INTERVIEW- with author John Schettler on Altered States
We’re back! And
it certainly didn’t take long.
Well, you know what Michael Corleone said in Godfather III: “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”
Actually, I was very pleased with the overwhelming response and support for a stay of execution on the Kirov Series.
This one is a merging of two of those five book proposals.
Yes, Altered States was the #1 vote getter, followed by Hindenburg, so those two will feed the content stream for this next segment.
Is this a stand-alone encore, or will others follow?
This is volume I in the Altered States trilogy, and by extension Volume 9 in the Kirov Saga.
It will cover the major naval action from June of 1940 until the close of that year.
How do you write these so quickly?
Well...I started writing the series with Kirov in October of 2011, and kept writing even though the book’s fate was as yet undecided by the readers. Early sales were slow, as is the case for most undiscovered authors, but they continued to build and build, which was the justification to then bring out the other novels I had been working on that became Cauldron
of Fire and Pacific Storm. So here it is 27 months later and I’ve produced 9 volumes, an average of one every three months. I had enough material in the mill to feed the
stories to the Writing Shop Press about every 60 days the last half of this year. Considering that for much of the time I write full time, that seems like a normal level of productivity
for me at the moment.
And that includes research time?
Thank God for the Internet! There’s no way you can research without
it these days. I’ll be in the middle of a scene, sometimes in the middle of a sentence and then realize I need to know who was in Boiler Boom Number 1 aboard the battlecruiser Scharnhorst.
So you fire up the browser and dig. It’s out there if you know where to look. Without the Internet it would take me six to 12 months to finish one book if I had to research just
from libraries. But I also have a large library of books on military history. I’ve studied this stuff all my life so a lot of this is already in my head. I remember reading Sink the Bismarck! in high school. That said, it still takes me about 8 hours to complete one chapter given the research involved. As I set my desired chapter length at 8 pages, that may seem like a lot of time, but if, after working all day, I complete one 8 page chapter, I can have a draft ready for revision in a little over a month since I’ve been writing 36 chapter episodes for each volume of this saga.
When do you take a break?
I thought I would rest after Armageddon, but
seeing those reader polls and emails spurred me on to get one more out this year. I had a lot of material ready for Altered States, and so I just pressed on last October after Armageddon was released. The story aboard Kirov continues right from the moment Volsky finishes addressing the bridge crew at the end. I wasn’t sure what the reader poll results would be, but even as I wrote I kept receiving emails asking for Altered States, so I knew I was not alone in the journey.
We’re glad you did...OK, So the Germans have initiated Plan Z in this one?
that will all be explained in the opening here when Hitler visits Admiral Raeder. Of course the fuhrer will not get everything on his shopping list, but now in this altered reality, the
Kriegsmarine is a force to be reckoned with.
I saw zeppelins in the HD trailer. What’s up with the airships?
part of this altered reality. The use of airships has persisted into the 1940s with new technology there, though you won’t see most of that until the next volume. It feels a little
like cyberpunk, but its cool. You’ll see later.
And Russia is in a state of continuing civil war.
Correct. It is broken into
three large geographic states. Stalin was “eliminated” and so Soviet Russia is ruled by Sergie Kirov in the west. Then Ivan Volkov has seized power in the center with a state
called the “Orenburg Federation.” The east is the Free Siberian State, and little is known of it at this point. The Far East, however, was occupied by the Japanese, who
declared renewed war on Russia, occupying Vladivostok, Sakhalin Island and all of Amur province and Manchuria.
That was a direct result of Karpov’s meddling.
Exactly, as Kazan and the other characters prevented him from carrying out his plans, the unfinished business triggered war with Japan and it all backfired.
Kirov escaped Armageddon with that magic Rod-25
Did it? The ending was
working on two levels. Even as you had ships from Togo’s fleet, the British, the Great White Fleet, and Kazan all bearing down on Kirov, the real Armageddon was the
similar force of personalities bearing down on Karpov. On that internal level you had Rodenko, Zolkin, Tasarov, Nikolin, Samsonov, and then Volsky and Fedorov on Kazan, all
converging as a force of opposition to Karpov. That was where the real battle was fought. The external fleet action was just a macro scale conflict to magnify that tension. Ships
don’t do evil. Only the men that command them can do that. I contemplated sinking Kirov in that scene, then realized that was fruitless. It was sinking Karpov that mattered, or at least ending his megalomania as Captain of the ship.
That ending in Armageddon was rather dramatic, but consistent with the characters and story. But Karpov’s fate is uncertain.
is a deliberate loose end I left dangling, so I won’t speak as to what actually happened on the weather deck, and how that blood came to be there. This is also why I do not let
readers inside Karpov’s head as that tension reaches its climax. There will be more information on Karpov’s fate later in the story.
What about the two plot lines in the final epilogues?
The Delphi plot line and the Keyholder’s saga have been “put to bed” for the moment. I let readers sound off
on their interest in those, and they came in third and fourth respectively in the voting. They are resting quietly and I may come back to them in the future as individual full length
novels. Each was essential to the 9 Days Falling trilogy where they were born. After the time rift on the back stairs of Ilanskiy was revealed, the question arose as to whether it was the only rift like that in existence. Kamenski knows that is not so, as the readers discovered at the end of both plot lines. Whatever happened at Tunguska did a whole lot more than blow down trees--it fractured the time continuum itself, which is now susceptible to further fracturing due to massive explosions, particularly those involving nuclear fission. And the material from Tunguska is also embedded in Rod-25, which was the catalyst for these time shifts on Kirov. All of this will deepen and more will be revealed in the coming trilogy for Altered States,
but those two plot lines were essential to root that story, and also did many other things in the narrative. It may seem at times that I digress into a narrative that seems unrelated to
the main story. This is not the case. Everything I write has a specific purpose. Sometimes even minor details may seem non-essential, but they are seeding things that will be revealed
later in the story. When Fedorov first went down those stairs at Ilanskiy, who thought it would be perhaps the single most significant action in the whole saga?
And now in Altered States Kazan and Kirov have separated.
It simply had to be that way. Rod-25 just was not able to move that quantity of
mass forward to 2021, so they have decided to allow Kazan to shift separately while experimenting with those new control rods on Kirov.
Is Kazan gone now? Do we learn it’s fate?
Stay tuned. I can’t reveal that just yet.
And we get some real trouble when Kirov shifts.
We do, but again, it was a necessary device to move the story where it needed to go. In fact, just about every instance when they do use the control rods is just my way of moving
the story along to the next evolution.
It reminds me of Star Trek where the Enterprise is locked in a scenario for a time and then goes to warp
drive to move on to the next adventure.
That’s it exactly. The control rods are a deliberate deus ex machina, and my way to control the reaction of the series,
if that makes any sense. Just when the reaction threatens to go into meltdown, I insert a control rod to move the ship on to the next book. It’s either that or the ship simply
doesn’t survive some of the encounters it had. Karpov was confident they could break out of the Med, for example, but Tovey had a lot of power there, and all it takes is one
critical hit with a 14 inch shell from a King George V class battleship and it’s over. No fun there, because I wanted to write Pacific Storm!
Right, and I suppose that while Kirov beat Yamato up pretty bad, it probably doesn’t survive if the cruiser Tone comes in with a full speed collision.
True. If the shift was not already underway that collision would have probably sunk Kirov. And that was a very haunting scene when Tone goes barreling through the ship just as it shifts. The same can be said for Karpov’s engagement with the US Fleet in Men
Of War and 9 Days Falling. He bested Captain Tanner, with a lot of help from the rest of the Red Banner Pacific Fleet and naval air arm, but if that fight continues you have to eventually put your money on the USN, and Volsky and the others know this. Kirov can beat any ship from these earlier eras one on one, unquestionably. But here you get the ship opposed by entire fleets!
So we get the Demon Volcano to move the ship in 9 Days Falling this time so Karpov can make the first run at his plan for Soviet dominance in the Pacific.
Yes, Karpov’s fall from grace occurs in the book appropriately entitled Fallen Angels, and his hubris leads him to think he can do anything now. Yet he clearly bites off more than he can chew. No force on earth, including Kirov,
beats the United States Pacific Fleet in 1945. His desperate use of atomic weapons changes that history at the end of the war, while also taking the ship deeper in time to 1908, the year
the stuff of Rod 25 came in from deep space at Tunguska.
Alright, so now we end up with the ship back to the Atlantic for Altered States
That’s where the fun is this time around. And now we have a Kriegsmarine that can really challenge the Royal Navy because the alternative history involving Plan Z is
going to be in this series.
Some of the ships arrive in the German order of battle early too.
Yes, they get Bismarck and Tirpitz a year early, while Hindenburg is still fitting out in 1940. And they get Graf Zeppelin, which really gives them options Raeder never had before, as you will see in this book.
Are there other ships that come on line?
They get a new battlecruiser in the Kaiser, which upgrades to six 15 inch guns, and then
they get a pair of light cruisers, in Westfallen and Rhineland, and several Atlantik Class destroyers. They will also see a second carrier in the Flugzeugträger B project, Peter
Strausser, and a light carrier called the Goeben. Yet all this comes at a cost. Donitz gets fewer U-boats.
And what about the British?
Ah, they haven’t been overlooked. Here they get the first of the planned G3 Battlecruisers, really remarkable ships considering they were first conceived and ordered in
1921. Give me a G3 instead of the Nelson class any day, and Admiral Tovey gets one here with HMS Invincible. The British building program is also slightly accelerated, and so King George V and Prince of Wales are working up on trials as the story opens in June of 1940. There may be other surprises later as well.
Love it! The surface war in the Atlantic is legendary.
It is, and there’s lots of action coming. But this is an altered history, so
you will see things that might have happened as well, like the possible German occupation of Spain and a threat to Gibraltar. In 1940 England was really on the ropes, and it was the Royal Navy and RAF that kept them alive. It’s going to be a real struggle here as well.
In 1940 the disposition of the French Fleet has yet to be decided.
Correct, that is coming in the next volume as the war heats up and
moves to the Med. Lots of fun ahead, and that French Fleet can be a real long suit for whichever side controls it.
But there is still that trump card in the deck!
Ah…the mighty Kirov.
Will the series push on into 1941?
Yes, and that is a crucial year, because Kirov is scheduled to appear there in August of 1941, and the characters see a real paradox forming like a bad storm on the horizon. Stay tuned...