Today I have the pleasure of introducing Chris Stoesen, a fellow historian who writes historical fiction with a different angle. Welcome Chris. First tell us, why did you choose to write historical fiction?
I love history. I enjoy reading about it and as a historical wargamer, I enjoy playing it out on a games table. There is always the question of ‘what if’ that hangs over any historical event. As an author, historical fiction provides you with a ready framework to work within. There are certain items that you just don’t have to make up. For example, space opera type fiction, the author is left with creating literally everything up as they write. With historical fiction, we have a shared framework that the reader and author both can relate to and understand. Even speculative or alternate history, there remains a common framework that allows the work to be grounded in something substantial that both author and reader and share.
What in particular fascinates you about the era(s) you write about?
Great question. The Thomas Devareaux series is set in the 1880s. It was a time of growth in the Western world. Germany had just been united from its smaller principalities and kingdoms. Great Britain was still expanding its empire and the United States was looking to expand its influence into the Caribbean and into the Pacific Ocean. Queen Victoria ruled the largest empire the world had ever known and the world was in a constant state of turmoil.
The age of colonial warfare showed that even a technologically superior nation can have trouble with spear wielding natives. The loss of Khartoum in 1885, the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 and the troubles in Afghanistan provide a rich canvas that stories can be painted on. Looking at the forces arrayed against one another, who could imagine that a force equipped with spears and shields could defeat one armed with Gatling guns, rockets and repeating rifles. Yet it happened. In the long run, the technologically superior nation was able to overcome and conqueror but not without great cost.
Add in competing European factions vying for slices of the colonial pie and you have a situation that is ripe for espionage intrigue, action and adventure.
My other favorite and the era of my current work in progress is World War Two. I am mostly interested in the relatively minor or lesser known fronts. I am not aware of an extensive amount of historical fiction covering the early phases of Operation Barbarossa in 1941. The German Army was apparently sweeping the Soviets out of their path until the onset of winter. Yet recent scholarship shows that it was not nearly as one sided of a contest as it appeared.
My current project covers the battle of Kharkov in October of 1941. This was a large industrial city in the northern Ukraine. It possibly had more factories and industrial capability than even Stalingrad. By the time it was seized by the Germans, the Soviets had achieved a monumental feet of extracting nearly all of the available factories and moving them east, away from the front.
Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
For the CSS Appomattox and the books in the series, I was challenged by a friend of mine to write fiction. I am a fan of alternative history writers such as Harry Turtledove. But I wanted to see if we could get the South to win without the presence of time travellers with AK-47s. So I looked at the Battle of Antietam. This was a pivotal battle of the war that was closely monitored by several European nations. McClellan had the forces in place to crush Lee’s army. Yet he had been fed such bad intelligence that he nearly lost the battle. If a couple of small events would have been changed, it was quite possible for the North to have been routed and they nearly were.
So if that were to have happened and European powers such as France and Great Britain would have recognized Southern Independence, what would the Confederacy have been up to in the Golden Age of Colonialism? What nation would be attempting to cull Spanish colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean if there was not a United States present with the Monroe Doctrine to enforce it and eventually drive Spain out? These are some of the questions that I had in mind when writing the series.
Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
My college roommate Phil McClimon was the one who pushed me to write fiction and publish on Amazon. He has written a number of books that are available including his HELL series.
I want to say Thomas Devareaux is my favorite character but that is just not the truth. I have really come to like Henry Stoe. Henry started out as a tribute to my Great Grandfather but instead has become this rogue is just fun to write about. He plays a much larger part in The Last Airship from Khartoum than he does in CSS Appomattox.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best part of writing is the freedom to let my imagination just run. It is like watching my seven year old son play. He is so free with his imagination while as a grown up, I am supposed to act more mature and be grounded. Writing allows me to break free from that and play within my head.
The worst aspect of writing is editing. I have an inner 10th grader that sees all of the red marks on the revisions and just shrinks inside knowing that I am not good enough. Without that step, the final work is just weaker so I have to press through.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
I don’t. I spend far more time writing than I do marketing. It is something that I will need to change in the near future.
What is your life like outside of writing?
I have a day job as a project manager at a software company. What is great is that I enjoy both my day job and writing. When I am not at work, I am spending time with my family. Writing fills in the extra time that I have.
I love to laugh. Unfortunately, I also love to laugh at things that I am not supposed to and that will get me into trouble at times. I love comedies, silly movies, a good joke and really bad puns. My favorite joke is still “Two guys walk into a bar, the third one ducks.”
Who would you like to invite for dinner?
Given folks living and dead as an option, I think I would want my Dad to be there for just one more conversation. I’d like to have the Apostle Peter there. And probably someone like Audie Murphy. That would be a really interesting evening.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
Wow, that is something I never even considered. I listen to music sometimes when I write but it is never loud enough to be distinct. Else I would be distracted and end up typing the lyrics instead of the character dialog. Possibly something like the background music to Indiana Jones when they show the map and the dotted lines when he is travelling.
What is your favourite book?
That is hard to say. There are so many different types of books. I am always partial to Tolkien’s Hobbit and the LOTR books. Love Deuteronomy. And there are a few others that rank up pretty close.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
I am currently reading several books. I am in the middle of Steve Umstead’s Evan Gabriel Trilogy. I am also reading Ted Minkinow’s The Apostasy. And I am also reading Exodus. All of these are in e-book format.
What is your advice to new writers?
There was a saying that I was taught when I was in college theatre, “Dare to Fail.” Go ahead and write. Push on through and complete your work. You can’t succeed if you don’t finish. Then when you are done, spend the money and have a professional edit your work. It is money well spent.
What are you working on now?
I am working on two books simultaneously. One is a set of historical miniatures scenarios for the First Battle of Kharkov in 1941. The second is a novel of the same battle. Thus far I am targeting to complete the books by the summer. The novel will follow small units of both Germans and Soviets as they move through the battle. Lots of fun material in there with the Soviets using improvised armor and plenty of street fighting.
Is there anything you would like us to know about yourself and your books?
Currently, the prequel to CSS Appomattox can be had for free for subscribing to my mailing list. Once you subscribe, I will mail you a copy in either Kindle or ePub formats. The sequel to CSS Appomattox, The Last Airship from Khartoum, will be available in the early spring, 2016.
Find the books:
Also on Kobo, Nook, Google Play and iTunes.
Also on Kobo, Nook, Google Play and iTunes.