David Weber is the bestselling author of the Honor Harrington novels. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1952. He married his wife, Sharon, in 1998, and they have three children: Morgan Emily, Megan Elizabeth, and Michael Paul. Mr. Weber sold his first novel to Baen Books in 1989. He is a Methodist lay speaker by conviction, a historian by training, and a writer by choice. He currently lives in South Carolina.
Kenneth Mark Hoover: When did you sell your first story?
David Weber: The first fiction story (as opposed to nonfiction newspaper or magazine article) I ever sold was Insurrection, which Steve White and I sold to Baen Books in 1989. The first solo novel I ever sold was The Apocalypse Troll, also to Baen, in 1990, although it didn't see print until—what? [1998.] Baen forgot they had it, you see.
KMH: What influenced your early desire to be a writer?
DW: The fact I was a reader. I started writing poetry and short fiction in the fifth grade, and by the time I was 18 I was supporting myself as a professional writer and typesetter.
KMH: What work did you do during this early period?
DW: I wrote advertising, magazine stories, newspaper stories, television and radio spots, annual reports, government study reports, financial plans—you name it, and I've probably written it at least once.
Both of my parents also encouraged my interest in writing, although in somewhat different ways. My mother, a professional advertising copywriter, encouraged me to develop my writing skills. My father, a blue-collar boy from the South Side of Chicago, encouraged me to love reading and introduced me to science fiction.
KMH: Sounds like a good foundation on which to start a career. What made you decide to start writing novels?
DW: If you're asking what inspired me to become someone who writes, specifically, science fiction novels—I'd have to say at least part of it was the belief I could do as well (or better) at it as many of the published writers I'd read. But a larger part was simply the fact that I'm a storyteller. I enjoy telling stories; it's as simple as that. I think to succeed in this field, you have to be a storyteller, although each of us tells our stories in our own separate ways.
I always remember something Bob Asprin said at a convention many, many years ago. He said, "Professional writers are like rats. If we don't wear our fingertips down at the keyboard every day, our fangs grow through our brains and kill us." It may not be like that for every writer, but I think it's probably true for the majority.
KMH: I love that quote! Are there any personal or professional influences, though, that shaped your career as you went along?
DW: I mentioned my mother's influence, but I've tried to learn at least a little something from everyone I've worked with, no matter what the project was. I can think of quite a few right off hand who have influenced me—sometimes in things I can see directly in my own writing, and sometimes in a more general sense, when it comes to saying "this is good writing" or "that's bad writing," whether it's my own or someone else's work.
KMH: Can you give us any examples?
DW: I don't think anyone growing up in the fifties and sixties who read science fiction could help being influenced by Robert Heinlein. I always enjoyed Asimov, but I really don't think he had much influence on my own writing. Obviously, there was "Doc" Smith, but there was also Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, Theodore Sturgeon, Mack Reynolds, Hal Clement, Sprague DeCamp, Roger Zelezny, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, and bunches more. I think the writer who first made me truly aware of the intricacies of world building was Anne McCaffrey—I remember having a sort of epiphany when I read Dragonflight, and she made me realize how important it was to have a fully fleshed out literary universe, even if it was only for the writer's benefit.
In addition to people you read, there are people you work with, both other writers if you do collaborations (which I've been known to do upon occasion) and editors. I think you can always learn something from another writer, especially when you're "inside his work" in a collaboration. And I think you can always learn something from a good editor. In fact, I think it's probably the beginning of the end when a writer decides he no longer needs an editor because he's become a true master of his craft. Editors may quite often be wrong, but they usually have something worth saying, and they very often have a better "ear" for what you're writing than you do yourself. They stand further back from it, they aren't as likely to be all wrapped up in what you've already done as you are, and a good editor knows how to point out a problem in a way that gets the writer to fix it in the writer's own way.
Finally, although I know some writers might disagree, I think there's the influence of your readers. Sometimes writers get too wrapped up in the "art" of what they're doing. "The work" becomes more important than the story. But what really matters is the story itself, and the best feedback on how well you're telling the story comes from your audience. They may not always be right, but they usually have something to say that you ought to be listening to.
KMH: I know you attend conventions as often as you can. Which are your favorites?
DW: LibertyCon in Chattanooga is probably my all time favorite convention. A lot of that is because the folks at the con are all old friends and "family" by now, and I always enjoy myself there.
KMH: What do you think about conventions in general?
DW: Most conventions (obviously, there are exceptions) are pleasant experiences for me. I enjoy meeting people, including the other professionals who get invited, and I especially enjoy having the opportunity to talk with fans, whether they're fans of my writing or someone else's work. That's probably the reason I really prefer smaller conventions, with memberships between, say, 500 and 1,500. I really, really don't like great big conventions.
KMH: Oh, why not?
DW: First, no matter how well organized and run they are, there's no way anyone can possibly attend everything they want to on all the different tracks. Second, there's actually less opportunity to talk with fans at a really big convention than there is at a smaller one. The pros frequently wind up hiding in the green room or the con suite because there are so many bodies moving around that if they stop to talk with someone on one of the concourses, or even in the hotel lobby, or the bar, the people they're talking to can quickly build up into a log jam that starts interfering with traffic. Third, as much as I do enjoy meeting other pros, they aren't the reason I do conventions, and usually at the really big cons there's a lot of pressure to do "networking" kinds of things. That's very valuable, I realize, but it's not why I go to conventions.
KMH: That makes sense.
DW: I'd say my three favorite conventions are LibertyCon, CONvergence in Minneapolis, and Bubonicon in Albuquerque. The folks at Convergence really know how to treat their guests well, and it's probably the best organized con I've ever been to. Sharon and I have greatly enjoyed ourselves there both times they've invited us, and we came away with several new personal friends.
Bubonicon is always a joy. It's run very well, and the fans are great, and, in addition, there are a lot of people in the Albuquerque area, many of them fellow writers, who we love to see.
But please remember I'm only talking about my top three picks. I've been to a lot of conventions over the last 20 years, and only a handful of them (which shall remain nameless) have been what I think of as unpleasant experiences.
KMH: What do you do when you're not writing? Do you have any hobbies or activities?
DW: Being the father of seven-year-old twin girls and a six-year-old son at 57 is enough "hobbies or activities" to keep anyone fully occupied.
KMH: [Laughs.] I can relate to those constraints myself.
DW: But as far as other hobbies and activities (you know, the less important kind) go, they include pistol marksmanship, cooking, and spades. If I ever again have the free time, they'll also go back to including reloading [manually making or recycling ammunition], tabletop miniature wargaming, and figure painting. Heck, one day I might even find myself with enough time to go back to RPGs . . . and maybe even not have to be the game master!
KMH: Are there any SF or fantasy programs you watch on any kind of a regular basis?
DW: I'm afraid my writing schedule doesn't leave me very much free time. That's one of the ironies of being a professional writer—for me, at least. The more I write, the less time I have to read.
Having said that, I was a big fan of Babylon 5. I never got into Farscape or Firefly, mostly because I never had time to sit down and watch them. Sharon was a huge Stargate fan, and after about three seasons she got me hooked on that one, too. I was very impressed by the new and improved version of Battlestar Galactica (although I'm still a bit bemused by some of the names—I mean, come on, Bill Adama?) and I have cautiously optimistic high hopes for Sanctuary. I think the CGI aspect of the series is fascinating, and there has to be hope for anything that can produce dialogue like: "What was that all about?" "The inventor of radio just dissed Jack the Ripper."
KMH: What about comics or movies? Do you have any time for them?
DW: I don't follow the comics, anymore, and I'm afraid I probably haven't seen a half dozen movies in the last three years. Well, let me correct myself a little bit. I've probably seen more movies than that, but most of them on DVD, which isn't quite the same thing as seeing them in the theater.
KMH: What genres and authors do you like to read?
DW: I'm pretty much an equal opportunity reader. When all else fails, I'll read cereal boxes!
KMH: [Laughs.] Aside from cereal box copy . . .
DW: Obviously, I read science fiction (although, oddly perhaps, not as much of it as I did before I started publishing it). I also read historical fiction and techno-thrillers. I don't read horror, and I tend to stay away from the "darker" sides of fantasy, as well.
KMH: Why is that?
DW: I know they have their strong supporters and fans, but they just aren't my cup of tea. It's sort of like the Aliens movie franchise. Saw the first one, sorta liked it, but it didn't blow me away. Saw the second one—WOW! Saw half the third one (need I say more?) and was pleasantly surprised, if not blown away, by the fourth. I think of the first as horror, the second as military sci-fi with a horror edge, the third as a really bad idea, and the fourth as horror with a thin edge of military sci-fi. I guess part of it is that I really don't go to movies (or read books) for gore, terror, and people being really, really scared and doing really, really dumb things (which someone always seems to do in a horror novel or movie). May sound strange coming from someone who writes military sci-fi with a high body count, but there it is.
KMH: So what are you reading now?
DW: At the moment, I'm reading Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series, although I'm finding it a bit difficult to arm wrestle the books out of Sharon. I read faster than she does.
We both like Jim Butcher's work, too, and I'll read anything by Patricia McKillip or Emma Bull. Katherine Kurtz is high on my list of favorites, too, and I've always enjoyed Barbara Hambly and Catherine Cherryh's work. I like Eric Flint's stuff (and not just because he and I collaborate with one another), and I think a lot of John Ringo's work is really, really good. For "coming of age" stories, I don't think anyone does it better than Misty Lackey.
KMH: Anything else we should know about?
DW: I read a lot of history, and I have a tendency when I'm really working hard on a project to go back and reread "old friends"—especially historical works I've already read. It helps me cool down my brain.
I like Dean Koontz's stuff a lot, and let's be honest here, quite a bit of what he writes is really science fiction, whatever it gets labeled. I think that "it's really science fiction, whatever you call it" thing is also true about a lot of the techno-thrillers, too, now that I think about it. I'm a big fan of Web Griffin, as well, and I'm beginning to develop a taste for Brad Thor.
KMH: Let's talk about your work. Military themes often appear in your stories, but you incorporate other events as well. What I'm saying is it's not all space battles and high-energy tactics even in your best known stuff, the Honor Harrington series. Given that, do you feel the Honorverse gives you enough room to explore and experiment artistically?
DW: One reason I do things besides the Honorverse is to have room to explore and experiment. Having said that, I think I can do just about anything I want in the Honorverse, but I also think it would be a serious mistake to spend all of my time there. There are several reasons for that, but the biggest one is doing other things helps me come back to the Honorverse with a fresh perspective. And, by the same token, working in the Honorverse makes moving over to something else a case of a fresh project and a fresh perspective . . . and the energy that comes with that.
At the same time, I have to admit the term "artistic" bothers me sometimes. I think of what I do as my craft, not as my "art." I don't think of myself as an "artist" at all, really, and it seems to me that I've seen a great many writers—not just science fiction writers, by any means—for whom their "art" has become more important than their work, more important than the stories they have to tell. I'm probably showing my own biases by saying that, but it's a fundamental part of how I approach what I do for a living. And possibly because of that, I've never felt "artistically" cramped in any of my books. The story I'm telling takes me where it has to go, and I go there willingly, doing the best work I can along the way. The result is that whatever story I'm telling always feels completely "open" to me. There are times when dealing with specific elements within a given story present difficulties, but it's never because I feel stylistically or "artistically" stymied. And if I find myself wanting to tell a different story, wanting to look at something that isn't "naturally" going to come front and center in whatever I'm working on at the moment, then I just make a mental note, or jot down a few ideas, and later I'll find another story, somewhere else, in which to work them out.
KMH: In light of that, what do you feel are your strengths when you write?
DW: I think my strengths are largely the same as my strengths as a storyteller. I think I have a gift for world building, for assembling complete, coherent, fairly detailed, rationally laid out literary universes for my characters to run around in. I have a gift for writing action sequences that can be pretty intense without the reader's getting lost or confused about what's going on. I write dialogue pretty well, and I think readers respond to my characters and to my characterization. I think I have my own voice, that a "Weber story" is going to have a certain consistent level of quality (reader opinion may vary on how high that quality is) and that readers can be relatively confident of what they're going to get from me. Obviously, some stories are going to work better than others, no matter who the writer is, but that's inevitable.
I think, on another level, my characters frequently resonate with the reader because they're responsibility-takers. And I think my readers trust me to play fair with them (the readers) and with the characters. I'm known primarily for my military science fiction, and I think one of the strengths of my writing for that particular genre is my belief that a writer who's going to write military fiction (whether it's science fiction or not) has a responsibility to write about its costs and its ugliness. I think it's obvious from my work that I deeply respect human beings who are willing to place themselves in harm's way, and to sacrifice many of the things civilians take for granted, in the military service of their country. But I think it's equally important to remember that theirs is a horrible, ugly, often brutal calling, as well. That there's blood, agony, loss, mistakes that cost lives, "collateral damage," bad judgments, and people who end up physically or spiritually crippled. It's not all bugles and banners and glorious charges, and it's not just the "bad people" who die. I believe it's a responsibility of anyone who writes about war, above all, to refuse to glamorize or sanitize it. Military fiction in which anyone the "good guys" kill obviously deserved to die, only the "bad guys" get killed, or if an occasional "good guy" dies, he does so instantly and painlessly (and, generally, courageously), and people who get hit by high-powered weapons either die instantly or else suffer only a flesh wound and recover within days, isn't just bad writing. It's also pornography and splatter fiction that invites readers to vicariously wallow in cheap trivialities.
Sorry. Got a bit sidetracked there, but I think it's important.
KMH: No, that's okay. But what about yourself? Is there anything about your own writing you'd like to improve?
DW: That's an easy one. I'd like to improve on all of it. There's nothing I do as a writer that I don't believe I could somehow figure out how to do better.
There are things I already do well enough to feel pleased with my efforts, but I'd still like to figure out how to continually improve upon them, as well as upon the parts I'm less satisfied with.
KMH: What are you working on now? Another book?
DW: I just turned in Mission of Honor, set (as I'm sure the title suggests) in the Honorverse and scheduled for release in June or July of 2010. At the moment, I'm working on a couple of short stories/novellas for the next Honorverse anthology. Next in the queue is the collaborative novel Torch of Freedom, also set in the Honorverse, with Eric Flint, which is scheduled for release in October 2009 and helps establish the framework for Mission. After that, I have the next Safehold novel to do for Tor Books, and then a standalone novel for Tor. I'm supposed to have all of that done by April of next year, I think. So you can see why I say I don't have much time to watch television or go to the movies.
KMH: I'm often fascinated by process but I'd like to know more about the personal side of your writing. What goals have you set for yourself as a writer?
DW: Well, I'd like to sell a lot of books, obviously! [Grins.] More seriously, I really have only three major goals as a writer. First, to tell the best story I can. Second, to tell it to as many people as I can. Third, to always find ways to improve my craft.
KMH: Can you talk about each of them, please?
DW: The first goal is part of what drives anyone to do something creative, I think. Sharon has been known to suggest that I'm just a little bit OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], and there's some truth to that. A lot of the OCD part of me has to do with wanting to do the best job I can at whatever it is I'm doing at any given moment. I don't enjoy doing things I know I'm not good at, and if I am good at something, I want to do it to the very best of my ability. Call it pride in craftsmanship if you want, or call it ego, it still pushes me to want to tell the most engrossing, entertaining story I can.
The second goal obviously has financial elements, since this is what I do to pay the bills, but that's not why I started writing in the first place. I started writing, and I continue writing, because I want to share the stories I have to tell with as many people who will enjoy them as possible.
The third goal is part of who I am, the way my head works. I'm constantly looking for something I can tweak, an overused speech mannerism I can get rid of, a new way to show a reader how a character's head works. This is my craft; it's important to me that I do it well, and so I'm constantly looking for ways I can improve my mastery of it.
KMH: But don't you find it difficult to mesh all three at once?
DW: There's a certain tension between some of these goals. For example, I want to tell the best story I can to the most people I can and to continually improve the way I tell it, but I also have a lot of stories I want to tell. In fact, I have more of them than I'm going to have time to get told. So there's a balance between trying to make every book the very best it can be and being able to let it go so the next story jabbering away to get out of my overheated imagination can start getting told.
KMH: Mr. Weber, are you where you want to be, the pace and placement of your career, as a writer?
DW: I'm well aware that I've enjoyed a degree of success as a writer that many writers never get to experience. I like to think I give my readers good value—I certainly try to, anyway—but I'm still a bit awed sometimes by the reception and readership Honor Harrington has enjoyed. Very few writers ever get a character who succeeds as well on so many levels as Honor has succeeded for me.
I suppose every writer would always like to move up to that next plateau, and that's certainly true in my case. I'd love to see the Honor Harrington movies go ahead, for example, even though that's not my medium and letting me do the screenplay would probably be a recipe for disaster. But the truth is that I'm relatively content with the "placement" of my career at this moment. As far as the pace of my career is concerned, it would really be easier on me if I didn't have quite so many stories I want to tell. I've got a lot of series going on simultaneously, and I'm currently producing the equivalent of about three quarter-million-word novels a year. That doesn't give me a lot of time to just sit back and enjoy myself, or enjoy my children and my wife, and those kids and Sharon are far more important to me than my career, when you come down to it. So I guess I'd have to say there are some regrets at this particular moment, but they're the kind of regrets you are very fortunate to be afflicted with.
KMH: Okay, here is kind of a trick question so bear with me. If given a chance, what's the final story David Weber would write to capstone his career?
DW: I have no idea. I'm not trying to cop out, because I can think of several stories I'd be satisfied with as my last story, but as a capstone? I think it's a mistake for a writer to consciously set out to produce something to fill that niche. I think that when we do something like that we tend to get too caught up in the "quality" and the "art," and in the awareness that this is going to be our "legacy," to do our best work. We're trying too hard.
Ultimately, I believe it's a writer's readers who are going to decide what constitutes his "capstone," and I think they're probably the only competent judges. I know there are certain of my existing books I personally like more than I like others, and I've found (not entirely to my surprise) that my judgment of which are stronger and which are weaker doesn't always jibe with that of my readership.
I'd like for my final story—whatever it may be, and whoever it may be about—to carry with it absolutely no consciousness that it is my "final" story. I know it's going to be upsetting to some of my readers, but I'd really like to go down in harness, still working just as hard (if at a somewhat less frenetic pace) as I've ever worked, and still working on improving my craft. Well, I would like one more thing. I'd like to have finished at least one series, and for the last thing I write to finish another one.