Taylor Anderson is an interesting man – an author, gunsmith, historical re-enactor, and history professor.
His best selling alternate history novel series Destroyermen is a chronicle of the adventures of the crew of the “four stacker” Destroyer USS Walker in the early stages of the World War II, being transported to an alternate Earth. This Earth is relatively the same geographically as the one they left, but evolution took a different turn eons ago.
We took a moment and asked him some questions:
Why alternate history?
Well, I guess I needed a change. Most everything I’ve done in life that I really enjoyed—I don’t count working in a stone yard or roofing!—has had to do with history. Whether it was teaching, building historical weapons, or working on historical movies, all required hard history, done as right as I could do it. So when I started writing, I think I just wanted to play. I’d long been inspired by the Alamo-like situation of the US Asiatic Fleet and wanted to write about it, but I also wanted it to get weird and create the ultimate “out of the frying pan, into the fire” situation by inserting fictional elements (USS Walker and USS Mahan) into that real, relatable history with characters true to the period, then drop them all into a bizarre setting with fantastic challenges for those characters to face. All while the real history remained as accurate as possible, and the characters stayed true to themselves and the time and place they’re from.
Where did you get the idea of divergent evolution? How did you come up with the concept of Lemurians?
That just sort of hit me. Most “Alternate History” is based on the premise of a butterfly effect stemming from a subtle divergence point, or even a change brought about by artificial means. It struck me that an earth that began to naturally change 66 million years ago would provide a setting initially vaguely familiar to the crew of USS Walker, (where she crossed over in the Java Sea), so the discovery of what had happened to them would come gradually. Yet when the truth and scope of their altered circumstances were finally revealed in full, it would be profoundly traumatic. How they deal with that and all the challenges they face, defines them and bring more from them (and their aged ship) than they ever would’ve imagined. “Lemurians” are not evolved Lemurs any more than Humans came straight from a particular ape, but they share ancestors with various Lemurs just as modern humans came about through cross-breeding between various proto humans. Not wanting to do another monkey man story, Lemurians just sort of hit me also, and made wonderful, engaging sense as well.
How did you start writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and I’ve dabbled at it over the years but life always got in the way. Honestly, I finally just sat down and did it. Not knowing how long the odds were, when I finished the first book, I researched agents who might be interested in what I had written and sent it off. The rest is, (pardon the pun), history.
What do you think is the appeal of your novels? Who was your intended public, and did you think they would become so popular?
My “intended public” was pretty much everyone. There really is a little something in the yarn for fans of just about every imaginable genre—which reflects my own interests, I suppose. I’m interested in everything, so I stuck everything in it. That’s one reason I never expected it to become so popular. I considered it an “old fashioned adventure yarn with a twist.” And when it was favorably received, growing more so book by book–largely by word of mouth–I guess I was surprised at first. Reflecting on the broad range of “genres” I built into it without really thinking, maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.
Did you plan for so many novels? Do you have a plan for the next stories or you just take it in stride, see where the story takes you?
I did . . . sort of. I’ve always known how it would end and about how to get there but it has become a little more complicated than I originally expected. That was never a gimmick or ploy to make people buy more books, (though I appreciate that they have), as much as a desire to tell the “whole” story in a reasonable, believable progression that took poor old USS Walker, all alone in a wide, mysterious world, and put her in the forefront of a cataclysmic global conflict.
I do have plans for “next” stories, if you will, but I’m not at liberty to discuss them just yet.
Are there other settings/time periods you are interested in?
Sure. Like I said, I’m interested in everything. I love space opera—and I may play in that someday—and I love many different time periods in history. Many of those have been touched upon in Destroyermen. I may . . . visit some of those time periods in the future.
You are a gunsmith, do you experiment with your designs from the books?
You bet. I’ve shot every kind of weapon described in the books. I also built Silva’s “Doom Whomper”—essentially a giant Sea Service Brown Bess flintlock with a turned-down 20mm barrel with an ’03 Springfield rear sight. It shoots a 1,700 grn bullet. I did that because of all the people who said “nobody could ever shoot that.” Yeah, they can. It’s actually not that bad. Weighs about as much as a fully loaded BAR. It will thump you when you shoot it, and give you a full spinal adjustment when fired from a bench rest, but it really is a practical weapon—if you have Allosaurs menacing the chicken coop outside. I’ve also built a Baalkpan Armory 1911, and I’m currently making Linus Truelove’s pistol that Silva carried for a long time, and Lawrence used to good (and humorous) effect in “Pass of Fire.”
Why did you choose Walker, and not some other destroyer or light cruiser?
I wanted to write about a 4-stacker destroyer for a number of reasons. First, there aren’t any left and I wanted to bring one “back to life.” Second, of course, regardless how obsolete they already were at the outbreak of WW2, aside from a few cruisers, subs and MTBs (all with equally crummy torpedoes), they were all the US had to face the whole might of the Japanese Navy. I refused to use a ship that was actually there, so I couldn’t just conjure up another cruiser. Even one more cruiser might’ve made SOME difference. Two extra old 4-stackers couldn’t have made any difference at all. Finally, the crews were small and close-knit, which allowed me to put quite a few of them in the tale. And frankly, an old 4-stacker is probably the only “modern” warship that actually could be realistically repaired, maintained, and supplied under the conditions encountered in the series. USS Walker is extremely primitive, even by the standards of the mid thirties, but that very simplicity allows her people to keep her going when they couldn’t have done so with anything better.
Are you basing your characters on some historical or contemporary people?
No. All the characters are composites of people I know. (Many know who they are).
When you write, do you have a favorite character to write for?
I have lots of “favorites, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. I like writing them for different reasons. Captain Reddy is strong and steady, even though he’s largely “making it up” as he goes along. Sometimes he makes big mistakes and it tears his soul when people die because of it, but he also comes up with aggressively unorthodox approaches to things that work because his enemies don’t expect them. I really enjoy writing some of the strong female characters such as Sandra, Safir, Blas, and Bekiaa because they prove to the 1942 men around them that–human or not–females can really kick some ass. Dennis Silva became a fan-favorite–which is funny, because I loosely based him on my younger, uncouth, bullet-proof self. Looking back, I’m not real sure I would much like me back then. But maybe that’s why others do? He reminds them of themselves as well, or somebody they knew. Writing him is a hoot, however, particularly when some of the scrapes he gets in are (again very loosely) based on real events. To answer your question specifically though, no, I don’t have single favorite, I have quite few. Far too many to list.
Do you have a fantasy cast for your heroes? Reddy, Silva, voice of Keje or Chack?
Not really. I kind of based Chief Gray’s voice (in my head) and various mannerisms on my good friend Leon Rippy, but he’s the only actor I ever really associated with any character.
Who are your favourite fiction writers? Books? Movies? Other media?
Ha. That’s an impossible question to answer. I enjoy so many different genres, I’d have to put “favorites” in too many categories to list—and then I’d have to try to build a “top five or ten” list for each one! Movies are much the same. “Favorite Sci-fi,” “Favorite Western”—and what really constitutes a “western” anymore? Wow, I have to pass on this one.
Do you feel that in this age of electronic media, streaming and internet, people, especially younger generations read less? What can be done to get more of them ‘hooked’ on reading?
I honestly don’t know for sure, but I fear that’s the case. At least it seems so based on my observations. I loved to read from an early age and I think that’s largely because my parents set an example by reading all the time and encouraged me to read engaging stories that challenged my imagination. Teachers at school encouraged me to read as well–and not just the boring crap the curriculum called for, either. If they “caught” me reading something I wasn’t “supposed” to, they seemed to take the attitude that “at least he’s reading something.” I suspect that schools might well be where interest in reading wanes because the stuff I’ve recently seen them requiring kids to read does NOT challenge the imagination in any way I can see. It’s boring, grueling, often pointless, and well . . . there’s no real “risk adventure” in it at all. I hope not all schools are the same in that regard, but I know if I was forced to read some of pap I KNOW many kids are required to endure these days, I’d rapidly develop a hatred of reading myself.
Oh, almost forgot… one more question: What is your opinion of the fandom? Do you attend conventions? Any upcoming con appearances or book signings?
Ha! Looks like three more questions, to me. That’s OK and I’m glad you asked. In respect to the fans of the Destroyermen Series, all I can say is … wow. As I mentioned earlier, I thought I was just writing an old-fashioned adventure yarn with a twist — and I still think that’s what it is — but I’m constantly amazed by how engaged many of the fans have become. Maybe there was a hunger for this kind of tale, or the various aspects attracted a lot of people as much as they appealed to me, but regardless of the reasons, the numbers of fans and the friendly, encouraging support they’ve given me is both astonishing and humbling. I’ve received mail from men and women from all walks of life and from all over the world. A lot comes from former and active duty servicemen and women–including real destroyermen–which inspires me beyond words, but a lot comes from people who never would’ve thought they’d get invested in a “military sci-fi” story of any kind.
Most say they’re hooked by the world, the circumstances and the characters–and that beat-up old four-stacker destroyer. She’s a major character in her own right, in a leaky, creaky, steam and smoke streaming, rust-streaked, shot full of holes … Starship Enterprise sort of way, I suppose. People seem to like all the wildly diverse races and cultures, and the way they all come together to work for a common goal, and many representatives of those people are also big fan favorites.
I wrote Destroyermen as a “grown-up” story, (many of the characters are sailors, after all, and there’s a little cussing). There’s a lot of bloody combat as well. But I deliberately kept it “PG-13” or mild “R” rated so “grown-ups” would feel comfortable letting their young adult kids read it as well, because there’s plenty of exciting “risk adventure,” yet the underlying theme has always been honor and duty and “doing the right thing when absolutely no one is looking.” I get a lot of contacts from these young people, and I hope I’ve “paid forward” some of the gifts given me by writers like Stevenson, Heinlein, Burroughs, and Doyle. Most unexpected and gratifying of all, not to mention goose bump-inducing, are the contacts from actual surviving veterans or the families of men who served in the US Asiatic Fleet, or 4-stacker DDs engaged in other activities, who appreciate my portrayal of those men, their ships, and their historical circumstances.
As for appearances and book signings, I regret I can’t do as many of those as I’d like. Believe it or not, each of my books do actually take me a year to write. There’s always a lot of research involved and I type pretty slowly — but hey! At least I don’t type faster than I think! That said, I always make an appearance around release time at Books And Crannies in Terrell, Texas, and I like to do a couple of Cons a year, if I can. I plan on being at LibertyCon in Chattanooga this June, for example, and if I go to others, I’ll post it on my Author Facebook Page.
Of course, I’m more than happy to sign any books that people send to me.
We would like to thank Taylor for his time and effort in answering all these questions. If you are up for some reading, and like the idea of an adventure in a similar, yet profoundly different world, look up the Destroyermen series. Next book, Winds of Wrath comes out this June. you can also check out his website http://www.taylorandersonwriter.com
A Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan, gamer (computer, tabletop, pen and paper) and dad from Zagreb, Croatia.
Love doing interviews, reading and cooking.