|The www.scifibookshelf.com Interview||Feb 2010|
|The Author Hour Interview||Feb 2010|
|Wordcraft and War Fiction: An Interview with David Weber||Aug 2009|
|Fast Forward - April 2009||Jun 2009|
|Fast Forward - March 2007||Jun 2009|
|Black Five - An Interview with David Weber||Jun 2009|
|Agony Column Podcast - David Weber vs Geekspeak||Jun 2009|
|Adventures in SciFi Publishing - David Weber and Lucas Moreno||Jun 2009|
|Wild Violet - David Weber||Jun 2009|
|SF Crowsnest - In Honor I gained them||Jun 2009|
A collection of David's interviews, reprinted with permission.
Honor Harrington is arguably one of the most recognizable characters in science fiction today. She’s smart, driven, an exceptional naval officer and just gosh-darn likable. But like any good hero, she’s not without her flaws. Was there any particular inspiration that led you to create her the way she is?
I don't know about any particular inspiration in my creating Honor the way she came out. By that I mean that there were so many factors involved in creating this character that I can't isolate one particular one as having been more important than the others. Her personality represents personal values on my part -- the fact that she's a responsibility taker, the fact that she has a fierce protective streak, the fact that she doesn't suffer fools gladly, and the fact that she is fiercely loyal both to her principles and to her friends -- very much encapsulate traits I find admirable in a human being. Historically, although many people persist in thinking of Horatio Hornblower as her primary template, I really don't. I think there's probably more of Thomas Cochrane in her, so she's probably more of a cousin of Hornblower's than a descendent, since it's pretty obvious from reading C. S. Forester that Cochrane was Hornblower's literary "father." Neither Hornblower nor Cochrane, however, ever rose to the heights within their own Navy that Honor has within hours, although you could probably make a case (now that I think about it) for her Grayson experience equating, in some wise, to Cochrane's experiences in the revolutionary Chilean, Peruvian, and Greek navies. That particular resonance wasn't planned on my part, however. A much better historical equivalent for her would, of course, be Horatio Nelson, and I've taken some pains to emphasize that relationship, as people familiar with Nelson's life will probably realize. At the same time, she most definitely is not Horatio Nelson, second iteration. I think this can be most clearly seen in her approach to her relationship with Hamish Alexander, contrasted to Nelson's relationship with Emma Hamilton, but she would also have been extremely unlikely to duplicate Nelson's actions following the Battle of the Nile when he was so focused on the Kingdom of Sicily.
I definitely did not set out to create a female character for the purposes of having a female character. That just worked out that way, just as I've produced quite a few strong female protagonists in other books. I will admit that I take a certain pleasure in setting female characters in traditionally male roles, which is probably part of why I did it, but that wasn't a conscious decision on my part. One thing that I did determine early on was that Honor would rise in rank rather than being caught in the "Jim Kirk" syndrome -- in that respect, she was definitely following more in the Nelson mode than in the Cochrane mode. The exact way in which the character evolved into who she is today, however, really wasn't planned out by me. I very seldom build a character by saying "I need this character to be such-and-so, so I'm going to give him/her this or that characteristic." I usually start with a very general feel for who and what this person is going to be, and then the character builds naturally in my mind as I began confronting that character with problems that need to be solved. The one thing that I had decided was going to be a part of Honor's character from the very beginning was the contrast between her total confidence in her professional capabilities and total lack of confidence in certain aspects of her personal life. And I decided from the very beginning to give her Nimitz, although the treecats themselves sort of surprised me by the way they ended up evolving. I had their social structure largely nailed down before I began writing, but their personalities and . . . psychology evolved as I watched Nimitz and Honor interacting.
One thing about Honor and her flaws is that she is a smart, capable person, which means that she makes smart, capable mistakes. Another aspect of her and her flaws is the most of her flaws are the vices of her virtues. I don't think anyone could ever accuse Honor Harrington of having a mean bone in her body, but her temper's gotten her into trouble more than once, and several of the decisions she's made have been questionable at best, even though readers for some reason almost invariably give her the benefit of the doubt. For example, in Honor of the Queen, she sets out to shoot a prisoner without trial. In fact, she does shoot him; she simply misses, because someone shoves her hand aside at the last moment. It's amazing to me how many people don't think that was a "mistake" on her part! I think that's because readers hated her intended victim so much and because they so thoroughly understood (and sympathized with) Honor's motivation. There are other examples, though, including the one that I actually have Michelle Henke point out about Honor's almost insanely risky strategy at the end of Echoes of Honor. I had Mike make that point because so many readers seem totally oblivious to it!
Torch of Freedom is the fourteenth book in the series. For someone who hasn’t picked up one of your books yet (hard to imagine, I know) would this be a good place to jump on board? Or should a curious reader start with an earlier book?
For the honor Harrington series, I think you almost have to begin with Basilisk Station if you want the full experience of the series. Torch would definitely not be a good place to begin; there are way too many threads already in play by that point. I think someone could probably pick the book up and enjoy it even without that background, but they wouldn't understand a lot of what was going on. I think that any of the first four or five books in the series -- up through, say, Honor Among Enemies -- would make a pretty satisfying standalone read, and would offer enough of the back story to keep the reader from missing everything that's going on. Beyond that point, it starts to get more complicated. If you can get hold of one of the CDs Baen has bound into hardcovers in the series, you'll have the earlier books available in electronic format, along with a lot of other material, but you'll still do better starting actually reading the series at the beginning. And it is my intention for their never to be an Honor Harrington novel set earlier than Basilisk Station. That's a deliberate decision on my part, and I've been using shorter fiction in the anthologies to fill in some of those gaps. So it probably wouldn't hurt to look at some of them -- especially "Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington" -- to get a feel for how Honor became who she is by the time of Basilisk.
If you're asking about where someone might begin with my books in general, rather than specifically with the Honorverse, I'd probably recommend In Fury Born. I'm rather partial to the Bahzell books, as well, of course, but I think Fury is still probably the best "David Weber introductory" book I've done.
Can you give us any hints about the fifteenth book, Mission of Honor, coming out this summer?
All I'll say about Mission at this point is that it wraps up several fairly long-running plot strands but kicks in quite a few brand-new ones. And I'll also say that the situation is going to get substantially worse for the Manties (in many respects) even as some of their older problems get put to bed. Well, and also that I may have to move to Montana and raise rabbits under an assumed name when some of the readers who have been with me from the very beginning find out some of the things I did in this book. Mind you, I think they'll all forgive me eventually, but there are going to be some people who are upset.
At last count, you’ve written something like 50 books, an impressive number of which have hit the best-seller lists. How do you keep up such a mind-boggling pace?
I don't really know, and, for that matter, I don't know that I can continue to keep it up a lot longer. I'm not getting any younger, you know! Then there are the three children age eight or younger who require a certain degree of Daddy time for maintenance. Mostly, I guess, I manage it because I focus entirely on whatever the job in hand use. My beloved wife Sharon has been known to refer to that as "OCD;" I prefer to think of it as . . . as . . . hmmmmm, I'll have to get back to you on that one. I do know that I tend to work 16-hour days when I'm into the stretch on a book.
You do a lot of convention appearances. Where will fans be able to find you in 2010? Is there any truth to the rumor that you’ll be doing a book tour this summer?
April 17th - London, England - Signing at Forbidden Planet flagship store
April 19 - April 21 - London Book Fair
June 22 - 27 - Origins Gaming Fair / GAMA - Columbus, Ohio
June 28 - July 4 - Baen Signing Tour for "Mission of Honor" - Stops to be announced on the website
July 21 - July 25 - Wandering around ComicCon (not as a guest)
Do you have any advice for aspiring science fiction writers?
Advice for aspiring science-fiction writers? First, write what you enjoy reading. You'll do a much better job working on something that interests and excites you than you will trying to produce something simply because you think it might sell, even though it isn't what you'd enjoy reading yourself. In addition, there's no one out there who is genuinely unique in his or her reading tastes. In other words, if you enjoy reading it, so will someone else, which means there ought to be a market for it somewhere. Second, accept that if you're going to try to do this professionally you either need to become a production writer -- which means those 16-hour days -- or you need to have a day job. Third, complete something before you start trying to submit your work. An editor is a lot more likely to buy a story or a novel, even if it needs a substantial amount of work, if that story or novel exists as a completed whole. The last thing any publisher needs is to commit to buy a book from someone who, it turns out, won't be able to finish it, and it will help a sale immensely if the person thinking about buying the story knows not only that it ends but that the writer is able to provide a satisfactory end. Fourth, choose who you're going to submit to carefully. Pick a publisher who publishes material similar to whatever it is you've written. Don't try to sell a story about elves and dwarves to somebody who publishes primarily tech-heavy military fiction. Fifth, when you submit, do it in a professional manner. Don't use the cover letter to tell the editor what your story is about, and -- above all! -- don't use it to tell the editor how great the story is. You can include chapter synopses, outlines, and the entire manuscript to do that, and any professional editor is going to resent having someone submitting an unsolicited manuscript explain that manuscript to her. She'll make her own judgments on its quality, thank you, and you're more likely to put someone's nose out of joint by "blowing your own horn" then you are to influence someone into buying your work. Sixth, after you've submitted, stay in touch. In your initial submission letter, tell them that if you haven't heard back from them in a month, you'll check back with them. Then, when that month has passed, do check back with them, and each time you check with them, tell them when you'll check with them again. You need to have some idea in your mind about when you're going to assume that lack of response means there isn't going to be any response (and that's likely to happen, maybe several times, when you're just starting out), and when that time arrives, you need to send a very respectful note to the publisher saying that you're withdrawing the book for submission elsewhere.
The truth is that only a minority of writers, in any genre, are able to support themselves full-time as writers, and that's even more the case for science-fiction, I think, than some others, because science-fiction tends to a smaller readership than a lot of other genres. The good news is that if science-fiction's readership tends to be smallish, it's also very loyal . If you produce the stories that people want to read, they will repay you many times over by the fashion in which they will buy your books. Even so, it's difficult to make a living doing this unless you are able to develop a highly successful series/character and are able to sustain a production rate which is rather higher than in some other genres. That's just the way it is.
Having said that, the aspiring science-fiction writer needs to remember that publishers are in the business of publishing. They need writers to do that, and that means that if you can write, and if you persist long enough in submitting your work, more often than not, you'll finally get your shot. What happens after that depends in no small part on how well the first few books go.
And before I leave this topic, let me say that the number one, critical, essential, indispensable element in becoming a successful science-fiction author is the ability to tell stories about characters readers care about. Even the hardest of hard-science science-fiction still has to have characters people care about. The most fascinating plot line ever devised will fall flat on its face if the characters are not believable, or if the writing is unable to convince the reader to accept the story. Editors can do a lot to help a neophyte writer improve technical aspects of his or her writing; I don't believe any editor ever born can teach you how to tell a story. Especially, they can't teach you how to tell a story in your own voice. Many people I know have failed as writers primarily because instead of telling the story the way they should tell it, they tried to figure out how someone else -- some writer they admire, or whose work they like -- would tell it. That's the kiss of death. People don't want to buy a low-budget pastiche of someone else's work. A weak story, strongly told, will be far more satisfying to the reader than a strong story weakly told, and a huge part of telling a story strongly is to tell it in your own, recognizable, unique voice, manner, and style. "Your" voice is going to owe a great deal to the voices of other writers you have read, enjoyed, admired. It works that way. We are all products of our experiences, and if some other writer has a strong impact on you, that writer's work is going to influence your own. You may find yourself integrating stylistic elements from another writer. You may find yourself avoiding something in your writing because you realized that it didn't work in someone else's. And no matter how successful you may become as a writer in your own right, I imagine you'll still find yourself -- as I do -- reading someone else's work and going "Gosh! That was really neat, the way he handled that. I'll have to remember that." Don't be afraid to be influenced by others, but never, ever try to become another writer. Learn from their strengths, avoid their weaknesses, but always do it in your own fashion and your own style.