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An Interview With John Schettler - Author Of the Kirov series novels, Part 1

Tell us a little about yourself first. When did you first begin your writing career?

Well, as a novelist I™ve  been active since I  first got my hands on a computer in the mid 1980s. It was a Commodore  64, with a “floppy disk drive” as big as a shoe box, but it had one  marvelous function”word  processing. Before that  it was all pen, paper, and typewriters, so this made writing so much  easier. That said, I™m a terrible typist and wonder how I ever managed  to write 12 novels the way I  peck away at the  keyboard. These days I dictate a lot of my writing with good voice  recognition software.

What was your first novel?

A  book called Wild Zone, which was a classic Science Fiction yarn about an earth colony prospect that has been infected by an insidious virus that can alter the course  of evolution. I actually  developed a computer  game about it, in the old Infocom style of text based games if you™ve  ever heard of them, and then thought“well, just write the whole story.  It ended up as a trilogy,  though I have only  published the first two volumes. But I remain close to the story, as it  was my first, and it had a lot of things I like to write and read  about”biotech, robots, military  action, starship  battles”a real space opera kind of sci-fi epic.

You love military history”that™s evident in your writing.

Yes, I™ve read  and studied military history all my life, and I was a professional war  game designer through the 1990s. I™d say I probably know more about WWII than any of the generals who fought it, and a lot of this interest  finds its way into my fiction. The Meridian time travel series is a typical example. With time travel you get to choose all your favorite places in history and then go exploring.

Meridian won book of the year award for Science Fiction, which must have been exciting.

Yes, I won the silver medal for Sci-fi in 2002  with ForeWord magazine. That helped get me a little attention and made Meridian my top selling novel for some years. It also motivated me to fire up my time machine and visit some of my favorite places with sequels ”  Lawrence of Arabia, the Crusades, Napoleon in Egypt, the Battle of Tours and then I wound up the whole series with a book called Golem 7. That volume comes right from my love of battleships and naval engagements. I read all the books on the hunt for the Bismarck when I was a tadpole. So I finished up my Meridian series novels with an alternate history retelling of the Bismarck chase.

Is that what inspired your novel Kirov?

In many ways, yes. I finished Golem 7 and was considering what to do next. I have four or five stories in  various stages of completion, but somehow I still had the ‘naval bug™ in me. I actually was going to write another alternate history WWII novel  where the Germans have a more ambitious building program and add the Hindenburg to their fleet, along with several other new fast cruiser designs as well as the Graf Zeppelin. Then one day I was on a  naval forum reading a thread on the Iowa and how it could stand with  anything in our  modern navies and I thought about challenging the Royal Navy with a ship like Kirov instead of the Hindenburg.  I must have tapped into a lot of other people™s muse on that, as it has been very well received  and is now my top selling novel.

People have described it as “The Russian Final Countdown.”

Yes, that™s a good way to get a handle on the story. I loved that movie when a modern US aircraft carrier is moved in time and manifests on the eve of the  Pearl Harbor attack. The  only thing about it was  that the story pulls its punches. There is never really any military  action in it beyond a brief duel between an F-14 and a couple of  Japanese Zeros. I decided that if Kirov was going to shift in  time then there was going to be a lot of naval action. I also wanted to  deal heavily with the impact the ship would have on future history, and I hope the book satisfies on both accounts.

Have you read other writers in this genre?

I always enjoy a good naval fiction, but no, I™ve never read anyone else  who was doing alternate  history like this. I  have a rule when I write that I call “do it yourself.” So if I™m on a  topic I don™t read anything similar while I™m writing so I won™t be  influenced by how they  handle their stories.

So what were you trying to do with Kirov?

Well, I have always loved  battleships”big,  threatening ships with armor, guns and real power. There are endless  arguments in the forums over who built the best ships, best guns, armor, overall combinations of speed,  protection and  firepower. Then I wanted to explore just how far naval technology has  advanced versus my beloved WWII era. Kirov filled the bill  perfectly. She was capable of standing with any WWII era ship ever  built, and then some. It was going to take a fleet of ships, perhaps an  entire navy, to deal with a ship like this, and there was my rollicking  naval saga just waiting to be written.

Why did you pick the North Atlantic as the setting?

It™s really my favorite naval zone. The second rule of writing is “write  what you  love.” The duels the  Royal Navy fought with the German raiders were always riveting for me,  and now I had the chance to really have some interesting situations withKirov. One of the  things I wanted to do  was really try to capture the suspense and shock the sudden appearance  of a ship like Kirov might have. The British never dream, for one instant, that this ship is from another era. They function entirely  within their own perspective and make assumptions based on intelligence  available to them at that time in the war.

That™s why they assume Kirov is a German raider?

Of course. What else? It comes out of the Norwegian Sea and runs the  Denmark  Strait. But then  Bletchley Park tracks down the list of all German ships and they slowly  verify the locations of each ship, which deepens the mystery and becomes a confounding riddle for them. In the  meantime, my Russian  characters are equally bemused in the beginning as they try to figure  out what has happened to them.

You have a character there who also loves military history .

Yes, Anton  Fedorov. He carries my love of the history and the long years I have  studied it. At root, any novel involving time displacement is really  just historical fiction with a twist.  Fedorov is my way of  explaining the history to the reader, just as he fishes out the research for Admiral Volsky and Captain Karpov. A great deal of research went  into this story. I basically had to  determine the positions  of every ship in the Royal Navy at the exact time the story opens and  then drop Kirov into the middle of it all. Fedorov conveys that  information to the reader, and I also  focus on this character  as a means of considering the consequences of their actions. That all  important question of which side they should take in the war is the  first hurtle. In that the Russians  realize the implications of the power they have in this impossible situation.

How did you choose this particular date and time for the story?

Just by flipping through the Chronology of the Naval War at Sea. Any WWII naval buff has to love that book. I was looking for an  interesting starting point for the novel. Since I already did my thing  with the Bismarck in the fifth Meridian Series Novel, Golem 7, I next thought about the Tirpitz and the PQ-17 convoy. After all, Kirov operates in those very seas, but then my eye fell on the Atlantic  Charter conference, where both Churchill and Roosevelt were at sea at  the same time for this historic meeting, and it provided me a really  crucial event where the presence of Kirov could have dramatic consequences on the outcome of the entire war, and all future history as well. In effect, Kirov could have a major strategic impact, and not just a tactical duel with  the Royal Navy within the confines of a limited naval campaign.

The Russian characters are interesting. Are they based on real modern day Russian officers?

No, I needed to draw and develop my own Russian  characters without  trying to recreate a living person today. There™s no way you would ever  get that right, as it™s hard enough to include historical figures that  work in any way. So the  Russians are all my own  creation, and I worked hard to try and make them real people”real  Russians as well. I wasn™t trying to write an expose on what life in the Russian Navy is like  today, but the people,  primarily the officers, had to be convincing.

That had to be a great challenge coming from another culture.

Yes, the challenge was to  make them seem Russian, and not American. So I tried to instill as much  Russian culture as practical in the story. Beyond the background sketch  as I draw each character in Part I  of the novel, they all  use common Russian idioms, expressions and metaphors when they speak to  each other, not western equivalents. And the inner soul of writers like  Dostoevsky and Tolstoy haunt  their interior muse. I  try to convey the subtleties of Russian interactions with concepts like blat, babki, vranyo, lozh and toska, some of which have only loose western equivalents.  Yet more than anything I wanted their motives clear and understandable. I think I made them  believable people, and explained what drove them to act the way they did in the story. That was important  because the conflict  among the senior officers over what they should do after they realize  what has happened to them was a central part of the novel.

The ending of this book is a little haunting. What were you doing with that part of the story?

Well, when  you do any story that involves time displacement, you are always faced  with the consequences of any actions your characters take in the story.  In effect, your characters  do things that end up  changing the history, and some consequences can be cataclysmic. All my Meridian Series novels focus intensely on this, as they are basically about a  team of researchers who are trying to preserve the history they know  against future adversaries engaged in a time war. In Kirov The  characters are very aware of the power they have to change the history  and outcome of WWII. That is all part of their struggle in the story. It is not only what that can do with that ship, but what they should do that matters in the end.



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