Taylor Anderson is the author of the Destroyermen Series, an eight-volume ongoing series of alternate history books published by Roc. It initially focuses on the crew of the USS Walker, an American destroyer retreating after early Japanese victories in the Western Pacific in 1941-2. Under heavy fire from an oncoming armada of Japanese ships, the USS Walker enters a parallel earth that was not impacted by an asteroid at the end of the Cretaceous Era. He is a professional gunsmith and historian from Texas who has spent most of his career assisting various Hollywood production companies create historically accurate dialogue and visual effects.
In the first book (don’t want to ruin the others), the USS Walker and its crew must aid the outnumbered Lemurians (evolved giant lemurs from Madagascar) defend themselves from the relentless Grik (evolved velociraptors that *somehow* learned how to make seagoing vessels similar to those used by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries) who soon enlist the aid of the Walker’s Japanese pursuers.
Sound cool? I think so. Destroyermen is generally the first series that I recommend to friends who are looking for something new and exciting to read. If you are a fan of naval combat, alternate history, large casts of complex and evolving characters, or Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen from the Greatest Generation bayonetting Velociraptors in the face, you will enjoy this series.
A few weeks ago, Taylor Anderson agreed to do a quick interview where we discussed his writing process and influences. Enjoy.
For the readers who are unfamiliar with you and your work, would you mind describing your personal background and what influenced you to become a professional writer?
Sure. As Bill Cosby once said, “I started out as a child . . .” Seriously though, ever since I was a kid I’ve always been interested in history—and space exploration. I grew up watching westerns, war movies, and those glorious Saturn Vs clawing their way into the sky! I read Bernard DeVoto’s “Across the Wide Missouri,” Bruce Catton’s “Civil War,” and TR’s “Naval War of 1812”—all while carrying Heinlein’s “Red Planet” and “Farmer in the Sky” to school in my lunchbox. I also loved the outdoors, and hunted and fished whenever I could. Needing something to take bigger game than rabbits, I built a flintlock rifle out of junk parts and that got me really interested in the history of primitive weapons, and the context in which they were used.
So . . . I kept building more and better flintlocks, reading history and science fiction, and working my tail off as a ranch hand, auto mechanic, (or anything else I could find), to put myself through school. The next thing I knew, I was teaching history and building custom firearms—and people were paying me for it! Eventually, the custom gun business became my full time occupation, with teaching on the side, and looking back, I guess it was inevitable that I’d get into the movie business. I knew guns, large and small, and how to use them—not only “properly,” but in the correct historical manner. I guess I never really realized how rare that is, since, to me, flintlocks–and all manner of antique weapons–were items of everyday use. It struck me one day when someone wonderingly said “these things are second nature to you,” and without thinking, I replied: “No, they’re first nature.”
Anyway, that was my life before I started writing, and it was, in fact, while working for a long time on a particularly ambitious military movie, that the idea for the “Destroyermen Series” popped into my head.
It has been several years since I have walked into a bookstore and not seen several Destroyermen novels on the shelves. How would you describe your path to publication?
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories–often at my own expense in the sense that they usually highlight really stupid stunts I’ve pulled. I learned to write – a little – as a student, so I already knew – kind of – how to string words together. Add a lively imagination, a need to find humor in most anything, and a big dose of unusual life experiences. Finally, I’ve never been afraid to try new things, and when I do, I usually jump in with both feet. I’ve kind of tinkered with writing all my life and even started a couple of novels over the years but “Into the Storm,” the first “Destroyermen” novel, was the first novel I ever submitted. I now understand that my experience was not typical, but essentially, I finally finished a book and figured the next step was to “send it off.” I was profoundly fortunate that my manuscript reached an agent who believed in the tale, and who took extraordinary pains to explain to me what was wrong with it. I “fixed” a number of serious flaws and re-submitted it. The next thing I knew, I had a contract. Because of my own experience, I’m a big believer in agents and traditional publishing. I can’t really offer an opinion on self-publishing because I’ve never done it.
I have always enjoyed the fact that your books are remarkably well researched. The technical details of the WWII-era tech are very comprehensive. Furthermore, the ongoing arms race and societal changes taking place in the Grik, Lemurian, and *cough* those other civilizations that are discovered later in the series are believable and well thought out. How do you go about ensuring that the technical details in your novels are portrayed accurately?
I spend at least as much time doing research as writing. I had to do a huge amount prior to beginning the first book, not only to create “my” world, but to flesh out USS Walker – which is, after all, one of the main characters. Hundreds of “4-stacker” destroyers were built during and shortly after WW1, but none exist today so there were none to visit or study first hand. To bring Walker to “life,” I had to learn everything about her class I possibly could – which was a lot more difficult than it is now. Happily, more and more information about them seems to become available all the time. In any event, I went so far as to build a large scale model of Walker – as I envisioned her later, fictional, configuration – from blueprints so I could “see” her in three dimensions, and be able to accurately describe what her crew could do or see from various parts of the ship. Research continues, but it’s largely concurrent with the writing process now. And as far as the weapons go, well, all that research was done a long time ago—but I still enjoy reinforcing it all the time!
In my opinion, the list of characters in your novels is best described as ‘Gameofthronesian.’ how to you manage to balance the needs and ambitions of so many characters and so many settings in a way that keeps readers mentally invested in their lives?
Probably the only way I manage that—if I do—is by keeping the characters “real” to me. That keeps me mentally invested in their imaginary lives, and all I can do is hope that bleeds over to the readers. It helps that, in most cases, the characters are composites of real people with radically different backgrounds whom I’ve known for twenty or thirty years. My variety of pursuits have given me the opportunity to meet an equally wild variety of people. Some have been quite “wild” themselves. I’m always amazed how people from such diverse backgrounds can work together in complete harmony to accomplish a common goal. War brings that quality to the surface, certainly, but so can other things. I think “using” them for inspiration adds a lot to the authenticity of the characters, as does their cheerful input regarding how “they” would react to similar situations.
Do you have any future projects that you would like to tell your fans about? Are there any plans in the works to adapt the Destroyermen series to other forms of media?
I’m always thinking about new things, or new twists to apply to this ongoing series. (I’m still getting a huge kick out of writing it)! As for adapting Destroyermen to other media, there’s nothing serious currently in the works, but time will tell.
So there you have it. Thanks again to Taylor Anderson for being the first of what will hopefully be a long series of interviews with successful authors from every corner of the literary world.