via email, texting, and personal phone calls. Eric would call me pretty much any time during the day, asking questions, telling me what he was about to work on in the novel, etc. Eric was open to letting me know what his plans were, the work that he was about to conduct on the novel, etc. So, the process was smooth and moved very quickly.
Obviously that series has characters from the original book but also new characters. Do you prefer working with characters who are more blank slates that you can paint yourself or characters who Eric fleshed out a bit more and you have some structure?
Well, I don’t have a problem with working with either choice, although I certainly lean more toward characters who are blank slates. In any collaborative effort, one (especially the junior author on the project) can have apprehensions as to how to write a character that has been well-established in the canon prior to your involvement. Such was the case for me on 1637: The Transylvanian Decision. From the beginning, I knew that Gretchen Richter, for instance, was more or less off limits: Eric was going to write her segments, and I had no problem with that. Gretchen is such a force in the series, and one of the first characters Eric created for the first novel (1632), that it was quite proper for him to be in charge of her narrative. But other characters, who had been introduced in previous novels, were written by me. Denise Beasley, for instance, was handed to me to write from the beginning. At first, I was a little apprehensive as to where to take her character, but once I got into her story arch, she flowed quite easily. I was also tasked with writing most of Morris Roth’s storyline as well, including other previous characters like Len Tanner, Ellie Anderson, and Jason Gotkin. So, while it’s best to work with blank slates, I found quite a bit of enjoyment in working with characters Eric had created in previous volumes.
And in terms of that, is there a difference between writing an historical character vs someone who Eric created?
With an historical character that is new to the series, you must do your research and try as best as you can to get the details about that person accurate. It’s not always an easy thing to do and a lot of it depends upon how much historical information you can find on the person in question. Some figures play more prominently in the historical record than others. For instance, Eric had a lot of information to work with for the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, since that man’s contribution to Europe’s Early Modern Age was legion. In contrast, the prince of Moldavia in 1637: The Transylvanian Decision, Vasile Lupu, is less prominent in the historical record, although there certainly is information that can be found on the man, and some very interesting information as well. According to the historical record, Prince Lupu suffered from delusions of grandeur. I had a great time playing with that character flaw in the novel. So, it basically boils down to getting the details about the historical characters as accurate as possible, playing with them to create fun and memorable characters, and making sure they contribute something significant in the novel on which you are currently working. And when working with characters Eric has already created, you need to keep their personalities, mannerisms, behaviors, beliefs, etc. as consistent as possible in your writing so that they don’t deviate overmuch from their original design.
And what are the plans for the series now that its creator is sadly departed?
Since Eric’s passing, Baen Books as announced publicly that there will be other novels published in the series. The next novel in the Russian storyline, written by Eric Flint, Paula Goodlett, and Gorg Huff, will be released in 2023. Beyond that, there were other novels in the Ring of Fire series under contract with some of his co-authors, and those are being worked on as well. So, for the next few years, at least, the Ring of Fire series will continue under Baen Books.
Outside the 'Ring of Fire' series, what work of yours are you most proud of?
There are two that I’m quite fond of. They are:
The Last Hurrah is a media tie-in novel set in Mantic Games’ Warpath Universe, based on their sports game DREADBALL. I love playing the game, and I really enjoyed writing the novel. It has a dynamic cast of characters and several twists and turns that, from the reviews I’ve read of it, are quite popular.
Eyes of the Wolf is a stand-alone novella based on the Central American “cryptid” creature known as El Cadejo (meaning, The Chains). The El Cadejo is a half-goat, half-wolf creature who crosses the Texas border and begins to cause all kinds of havoc in America. The FBI agent assigned to investigate the matter, Chimalis Burton, is one of my favorite characters. She’s part British, part Native American. I have every intention of writing more stories with her as lead.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
In the near future, I have a story coming out in the anthology STARING INTO THE ABYSS…
“The Dolingen Gamble” is about one of Dracula’s brides on a mission to break into Bran Castle and try to rescue a Greek Goddess from the evil clutches of “King” Dracula. It’s a wild ride!
After its release, I have a story coming next year (release date TBD) titled “Mendie and the Boadicea of the Wasteland.” It’s set in a new post-apocalyptic shared universe.
I also have a sequel coming for THE LAST HURRAH. Titled THE FINAL RUSH, it’ll likely be released sometime late next year (2023).
And after all that, if the gods are kind, I’ll continue writing novels in the 1632 universe.