The Dark Path
Walter Hunt Interview:
Bruce Wallace: What was it that made you decide to become a writer? Was there a writer or a work that inspired you? Or if there was no single book or story was there an event or memory in your life that you think of as a defining moment?
Walter Hunt: Iíve been writing all my life, and was already writing long work in high school. I wrote five novels Ė which youíll certainly never see Ė in that period, and sent a novel with my college application. My wife and I are both voracious readers and always have been; I read a lot as a kid and I always wanted to be able to tell my own stories.
Growing up, when did you first get interested in Science Fiction? Do you remember the first SF book you read?
Walter: I shared a bedroom with a brother eight years older than myself, so I had access to all kinds of books that landed on his shelf. He read science fiction in the sixties, so I did as well. My first exposure was everything from the Heinlein juveniles (Red Planet, Between Planets) to stuff like 1984 and Alas, Babylon. Most everything I read as a youngster I read again as an adolescent or adult.
Bruce: What do you read these days?
Walter: Check out my ďWhat Iím ReadingĒ page at http://hotc.home.attbi.com - I usually have a half dozen books in progress at one time. At this moment Iím reading Jack Whyteís Camulod books, which are long and engrossing; I just finished Turtedoveís Ruled Britannia, Rob Sawyerís Hominids, Connie Willisí Passage, my buddy Paul Levinsonís The Silk Code (The Consciousness Plague is near the top of the stack), and an excellent first novel, Devlinís Luck, by Patricia Bray. Iím also working on Robert Reminiís bio of Henry Clay and recently read Michael Beschlossí The Conquerors. My college degree is in history, so Iíve always got some history book on my shelf.
Bruce: How did your first book sale come about? Was The Dark Wing your very first effort? Who was your editor and what kind of relationship did you have?
Walter: The Dark Wing was my first published novel, but not the first thing Iíve ever written. I read that Ray Bradbury claims that a good writer has to get rid of about a million bad words before he uncovers the good ones; I guess I agree with that sentiment. As for how it got published, my editor, Brian Thomsen, tried a couple of times at a couple of publishing houses to buy the book before, and finally reached Tor and contacted me about getting it done. He wanted the book, I was happy to have a chance to work with him, and here we are. I have a very good relationship with Brian, who makes me work hard and keeps me honest.
Bruce: Robert Jordan has stated that he knew from the beginning how his mega-series The Wheel of Time would end. Do you have the same feeling of omnipotence or are you still working through your thoughts and feelings to reach the endgame you desire but cannot yet envision? Do you know how many books there will be in the Dark Wing Series?
Walter: I know what the final action scene in the final book will be. There are seven characters present, and readers who have read the first two books have met five of them already. There are four books in the series, each in two parts, and each section of each book has a title from zor legend. Each title gives an indication of the part of the overall story.
Whatís happened, particularly in the upcoming books, is that the story has broadened and deepened as Iíve gone on. I canít speak for Mr. Jordan, but I do know that the story has much more to it than it did in my notes. But itís going to end in the same place that it always was going to.
Bruce: How do you write? Do you plan out your books in detail before you start? Are you a 9-to- 5 day writer or do you write as the muse inspires you?
Walter: Iím a muse guy, not an outliner guy, though I often write out some notes on the next step the story is going to take before actually writing it. I plot quite a bit, but let the writing take me where it will. I do wind up having dead ends and discards. My work day is broken up by the arrival of the school bus, so I donít get 9-to-5 Ė itís more like 9-to-2 (both A.M. and P.M.). It comes when it comes, and sometimes it doesnít.
Bruce: Where in your experiences does the knowledge of warfare Ė strategy, tactics come from? Do you do a lot of research in the planning stages?
Walter: I read a lot and am solidly grounded in history. While Iím not a Spenglerian, I do see historical parallels in various cultures Ė and I assume that future societies will have the same highs and lows, the same triumphs and problems that present or past ones did. A lot of my reading is in military history (and military SF), and I try to take away some ideas of what works and what doesnít. As for my personal experience Ė no, I never served my country as a soldier; my prime years as a potential serviceman were spent in college in the late seventies, when military service was largely unattractive. I have great respect for those who serve, but never have done so myself.
Bruce: Weíve enjoyed seeing you at a number of SF Conventions this past year. How were you introduced to the Con circuit? Did you attend them before your first book, The Dark Wing was published? Do you find the exposure to fandom helpful in addition to being pleasurable?
Walter: My first con was Noreascon 2 (Boskone in 1980). My wife and I have attended cons for years, mostly in the Boston area, but I never became a con roadie until I was published. Exposure for myself and my writing is a critical part of my success thus far Ė you have to do it and you have to work at it. (Getting to know the folks at SFRevu didnít hurt either, I might add.) Itís work, but itís certainly a lot of fun as well Ė getting to know fans and fellow authors in various places.
Bruce: If there were one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Walter: People have asked me that before. My best piece of advice: finish the book. Nobody buys a ďnovel ideaĒ from an unpublished author Ė they buy a novel. (Or short story, or whatever.) If youíve got a completed manuscript, believe in it: itís not your child, itís likely not the next Great American Novel (unless it is); but itís something youíve worked at. Donít let every fickle wind and future editor rework it into their own image of what it should be. One thing thatís true about my fine editor, Brian Thomsen: he told me at the outset that he wanted my book, essentially as I wrote it. (There were lots of changes and edits, but it was still my book.)
Bruce: Author Robert Sawyer considers you to be the new master of military SF. Others compare your books to Orson Scott Cardís Enders Game, David Weberís Honor Harrington series and C.S. Forrester of the beloved Horatio Hornblower books. It must be wonderful to garner such high praise. Are you concerned with being typed cast into the Mil SF sub-genre? What do you think of this kind of labeling in general? Do you consider yourself a Mil-SF author?
Walter: Robís praise Ė and the comments of others Ė are very gratifying indeed. The Dark Wing was bought as military science fiction, which it certainly is; but I believe that it also moves beyond the genre and tells a more complex story. Admittedly thereís more to military SF than blowiní stuff up, but thereís more to The Dark Wing and its sequels than military SF.
Genre labeling is partly about the way in which a book is bought and marketed. Both of my books have been designated as military SF; the upcoming books are being bought in the same genre. I try to tell the story I want, but I make sure stuff blows up as well.
Bruce: What do you have planned for the future once this series is concluded?
Walter: Before The Dark Wing was ever written, there was a book that referred to the events that took place in the book. I wrote it in 1979, along with two sequels. Thatís one of the projects Iíd like to rework for publication when the current tetralogy is done. There are some other stories in the same universe Iíd like to do. I also am interested in doing some historical fiction and some alternate history.
Bruce: What other writers do you admire? Who do you feel you have something in common with?
Walter: Ursula LeGuin, C. J. Cherryh, Ray Bradbury, Harry Turtledove, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Connie Willis, Martha Wells start the science fiction list. John Dos Passos, William Saroyan, John Steinbeck, Steven Vincent Benet, A. A. Milne, Sir Walter Scott, David Halberstam, David McCullough start the mainstream list.
Iím pleased and proud to have books on the shelf near any of these authors, along with a bunch of others not listed here. Iíd like to write my aliens as well as Cherryh, imagery as skillfully as Bradbury or LeGuin, characterize like Dos Passos or Saroyan, and be as good a scholar as Halberstam, McCullough or Turtledove.
Bruce: What does Science Fiction do for us, now that we live in the future?
Walter: Thirty years ago we could put a man on the moon, but we havenít put one there recently; a hundred years ago there were people who thought that everything of consequence had already been invented, discovered, or composed Ė and then the twentieth century happened. Why should the twenty-first century be any different? Science fiction is still about the future. Thereís always more future to come.
Bruce: How do you feel about the future? What makes you the most hopeful and the most fearful?
Walter: I feel good about the future. This is the most exciting time in the history of human civilization, and potentially the most scary. September 11 frightened everyone, but so should illiteracy Ė and that didnít happen in the space of an hour on live TV. But while we live in an era which has huge and disturbing problems, we also live in a time when we can conceive of solutions to those problems. This is not the end times: itís a time of change, an amazing time in which something new can appear every day. (And be sold on eBay for too much money.)