Interview: Peter Grant

Stop me if you’re heard this before, but Trouble in the Wind, the latest of the Phases of Mars alternate military history anthologies comes out on Friday. I’m continuing my interviews with Peter Grant, who is in many ways what I strive to be. He’s done very well as a writer and I like his stuff quite a bit. And, as you’ll see, he’s had an interesting life to get him to that point.

Interview: Peter Grant
Peter Grant
Peter Grant

What is your quest?

My “quest” is fairly simple.  I’m trying to make a living!  Fifteen years ago, I was severely injured while working as a prison chaplain in a high-security penitentiary.  After two surgeries, I was medically retired, and informed I could never work a “normal” job again, due to physical limitations and disabilities.  I had to find another way to provide for myself and my family.  Since I’d written before (one book, and several dozen articles in various fields), and since I could still sit at a desk and write even if I couldn’t be more active, it seemed natural to try to learn to write fiction for a wider market.  Today I have sixteen books published, plus stories in several anthologies.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

A very big challenge was to learn to write for the commercial market.  You have to write what readers want, not what seems good to you.  No matter how satisfied you are with your own work, if readers aren’t gripped by it, they won’t spend their hard-earned entertainment dollars on it.  I had a lot to learn in that area.  I daresay I wrote and re-wrote over twenty manuscripts, and well over two million words, before I produced one that I felt was worth publishing;  and today, when I look back at my first two or three books, I can see several flaws that I changed in subsequent books.  In fact, I’m preparing a second edition of my first three books, incorporating improvements in style, grammar and punctuation (although not changing the story at all).

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’m not sure it can be described as a “technique”, but I try very hard to be adaptable, to write across different genres and fields, and to be entertaining in them all.  That takes a lot of research and hard work, and it’s a real challenge:  but so far, I think I’ve achieved some success.  I’m currently published in the genres of military science fiction, fantasy, Westerns, and memoir.  I have a historical novel in mind, set in the Viking period, although that’s just the germ of a plot at the moment – it may not go anywhere.  At any rate, I value versatility in others, and I try to be versatile in my approach to writing.  It keeps me fresh, too.  If I get stuck on one book project, I can pick up another in a completely different genre and work on it for a few days, then return to the original project refreshed.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? – I have no idea.  I didn’t grow up with most US TV shows.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? – That I survived them!  I was involved in one of the hotter conflict zones of the Cold War period, and it was only with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 that I began to think I might survive it.
  • Your Wrestler Name? – Given my physical limitations after a disabling injury, that’s a non-starter for me.
  • Signature Wrestling Move? – Sit down and eat popcorn while watching the wrestlers.
  • Favorite Weird Color? – The subtle green shades of the fynbos ecosystem of the southern Cape Province in South Africa.  They’re unique in my experience, as is the scent.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fynbos )
  • How Will You Conquer the World? – There’s an old African proverb:  “How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful.”  I guess you could apply the same lesson to a larger meal!
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? – I’ll go with Captain Tagon from “Schlock Mercenary”.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? – A Labrador puppy, when I was a young boy.  Every boy needs to grow up with a puppy.  You learn a lot.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? – I don’t. A plot is improved by being shared. There’s always someone out there more evil, twisted and inventive than I am, and I like to learn from them.
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? – Why not numbers?  Are you discriminating against figures? 🙂 Rob’s Note: I’m just getting my revenge for having to grow up as the child of two mathematicians.
  • Favorite Sports Team? – None.  I watch a game for its own sake, not as some sort of tribal conflict.
  • Cake or Pie? – Yes, please!
  • Lime or Lemon? – Lime, because it’s tart and bites back.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? – Smoked Gouda Pimento.
  • Favorite Musical Performer? – Hard to choose out of many favorites, but I’ll pick Mike Oldfield.  He’s a composer as well as a performer, and has a heck of a track record.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? – Depends on my mood.  I don’t generally drink spirits, but if I do, I tend to prefer bourbon to Scotch. Rob’s Note: I’ve been going that way myself. I’ll bring my current favorite, New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon, to LibertyCon
  • Favorite Superhero? – None.  I loathe them all equally.  Bunch of pretentious gits.
  • Steak Temperature? – It used to be medium rare, but since losing my gall bladder, my body doesn’t tolerate that very well. Sadly, I’ve had to order medium well done since then.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? – WKRP in Cincinnati. It was one of the few US TV shows I was able to watch in South Africa.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? – Spring, when everything becomes new again.
  • Favorite Pet? – Dogs and cats.  We currently have two cats, but would like to get a dog sometime – probably a rescue, and preferably something with Labrador or Golden Retriever ancestry.
  • Best Game Ever? – I’m not into most games. (I presume you mean card or board games, or something like that?) Rob’s Note: I do
  • Coffee or Tea? – Both, but tending more towards tea.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? – Both, if they’re well written.

What should I have asked but did not?

You should have asked how much of my own experiences do I include in my storylines. Quite a lot.  Obviously, when it comes to the genres within which I write, I have no personal experience in them (neither does anyone else, really):  but I’ve seen and done a lot in my life, particularly in conflict zones, that can serve as a model or pattern.  I don’t think combat will be all that different in another milieu:  the weapons and tactics may change, but the reality of “kill or be killed” will be the same.  I try to take experiences from my past and insert them into completely new situations and scenarios, drawing on my memories to make them more realistic.  So far, it seems to have worked for me.

You should have asked if any of my characters are based on me, however loosely? Not particularly.  I may put them into situations similar to my own experience (e.g. military service), but I let them develop along their own lines.  Some of their attitudes are mine, too, but others are not.  I don’t consciously try to make them fit my mold.

You should have also asked if I plot the entire storyline before starting on a new book or does it take on a life of its own and take me on a journey during the process of writing? I used to plot out a book before starting to write it, but after publishing my first eight or ten books, I began to find this restrictive.  My characters kept wanting to go off at a tangent and do their own thing.  I therefore started to “pants” rather than “plot”:  begin writing, and let the book go where it wanted to go.  I’ll usually have a general idea of what I want and where I want to end up, but how the book and the characters get there is up to them.  I’m frequently surprised by what emerges.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?


Thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

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