SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Bestselling Author David Weber
David Weber is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Honor Harrington space opera novels from Baen Books. The series is 26 books long so far and has its own cosplay uniforms, props and annual Con. From On Basilisk Station to A Beautiful Friendship and Shadow Of Freedom, the adventures of Honor and friends are action packed fun. With Steve White, he wrote the successful Starfire tie-in novels based on the game which continue now from Baen Books. He’s also authored six Safehold novels for Tor Books, four Empire Of Man books with John Ringo and coauthored two 1632-verse novels with fellow Baen Books author Eric Flint as well. A lay Methodist minister, he’s worked as a copywriter and other kinds of writing since her was seventeen. He’s also worked in game design and has a masters in history and teaches history at the college level. He lives in South Carolina with his wife and family. The latest Honorverse books are Shadow Of Freedom from Baen Books & House Of Steel: The Honorverse Companion. David can be found on Goodreads, Twitter as @DavidWeber1 and via his website at DavidWeber.net.
SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in speculative fiction come from?
David Weber: It started when I was ten and read Legion of Space by Jack Williamson. I had a broken arm and had already read all my books, so I tried my dad’s. After that, I was off and running with Heinlein, E.E. Smith, and Asimov. I met H. Beam Piper and Anne McCaffrey later. A lot of my interest has to do with my interest in history. I see Science Fiction as history that hasn’t happened yet.
David Weber: The problem with writing science fiction is you have so much less time to read science fiction. Favorite authors include Heinlein, Laumer, E.E. Smith, Patricia McKillip, McCaffrey, Piper, Bear, Vernor Vinge, DeCamp, Bujold. Different authors inspire different things. Heinlein inspired interest in strong prose, characterization, and a sense of the possible. E.E. Smith inspired my interest in grandscale “space opera,” but McCaffrey really inspired by taste for literary world-building. Piper helped develop my sense of history as a basis for believable, coherent SF, McKillip is one of the best prose stylists today, and Bujold is just so darned much fun to read!
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?
David Weber: I was always a storyteller – you could have asked my Mom! Got my start as a writer writing advertising, newspaper, magazine, etc. Did some wargame design work in the 1970s and that led to my first novel collaboration with Steve White, Insurrection, sold in ’89. That came out of the game StarFire, when Steve and I were exchanging short stories for own enjoyment without realizing they were actually chapters in a novel!
David Weber: You learn by doing it, just like you learn to walk by falling down a lot. Every time you fall you learn how to get back up, every time you write something that doesn’t work for you, you learn what not to do next time around.
SFFWRTCHT: Most of your oeuvre is science fiction. Why?
David Weber: Actually, the first novel I ever wrote (note not sold) was fantasy set in Norfressa, and I hope to return to Bahzell soon. Toni Weisskopf at Baen has promised I can write my fantasy magnum opus using characters from the Bahzell books Sometime Real Soon Now. Problem is, which series do I stop to work on a new one? Of course, another little problem is that it’s what the publishers want. A wise author always keeps the publishers happy!
SFFWRTCHT: I love the Honor novels. They are bestsellers with a huge fan base. Where’d the idea for the Honorverse series come from?
David Weber: I always seemed to write stories that turned into series so Jim Baen asked me to plan one. I pitched about ten ideas. One was Honor Harrington, one became Safehold, one became multiverse, etc. Don’t really know why Honor was Honor and not some guy with a beard!
David Weber: Originally expected about six to eight. Problem was each story left me wondering what happened next.
SFFWRTCHT: Who/what were some of your inspirations for worldbuilding and characters?
David Weber: Anne McCaffrey was the first to really get me looking at the nuts and bolts behind a coherent universe that was consistent from book to book. Piper got me interested in using history as part of it. I tend to think of SF as history that hasn’t happened yet, and that requires worldbuilding. I need the detail to keep myself straight. It gives me tools I don’t have to invent for each aspect of the story. It also helps a lot with continuity! I think Heinlein inspired my interest in character building and characterization as well as being a real teacher for prose style generally. And I got a lot of experience actually building them by running RPGs for twenty years or so!
SFFWRTCHT: Your books have appendices with detail about military structure, armaments, ships and more in great detail. Is this stuff you make up as you go along or invent before you write the first word?
David Weber: I did an 85K word tech bible before the first word of On Basilisk Station. I also add and annotate as I go along. Keeps me from forgetting how the LAC gravlance with treecat Marines works!
David Weber: About three months. When I hit my stride, I do 5K-7K words a day. Takes longer for a standalone or a new series because the terrain is still unknown to me, as well as the reader. Easier to tell a story when you already know the elements and where you’re already been.
SFFWRTCHT: Outliner or pantser? I think we can assume the second.
David Weber: I really prefer to approach it from the seat of the pants prospective, but you can’t do that in a series in which you are gathering together strands of a big story or tying together multiple volumes that are happening simultaneously. Then you have to at least have a firm idea of where and when you are going. The other approach is often more fun, though, because you find out where you’re going as the readers do.
SFFWRTCHT: Does your writing process change from novels to short stories?
David Weber: Sharon says I don’t know how to write a short story! The approach is much the same, though. On the other hand, I don’t need as much outline for a short as for a novel.
David Weber: I always start by brewing my 52 oz mug of iced tea and checking e-mail. After that, I read over and tweak everything I did in the last couple of days to get me up and running. It also makes sure that everything in the book’s been edited at least a couple of time before I finish the draft and do the final edit. The most important tool I use is Dragon NaturallySpeaking software because of my bum wrist.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
David Weber: Worst advice? See what’s being published and “write to the market” in hope of sales. Always write what you like most and you’ll write it best. And you aren’t so unique that you’re the only one who likes it. There IS a market for it, so write for it and you’ll find it. Best advice? Spend your time figuring out how you’d write the story instead of thinking about how someone else would write it. Voice and storytelling technique will carry a weak story, but weak voice or poor technique will kill even the best one.
David Weber: It’s a peek inside the Honorverse’s people and institutions in rather more detail than the books allow. I’m really proud of the BuNine Guys for their approach. The first volume focuses on the PRH and SKM, but we’re planning additional ones to deal with the Solarians, Mesa, etc.
SFFWRTCHT: How many volumes are planned?
David Weber: Right this minute we’re thinking three.
SFFWRTCHT: Any future projects you can tease us about that we might look forward to?
David Weber: I just handed in Safehold Seven, expecting script for the first Honor Harrington movie to review shortly, starting Norfressa magnum opus soon, and Joelle Presby and I will be starting multiverse Number three. Aside from that, not much.
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