Tag Archives: Neal Stephenson

Interview: Philip S. Bolger

Greetings all

Trouble in the Wind is now available on Amazon. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082K73QPD.

I’m concluding this week of featuring interviews from authors in the anthology with Philip S. Bolger. This is a dude that knows his history and, of course, that’s a trait I like in anyone. One of these days he and I are going to end up with beverages talking late into the night about our particular historical eras of interest.

For now, though, we’ll just have to be satisfied with this interview.

Interview: Philip S. Bolger
Philip S. Bolger
Philip S. Bolger

What is your quest?

I seek to inject my brand of intellect, cynicism, and action into what I write—I like the kind of kinetic, snappy writing of Neal Stephenson, the savvy wit of Jim Butcher, the noir stylings of Don Winslow—I try to reflect a little bit of each in what I write. In my work for Trouble in the Wind, I actually did not, as my other inspirations are historical! I have a degree in history, and wanted to use fiction as a way to explore some of my favorite alternatives. I’ve got a long list of authors I admire—Kacey Ezell, John Ringo, S. M. Stirling, David Weber, Seth A. Bailey, Stephen England, Steven Hildreth, my father (Daniel P. Bolger)… I could go for a bit. In addition to writing, I’ve found a lot of inspiration and influence from games—video games, board games, tabletop RPGs, anything that allows me to get into the headspace of someone ranging from an Imperial Japanese Navy Captain to a member of a radical eco-terrorist cell that’s the only hope against a tyrannical electric company. I find it fascinating to try to think through things that way.

What is your favorite color?

My favorite color is that shade of imperial scarlet that only really showed up in the finest moments of the British Empire. I enjoy being able to add depth to the worlds I create and the characters that inhabit them. Whenever possible, I try to inject elements of folks I actually know. Fighting Spirit was easy, as the tank crew I wrote, and the Japanese Naval Infantry NCO, were all based on people I’ve known in real life. I think writing not just WHAT you know, but WHO you know is one of the great ways to make it as a writer.

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

My biggest problem? ADD. No, not diagnosed, it’s just tough to force myself to sit down and get through a story. I think I probably start five or six for every one I finish. As I grow as an author, I’m getting better and better about that—my biggest weapon against it is being able to weave in new influences into an existing work, rather than trying to restart from scratch.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’ve been told that I do world-building well—by my D&D group, readers, and in less-than-flattering terms on several high school write-ups about daydreaming. I try to write weapons well, and make each of my characters very distinct, too. I’m proud that I’ve written (and published!) a novel, and that I’ve had three different short stories published this year.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? The Swedish Chef!
  • Your Wrestler Name? El Juegoguerrero—“The Game Warrior” just doesn’t sound as good, so I’d have to train in lucha libre. I figure if it worked for Jack Black, it can work for me.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? War Plan Orange—a complicated elbow drop off the turnbuckle
  • Favorite Weird Color? CADPAT
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Overwhelming amounts of Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (Rob’s Note: Miss Manners agrees. Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles are just not in fashion anymore.)
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? The Brain.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A brand new Kindle Fire from my partner, Vikky, for publishing my first novel.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? A way to live in the greater D.C. area without having to sell my soul to make rent.
  • Favorite Sports Team? DAAAAAAAAAAAAA BEARSSS!
  • Cake or Pie? Neither—I’ll head for the chips and salsa.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime by a mile (said Emil)
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Guacamole. No! Salsa. No! Queso. No, wait, Ceviche! Uhh… get back to me on this one.
  • Favorite Cereal? Not really a cereal guy, but I’ve got fond childhood memories of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Megahit—video game-infused synthwave.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whisky for sipping, Whiskey for slamming.
  • Favorite Superhero? Does Taskmaster count? If I’ve got to pick a hero, I’ll go with Iron Man.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium Rare. Rare if it’s somewhere or someone that tends to overcook.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? The F-15E Strike Eagle. Or maybe Predator, or Duran Duran, or Hulk Hogan… It was a busy time.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
  • Favorite Pet? Tie between my dogs—Robert the Bruce and Francois Guizot.
  • Best Game Ever? Delta Green.
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Both!
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? X.

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

What inspired you to write your story for Trouble in the Wind? Are you intimidated about being in the same line-up as several alt history legends? (I certainly am, for what it’s worth!)

Rob’s Answer: Oh, I don’t know if I have enough electrons to answer this questions. My first goal was to continue the alternate history setting I’d created in Far Better to Dare and In Dark’ning Storms from Those in Peril and To Slip the Surly Bonds. However, I never could think of a short story with a twist that fit. I thought of all sorts of story ideas for a alternate World War I novel/series, which I might someday do, but short stories and chapters are different things.

And with that, the obvious was for me to look at my specialty. I’m ABD in Anglo-Saxon military history. I focused on early 10th century Mercian production and population to see if the numbers specified in their version of the Burghal Hidage were plausible or if they were pie in the sky figures. As a secondary question, I asked if those portions of Mercia that didn’t have enough population showed evidence of movement from more populous areas to supply the needed people.

By the way, I made a slight nod to this in my story when the apprentice got told to copy that part about Aethelflaed. That’s a direct reference to the Mercian Register portion of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which details her work building up those burhs until her death in 918.

Anyway, any study of Anglo-Saxon military history has to include a study of their heroic poetry. There’s too much history in Beowulf, the Finnsburh Fragment, the Battle of Brunanburh, and, of course, the Battle of Maldon to ignore.

Furthermore, the Battle of Maldon is a battle we often sing about in the SCA, thanks to the songwriting of Rosalind Jehanne. She graciously allowed me to use the first line of her song as the title of my story, because it fit so well. 

So that’s when I looked for the twist. Short stories should have some sort of twist at the end. Once I found it, all I had to do was execute it.

As for whether or not I’m intimidated by the others in the anthology, I wasn’t, mostly because I never really paid attention to that. My job was to create a story, so that’s where I looked.

Now, of course, I realize I’m in the same book as David Weber, S.M. Stirling, and Kevin J. Anderson, three of my favorites. I never really had a chance to be intimidated, but I have been screaming a few barbaric yawps at this awesomeness since I actually paid attention.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

I’m not an official guest at any cons in 2020 (at least, not yet), but I attend Dragon*Con every year, and plan on LibertyCon and GenCon next year, so write my page if you want to meet up, I’d be happy to sign autographs and harangue you about whatever ideas I’ve had lately.

Do you have a creator biography?

Philip S. Bolger is an army veteran who left active duty service to work as a cog in the Military-Industrial Complex while pursing his passion for writing.  “Fighting Spirit” is his third published short story, and second examining the Oahu Pact timeline.  His debut novel, the Urban Fantasy adventure “The Devil’s Gunman,” was released in January of 2019.  In his free time, he enjoys history, wargames, and pen and paper RPGs.  He lives in the heart of Northern Virginia with his partner, Victoria, and their two dogs: Robert the Bruce and Francois Guizot.  Philip can be reached at philipsbolgerauthor@gmail.com.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

This is a pretty comprehensive interview! But… I’ll go with “Who is your favorite historical figure?” Mine is Francois Guizot (no, not my dog, I like him a lot, but this is who he’s named after!), a French Prime Minister during the July Monarchy, who, after being overthrown, had a second career as a history professor. That seems like a pretty good way to live!


Thanks to Philip 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

Interview: Matt Williams

Greetings all. Today’s interview is with Matt Williams. He’s another author I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting face to face, but one of these days I’ll do a west coast swing and hopefully get a chance to share a beverage with him.

Interview: Matt Williams

What is your quest?

I guess you could say my quest has always been to write the kind of science fiction that I would want to read, the kind of stuff that inspired me growing up and made me want to become a writer myself. This comes down to hard science fiction mostly, and the classics that have remained relevant and influential long after they were written. Examples include the venerable Frank Herbert and his magnum opus, the Dune series. He was the author that taught people to take science fiction seriously, myself included.

And of course, there is 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, perhaps the most-influential works of the 20th century and the stories that taught me how science fiction is also a commentary on the present as much as a vision of the future. And then there was William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sprawl Trilogy, which not only taught me about gritty, cyberpunk realism, but that all science fiction is about the time period in which it is written.

I also derived a lot of inspiration from Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series and Rendezvous with Rama, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and The Outcasts, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, and various works by Charles Stross and Kim Stanley Robinson. All of these books helped me learn to dream in hard science fiction, and to weave tales of my won.

And of course, I wouldn’t be where I am now were it not for the opportunity I’ve had to write about astronomy, science, and space exploration for Universe Today. All of my published work owes its existence to what I have learned from my job, which is how to take space-related news and knowledge and make it accessible for public consumption. You might say there’s some crossover there with being a science fiction writer! 😉

What is your favorite color?

I’m not too picky, as long as the colors are appropriate to the setting. That’s one thing I like about settings, they need to be detailed so that people can get an image in their mind of what it’s like to be there. This includes not only what things look like, but also smell like and feel like. Space and place are very important when it comes to creating atmosphere and setting the mood. This is as true for science fiction as it is in real life.

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

The challenges have been numerous and belligerent! But that’s pretty much how it goes and that which does not kill you makes you stronger. For starters, I found that you have to make all the mistakes before you can expect to identify them. You also have to learn that reality does not conform to expectations. Much of these lessons were learned from my first novel, which was self-published and really didn’t do that well.

And even after learning all that, I’ve found I still have some serious difficulties with the writing process. Some of these are typical while others feel like they are particular. For instance, I have a hell of a time writing the middle parts of stories. Beginnings are easy for me, which is why I start projects all the time that I never finish. Endings are great too, that’s where most of the exciting stuff happens. But those middle chapters? Ick! This seems like an example of a typical problem for writers.

But what I think may be particular to myself is the difficulty I have with writing third installments. Not sure why, but the third book in a series is always the hardest for me to write. The first book is a challenge since it involves setting the stage and all that, but it’s creatively fun and rewarding. The second book seems easy by comparison, since you’ve already set the stage and the second act is all about turning up the heat and taking things to the next level! But the third book? That’s where everything has to come together and conclude in a nice, tidy package. So many details to remember, so many threads that need to be tied!

 What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I would say my most effective technique is visualization, specifically the ability to picture how things will look in a story before committing them to paper. I’ve always had a fertile imagination, which could be a liability at times! In grade school, I was accused more than once of being lazy, inattentive, and stupid for the way I would be constantly daydreaming. Luckily, my educators saw the potential and recommended I channel my imagination into my work. Now my work is based on my ability to imagine things. I believe they call that “check” and “mate”!

This has led to many reviewers and commenters saying that they liked my “world-building”. I have to admit, that’s one of my favorite aspects of creating a story, picturing how everything fits into a narrative universe and fleshing it out from there. And since people seem to respond to that, I am happy to keep doing it!  

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy
  • Favorite Sports Team? BC Lions
  • Cake or Pie? Cake
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Onion and Chive
  • Wet or Dry? Dry
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Shawn Pigott
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man
  • Steak Temperature? Hot, but still pink in the middle
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? M*A*S*H
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring
  • Favorite Pet? Jasper
  • Best Game Ever? Skyrim
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi (hello!)

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

My questions are a bit eclectic and my I’m heavily-biased when it comes to them, so feel free to pass on any or all of them:

Beer or wine? Beer
Favorite beer? Schlafly Tasmanian IPA
How much ya’ bench? Both pounds
Best sci-fi movie of all time? Empire Strikes Back
Best recent sci-fi movie? Guardians of the Galaxy
Best sci-fi novel/writer of all time? Isaac Asimov
Terraforming or space habitats? Both
FTL, yay or nay? Eventually. There’s too much fuzziness in time and space for there not to be a way of circumventing.
What is the central question posed by the Fermi Paradox? Why the human race can’t get a date.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

Here are the links of interest:

And where can we find you?

I am still contemplating attending TitanCon, which is being held in Belfast this year. It’s a bit of a hop, but one that would be worth it.

Do you have a creator biography?

Matthew S. Williams is an author, a writer for Universe Today and the curator of their Guide to Space section. His works include sci-fi/mystery The Cronian Incident and his articles have been featured in Phys.org, HeroX, Popular Mechanics, Business Insider, Gizmodo and IO9, Science Alert, Knowridge Science Report, and Real Clear Science, with topics ranging from astronomy and Earth sciences to technological innovation and environmental issues. He is also a former educator and a 5th degree Black Belt Tae Kwon Do instructor. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and family.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

 How about best science fiction series of all time? Opinions on this are usually divisive and varied, but for me, it’s Babylon 5. No other sci-fi series that I have experienced before or since has managed to capture J.M. Straczynski’s ability to weave a tale, set the stage, and connect it all in a brilliantly-circular fashion. At least as far as I am concerned.

Here are a couple of reviews of his first two novels.

“The Cronian Incident, which I recommended to my audience as my top Sci-Fi read of the year, is a treasure of planetary science.“ –Heather Archulette (aka. Pillownaut)

 “Exciting plot with a good foundation in science. This is not surprising given the author’s expertise as an excellent science writer for Universe Today. Inspiring ending. Highly recommended!” –Prof. Avi Loeb, Harvard University


Thanks to Matt 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