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Hunt vs Hunt

01/01/2004. Contributed by Stephen Hunt

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SFF author Walter Hunt interviewed by SFF author Stephen Hunt. Crikes, that's a whole lot of Hunt-ing going on for Christmas. The author of the crackingly good military SF epic The Dark Wing tells us how the idea of an implacable alien enemy that won't make peace with us, with a religion that teaches that humanity shouldn't exist, comes disturbingly close to home given the events of the past year.

Are you currently writing full time now, or are you still fitting in the odd day-job?

I'm writing full time - my business card says "author". I do occasional contract work as a technical writer.

When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I've been a writer in some form since school days. I recently attended a high-school reunion and most of the people that knew me remembered me as a writer; I wrote five novels in high school, but it'll be a while before they see the light of day.

How has becoming a published author impacted your lifestyle?

I was laid off almost eighteen months ago, and my first novel came out about thirteen months ago. At some point my wife and I discussed it, and we decided to let me have a go at being a full-time writer.

So I'm a house-dad, meeting my daughter's school bus when it arrives, and I write mornings and afternoons (and evenings and weekends and...) I feel a strong motivation to keep moving on projects, as it's how I intend to make my living.

How do you see the future of science fiction literature in the 21st century?

It should be bright. SF has a lot to say, not just as a predictive medium but also as a mirror for today's problems and challenges.

My own work is set a few centuries in the future, but (as was pointed out in one review) the idea of an implacable alien enemy that won't make peace with us, with a religion that teaches that we shouldn't exist, comes disturbingly close to home given the events of the past year.

Science fiction has a lot to say, and the best of it deserves space on everyone's shelf.

Do you tend to read the work of many other SF/F authors?

Quite a bit. We have a few thousand SF/F books in our collection.

What's your favourite SF/F movies and TV?

I like Babylon-5 and Farscape; of the Star Trek series, Deep Space 9 was my favorite by far. I enjoyed the Alien Nation TV series a few years ago. Though it's hard to avoid seeing the Star Wars franchise, I don't think much of it; Lucas is a wonderful filmmaker, but his themes and plots are ages old and just reshaped for movies.

Do you use an agent and if so, who?

Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York.

How long did you spend in rejection letter hell before you were first published?

Fourteen years.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I've been writing since childhood; I got into college by sending them a manuscript. So I'd say yes :-)

Where, when, and how do you write?

Everywhere and all the time. I take notes on my PDA, kick ideas around in my head as I drive, and try to have a project in front of me all the time.

I usually edit at the keyboard, but write new material longhand. It teaches me to choose my words carefully.

How would you summarize the premise for The Dark Wing?

Mankind is confronted by a new war with an old enemy - the zor, who have been fighting with us for two generations. A former naval officer, who wrote a book describing a solution to the decades-long war, is appointed to command the Fleet in a new campaign to defeat the zor.

When he begins to carry out the very solution he describes - which might even lead to xenocide - it becomes apparent that the zor ascribe a mythological role to him - that of the Dark Wing, the destroying force.

And that's just the first 150 pages.

What are you reading now?

I've just finished CJ Cherryh's Hammerfall, and Connie Willis' Passage. I also read Rob Sawyer's Hominids this fall. All three are excellent. I also read history and historical fiction; I devour books, to be honest.

Did you come up through the writing short-stories route, or did you get published in novel-form first?

Never wrote a short story in my life. The Dark Wing is the first fiction I've ever had published professionally. The Dark Path, coming in 2003, is the second fiction I've ever had published professionally.

If The Dark Wing was going to be made into a film, who would be your dream producers/actors for the role?

A tough question; the cover art is a good representation of the primary characters. For Stone, the potential villain, I'd like to have Christopher Walken; he'd give the requisite creepiness to the role.

Do you ever attend SF-cons, and what has your experience with them been?

I attended nine of them in 2002. They're great fun and a great opportunity to talk about the books and my writing. I'm also reminded that, at the moment, I'm only one book ahead of the people asking questions about The Dark Wing.

Would you ever consider writing in a different genre, or are you content with SFF?

I'd like to write historical fiction and alternate history.

What are your hobbies?

I'm a fan of baseball; I play board games and role-playing games. I'm also an active member of the Freemasons, which is more than a hobby (and only slightly less than a second job).

What advice would you give to budding SF writers?

Finish the book. Over the last year I've talked to many "budding" writers, and many of them say that they'd like to see their novel idea published. Based on what I've seen, you need a novel, not a novel idea, if you want to get published.

What age did you get into science fiction?

I read Heinlein juveniles in third grade. When I was 10, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; I was enthralled.

The critics have thrown you into the sub-genre pit of military science fiction; do you think this label is meaningful, or even exists as a compartmentalized entity?

It's meaningful, but it's not the sum total of what I write. The Dark Wing is military, to be sure; The Dark Path is as well. But the story is more than a count of ships destroyed and planets conquered; it's no more exclusively a "war book" series than the Iliad is a "war poem".

Are you from the 'writing tightly against a full outline school' or the 'make it up as you go along' school?

I plot quite a bit, but let the writing take me where it will. I do wind up having dead ends and discards. If you're going to make it up as you go, you have to be willing to go back and change it later.

How much do you base your characters against people you actually know?

I often insert minor characters that are based on folks I know, but most major characters are not. In The Dark Path, Barbara MacEwan is absolutely based on a longtime friend (and she knows it too).

When it comes to your drafts, how much do you tend to rewrite?

A lot. I print out a copy of the manuscript and I wind up putting a mark on every page. I try not to chop up the narrative too much, but I'm willing to read back a paragraph and think about how to make it read better. I try to be consistent - for example, my aliens don't use contractions in Standard (i.e., English), and I make sure to correct it if I've accidentally written one in.

What other books do you have planned?

Depending on my publisher, I expect to complete my series with The Dark Ascent and The Dark Crusade. Ascent is in rewrite and mostly complete; Crusade is mostly notes right now (but I know where it ends :-))

Of the work you've penned, what's your favourite novel to date?

The Dark Ascent. Of the published work, I like Path better than Wing, but I'm happy with what I've written. Hopefully the best is still yet to come.

Was the character of Admiral Marais drawn from any historical figures or real people?

No; I made him up.

What kinds of manuscript changes have been made to your published works?

My editor made me rewrite the ending of The Dark Wing; he caused me to add an entire plot to The Dark Path. And, of course, lots of line edits. Editing has improved my work and I acknowledge the help it's provided.

Of the feedback you have heard people come back on about your novels, what's your favorites?

Tom Easton's review in Analog in which he pointed out that current events have caught up with the story in my book. Since I wrote it originally in 1987, it's amusing to think that there's some parallel between Al-Qaeda and the zor.

Another review compared me to Babylon-5 and Orson Scott Card. Man, you can't beat that.

What amount of research do you do for your books? Does the science part of the fiction come easy to you?

I'm fairly well versed in astronomy, and have been working at the believability of the background. Of course, talking about FTL travel and alien contact is purely speculative fiction, but a writer can do a lot to make it possible for readers to identify with the milieu.

Before starting writing, how detailed a background did you build for your alien race, the bird-like Zor?

I wrote about them in an as-yet unpublished novel that I wrote in 1979, so I knew something about them long ago. For The Dark Wing, developing the religion and background culture was important. Still, I wrote the bones of the story without completely detailing their society. More development took place as the novel was expanded and edited.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

I wrote The Dark Wing in serialized form in ten weeks. It was only about 50,000 words in that form. The Dark Path was written in about six months.

How do you feel the momentum of your career is building at the moment?

The indications are that The Dark Wing was a success - sales have been good, and it's out in mass-market paperback. The Dark Path comes out in hardcover in February and will go to paperback late in 2003.

I'm doing my best to keep up, and expect to have the rest of the series out at approximately the same pace - one book a year. So, overall, I think the career is doing well. A fellow writer tells me that I have as high a profile as anyone he knows with one book out.

How do you tend to use the internet?

I've been using the net since 1982, and surfed the web when Netscape was version 0-point-something; so I'm very comfortable poking around the enormous disorganized pile that the net still is at this point. I use it for searches, for research, for entertainment and for a bunch of other things. I also look for reviews and discussion of my own work.

Have you ever thought of trying your hand in other genres - crime, history, thrillers etc?

I have some historical fiction and alternate history, but I don't intend to pursue it while I'm still pursuing readership in the SF/F field. My college background is in history, and I read it extensively.

If you could be reincarnated as any figure in history, who would you plump for?

Benjamin Franklin. He did pretty much everything in his life; he lived 90 years, he invented stuff, he helped found a country, he was a philanthropist, a philosopher, a humorist, a lover, a patriot, and a Freemason. He's one of the most fascinating persons in the history of Western Civilization.

What's your new novel The Dark Path about?

More than 80 years after the end of the last war between man and zor, a new threat looms at the edge of known space. When exploratory ships begin to disappear, both the Imperial Navy and the High Nest investigate . . . with completely different expectations and knowledge.

To the humans, this is evidence of piracy; but to the zor, this is an indication that the enemy that pulled them into war with humanity is stirring again.

What new sf delights are you working on for us at the moment?

I'm working on a rewrite of The Dark Ascent, the third book in the series. I'm also expecting to tackle the fourth book in the coming year, after the rewrite is done. I think that readers of the published work will really enjoy where I go - but I'm fairly certain that most people have no idea.

Stephen Hunt

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