- Award-winning full time author, occasional defense/intel/space consultant, former professor, and father of 4.
Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Chuck Gannon.
Dr. Charles E. Gannon‘s award-winning Caine Riordan/Terran Republic hard sf novels have all been national best-sellers, and include 3 finalists for the Nebula, 2 for the Dragon Award, and a Compton Crook winner. The fifth, Marque of Caine, came out in July 2019. His epic fantasy series, The Broken World, is forthcoming from Baen Books, as is At the End of the World, a solo novel set in John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising universe. Gannon collaborates with Eric Flint in the NYT and WSJ best-selling Ring of Fire series, and has worked in the Starfire, Honorverse, Man-Kzin, and War World universes. His other credits include many short fiction publications, game design/writing, and scriptwriter/producer in New York City.
Formerly a Distinguished Professor of English at SBU and recipient of five Fulbright grants, his book Rumors of War & Infernal Machines won the 2006 ALA Choice Award for Outstanding Book. He is a frequent subject matter expert both for national media venues such as NPR and the Discovery Channel, as well as for various intelligence and defense agencies.
Chuck, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
If I stay rooted to the real, probably a coati. They fascinate me in so many ways. Fantasy? Heck, I think it would be great to have a griffon. Famed for intelligence and loyalty—and boy, talk about a home protection bonus!
I had to look up a coati. They look so cute! And a griffon sounds like a fine choice to me!
What do you write and how did you get started?
I’m probably best known for the Caine Riordan hard SF series (nebula finalist 3x) and my work in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe. I’m about to start on an epic fantasy with some genre-bending and slipstream elements, entitled the Broken World trilogy. I’ve also written straight up space opera in other peoples’ universes (Niven’s Man-Kzin, Pournelle’s War World, Weber’s Honor Harrington, and the Starfire series), and lots of gaming products for GDW (back in the day).
I got started before I knew I was starting. Growing up, I became sequentially enamored of all sorts of cool scientific activities/specialties. Meaning I wanted to be a paleontologist/zoologist/astronomer/astronaut—and then write about it. At about age 12, I realized that a) all these professions are about 95 %+ repetitive, solo, dry work. So, clearly, what I wanted to do was dabble in all of them and write exciting/interesting stories about them.
Which is exactly what I’m doing today.
It’s awesome that you’re living your dreams. Also, who didn’t want to be a paleontologist/zoologist/astronomer/astronaut growing up? All the cool kids did.
What do you like to read?
I have eclectic and broad tastes. If I had the time to read everything I wanted, I’d be all over the map, although I always gravitate toward fiction—novels in particular. Right now, when I can, I am trying to catch up on authors and classics of SF and Fantasy that I never got around to reading. For instance, about 8 months ago I had a brief A.E. Van Vogt binge read (well, if you call 30 minutes before bed most every night for two months a “binge”). I see why it was foundational, transformative to the genre and quite popular when it was written. I also see why it has not aged well. On to the next—when I get the time.
The ephemeral ‘they’ always suggest reading broadly. I hear you on the gravitational pull of fiction, but I have to admit, as I get older, I’ve started reading more essays and memoirs.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
“Always” or “Never” X.
Any piece of advice that begins with or includes the qualifier(s), “never” or “always.”
Frankly, IMHO, there are no absolute rules in *the craft* of writing (the only absolute I *do* believe in!). I am not sure the same can be said about the *mechanics* of writing, or the *audience effects* of writing. But if a self-styled expert asserts, “You must never do X,” I’m likely (and probably constitutionally predisposed) to find the exception to that rule.
My reason: because the personal ecology and act of writing is pretty much like our fingerprints. All of us have them, but no two of us have the same ones. What works for one writer is a disaster for another. Furthermore, based on the kind of story you’re trying to tell, you may need to *break* a rule to make a point. In other words, since readers have expectations (because they are shaped by the narrative forms that they encounter repeatedly), BREAKING a given rule can be a profound source of meaning or impact that the author intends to convey.
So true! The best rule is do what works for you. Of course, it works best if you know the reasons FOR the rules and the breaking is intentional, rather than simply being unaware of the rule.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
Maintain reader immersion.
That the sine qua non of effective fiction is maintaining reader immersion. I don’t care how it’s done. Immersion to me means that what you have written has transported the reader out of *this* world and into the one you are unfolding in your narrative. This is as true for historical or contemporary/real-world fiction as it is for the speculative genres.
I am aware that certain folks in the domain of belles lettres will turn their noses up at this. Plenty of writers have opined or argued for writing that is non-transparent, for story-telling that purposefully jars a reader out of the narrative so that they get what I will call a cognitive parallax view on the tale being told, with one eye viewing it from within the domain of suspended disbelieve, the other seeing it from without. The purpose: the latter eye sees the artifice, the mechanics whereby immersivity is accomplished. According to some of the writers I was referring to, this is the only way to see narrative responsibly: to be aware of how it inveigles us into feelings or beliefs that can be without actual-world basis, that are conjured by words and words alone. Brecht, a Marxist playwright, made this the centerpiece of all his work, calling this anti-immersive objective the “alienation effect” (although “estrangement effect” is a less frequently encountered, but arguably more accurate, translation). The raison d’etre of this narrative objective is expressly to elminate “reader gullibility/immersion,” so that narrative will not become a vehicle for reproducing traditional (versus revolutionary) perspective and culture. Ultimately, nihilism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction all arise from this approach to storytelling (and attached belief formation).
My response to it all is: a fascinating intellectual exercise and experientially bankrupt. Humans read not merely to be diverted, but to consider both commonplace and unique circumstances from a different perspective. You can no more stop them from hungering after those kind of transporting stories than you can get their bodies to renounce all need of water and sustenance. Story is central to human experience; it is how we pass on most of our culture and is a mirror in how we reexamine and rediscover our time, our perspective, our selves.
Who is right? Well, let me ask you a question. When was the last time you, or the NYT bestseller list, or the Pulitzer prize committee, lauded a work for its ability to detach us from the human condition? When was the last time you saw a play, or film/TV adaptation of one of Brecht’s plays?
Yeah: I thought not. So that’s my never-break rule: what makes a narrative work, what makes it memorable, is its ability to immerse us in the world it depicts. However you achieve that is a truly secondary matter (and is yet another explanation for why I do NOT hold with writing rules that start with/contain the qualifiers “never” or “always.”)
An over-long answer. Consider it a sign of my earnestness.
Such an important facet of writing. I think some writers get too obsessed with things they CAN do with writing, the ART of writing, that they end up taking away from the actual EXPERIENCE.
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
The Caine Riordan universe has two new additions on the actual (and electronic) shelves in the past three months.
The fifth book in the series, Marque of Caine, debuted on July 2, and was a first-week national bestseller (making the series five for five, in that category of sales performance).
You can find it here, as well as testimonials by a lot of authors whose names EVERYONE will recognize:
Also, the first anthology set in Caine’s Terran Republic universe—Lost Signals–launched only 45 days earlier.
It was funded by a Kickstarter, which gave me the opportunity to create a fundamentally unique structural conceit with which to organize it.
At the outset, there are a handful of official reports, presented as wirecopy. The fiction reveals the untold truth behind those reports—hence, Lost Signals:
And for those who have yet to give the Caine Riordan series a try, the first book—Fire With Fire—is a permafree ebook here: