Tell us a little about yourself first. When did you first begin your writing career?
as a novelist Iāve been active since I first got my hands on a computer in the mid 1980s. It was a Commodore 64, with a āfloppy disk driveā as
big as a shoe box, but it had one marvelous functionā”word processing. Before that it was all pen, paper, and typewriters, so this made writing so
much easier. That said, Iām 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 youāve ever
heard of them, and then thoughtā“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 aboutā”biotech, robots, military action,
starship battlesā”a real space opera kind of sci-fi epic.
You love military historyā”thatās evident in your writing.
Yes, Iāve read and studied military history all my life, and I was a professional war game designer through the 1990s. Iād 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 ā” 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 ānaval bugā 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 ourĀ 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 peopleās muse on that, as it
has been very well received and is now my top selling novel.
People have described it as āThe Russian Final Countdown.ā
Yes, thatās 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, Iāve never read anyone
else who was doing alternate history like this. I have a rule when I write that I call ādo it yourself.ā So if Iām on a topic I
donāt read anything similar while Iām writing so I wonāt be influenced by how they handle their stories.
So what were you trying to do with Kirov?
Well, I have always loved battleshipsā”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?
Itās really my favorite naval zone. The second rule of
writing is āwrite what you love.ā 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.
Thatās 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. Thereās no way you would ever get that right, as itās
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
peopleā”real Russians as well. I wasnāt 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.
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
The ending of this book is a little haunting. What were you doing with that part of the story?
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.Ā 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.
INTERVIEW CONTINUES - PART 2