Thursday, February 19, 2015

Interview: James Young

I first learned of James Young, author of Acts of War, when he submitted his well researched article, Nagumo’s Missing Turkey: The Kido Butai’s “Third Strike” at Pearl Harbor, to The Update. After seeing him get covered by such news outlets like the The Topeka Capital-Journal and noticing how active he was in the community, I decided I would like to learn a little more about this alternate historian. Check out our conversation:

Who is James Young?

I'm a history graduate student and author.  I'm originally from Missouri, so I'm also a small town farm kid.  This should not be taken to mean I actually remember much about farming--it's been years since I helped my parents raise pigs and sheep.  I'm also a huge sci-fi nerd and gamer.

What got you interested in alternate history?

I think it was a natural outgrowth from my interest in history.  My father was in the Air Force, so I naturally assumed he was a pilot.  Being allowed to set my own bedtime during the summer, a fan of World War II movies (Big Red One, John Wayne's Flying Tigers, etc.), and being chronologically challenged, I also did not realize the Second World War was over until I was like seven or eight.  Add in the fact that my dad's complexion and the fact he liked to sometimes talk to me in Japanese, you could say that I first got into alternate history from about ages 3-8: I was convinced my dad was a Japanese double agent and on any given day we were all going to get interned.  Indeed, the only thing that stopped my continued enjoyment of _that_ particular branch of alternate history was my mother after our 4th grade teacher was impressed at how well she and dad adjusted to being an "interracial couple."  Mom was, shall we say, not impressed.  ("Still think it's funny _now_, Jim?!")

As far as the actual discipline versus paternal shenanigans, I first started writing alternate history about the age of 10.  It was actually kind of funny, as I called my series "Time Changed" and had an American / German alliance facing off against Great Britain / Soviet Union / Japan.  I'm not saying I was geographically / technologically challenged, but I once had Richard Bong flying in a 262 from New York City to help B-29s bomb Moscow.  At this point I'd also like to note that every copy of this old writing I have found has been burned, and that Acts of War is much better grounded in reality.

What is Acts of War about?

Up until recently, most alternate history dealing with  World War II pivoted on either an outright German victory in the Battle of Britain, the United States failing to come into the war on time and suffering a defeat or, a perennial favorite, Adolf Hitler getting killed by the July plot.  I decided to go in a different direction, and kill Hitler in November 1940 before he formally issues the orders for Operation Barbarossa.  Furthermore, I did it in a fashion that would all but guarantee Nazi Germany initiated plans to defeat Great Britain while simultaneously removing Hermann Goering from the nominal No. 2 spot in the Nazi hierarchy.  Last but not least, I had Hitler's death, much like the death of Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War, so shake the Nazi hierarchy that they got a sense of purpose.

Of course, all of that happens "off screen" (for now), and Acts of War starts with Great Britain suing for terms after its defeat at the hands of the Luftwaffe.  Basically the novel then goes on to explain what effects this has on the United States' war plans, political landscape and, most importantly, war preparations.  At the same time, I also follow the Japanese side quite a bit as the two nations hurtle towards an inevitable clash in the Pacific in early 1943.  Things are going to be a bit different for all parties involved, in other words.

Who designed the cover?
Acts of War has actually had three covers.  When I attached the first 90 pages to my first novel, An Unproven Concept, I had cover art done by a local artist (Eric Weathers).  Unfortunately, despite the fact Eric did top notch work, the most common feedback I received regarding his cover was "This looks like a graphic novel...".  As Eric is a comic book artist, this was disappointing but strangely unsurprising.  However, as Acts of War was still several months away from completion due to a major rewrite.
The cover art and design for the Kindle edition was done by my wife, Anita C. Young.  For the hardcover, the underlying painting was done by a gentleman named Wayne Scarpaci, while Anita did the cover arrangement and design.  Why the two different covers?  Well, I'd always wanted the scene with the U.S.S. Arizona, but Anita didn't feel like she could do it justice (in the next question you'll see why I think she's a liar).  Given that I was doing a pre-order and had to put up a Kindle cover while I tracked down an artist, I had her draw the e-book cover.  I liked it so much that I decided I had to use it in some way--and I say this not because I'm married to the artist :D.
When Wayne finished the Arizona painting, I decided that I would still use it for hardcover for several reasons.  One, after testing both pictures on the Alternate History FB page, I found that more people realized what was "wrong" with the Arizona painting (i.e., the ship is underway) than with Anita's drawing (the Spitfire is in Dutch East Indies (DEI) markings shooting down a Japanese Army fighter).  Furthermore, when I'm doing book signings, the painting almost inevitably draws people to it in a manner that I don't think a poster of the e-book cover would.  I've had people who aren't even fans of alternate history stop to admire Wayne's brushwork and color scheme, at which point they're in engagement range.  :D

What projects are you working on currently?

Know how they tell you to do one thing at a time, finish it, then move on to the next one?  My muses didn't get that memo, so I'm a little scatterbrained at the moment.  First and foremost, I'm finishing my dissertation.  Second, Acts of War originally started out as a 600-page monster that was set in 1942 rather than 1943.  Based on feedback, I decided to add a year chronologically and also spend the first 100 pages explaining the POD.  Unfortunately, that necessitated chopping the book in half, as no one wants to read 700 pages of all hell breaking loose.  So, sometime in mid-2015 barring a visit from Murphy, Acts of War's sequel Collisions of the Damned will be published.  The cover art for that book as done by Mrs. "I can't draw ships" Young, and I hope most readers will agree with me in thinking that Anita has too little faith in her skills.

Also pending are Though Our Hulls Burn..., which is the sequel to my sci-fi novel An Unproven Concept, and Barren SEAD: USAF Suppression of Enemy Air Defense Doctrine, 1953-1972 (nonfiction).  If I manage to get around to it, I will also finish my dystopian novel Envy the Dead.  So 2015 could be an awesome year...or I could be wearing a straitjacket and mumbling to myself by October.  Here's to hoping Anita continues to put up with me.

What are you reading now?

Well, I just finished Jeffrey Cox's Rising Sun, Falling Skies.  Brilliant book on the DEI campaign.  Cox really made me think of what things I need to change for Collisions of the Damned in order to make the seizure of the East Indies different for all sides involved.  I'm also reading Matthew White's Atrocitology.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Keep at it.  I have a binder full of rejection letters, from form to biting.  (Who tells an author their character "does not sound black enough"?  Oh the irony...)  With various forms of self-publication available, even if you can't seem to get that traditional publication lightning strike, there are ways to make money doing what you love.  I'm not saying you'll be able to quit your day job (I still drive over an hour to mine, so believe me when I say this).  However, if you have a good story, get a capable editor and/or beta readers, and sit your behind in the chair, you'll make enough to make it worth the effort.

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