Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interview: Bryce Zabel

Here is my interview with Bryce Zabel, author of the Sidewise nominated Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas? (check out my review over at Amazing Stories).

Who is Bryce Zabel?

I've spent all my professional career writing something.  First, it was TV news, local markets up to being a CNN correspondent here in Los Angeles.  Then I went into longform magazine journalism, doing everything from lighter fare to hard core investigative pieces.  Eventually, I ended up in screenwriting.  I've been lucky enough to have created or developed five produced primetime TV series, worked on a dozen staffs, and had multiple feature films and miniseries produced.  Writing books is something that's happened very recently with A.D. After Disclosure: When the Government Finally Reveals the Truth About Alien Contact, followed by my recent novel, Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas?

What got you interested in alternate history?

My father taught high school history so it's always been something I've been interested in.  I've also loved making up stories, and it's been a natural thing to bring them together.  My first hard-core alternate history was the NBC series I created, Dark Skies, that told the story of the UFO cover-up through the real events and personalities of the 1960s.  That one also included JFK, so I guess I've returned to my roots.

What is Surrounded by Enemies about?

Surrounded by Enemies is my response to all the wishful thinking that always surrounds the alternate history take about JFK living past the assassination attempt in Dallas.  Writers always seem to make it either a time travel fantasy or a political fantasy about how the world would have been so much better if JFK had lived.  My take is that President Kennedy probably was murdered as a result of a conspiracy and that if he'd survived the attempt in Dallas that would hardly have been the end of it.  In my book, both Kennedy and his attorney general brother Robert become the first real conspiracy theorists because they know that the Kennedy administration had many powerful enemies.  Might these powerful dark forces have tried to take JFK out by other means if they'd failed in Dallas?  I think the answer is yes.  I've told that story and found it to be fresh and challenging for both myself and readers.  The publisher put together a terrific website for the book at and I'd like to encourage people to check it out.

Who designed the cover?

The supremely talented graphic artist Lynda Karr designed the book's starkly powerful cover.  We also worked together to create five faux magazine covers from this alternate history that are used between most chapters.  Those were incredibly fun to work on and put together, particularly the one where JFK actually got to meet the Beatles when they came to America to play on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The absolute most pristine way to see these covers is to read the eBook version where they can be seen full screen in their pristine glory.

How did it feel to get nominated for a Sidewise Award?

It's always an honor to be nominated for an award by people who have read the work and put it forward. The Sidewise has been won by people like Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and Harry Turtledove and that's damn fine company.  A few years ago, I won a screenwriting award from the WGA (Writers Guild of America) that was evaluated by working writers who read the screenplays rather than watched the finished films to evaluate the work.  That made it mean so much more, and I put the Sidewise Award in that category.

Speaking of Turtledove, he wrote a foreword to Surrounded by Enemies. How do that come about?

Ironically, Harry and I met back in the 90s when we each had a kid who had a school essay nominated for sci-fi writing and we sat together at the ceremony.  Years after that, I came to him with an alternative history idea about JFK called Winter of Our Discontent that he really liked and we planned to do together.  We fooled around with one particular take on it, wrote a few chapters (and briefly posted them on the Internet), but each got pulled our separate ways.  Later, when the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination was approaching, I decided on a very different approach to the book and wrote that version solo with Harry's blessing.  After it was done, he agreed to write the Foreword, fine gentleman that he is, and it's at the front of the current book.  I've always been impressed by his prolific and high quality writing, and it was my great honor to have him bless Surrounded by Enemies.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

There is no one path to success.  Interview a hundred working writers about how they came to be recognized and they will all have a different story.  And if you ask a hundred writers for advice, most of them will contradict each other.  The right path to sell is the one that works.

1 comment:

  1. Like any good alternate history, this one does not turn out quite the way you think it will. Surprise is good.