SFRevu New Author Interview: John Ringo
One of my favorite pieces of Military SF hardware was the powered suit that Heinlein used in Starship Troopers. When I saw John Ringos's first book I knew immediately I'd found a kindred spirit, and went off to dig up an interview before success goes to his head.
SFRevu: Where and when did you grow up?
John Ringo: Let's get one thing perfectly clear; I never grew up:-) But I was raised in a variety of places. My dad was a civil engineer with an international firm so we traveled in the states and overseas a fair bit. Most of my life was spent in the states, mainly in the southeast, but living in foreign countries puts a stamp on you. I try to stamp back as hard as I can. And I really do hate anything but "normal" food!
Call it: Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Greece and Iran and you'll hit the high points. I detest Greek salad, hate feta cheese, dislike olives, don't think there's anything Iranian worth eating and don't even get me started on how hard it is to get a decent burger in the mideast!
SFRevu: What made you decide to go "Airborne" when you joined the service? What did you do in the war? Which war was that, anyway?
JR: I went Airborne because of Starship Troopers. The line when Sgt. Ho says (paraphrase): "There's nothing better than the infantry. Everybody else just exists to support you. That is where the rubber meets the road." As a matter of fact, I used the last line on my recruiter when he was offering me everything and a cherry if I'd take electronics. Heinlein was a very bad influence on an impressionable kid. He ought to be a controlled substance.
I didn't do any wars. I went to a live fire exercise called Grenada and saw a few interesting things first hand. A. People who were dead due to a geo-political mistake. (Don't try to build an advanced terrorist base in America's back yard.) B. People who were actively glad to see American forces. (Ecstatic is not too strong a word.) C. How incredibly fu...messed up a scramble deployment can get. I keep that in mind when I'm writing; in war things go wrong.
They gave me a Combat Infantryman's Badge for it but the worst that happened was getting potted at by a couple of snipers and a really interesting live fire exercise. Long story.
SFRevu: What was the first book you remember really reading? The first SF? Mil SF?
JR: The first book I really remember is a juvenile study of WWII fighter aces. I read it until the pages were coming apart. As an aside, I read a Stephen W. Meader book called River of the Wolves about 23 times in the 4th grade. During which time I was also reading all of the Tarzans. The first SF I remember was "Grey Lensman", a British reprint which is why I always misspell grey. If you don't count that as Mil SF, I would say the first one of those I remember is Hammer's Slammers. In AHBB, keep an eye out for the Panzergrenadiere major.
SFRevu: Has SF affected your outlook on life?
JR: It has made me aware that we exist within an historical process and that we, each and every individual, have small things we can do to affect that historical process for good or ill. I don't know a better way to put it than that. And if you don't try to affect the historical process for the better, don't come whining to me when the barbarians are at the gates.
SFRevu: Who are the top 5 Mil SF authors of all time. Why? (Don't rank them...some of them may still have rounds.)
JR: Heinlein: Starship Troopers stands as the fundamental discussion in SF of why people make war. And it's a good way to separate the sheep from the goats: If you "get" ST, you're a warrior. If you don't, you ain't. I had a First Sergeant one time, old, scarred Vietnam vet, who insisted that the only book he'd ever read, other than field manuals, was Starship Troopers. And he thought it should be required reading in Basic Training. With quizzes. (I told you RAH should be carefully controlled!)
Drake: Best damned writer of in your face emotional combat in the field. Ever. Period.
Weber: Most people like his "space combat" stuff but he can write some of the best close combat sequences I've ever seen.
Bujold: She has the finest feel for the unquenchable fire at the center of the human soul I've ever seen.
Steakley: Now that man can write a combat character! He otherwise had not a clue about war, but he can write a fantastic character!
(I would like to give Daniel Keys Moran an honorable mention here. Trent Castanaveras is God.)
SFRevu: How did A Hymn Before Battle come about?
JR: Long story. Weird story. I was writing this tale that had been kicking around in the back of my head. Just a hobby. I wrote about half of it, up to the...ahem...deep part shall we say and showed it to my dad, who was the only person who read mil-sf I knew at the time. He thought it was pretty interesting (hey, he was my dad) and wanted to know what happened next.
Well, I worked on it some more (for about a year, you know how it is) and along the line my dad had a bunch of physical problems and then died. So, I sort of threw myself into finishing it, just to do it cause he'd liked it. I knew I was going to shop it to Baen, it was just "right" for them (I was a big Baen fan, still am.) So I finished it and sent it off.
Soon after that I found Baen's Bar (a chat board where Jim hangs out way too much.) I got into discussions and at some point Jim asked if I had ever written fiction. Well, I'd just received the mss back rejected so I sent him the document along with the fact that, yes, I'd submitted it to "him" and yes, it had been rejected. He read it, told me "why" it had been kicked back and how to fix it. And also that if I could fix it right he'd buy it. The rest is history.
SFRevu: Is writing hard?
JR: Only when it doesn't flow. I'm a "binge" writer, I'll be locked up for a time then do 20-30-60 thousand words in a week. Then I'm locked up for a while, then I binge. The time in between is spent with the story bumping around in the back of my head, putting things together. Then I sort of spew it out.
SFRevu: Has anyone/Who in the Pro SF community gave you encouragement?
JR: Well, I sort of did the "stealth writer" thing. I was naturally disinclined to avail myself of the "help" available from writer's circles. Call me silly, but if somebody wasn't currently able to get published I wasn't sure I wanted their advice. Also, I had noted that most people in writer's circles and I had...differing tastes in what we read.
I didn't know any "pros" for that matter. I had never been a fen, never went to a con before I was a "dirty pro." So I'd never even met a "real live author" until I went to one specifically to discuss stuff with David. Who I had never seen in person until then.
Jim was the first person who had encouraged me in the pro community and it was "where's that mss you said we got? Nobody can find it. Send it to me in an e-mail."
SFRevu: Why did you write choose to start out in SF rather Mil-fiction?
JR: Yeah, it's pretty obvious I'm cuspal, huh?
The biggest plot rolling around up top was MilSF, the Posleen story-arc. That's what I wrote, nearly, first. (There's that usual really bad book sitting on a disk somewhere.) I like both MilSF and MilFic. I'd actually like to write some MilFic some day. In the same sort of vein as Bujold wants to write Romance. We'll see. I've got alot of SF to do first.
SFRevu: Do you have any other story's in mind?
JR: Yep. The one I want to win awards for is "The Nature of Doubt." In stores sometime next decade. The great American SF novel. With a thousand elephants as Terry Pratchett would say. A sarger of Love and passione in a worlde gone madde.
SFRevu: Do you have a story arc worked out for AHBB? How far does it go?
JR: I do. The story arc goes for about 150 years and about six books. Whether all of them get written depends on the sales for what is contracted.
SFRevu: I like the title of AHBB, but was there actually a Hymn in it or do we take that as a metaphor for the prelude to conflict sure to follow in the coming(?) book(s)?
JR: The Kipling poem scattered through the book is "Hymn Before Action." And, yes, it is a prelude. Note the last stanza.
SFRevu: Is mankind going to hell in a hand basket? Fell free to make up your own question here, but the gist is: What are your feelings about the near and long term prospects for humanity?
JR: Humanity isn't going anywhere in particular and isn't changing fundamentally any time soon. I don't care what Greg Bear says. In the next two hundred years or so we're going to have a big fall off in population and become more efficient in resource use (not because that is PC but because it is less expensive and more efficient.) This is extrapolating from past trends. Give scientists enough money (and give corporations an incentive and they do) and they come up with all sorts of odd answers to questions you haven't even asked yet. Give people a reason not to have kids (an industrial v agrarian society) and contraceptive methods and populations fall off.
Long term, we probably need to worry about humanity dying out from a sort of ennui. My wife and I have two kids. Why? Because more than two is almost a synergistic hassle. But two kids is negative population growth. Think about that. If everyone had our life, as noted in all advanced countries, population growth would reverse in a big hurry. If the whole population of the earth has a lifestyle equivalent to a French farmer, population declines.
And worldwide quality of life is improving rapidly. Scary.
SFRevu: Make up your own question. I asked Bruce Sterling in an interview if there were any other questions I should ask...and he said, no...you've asked the usual ones. Some moments are special.
JR: What do you think is the future of digital publishing?
I think the only publishers who have their head screwed on straight on the subject of e-books are Jim Baen and Stephen King.
The fact is that it will soon be too easy for private individuals to copy and distribute intellectual property. But the other fact is that if commercial distribution is controlled (and that can be) then it just becomes a game. And if there is no SIGNIFICANT MONETARY INCENTIVE adults won't play. Think of the difference between Napster and mp3.com and you'll get my point. One is a program designed to rip off publishers and the other is a site. You can control the site.
What you cannot control is the Napsters. But the Napster type programs will always depend on a lot of marketing factors. I'll admit that I pulled a copy of Van Morrison's "Moondance" off of Napster. I had a tape but no way to get it into the computer so I didn't feel like I was "stealing" it. But the version I found was different than the original and, frankly, not as good. To get "my" version I'll have to download dozens and pick through them. That is only one example of the marketing pressure against the random distribution game. There's no quality control. Period.
They will never be as easy as going to a known source.
But...they're cheap. "Free" for all practical purposes. When you look at a CD for $18 or ripping it off on Napster...Napster looks really tempting.
So the net effect will be to force publishers to change their whole (sorry, buzz word alert!) paradigm. If you encrypt it, somebody will break it for kicks. If you encrypt and then jack up the price, people will distribute it just because they know they are being ripped off. If you lower the price point to something reasonable, adults will come to your site and download it for that reasonable price. And they may trade a copy or two but it's not going to kill your bottom line (otherwise all the books I've "loaned" to bastards who didn't give them back would have destroyed Ace long ago.)
Someday when somebody wants a new book they will go to a site and download what looks good. This will be based upon a blurb from the publisher, sample chapters, any reviews that are up on that site (and others), fill in etc. The cost of the book will be the equivalent of about 3-4 "year 2000" dollars.
People will go to known sites (http://www.drudgebook.com ;-) because the alternative will be reading slushpiles "alt.slushpile.sf" or wading through spam-crap on something like alt.ebooks. It will be worth the nominal fee for the convenience and quality of the "professional" product. And if "professional" sites spring up, charging $2 for somebody else's $4 book, they will get ruthlessly shut down by men with guns. As should be.
Webscriptions: www.webscription.net. That's the wave of the future. Trust me, I'm a science fiction writer. We know these things.
SFRevu: If you want (and it hasn't sneaked in before) what is life like for you these days, what haven't you done yet that draws you?
JR: Life is pretty good. I'm writing full-time, getting the word out about AHBB and generally just being an adult human. I have a lot of things that I look forward to doing some day, but mainly I'm just concentrating on getting those books out and saving my "what do you want to do" for someday. Seriously, I haven't done it all, but I've done enough I can take a few years off to be an adult.
Then? Well, if you insist. There's this really high cliff in Nepal that as far as I know nobody has ever sky-dived off of...