Perhaps it is because of the nature of the books that David writes, perhaps it is because David Weber's fans are unusually dedicated and inquisitive... but it seems that everyone has a question! Here are a few that David finds he gets asked most often.
If you have a question that you would like to see considered as a FAQ, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Responses will be posted if and when David can get to them. We'd love to hear from you!
|Honorverse||Who is Honor Harrington?||May 2009|
Honor Harrington is a 6'2" (187.96 cm) tall Eurasian, female starship commander in the service of the Star Kingdom of Manticore who rises eventually to very senior flag rank, not to mention becoming a knight of the realm, a steadholder (think a ruling princess within an empire), a duchess, and general all-round avatar of the war goddess.
Obviously, that's just a tad simplified and just a mite flippant, but it's also true.
I think, though, that the real core of Honor's personality, and what makes her resonate with her readers, is the fact that she's one of those responsibility-takers I write about. She doesn't waffle. If there's a problem to be solved, a job to be undertaken, she simply goes ahead and does it rather than worrying about whether or not it's her fault, or her responsibility, or whether or not it's going to make problems for her down the road.
One thing that I think a lot of readers have missed about Honor, though, is that Hamish Alexander was completely correct when he told her that she had "the vices of her virtues." There have been many instances in the series where Honor has made what was, at best, a suboptimal choice, yet because the readers liked her so much, and because they were "inside her head" when she did it, they give her a pass on it . . . if they ever notice it in the first place. One rather famous incident, for example, comes when she smacks Reginald Houseman. Sure, he deserved it; on the other hand, as a serving officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy, Honor had no business giving it to him the way that she did. Again, in the same book, she almost shoots a POW out of hand. Again, he had it coming; on the other hand, he hadn't been tried, he hadn't been sentenced, and what she intended to do -- what, in some ways, she actually did do, since she pulled the trigger -- would quite rightly have been regarded as an act of murder. Once again, in In Enemy Hands, she makes a seriously flawed decision, although not this time because she loses her temper. In this instance, a bunch of her subordinate officers and her Grayson armsmen have given their lives rescuing her, and by this time she is not simply a captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy -- she's a flag officer, and a steadholder, with all of the duties and responsibilities of a ruling head of state. So, it's clearly her duty to carry through with her escape, not to mention the fact that if she doesn't, then all of the people who have already died will have died in vain. Yet when her last armsman is wounded and knocked unconscious, she runs right back into the crossfire to save him, and comes within inches of getting both of them killed.
There are a lot of other instances in the books where she makes decisions based in large part on who she is -- what makes her who she is -- rather than on a proper analysis of the situation. I think part of the problem is that when a competent person makes a mistake, it's usually a competent mistake, and it's usually not made for stupid reasons, which means that when Honor makes a mistake, the readers generally don't beat up on her for it.
|Honorverse||Honor Harrington novels have included covers by several different artists. Which depiction of Honor do you find most accurate?||May 2009|
We've been through a total of 3 artists on the HH covers. Actually, I tend to think that the shape of her face and her eyes are closest to correct on the cover of On Basilisk Station, although Nimitz is not at all how I envision him and there are major problems with the uniform. The same artist did the next 2 covers, and somehow Honor started morphing until we wound up with the The Short Victorious War and someone who, frankly, looks more like my viewpoint character (Li Han) from Insurrection. We changed artists for Field of Dishonor, and while I feel the cover was effective in a marketing sense, I felt that Michael Jackson was considerably \prettier" than Honor. The same artist did Flag in Exile, and (I felt) gave us someone who looked much more like Lt. Dax from DS9 but without the tasteful body decals. (The 2 things that bugged me most about this cover were that I had carefully described the Grayson sword as having a "western style hilt"--and got katanas--and that I had specified that the planet on the Grayson flag was actually Grayson, and not Old Terra.) With In Enemy Hands we shifted to David Mattingly and, despite a few continuing problems, I am more content with his covers than with anyone else's to date. I think Honor looks a teeny bit too old on In Enemy Hands, but I believe part of this is the lighting, which comes up from below and "loses" the line of her chin against the flesh tones of her throat. (Of course, if he'd included the white turtle neck blouse, this would not have happened, but--hey! He got every other detail of the uniform perfect, which no one had previously managed.) As far as the shapes of the ships are concerned, those seem to be the hull forms for Mattingly space craft. I do not know whether he has read the books or is working from a synopsis provided by Baen. More to the point, perhaps, I don't really care. While I would be eternally grateful to get the ships right, I am already eternally grateful for the improvements in (and consistency of) Honor's appearance from book to book.
(BTW, I have a way to describe Honor which seems to work for everyone except artists. I describe her as a slightly taller Eurasian Sigourney Weaver from the original Alien movie with Linda Hamilton's physique from T2. Works for me, anyway. Also BTW, on the casting question, I do indeed agree that what is needed for an actress to portray Honor is less someone who matches her physical description as closely as possible as someone who can properly portray her character and make the transition from wallflower to beautiful [but not "pretty"] person between installments. [Of course I want sequels, you sillies!] I think someone with, say, Meryl Streep's ability [and a similarly unique facial structure, perhaps a bit more like Honor's] but physically younger would be ideal. Of course, where do I find a treasure like that? Sigh.)
Two of the foreign editions of Honor books are the UK edition of Honor Among Enemies and the German edition of On Basilisk Station. The British Honor Among Enemies uses a cover by someone named "Buggy G. Riphead" (and I'm sorry, but that name always makes me think of purple hair and safety pins in navels) which does, indeed, make Honor look a lot more Afroasian than Eurasian, and also I'd guess five years or so younger than I visualize her looking. The German edition of On Basilisk Station uses the cover art from the US edition of Honor Among Enemies, but with one cuff ring removed to get her down to commander's rank. (Unfortunately, the other rank indications--like her shoulder boards and collar insignia--were not changed, but at least their hearts were in the right place. Please note that it was not until Mr. Mattingly appeared on the scene that we ever got her into a uniform of the proper rank.)
|General||What made you choose to write sci-fi?||May 2009|
I think the best advice any perspective author can be given is that he should write what he likes to read. There are a lot of reasons for giving that particular piece of advice, beyond the mere fact that it will be a lot more fun. There's also the fact that you'll probably do a better job of writing something you enjoy reading than you would of writing something simply because you might be able to sell it.
In my own case, I've enjoyed reading science fiction since I was about 10 years old, although I didn't get around to figuring out why I enjoyed it until much later in my reading career, of course. When I started writing, the fact that I'd already been reading science fiction for the better part of 30 years before I sold the first novel made the genre a natural fit for me.
That's why I chose to start writing science fiction. The reason that I've continued to write it instead of some other genre [and there are other genres I'd like to write in, including historical fiction and fantasy] is that I've continued to enjoy it a great deal and the stories have succeeded rather better in many cases than I'd ever anticipated when I first started out.
|General||Why did you choose to write military-political science fiction?||May 2009|
In a lot of ways, the answer to this one is the same as the answer to why I decided to write science fiction at all. My academic training is as a historian with special emphasis in military, diplomatic, and political history. That gave me a pretty good background in what human beings have already tried when it comes both the politics and to killing one another in the names of various disagreements, and one of my own favorite authors when I was younger [he still is one of my favorite authors, he just hasn't been around to write any new books in entirely too long] was H. Beam Piper. Anyone who's read his stuff knows how much history went into it -- and not just into his maritime stories. That was a large shaping factor on my own view of what science fiction was and certainly on what it was that I liked to read.
In addition to the "this is what I enjoy reading and writing" factor, though, there's the fact that approaching the kind of story I'm most comfortable telling from a military and/or political perspective provides me with all sorts of source material. That may sound a bit peculiar when we're talking about writing science fiction, since science fiction is the literature of the future, after all. But if you really think about it, people are going to be pretty much people until we evolve into something we won't really recognize anymore. That means that looking at the way people have responded to certain types of pressures in the past ought to provide a pretty reliable template for how people would be likely to respond to those types of pressures in the future, as well. And that, in turn, means that it provides a science fiction writer with both examples and also with responses most readers are going to find plausible.
|General||Why do you write about so many female protagonists?||May 2009|
I get asked this question a lot, and I've never really come up with a satisfactory answer. The one thing I know with a relative degree of certainty is that it was never a "marketing" or demographic decision on my part. I never really thought of it as a "selling point" for a novel. In that regard, it genuinely is something that just happened.
Having said that, I also have to say that I've known a lot of strong women in my life, starting with my mother and certainly including my wife Sharon, and that I'm comfortable with them. That I prefer strong people to weak people, whatever their chromosome balance may be, and that I prefer strong protagonists to weak protagonists. It's not exactly as if I don't have strong male characters and protagonists, either. Colin MacIntyre in the Dahak books, for example, or Bahzell in the Norfressa novels. And there have always been strong male characters in the books which do have female protagonists.
I'm inclined to think that there is a little quirk in my gallop which enjoys putting women into traditionally "male" occupations and positions. To be honest, I quite frequently end up literally flipping a coin to decide whether a new character is going to be male or female, but there does appear to be a significant bias towards female commanders and authority figures generally in quite a lot of my work.
I suspect that part of that stems from my own belief, on the one hand, that we're on the right track in terms of gender equality, coupled, on the other hand, with my distaste for the more strident forms of feminism. Mind you, if I were female myself, my tolerance for "feminism" might well be significantly higher than it is under the actually obtaining circumstances. I'm certainly well aware of that. However, it's always bugged me when I read a novel or short story set hundreds or even thousands of years in the future in which the female characters are experiencing exactly the same sorts of problems and prejudices which women have faced in Western society over the last hundred years or so. My own feeling is that if we're on the right track here (and I clearly think we are), then by the time we get a few centuries down the road the question of whether or not women ought to have exactly the same opportunities, receive exactly the same compensation, find themselves being promoted in step with their male compatriots, etc., is going to be a done deal. It's going to have about as much burning significance as a topic for debate as the moral rectitude of the African slave trade does for 21st-century Americans. And by the time you get a couple of centuries beyond that, the significance is going to have dropped to about that of Pharaoh's policy towards the Hittites.
If you look at the universe of Honor Harrington, or of Alicia DeVries, or of Li Han, the question of whether or not a woman ought to be doing what they're doing simply doesn't arise except under very special circumstances (like pre-alliance Grayson). In that sense, I suppose one might call me a post-feminist science fiction writer, but I think that what I write is actually a healthy manifestation of feminism. My female characters posit societies in which the relationships between beings have advanced (or, as I prefer to think of it, matured) to a point at which attitudes which have victimized so many people for so long have simply died. And I also think that my female characters and their societies recognize the fundamental strength of women -- the fact that when half the human race puts its formidable intelligence, abilities, and determination to work to achieve complete equality, it's going to happen and anybody who thinks he can turn back that particular clock probably likes standing directly in front of speeding locomotives, too.
|General||What would you recommend it as a first novel for someone who has never read your books?||May 2009|
As a general rule, I think probably In Fury Born (which is the original Path of the Fury novel and its prequel bound into a single set of covers) is the best place to start if you've never read any of my books. It's one of the few standalone novels I've written which actually stayed a standalone (sort of), and a lot of people who tell me they enjoy my work started with it.
|General||What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write?||May 2009|
As I have said before, the very best and most fundamental piece of advice, I think, is to write what you enjoy reading. In addition to the reasons for that which I gave above, there's also this: if you enjoy reading it, the odds are someone else will, too. In other words, there's going to be a market for it somewhere. It's important to remember that publishers are in the business of publishing, which means that they need writers. So if what you produce is of marketable quality, sooner or later an editor somewhere will probably recognize that and buy it.
Mind you, it may take some time for that to happen. Want-to-be writers tend to collect a lot of rejection letters. For most of us, that's part of paying our dues. Rejection letters have to be something that you are able to take in stride and continue submitting, and sometimes that's hard for people to accept.
It's my opinion, for whatever it's worth, that no one can teach you to be a storyteller. Obviously, there are some exceptions to that statement, and most of us who become storytellers learn from watching others in action, or from the traditions of the stories we were told. But that's not the same thing as going to a creative writing seminar and having someone teach you how to be a storyteller. It's something that you absorb through your pores, and that experience has to find something inside you that moves you to tell stories, as well.
Now, you can be taught to be a better storyteller, just as you can be taught to be a better writer. I'm not trying to make some sort of mystery process out of this, I'm just saying that successful writers have to develop their own style of storytelling -- their own voices as writers. A weak story, well told, will be far more successful than a strong story which is weakly told, both in terms of the amount of entertainment it will provide for your audience and also for the ultimate marketability of your work.
People have often asked me how I "learned to write." My response is to ask them how they learned to walk. Again, this isn't an attempt to imbue my craft as a writer was some sort of undeserved mystique. Instead, what I'm trying to explain to them is that I've been doing this for so long that I really don't remember how I learned to do it in the first place, any more than I remember how I learned to walk in the first place. The best I've ever been able to do is to point out to them that when they were learning to walk, they fell down a lot. When you're learning to write, you wind up throwing a lot of things into trash cans. That's your "falling down" process, and I don't think anyone's ever come up with a way to avoid it.
But just like you fall down a lot when you're learning to walk and get steadily better in the process, you get steadily better by exercising your writing, as well. In the process, hopefully, you learn to become your own best editor. You watch what you're doing, you try to learn from your own mistakes, and you begin to develop an ear for verb choices, adjectives, adverbs, ways to describe action sequences.
So my advice to someone who wants to write is, first, write a lot, even if you're not sure you'll ever actually submit any of it for publication. Find out whether or not this is something you really enjoy doing, and whether or not you're able to gradually improve both your storytelling skills and your "literary tools."
When you write a lot, write what you enjoy reading.
When you get ready to begin submitting stuff, look for somebody who publishes the kind of stuff you're submitting. Sounds like a "d'oh!" but it's amazing how many people overlook that simple preliminary step.
If you get rejection letters, don't give up. If you actually get a letter -- one which explains why they didn't buy your book, rather than simply a form letter-- read it carefully. Think about what it says. But don't make the mistake of accepting everything in it as gospel. For one thing, the person writing the letter may or may not have had time to carefully read, and so may or may not have misinterpreted or misconstrued something. Secondly, some editors simply don't like some kinds of stories, and while most of them try very hard to be professional, they may come down harder on one of the "I don't like this kind of story" submissions than they would on one of the "Boy, I really like this kind of story!" submissions. (The caveat to the above is that if the editor tells you "Change this the way I'm asking you to, and I'll buy it," then you should listen very, very, very carefully to that editor! [G])
If you get a rejection letter that suggests what's wrong with your story and it makes sense to you, then by all means treat it as a highly experienced critique which can point you towards improvements in your writing style.
And, finally, never forget that confidence is an enormous factor in how well you succeed in this field. Obviously, confidence in your ability to trust your own judgment, or in your ability to continue submitting because you're sure that what you've done is publishable, is hugely important, but there's another kind of confidence. I'm pretty sure that I could have been published at least 10 years before I actually was if only I'd had the confidence in my own work to begin submitting them. I wouldn't have been the writer that I was when I actually sold my first novel (in collaboration with Steve White), but I'm still pretty sure that I could have sold my work. The problem was that, like quite a lot of us who dream of being published writers, I was afraid to reach out for the dream for fear I would find out that a dream was all it had ever been. As long as you haven't submitted your work and been rejected, then you can still say to yourself "I can be a writer someday." If you submit, and you get rejected over and over again, until you finally accept that this isn't really what you were born to do, and that "someday" goes away, and most of us don't want to risk that. But if you're never willing to risk having "someday" go away, then the dream will never happen. That's the one and only thing you can always count on, because if you never take that first step of actually submitting your work to someone, no one will ever even know it was out there to be purchased in the first place.
|General||When you going to write another: Mutineers' Moon novel? Bahzell novel? Prince Roger novel? Fury novel? Hell's Gate novel? Out of the Dark novel?||May 2009|
I have this problem. Basically, you understand, it's a problem that comes with its own built-in advantages, but it's still a problem. Put simply, I have more stories I want to tell than I have time in which to tell them. Trust me, that's a much better problem for a writer to have than to have the reverse problem -- too many books he's obligated to write, and too few stories to put in them.
In answer to the questions above:
There are at least two more novels to be written in the Mutineers' Moon series. One will be a sequel to Heirs of Empire, and one will be a prequel to the original Mutineers' Moon novel, starting about an hour before that book opens and then following the mutineers down to Earth and up through the Wars of the Roses.
There are at least two more Norfressa novels which will focus on Bahzell and Brandark and events already set in motion in the four existing novels. Once those are written, I plan on what I think of as my fantasy magnum opus -- currently projected at six volumes (and we saw how well my initial projections worked out for the Honorverse, didn't we?), in which the conflict between Norfressa and Kontovar will finally be brought back out into the open and pushed through to a conclusion. The body count will be high.
John Ringo and I met at a recent con, and have started talking about what would be needed for the next Prince Roger book. Although we had originally discussed doing a seperate series about Miranda, who started the Empire, both of us like the idea of finishing up the story.
I am contemplating at least two additional novels in the Fury universe, as well. One of them would be a sequel to Path of the Fury/In Fury Born, with Alicia DeVries, Tisphone, and Megaira working with Ferhat Ben Belkassem. The other would be a prequel, in which a very young Ben Belkassem, fresh out of the Justice Academy and firmly convinced that procedure must be followed if true justice is going to be achieved, comes face-to-face with the situation which compels them to break all the rules in order to survive and get the job done. In short, it would be the story of Ben Belkassem's recruitment into O Branch.
From Gena: In the Hell's Gate series, there are two more books under contract, but the project is in hiatus while David tries to catch up with his writing schedule. He has told people at Cons that he had no business starting "still another series", but he wanted to tell the story so badly that he bit off more than he could chew. This was actually one of the original series that he pitched to Jim Baen all those years ago, and he's been itching to get it told. It's a good story! I'll let you know as soon as we have something solid about the publication date!
From Gena: Out of the Dark is currently a stand alone book, which is an expansion of a short story that David wrote for the Warriors anthology, edited by George R. R. Martin. David's editor at Tor likes it well enough that he has asked David to consider expanding it to a series. His writing schedule will determine how feasible that is, but he doesn't have another one planned for 2013.
More from David: The problem, of course, is when and how I'm going to get around to doing all of the above. The standard joke between me and Sharon is that I'll do them in "my copious free time," but in some ways I'm the victim of my own success. The Honorverse novels have done so well, and have such a large readership, that there's enormous pressure to produce more of them instead of writing anything else, and I think we're headed the same way with the Safehold novels from Tor, as well. Basically, I'm in the position of having to keep both of those series moving along and fitting everything else in around them. This has been a significant problem for me in at least a couple of instances, and it also means that there is a tendency to leave storylines which have reached a satisfactory (or at least semi-satisfactory) resting place alone until I've got time to "do right by them."
All of which means that I genuinely can't give you anything that would be a remotely dependable schedule for when I'm going to get to all of these projects. The good news is that I know pretty much exactly what I want to do with them when I get there; the bad news is simply finding the time to do it.
|General||Why do you do collaborations? What are your criteria for collaborations?||May 2009|
I do more collaborations than some writers, less than others.
As a general rule, I won't do a collaboration just to increase "product," nor will I do one that I'm not going to be fully involved with. If my name is going on the cover of a book, then I'm going to be directly involved in producing what goes between the covers.
Just about every collaboration I've done has been done because I believed that the final product would be stronger in some ways than either of us would have produced on his or her own. The fact that the final book will be stronger in some ways doesn't necessarily mean that I expect it to be stronger in all ways, but it does mean that my collaborator and I are each going to be bringing different strengths to the table with us.
I'll do collaborations whenever I think it's going to be a case of combining strengths, rather than reinforcing weaknesses. And I'll do them when I think I can learn something or perhaps teach something along the way. Actually, I'm constantly learning something new even when I do solo novels; when I get a chance to work "inside someone else's head," as it were, the opportunities to learn and improve my craft as a writer are much greater.
I have to admit that another factor in my deciding to do collaborations is sometimes to tell stories I wouldn't have time to tell entirely on my own. In that sense, I suppose, you could say that I was collaborating with someone else to "increase product," but there's a difference between simply trying to get word count out (and separate your readers from their hard-earned money) and working with someone else to tell a story that you really, really want to tell it simply don't have enough time to tell entirely on your own.
The Hell's Gate novels are a case in point, and, to be honest, I was unfair to Linda Evans when I started the project. I thought I was going to have a lot more time to devote to it than I turned out having, and I pulled her with me into a series that I simply haven't been able to get back to. Linda brought exactly what I wanted her to bring to the project, but the story is important enough to me that I really need to be hands-on with it at all stages, and I simply don't have the time to do that right now. I should have realized that I wouldn't, and I should have refrained from launching yet another series.
At the same time, this is definitely a series I intend to get back to as soon as humanly possible. I love the storyline, Linda and I have put a lot of thought into where the series needs to go, I like working with her, and this is a story I've wanted to tell for the next best thing to 20 years. The problem, of course, is when "as soon as humanly possible" is going to come, and all I can say in this case is that I hope it's sooner, rather than later.
UPDATE, 4/2013: Unfortunately, David and his co-author, Linda Evans, have yet to have the chance to begin the third Hell's Gate novel. David appreciates the number of devoted fans who are still interested in the series, and plans to schedule time to work on it later this year.
|General||When do you write? How do you write -- are there any tricks you use?||May 2009|
Well, with three children, writing time (or any other kind of time) is clearly at a premium.
I do the most productive of my writing, on average, in the middle of the night. I work till roughly dawn, take the kids to school, then turn in, sleep until early afternoon, get up, get my circulatory system moving, and head out to the office for a couple of hours until supper. Most nights, Gena or I fix supper (I'm the cook, but she helps when I'm busy), then I spend a couple of hours with the kids and Sharon, supervise bedtime prayers, kiss Sharon, and head back out to my office to work again.
When a book is going really well, or when I'm really pushing a deadline (the two are not always identical, unfortunately), I tend to work longer hours on shorter sleep. In those cases, I'll work three or four hours (minimum) during "normal" working hours, then go back to work in my usual night owl mode. When a book is coming together properly for me, I'll usually hit between 5,000 and 7,500 words a day. The most I've ever done in a single day was around 39,000 words (after which I went and slept for two days), and I did the entire original Path of the Fury in only nine days. Mind you, that doesn't mean that I finished editing and tweaking in only nine days; the entire project took the better part of a month. Still, that was working in what they call a "white hot heat," and I've never had that particular experience again. In fact, that's one reason why I hesitated so long before doing the prequel to that novel. I knew I wasn't going to have that same experience all over again, and I was afraid that the energy level of the prequel would suffer because of it.
I don't know that I have a lot of "tricks" that I use when I write. There are things I've learned about myself over the years that helped me through rough spots and potholes, and I've discovered just how useful the Internet is when you find yourself suddenly forced to do a little extra research.
I suppose the biggest single change in the way I work came about eight years ago when I broke my right wrist into 57 pieces. The doctors put it back together again with two plates, twelve screws, and six pieces of wire -- to which I have since added bone spurs and early onset arthritis. These minor "improvements" to the joint that nature intended me to use have had a significant negative impact, shall we say, on how long and how hard I can type (or sign autographs, for that matter) before the hand and wrist give out on me.
Because of that, I've been forced to go to voice-activated software. In fact, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking. There are some distinct problems with using voice-activated, some of which are simply irritating and some of which get considerably worse than that. There are, however, two enormous advantages. One is that I can continue to work, which I probably couldn't if the only option I had was working on the keyboard until my bum wrist locked up. The second is that even though it's necessary to stop and correct errors which have been introduced by the voice-activated fairly frequently, it's also possible to dictate at better than 200 words a minute. Nobody I am familiar with can actually write at 200 words a minute for more than brief spurts, but the fact is that I believe my output has gone up considerably simply because of the speed Dragon makes possible. If you have the patience to deal with the foibles of the software, learn how to make it work for you instead of tripping you up, and get comfortable with it, it definitely becomes a speed multiplier, and any production writer will tell you just how important that is.