Friday, September 9, 2011

Interview: Eric Swedin

I bring you my interview with Sidewise award winning author Eric G. Swedin:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm an associate professor at Weber State University, a four-year school in Ogden, Utah. I have published seven books, most of them historical in nature. I have three science fiction novels coming out from Wildside Press in the near future.

What got you interested in alternate history?

As a historian, I have always been interested in historical counterfactuals. I have also been a long-time science fiction fan. It was not a deliberate decision, but I noticed that the novels I wrote often had substantial historical sections, even excerpts from fictional historical documents. I see everything in the world through the prism of history, so alternate history is a natural fit for me.

What is your novel When Angels Wept about?

It supposes that the U-2 flight that found the Soviet missile sites on Cuba, thus starting the Cuban Missile Crisis, had been delayed by just seven days. Many of the earlier reconnaissance flights had been delayed by weather. When Angels Wept: A What-If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a counterfactual history book based on the premise that the Crisis escalated into a general nuclear war. The book argues that such a war would have destroyed the Soviet Union and Europe, but only damaged the United States. At that point in history, American superiority in strategic weapons was overwhelming.

What inspired you to write When Angels Wept?

I think that the Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most important events of the Twentieth Century, not for what happened, but for what could have happened.

Most alternate histories are written as narratives, what made you decide to write When Angels Wept as a history book?

I have written both history books and novels and I understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of storytelling. What I wanted to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis made more sense if it was written like a history book, without all the tricks that make a good novel work. I also had a serious intent beyond mere entertainment when I wrote the book. Contingency is too often neglected by historians and other people. When thinking about history we assume that whatever happened was inevitable. This is a poor way to think about history and about why events unfold as they do. I hope that my book will in its small way help counteract this tendency in all of us and help us realize that the past was not fixed when it was happening.

How did you come up with the title?

You know, I don't remember. I liked the phrase and the title was there very early in the project. Only later did I include an episode that explained the title.

Who designed the cover?

The publisher did and it is one of the best covers that I have ever seen. I cannot be more pleased.

How was it like winning the Sidewise award?

I was certain that I would not win this award, though I was thrilled to be nominated. Since my family and I were already going to WorldCon, we all went to the ceremony. When they announced my name and the book title it was like a blast of electricity going through me and I didn't hear much of what they said after that. Very jarring.

What are you reading now?

I just read a graphic novel, Will Eisner, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (2005). I am also reading several books on World War II at the same time, including Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011) and Mark Mazower, Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe (2008). I am also reading the novella that I shared the Sidewise Award with, Alan Smale, "A Clash of Eagles," in Panverse Two (ed. Dario Ciriello), (Panverse Publishing 2010). He won the short-form and I won the long-form. It is an interesting story.

What are your current projects?

Tough question. I am working on a sequel to a novel of mine that will be coming out soon, Fragments of Me (Wildside Press, 2011). I am researching a general book on Twentieth-century Science. And I am working on an alternate history of World War II.  In my alternate history of World War II, I want to answer the question of if atomic bombs could have really won the war against a dominant Germany. I have my doubts.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I do believe that anyone who is of reasonable intelligence and has a sincere desire to learn can become a writer. Writing is a rewarding activity, even without publishing, though publishing is a nice way to convince doubters and naysayers that you are not on a fruitless quest. Writers who are successful have a determination that drives them through disappointment and self-doubt. Becoming a productive writer is the hardest skill that I have ever worked to acquire.

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You can also check out my review of Swedin's When Angels Wept.

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