Reading the text: Taylor Anderson
Posted by Randolph Carter on September 8, 2009
Could you take a minute and explain what your Destroyermen series is about?
Just as seems to be the case throughout US history, the United States was utterly unprepared for war, particularly in the Pacific, in ’41-’42. The Pacific Fleet, while formidable, was surprised at Pearl Harbor and effectively taken out of the fight for a time. That left, arguably, the least prepared element of the US Navy–the US Asiatic Fleet–to face the Japanese juggernaut all alone for a while.
For the most part, the Asiatic Fleet was composed of antiques–relics left over from WWI–that had not even been updated or “modernized.” Even the “culture” of the Asiatic Fleet had remained essentially unchanged since the 19th Century. Add faulty torpedoes and a material inability to deal with threats from the air, allies with different political imperatives and even languages, and you have a situation strikingly similar to the Spartans at Thermopylae–without the advantageous terrain.
This is the setting at the beginning of the Destroyermen Series: Obsolete ships that have done their best in an impossible situation, and are now simply trying to avoid destruction. Historically, few actually did. The Asiatic Fleet was essentially erased.
Two of these Asiatic Fleet relics, WWI era “four-stacker” destroyers, engage in an historically accurate action in which HMS Exeter, HMS Encounter and USS Pope are destroyed, but they, USS Walker and USS Mahan are swept, bleeding and broken, to an “alternate Earth” where evolution has taken an entirely different track.
One of the “characters” in the series is unquestionably USS Walker, with all her quirks and faults, but the story is ultimately about her people, her crew–and the bizarre variety of “people” they meet in the odd “fire” they jumped into from the “frying pan.” The story is also about duty and honor, the “do the right thing even when absolutely NOBODY is looking kind.”
Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?
Well, basically, I was going through life doing what I do (building custom firearms, teaching, making movies and documentaries, etc,) when I decided to write a book. I know that sounds flippant, but it is true. I love to write and have always wanted to, but my other pursuits always seemed to get in the way. I decided to write a book that incorporated as many of my interests as possible, things I was passionate about, and when it was finished, I started sending it out. I really didn’t know much about the publishing industry, but I was incredibly lucky to find an agent who liked my tale and was willing to take the time to tell me what it needed to be marketable. His name is Russell Galen, and not only do I believe he is the finest agent in the business, I consider him a good friend. Anyway, I now know that my experience was extremely atypical and I never take the “miracle” of my publication for granted. I NEVER take the great fans who have signed aboard for Walker’s adventures for granted! All the supportive mail I get is incredibly humbling and inspiring and my goal now has shifted slightly away from just “writing for the fun of it” to entertaining all the folks who have been caught up in my story. It’s still fun, but also profoundly gratifying to know that I’m not just writing for myself anymore. Writing has become “what I do.”
Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?
I was a huge reader. To this day, I can’t go to sleep at night without a book in my hand. I read EVERYTHING. I have been known to read toothpaste tubes when there is nothing else. As a kid, I devoured Robert Louis Stevenson, DeVoto, Heinlein, Homer, Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Kent, Theodore Roscoe, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Alan Eckert, Ed Beach . . . More recently, add David Weber, Michael and Jeff Shaara, Jack McDevitt, Dean Koontz, David Drake . . . I have left plenty out; the list is endless but the point is, I will read just about anything. I spend at least as much time on non-fiction as I do on fiction, and the fiction might be from any genre.
What do you find yourself reading these days?
Lately, more often than not, I am scouring technical manuals and histories trying to glean as much information as possible about the technical aspects of the stuff in my series. It is a pretty tall order. You can usually find details about all sorts of things, but putting them in context is harder. The Journals of Lewis and Clark are a good example. They detailed all the discoveries they made very carefully, but you will learn little about the methods they used for daily survival because at the time, those methods were common knowledge. Why include common knowledge in journals detailing fantastic discoveries?
Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?
I enjoy games of all sorts. I built up a collection of WWII 1/72nd scale armor and infantry on literally, a corps level, complete with rules and the whole nine yards. It was a “board game” I guess, but it was HUGE. We used to play it a lot in college, in ROTC, but mostly we’d dedicate a room to it at somebody’s house. The trouble was, when you played it, you were committing to a major pitched battle that might take days and in college, and later life, time and space just didn’t allow for a sprawling battle to dominate your home for an indefinite period.
We also used to get together and play “Wooden Ships and Iron Men,” or a derivative we came up with using hand-carved and painted 18th century warships. Sometimes we’d play “Axis and Allies.” Lots of fun.
I had some friends that were into RPG’s and we came up with some rules for a “Fur-Trade Era” game that involved mountain men, Indians of different tribes and, of course, wild animal encounters and unforeseen hardships. We never got a chance to really finish that one up.
Today, every now and then, my daughter and I will play some console stuff and she usually kicks my butt. It often ends up with something like: “Silly Daddy, you know a P-40 can’t turn with a Zero!”
Most recently, we used to do a lot of “Historical Reenactments” of everything from the 30yrs war to the Philippine Insurrection. Mostly Civil War and Mexican War. I guess that’s “role playing” in a way. We had the cannons for movies and documentaries and competition, so why not play with them when we had the chance? Not much time for that now, and we’re all getting a little old and crippled-up to heave 3,000 pound artillery pieces around a field, but we still do it now and then. Keeps the rust knocked off our drill for the live-fire shoots.
Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your historical reenactment days?
If I was sitting around with some of my old buddies, it would probably be easier because someone would say “remember when?” but for some reason, nothing in particular springs to mind. The overall historical impressions I gathered are much more clear–you have all the sights, sounds, smells, and even sometimes the intensity of 19th century warfare all around you, but somehow, perhaps like a real battle, it all seems to run together, to be condensed or expanded, depending on the situation. Perhaps the closest thing to actual combat is during competition, when you are firing independently amid choking smoke and an almost uninterrupted thunder of guns. Nobody is shooting at you, but you are focused on the same things 18th and 19th Century artillerymen were focused on: Hitting a specific target, and winning.
Lots of funny stuff from movies, but there you are in a bizarre setting surrounded by slightly odd people to begin with. Great folks, for the most part, don’t get me wrong . . . but maybe just a little odd.
Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?
Maybe a little, but it seems to come in spells, mainly at the beginning when you are trying to set the stage for everthing to follow. Once you get past that, it’s smooth sailing–until it’s time to edit!
By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?
I alluded to this earlier. The most rewarding thing, hands down, is knowing people have enjoyed your tale. Sitting around a campfire and telling stories to your buddies is a cinch for any talented storyteller with the “gift of gab.” You know your audience, what they like and don’t, you can feed off their reactions and even use subtle tones of voice and hand gestures! You can even get up and stomp around, physically imitating that hungry feral hog that tried to eat you, much like our distant ancestors probably did. There is no “instant feedback” in writing. It might be months before anyone reads what you wrote. To have them enjoy it, based solely on words to set the stage, describe the actions, motivations, physical activity . . . To GET it . . . THAT is the reward.
When do you find time to write?
I write every day. Like I said, it is what I do. I deeply appreciate the patience of the people I began a custom project for, but so far, all have been very understanding. I tell them they can take it to someone else to finish and I won’t even charge them for the work I’ve already done, but they say “You can always finish my rifle, but I want to know what happens next! (In the story)” I try to work on those projects a little each time I meet a deadline. Right now, I just don’t take on any more. All the other things I used to do for a living have become more like hobbies now.
How do you tend to escape these days?
I shoot skeet with my daughter in the back yard, go sailing or hunting. I only write a little on weekends, and that’s when I “get away.” To relieve stress, I take whatever appliance or gizmo that has failed catastrophically during the week–a coffee maker, for example–and pitch it outside and shoot it full of holes. It is amazing how restorative that can be.
Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?
Like I said, my experience was extremely atypical, but I have begun to learn what works and what doesn’t. The best advice I think I can give is “Persevere and Polish.” Also, never fall in love with your words. Don’t consider each word you write to be a “child of your body.” Be prepared to slaughter them in wholesale lots. You can fall in love with your story–you probably should–but words are just a means of telling it. If they don’t advance the story or give some critical insight, then they aren’t really a part of the story–they are just words. Once I looked over a manuscript for a friend of a friend and the beginning was incredibly wordy. The story was good and the writing even tightened up, but this person had developed an obsession with the opening pages. I recommended ditching a lot of the superfluous and even using a single, more powerful word instead of a dozen here and there–all stuff my agent once told me–and was informed that the person’s wife liked it better the way it was. This resulted in hours of wasted effort on my part and years of frustration on the part of the author. I don’t know if my “help” would have made any difference, but I doubt it would have hurt. The lesson I took from this is basically what I have already said, and also “never agree to look at someone else’s manuscript if each of their words have names.”
You wake up to a world where your Destroyermen novels has been made into a massively multiplayer online game. What character class would you play and why?
That’s a tough one. I get a kick out of all the “classes” I’ve created, and even the Grik become more multi-dimensional as the story progresses. I deliberately didn’t want readers to know much more about them–and other groups–until the main characters had an opportunity to learn more themselves. Personally, if I had to choose, I’d probably be one of the Destroyermen, somebody kind of like Dennis Silva. As I have grown old, decrepit, and “responsible,” I’m probably more like Captain Reddy than my younger self would ever have admitted possible, but that younger self probably had more in common with Silva than I care to admit today.
As more of the story unfolds, there are other characters I think would be fun, but to prevent spoilers, I better not discuss them now.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?
Just that I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to visit with you and I wish you all the best. I ALWAYS welcome feedback, positive or negative–except the anonymous, profane, “drive-by attack blogs.” Who does that kind of thing???–and would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on the series! Feel free to contact me at www.taylorandersonauthor.com.
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