Lair of the Geek

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Here at Geeklore we have been very lucky to get a few words with one of our favourite authors, John Hemry. We hope you enjoy reading it!

Geeklore: How did you come to make the leap from being a military man to an
author?

John Hemry: I’ve always loved reading, and have always thought about writing. There
wasn’t room for much fiction writing during my Naval career, though I did do
a lot of other writing for reports and analysis and similar things. I also
worked as an editor on one tour so I gained some good knowledge there. But
all along I kept thinking of stories, and those stories gained from the many
experiences I was having, the things I was learning and the people I was
working with and meeting.

When it came time to retire from the Navy, my wife strongly encouraged me to
try writing. I listened to my wife (which is as a rule a good idea) and
gave it a shot. I did a lot of good things in the service, but it was also
a preparation for writing in that it gave me so much that I could put into
my writing.

Geeklore: How much have your experiences in the navy influenced your writing?

John Hemry: Quite a bit. One of the biggest parts was the people, and people are the
core of any good story. I was able to work with and meet such a wide
variety, good and bad and in-between, and see how different viewpoints and
personalities impact relationships and actions. Just knowing how dialogue
feels between different kinds of people helps immensely with writing.

I got to feel many things, experiencing them first-hand, whether it was
seeing the Parthenon in Athens, or the Southern Cross on the way to
Australia, or watching part of a surgery in Hong Kong, or viewing the USS
Missouri train its sixteen-inch artillery on the ship I was riding, or
flying an aircraft or helicopter, fighting a fire, or a million other
events.

In the most concrete terms, those experiences gave me know-how. I know how
a steam plant works, I know how a lot of equipment works, and how often it
breaks (usually when you most need it), how engineers approach a problem,
how to drive a ship displacing thousands of tons, how to understand relative
motion when that ship is maneuvering among other ships and aircraft and
submarines, how to lead a disparate group of people, how to stay awake at
two in the morning when you’re standing watch and nothing is happening, and
so on.

One other thing is that a smaller and smaller percentage of the population
has military experience. I try to write in ways that convey the reality of
that service, how the people are and what they do and what they endure.
That way those who have served can know they are being accurately portrayed,
and those who haven’t can see how it really is.

Geeklore: Your battle scenes and bridge discussions seem very real, are they
based on events that you have experienced?

John Hemry: Not the space battles, of course. But I have participated in a lot of
maneuvers, and spent a lot of time on the bridge or in the combat
information center. That all factors in to depicting those things for
readers. My surface ships didn’t operate in three dimensions (though it
certainly felt that way in heavy seas), but we worked with aircraft and
subs, and between them you get not only a 3D environment but also various
velocities and time lags in the data. So it gave me a feel for that kind of
thing.

I don’t think I’ve recreated any scenes I actually experienced action for
action or word for word, though occasionally I draw closely on something.
It’s more about the feel for how the words go, how the different players
relate to each other, how a person feels at different points as events
happen. I know what is like to direct a fire fighting effort, and I know
how it feels when your best efforts during that fire fighting cannot save
someone. So I can try to convey those things to others who hopefully won’t
have to experience them firsthand.

Geeklore: Are some of the main characters in the Lost Fleet and Stark¹s War
based on real people?

In those two series I don’t think any one character reflects any single
person. The Sinclair (“JAG in space”) series is different, because in that
series several characters are closely based on individuals I worked with.
But in the Lost Fleet and Stark’s War everyone is really a composite of
different people.

A couple of the senior officers in Stark’s War are based somewhat on a
couple of real superiors I had the misfortune to work with, but then some of
the officers in the Lost Fleet are definitely derived from some superiors I
was lucky enough to work with. Geary himself (and Stark himself) are
characters who stand alone. They’re not based on anyone I knew and live
only in my mind.

One character in the Lost Fleet, the recently introduced Master Chief
Gioninni, is based on a fictional character created by Admiral Dan Gallery.
My Gioninni is a tribute to Gallery’s conniving character and hopefully will
draw a few readers back to those old stories.

I am fortunate enough (or delusional enough) that characters take on real
existence for me in my mind. I see them acting as they would act, speaking
as they would speak. That makes it easier when I’m writing about their
actions, but harder when they make it clear that they wouldn’t do or say
what I might have planned for. Perhaps the fact that I see them inside as
real people helps them feel real when I write of them, because they will not
conform to a plot point just because I want them to. It has to be what they
would do, or else something they might do but only in a way they would do
it.

Geeklore: You write science fiction, have you been tempted to try another
genre?

John Hemry: I have also written some fantasy. For example, the first story I sold
(Agent Problems) appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, and
Mightier than the Sword (the tale of an aspiring writer afflicted with an
over-enthusiastic muse) appeared in the Chicks in Chainmail anthology Turn
the Other Chick. I’m currently trying to sell a fantasy short story set in
the Scottish Highlands. Every once in a while an idea comes which fits
fantasy and needs to be told that way. But as a rule the stories that come
to me are SF. It’s not that I won’t write anything else, just that SF
stories are usually the stories that pop into my head. That’s how my muse
works.

I’ve thought about historical fiction, but that tends to turn into alternate
history as I look at all of the possible things that could have happened
differently. How it could have happened is (to me) as fascinating as how we
think it did happen.

Within SF, I could say I have written a variety of different genres. The
Sinclair series is SF, military SF, and legal thrillers. (I’m not sure
whether or not I invented the SF military legal thriller sub-genre.) I’ve
done time travel stories that are detective thrillers (like Working on
Borrowed Time or These are the Times, an alternate universe story that was
also a Western (Swords and Saddles, in which a US Cavalry unit finds itself
in an alternate North America) and humorous pieces like As You Know, Bob. I
enjoyed doing the Sinclair books, and I like that with short fiction I can
play with and experiment with a variety of genres within the SF genre.

Geeklore: Dreadnaught¹s cliff-hanger finale opens up the potential for whole
new storylines for Jack Geary, is there a limit to how far you can go
with this scenario?

John Hemry: I hope not!moriarty d`ubervillies

One of my primary goals with this series is to keep presenting fresh ideas
and fresh stories. I think I owe that to the readers. I could see a lot
going on within Alliance space in the aftermath of the war with the Syndics,
but it would still be limited. On the other hand, by the end of Victorious
Geary has already discovered that the universe outside human-controlled
space has some things in it that weren’t supposed to be there. Humanity has
been locked in the war for a century, looking inward, all of its resources
given over to the fight. What about the exploration, the ongoing expansion,
that was brought to a halt by that war? And the Syndicate Worlds itself is
a mess, containing many problems and conflicts. Beyond the Frontier of the
Alliance lie a lot of things that Geary can discover and have to deal with.

Geeklore: You have a very clean concise style which helps make your books such
page-turners, is this a product of a very regimented writing routine?

With three kids on the autistic spectrum I don’t think any part of my life
has been regimented for some time now. I write when I can, sometimes in
spurts of only a few seconds before I have to jump up to deal with
something. I know of many writers who set aside a specific time to write,
and write for that period each day. I’ve never been able to do that, and
not just because of family life. I can write when the feeling is there,
when the inspiration is flowing, but I never know when that will happen. I
have tried to force the words sometimes, and usually that produces less than
brilliant prose.

Most likely I write the way I do because that’s the sort of writing I’ve
always enjoyed reading. When I started writing seriously, I followed the
same styles as I had liked all my life. There have been times, as when I
wrote my novella Lady Be Good, when I felt as if one of the classic SF
writers (in that case Leigh Brackett) was standing by me and telling me the
story as I wrote it.

Or maybe the confusion and chaos that are an inevitable part of life with
three kids lead me to seek a clear counterpart in my writing. If so, that
would be ironic, since it’s the chaos and confusion of family and life that
inspire so much of my writing.

Geeklore: Is the Beyond the Frontier series complete or are there still
choices for you to make for the later books?

John Hemry: There will be a lot of choices, a lot of activity, a lot of problems. There
are a lot of different places to go yet. The sequel to Dreadnaught is
Invincible, dealing with the problems existing at the end of Dreadnaught and
some new situations that develop. At the end of Invincible there is still
work for Geary to do, so I’m working on the book after that.

At the same time as the events in Dreadnaught and Invincible unfold, things
are happening in the Syndicate Worlds star system named Midway, and in the
star systems near Midway. You get a look at some of the changes at the end
of Invincible, but the whole story of what has been happening at Midway
during Dreadnaught and Invincible (told from the perspective of the Syndics
there) will be told in Tarnished Knight, the first of The Lost Stars series.
That series finally offers a Syndic point of view, though as readers of
Dreadnaught can tell the Syndic citizens at Midway aren’t too happy with
Syndicate rule anymore.

Geeklore: Who are the Authors that inspire and influence you?

John Hemry: There are so many it is hard to think of them all. I was heavily influenced
by the authors I read growing up, people like Leigh Brackett, Robert
Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton and H. Beam Piper. I
read Edgar Rice Burroughs, too, of course, and while recently rereading his
Mars stories I was amazed at Burrough’s ability to play fast and loose with
things like continuity and yet still produce stories that keep you reading.
Tolkien inspired me by showing how legends and history can be interwoven to
tell new tales, and how world-building really should be done. At the moment
I’m reading my eldest son the Telzey Amberdon stories that James H. Schmitz
wrote in the late ’60s and early 70s. They still hold up really well.

These days there are many new authors. Connie Willis, Elizabeth Moon, David
Sherman, L.A. Meyer, Jack McDevitt, Catherine Asaro to name a few. I get
something from all of them.

Some of the writers who influence me today write for movies, such as Hayao
Miyazaki, who has crafted some remarkable stories. In the same vein, John
Lasseter and the other creative minds at Pixar really know how to tell a
story. Watching movies from Pixar or Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli teach a lot
about what goes into effective story-telling. (There are some impressive SF
writers who also write good screenplays, notably the above-mentioned Leigh
Brackett who crafted The Empire Strikes Back.) Those examples create for me
the challenge of doing with only words what they do with images and words.

Geeklore: Any spoilers for your fans?

John Hemry: If there’s one intelligent alien race, maybe there are more.

“Block obsolescence” can be a big problem.

Winning the war doesn’t mean all of your problems are over.

It means a lot to Geeklore.co.uk that an established author such as
yourself, is willing to take time out of your busy schedule to partake
in this interview.

– I’m happy to do it. A writer is nothing without readers. Thank you for
hosting me..

To find out more about John Hemry you can find him over at http://www.johnghemry.com/

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