Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interview with Author Scott Whitmore



1. Why did you choose Romania in 1882 – not 1881 or 1782 or or or - as the setting of your novel?
 
The actual year moved around a bit during the writing, but believe it or not there was a method to that decision. First and foremost for the Steampunk aspect I needed a date that was before automobiles were actually invented but after the advent of steam power. Also, I wanted the character of Major Stump O'Brien, the American cavalry officer, to have served in the American Civil War and the Old West. Walking the dog backwards, and assuming Stump enlisted in his late teens, the date 1882 worked out. Finally, Romania broke free of Ottoman control and crowned King Carol (Charles) I in 1881. 
 
Part two of the same question: Why Romania, and not Hungary or Ukraine or Moldova?
 
I needed a setting that shifts from a bustling seaport to remote and nearly inaccessible mountains, and Romania in the 1880s fit the bill perfectly.
 
Also, I have Romanian heritage and enjoyed the idea of setting the story there at a time when the countryside was pristine and somewhat wild. When I was stationed in Naples, Italy with the U.S. Navy, a friend at my command did a personnel exchange with the Romanian Navy and lived in Constanta for two weeks. This was shortly after the Wall came down and the former Soviet satellites were seeking ties to the West. My friend told me the people very friendly, but the economy, infrastructure and especially the environment had been destroyed by the former government. Finally, when I think of vampires that don't sparkle or suffer teenage angst, Dracula and Transylvania come to mind right away.
 
2. Paranormal seems to be wildly popular these days.  Of course, there is the association of Vampires and Romania (Dracula, Transylvania, etc.)  Did you set out to write a vampire story all along, or did that just simply fit the plot?  Might you try your hand at a zombie or werewolf story(or other paranormal) someday?
 
I started out writing a story about an automobile race. As a newspaper reporter and later independent blogger and freelance writer, motorsports was my primary beat, but I wanted to do something set in a historical context. I read a book about the early days of Formula 1 and how long-distance races like Paris-Bordeaux-Paris in 1895, Sicily's Targa Florio (first run in 1906) and Italy's Mille Miglia (first run in 1927) set the stage for today's Grand Prix, and that seemed very interesting.
 
The vampire and Steampunk aspects came later as I was thinking through the plot and trying to decide on types of conflict I could add to the story. I am a big fan of Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century books (Boneshaker, Dreadnought, Ganymede) and O.M. Grey's novel Avalon Revisited, all of which feature paranormal aspects in a Steampunk setting, zombies and vampires, respectively.
 
Although vampires were never my favorite movie monster growing up, the characteristics fit the setting and plot best of all. I'm not a fan of the current crop of "sparkly" bloodsuckers, so I made the conscious decision to have my vampires be more like the ones I watched in old black-and-white "creature feature" movies of my youth. In fact, throughout I wanted the story have a retro "Indiana Jones" adventure feel, with action, good and evil well defined, a suitably Victorian love affair (i.e., no sex), and stylized (i.e., not graphic) violence.
 
I don't feel tied to the paranormal or Steampunk genres, but do enjoy the freedom they allow me to indulge my imagination. I've written notes to myself with plot elements for a sci-fi/dystopian story to write at some point, and started but quit working on a military-political thriller (the plot unraveled). I also have had an idea for a story that might be considered a romance. There is also the (obligatory?) third book in the Carpathia series to consider.
 
3. Tell me about your current work in progress.
 
The book I'm working on now is tentatively titled Dead Man's Land. It is set in the same "universe" as Carpathia, but thirty years later during World War I. A few of the characters return, but I'm hoping the plot will stand alone.
 
It is very funny that you mentioned trying my hand at a "zombie or werewolf story" because this story involves zombies, and I have had some early thoughts on a third book in the Carpathia universe involving werewolves taking over a crime syndicate in 1950s Chicago.
 
Because Dead Man's Land is set in my version of history, I've decided the generals on both sides decided early in the war to stop sending masses of men on bloody and futile charges against machine guns and artillery. Instead, the action along the Western Front is limited to airship battles and raids.
 
To break the resultant stalemate on the front lines, the scientists and engineers of both the Allies and Germany try to come up with weapons that will give their side an advantage. One of those is a chemical/biologic agent that brings the dead back to life, and through a series of events this agent is unleashed on the front lines, creating all sorts of havoc.
 
There are multiple plot lines (soooo hard to keep straight) and I hope a satisfying mix of action, adventure, and thrills including those airship battles. Must have airships, because that seems to be what most people who read Carpathia liked the best :) I just passed 90,000 words on the first draft and expect it to be around 110,000 when finished.
 
4. What is the most satisfying thing about being a published novelist?
 
Establishing a legacy as, for lack of a better description, an artist. My name is now forever associated with a novel, a story I created in my head and labored to produce for others to read and hopefully enjoy. I don't act, paint, woodwork, sculpt, sing or play an instrument. I write.
 
In college I wrote research papers and in the Navy my writing was very technical: correspondence, messages, reports, directives, etc. At the newspaper I wrote profiles of people and covered high school sporting events and auto races; there was no room for embellishment.
 
There are important and respected forms of each of this type of writing, but in a way they are merely tools, like a hammer or screwdriver, to relay information. Writing fiction or poetry, producing a narrative from the imagination, is art.
 
I also have a legacy as a son, brother, husband, father and grandfather, and for what I did in the Navy. These are all satisfying to me as well, but in different ways. 
 
5. What is the strangest thing a fan or reviewer has ever said to you (whether in person or online)?
 
The least expected would be from my mother, who told me she loved it! As a dutiful son I gave her a copy fully expecting it would go unread, or that she would stop after the prologue as vampires really are not her thing. But, she called me after finishing it, and I know she read it all because she had some very detailed questions. In fact, her comment of "you've got to write a sequel" is what got me thinking about Dead Man's Land, because I was not planning on doing another story in the Carpathia universe.
 
Other than that, I think some of the comments indicate fans believe airships like the ones I described actually existed in the 1880s. I used my service on U.S. Navy ships to inform the scenes set on the airships, and evidently that has lent an air of accuracy that is welcome but so very wrong. For Dead Man's Land, I intend on including a small "Notes on Historical Accuracy" section. :)
 
6. If you had to name one personality trait that is common among (and necessary for) authors, what trait would you say that is?
 
For the writer of fiction, an imagination that is vivid enough to create an entire "universe" and then tie all the pieces of that universe together into a story. Even stories like your wonderful Sasha Jackson books that are set in real locations, without paranormal or supernatural elements, exist in a universe of the author's creating. Some stories include a lot of the universe in the plot, while others are more spare and lean on background but there is still a unique world there that was hatched in the writer's mind.
 
7. You have been blogging for a while, and your blog posts often include book reviews.  Have you ever been asked to review a book you just didn’t like? Now that you have a book out there of your own, is it harder or easier to write a review of someone else’s novel?
 
My personal policy on reviews is that I will not write one unless I can be positive about the book. I have only been asked by an author once to review a book, and as it turns out I liked it very much. But going in I explained to this writer that a review would be contingent upon my enjoyment of the story. If I didn't like it, only the writer and I would know.
 
Just the other day I started a novel that has been on my Kindle for quite some time. I got three chapters in and stopped. The story just didn't resonate with me, and honestly I wondered what possessed me to buy it in the first place. This has not happened a lot, perhaps four times in the past year, but rather than slog through the book and then write a negative review, I just stop.
 
To a casual observer of my reviews I probably look like a shill because all are positive and four or five stars, but I just do not see the point in slamming another writer or damning them with faint, scrabbled-together praise. I am not arrogant enough to believe my taste is universal; what I hate you may love, and why should I prevent you from finding that out for yourself?
 
With that as a policy, writing reviews is actually pretty easy. I liked the book, so its just a matter of articulating in a review what it was that I liked about it. I do not include spoilers in my reviews, so the toughest part is not giving out too much of the story. 
 
One of the beautiful aspects of the Indie Author movement is that most novels these days cost less than a gallon of gasoline. So, the total cost of the four or five books I've stopped reading in the past year is less than one copy of the latest New York-published Grisham best-seller. That makes it a little easier to pass on something that isn't working for me.
 
Now, if I was paid to review books by a media outlet, my view would be different. In that case it would be my job (and a great one at that, being paid to read!) to provide an opinion on whatever was submitted for review.
 
8. If Hollywood were going to make a movie version of Carpathia, who would you wish to cast in the roles of Olivia Lowenby (I love that name!) and prince Radu Zeklos?
 
My perfect choice for the beautiful and smart Olivia would be Kate Beckinsale. First because I have a huge crush on her, but also because I have a huge crush on her. :) I picked the name Olivia as a shout-out to O. M. Grey, the pen name of Christine Rose. I greatly enjoyed Grey's book Avalon Revisited and after connecting with her on Twitter she was very supportive and encouraging of me trying to write my own novel. 
 
I had not given much thought to casting Zeklos before, but I think Dominic West, who was so good as Detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, would be a good choice. Dark and a bit older and careworn, but still powerful. Joseph Fiennes would be another option, or Sean Bean although he is getting a bit long in the tooth.
 
You didn't ask, but the physical description of Stump O'Brien is based on actor Donal Logue, who was recently in the terrific and much-too-short TV show Terriers. I've also been fortunate enough to connect with him on Twitter, and sent him a copy of Carpathia. Although he has written screenplays before, he is working on his first novel and told me he has great admiration for all of us who have sweated through the process.
 
9. When you were writing Carpathia, which character gave you the most trouble?
 
As a man, Olivia was the toughest to write. I wanted her to be smart and capable, but also feminine — truth be told those are three characteristics I have little familiarity with! :) Having the story set in the Victorian era was also a challenge; the reader will notice her hairstyle and what she is wearing are rarely mentioned. I think at one point I put her in coveralls just so I wouldn't have to worry about her skirts getting caught on things. :)
 
In my original draft Olivia was in love with Daniel Jameson, whose wife was killed by Zeklos. Stump becomes enamored of Olivia, and it was my idea to have a triangle. But as the plot unspooled it just didn't work for Olivia to be pining away for Jameson, so I eliminated that part. The dinner party banter between Stump and Olivia was one of my favorite scenes to write.
 
10. Last question is a bit of a freebie: What is the one question you wish I had asked you but didn’t?  Now go ahead and ask & answer it!
 
Hmmmm, so many choices: Chicken or beef? Cash or credit? Cubs or White Sox? Plastic or paper? Aisle or window?
 
During a job interview I was once asked what is something positive my worst enemy would say about me, and something negative my best friend would say. I thought that was a pretty original question, and was later told that my response to it had a lot to do with getting hired (it was  a government job and although offered a long-term contract I left at the end of a mandatory six-month probationary period because the job was MIND-NUMBINGLY BORING!).
 
My response was that I didn't have any enemies (this was, after all, a job interview) but if I did they would say I was honest. As for the other part of the question, a good friend who I taught class with at a Navy training command told me I was arrogant. My response when he said that was to agree with his assessment, but in my defense I was usually right.
 
Getting older has helped me to see how wrong I was, and I've thought about that conversation many times since. Since those days of youthful ignorance, I have tried hard to remember there is a whole lot more that I don't know than I do know. 

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhitmore 
Check out his Blog here.
You can get your own copy of Carpathia right here on AMAZON
Visit Scott's Author Page.

Scott Whitmore... always with a pen in hand!!!

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