Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Daniel Allen Butler, and, according to the fine print on my birth certificate, I’m 61.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I grew up in Michigan, in a small town called Lapeer, which is about an hour’s drive north of Detroit. (One of the quirks people from Michigan have is that they never tell you how far away someplace is in miles, but in driving hours….)
Fiona: A little about yourself (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).
I was an only child, which is conducive, I believe, to developing a very active imagination. At least it was in my case. I started reading at an adult level at the age of nine, and was, as a rule, more creatively inclined than most of my peers. I had a very normal, almost stereotypically white, middle-class, Midwestern childhood – something that I’m actually quite proud of and recall, for the most part, rather fondly. I did my undergrad work at Hope College, then attended Grand Valley University (back when it was Grand Valley State Colleges) and the University of Erlangen (FAU). I spent some time in the US Army, then worked for several years as a wage slave before being able to work as a full-time author. I’ve been fortunate in that it’s been a successful career – I’ve had eleven books published so far, all of them by “mainstream, traditional” publishing houses. I don’t self-publish.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
The biggest news at the moment is that the softcover edition of Field Marshal, my biography of Erwin Rommel, the German general best known as “The Desert Fox” and the commander of the AfrikaKorps, was released in mid-January. Casemate is the publisher. The book was released in hardcover in the summer of 2016 and sold very well; hopefully the softcover will repeat that success. The big news overall in the last couple of years (nothing really moves that quickly in an author’s life) has been that I’ve also begun writing fiction – in the cyberpunk genre, of all things! Right now I’m working on my second novel (which I’m co-authoring with C. Scott Bragg) in what we project will be a thirteen part series called The Blade Files. The first book in the series is The Nemesis Crystals, the second – the work-in-progress – is The Achilles Gambit; the third will be The Prometheus Letter. I’ll give your readers a break and not list all thirteen titles for the time being! Scott has been my best and most consistent friend for the past twenty-six years, and working with him is definitely an interesting experience – he provides the necessary techno-geeking and I do the heavy lifting of coming up with the plot and doing the actual writing. It’s not as unbalanced as it sounds, because realistic, credible near-future tech is vital to good, believable cyberpunk story-telling. At the very least, it makes the “temporary suspension of disbelief,” which is, of course, the core of all fiction, that much easier to induce and maintain. He has the technical background (he works in IT) necessary to make sure that the “technobabble” in the novels really isn’t “babble” at all but is based on realistic projections of current technology and technological trends. Scott and I joke about how he will supply me with six or seven pages of technical information that I then reduce to a handful of sentence in the actual text – but doing it that way makes certain that what gets into the text is right.
On the history front, I’m working on a book that tells the story of the Scottish War of Independence in the early 1300’s. The title is “…Of all Things to be Won,”taken from a quote by William Wallace. It centers on Robert the Bruce, and tells not only the Bruce’s story during the period shown in the movie Braveheart, but it continues that story beyond William Wallace’s execution and tells how the Bruce picked up Wallace’s mantle and eventually, after years of hardship, sacrifice, and bloodshed, drove the English out of Scotland and secured the kingdom’s independence.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I remember writing stories, historical fiction, actually, in fifth grade. I won a short story contest sponsored by my local public library when I was 13. I’ve always enjoyed writing. As to why I started writing, I really can’t say any one thing or even combination of thing compelled me to it. It just seemed the natural thing to do.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That would have been when I won that short story contest.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
That was “Unsinkable” – The Full Story of RMS Titanic, which was first published in 1998. I’ve been fascinated by the Titanic since I was nine years old, and I knew fairly early on that I would write a book about her someday. So I did. The story was so utterly real to me, I’d been so immersed in it for so long, that I felt a compulsion to tell that story to others.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Actually, the publisher, Stackpole Books, came up with it. My title was God Himself Couldn’t Sink this Ship. Theirs was better, I have to admit – certainly shorter and catchier. Ironically, it was the only time my suggested title wasn’t used.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I don’t know if you could call it a style, per se. Perhaps a “method”? Anyway, after I’ve done my research and established in my head the course of the narrative I’ll be writing – deciding it’s structure and how it will be sequenced, I just let my imagination go to work fitting all the bits of research together, and I envision “scenes,” for want of a better word, that I describe in detail. Then, of course, all of those scenes have to be linked together to make a seamless whole. Really, once I get started, it feels much as if the book is writing itself – my job is to make sure that I get the facts straight and the details right.
Now, I will say this about my “style” – I apparently have a very distinctive writing voice, as opposed to my audible, speaking voice. It seems that this writing voice is very British. Over the past two decades I’ve had a surprisingly large number of people who have only known of me through my books be surprised to discover that I’m an American – they were convinced, based on my writing style, that I was Scottish or – God help me! – English….
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
For my history, travel is inevitable. If possible, I try to “walk the ground” where some of the events I describe took place. Having a sense of seeing what the actual participants saw as far as locale and terrain is an excellent way to get inside the events themselves – and sometimes key to understanding why certain decisions were made or actions were taken. Then, of course, there’s the physical research: not every archive is available online, especially manuscript and letter collections, and of course, not all photographs are available for viewing online either. So there’s usually a significant element of travel in my work. I’ve been to Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Belgium, the north of France, Germany, and Canada at various times to do research.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
For The Blade Files novels, Scott and I design the covers together. For my historical works,I usually have a concept for the cover art in mind that I share with the publisher’ art departments, and we work together to make the concept viable. I always have an understanding with my publishers that the book doesn’t go to press until I’ve signed off on the cover design. This has resulted in a couple of battles royal when the art department and I disagreed, but in the end, I simply tell them, paraphrasing Franz Liebkind in the original version of The Producers, “You are the artist, I am the author – I outrank you!”
Fiona: Is there a message in your books that you want readers to grasp?
For my fiction, no, absolutely not. I thoroughly despise “message fiction” – if I wish to have someone preach at me, I’ll go to church. That doesn’t mean a reader won’t necessarily take a message away from some of my fiction; it will be a message of his or her own devising and perception, however, not one that I deliberately tried to shove onto them.
As for my historical works, however, oh, yes, there is very much a message – and that is “History matters!” In fact, it doesn’t just matter – history is all that really matters, because every single aspect of human existence is a part of history. This world we live in today, in 2018, didn’t just magically come into existence overnight – it’s the product of decades, centuries, millennia of accumulated history. Science, technology, medicine, agriculture, art, music, literature, economics, war, government, all of it exists – and moves forward — because of events that happened last week, last year, a century ago, a millennium ago. Nothing that happens today happens without there being some proximate cause in the past for it, even if that past is only minutes or hours old. But in a very real sense, that makes all of human experience history, and if anyone ever seeks to understand something of humanity – and no one will ever understand all of humanity – they have to know history. So, yes, the message is very real and up-front: History matters more than anything else!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
In non-fiction, my favorite authors are Winston Churchill and William Manchester. The command of the English language possessed by both men was nothing short of awesome.
In fiction, my favorite authors are William Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alistair MacLean, and David Weber. Shakespeare and Tolkien are pretty much self-explanatory – Shakespeare pretty much invented the modern English language, and Tolkein’s mastery of the language has had very few peers and no betters. MacLean, at least before the alcoholism began taking its toll on him and he fell into formula, constructed and spun some of the best suspense and action yarns every written, and Weber is not only incredibly entertaining, the breadth of the man’s imagination has to be experienced to be believed.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Well, I’ve been doing it for a living for twenty years now, so I suppose you could say that I regard it as a career.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I regard Field Marshal, which is my most recently published historical work, as the best thing I’ve written so far, and I’m going to have to work to top it. As for my fiction, well, that branch of my writing tree is just beginning to grow, so I really haven’t had the time to develop a perspective on what I might have done differently.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Honestly, too much to go into here – I’d wind up writing another book if I did! I always learn something – usually a lot of somethings – whenever I write a book. That’s part of what keeps me writing, “there’s always a bit more to discover, and no knowing what you’ll find round a corner.”(Sorry, Sam!)
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
If you’re asking about Field Marshal, then definitely Ed Harris to play Erwin Rommel. Even though Harris is about ten years older than was Rommel when he died, the resemblance is uncanny. If not Harris as Rommel, then Daniel Craig.
As for David MacLaren, the lead in The Blade Files, I really haven’t been able to see anyone playing him. I don’t conceive of the character in appearance or personality as the typical “ruggedly handsome Hollywood leading man”-type, so no one comes to mind as being “perfect” to play the part.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Write. I know that’s been said so often it’s become a cliché, but clichés become what they are because they are so utterly true. Don’t just talk about being a writer, or wish you were a writer – you won’t be and can’t be a writer if you don’t actually write something! And once you start writing, don’t stop. Have multiple projects going so that you can mentally shift gears between them when one runs into the inevitable brick wall. If you don’t, there will be a day when all you have to show for what you wanted to do is a whole lot of shoulda, coulda, woulda….
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Yes. Buy my books. I need the money.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I have a whole stack of references on 13th and 14th Century Scotland and England on my work table right now. About nine of them, I believe.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first adult level book, certainly. A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord.Asometime mentor of mine and a treasured friend.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Wit and wordplay make me laugh, always. Courage and self-sacrifice cause me to choke up. Betrayal and disloyalty have made me weep more than once.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Oh, Lord, I’m an historian, remember? Such a list could go on for pages and pages!
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Woodworking, building model ships and tanks, long walks on the beach (trite, I know, but I get a lot of thinking and writing done on those walks, don’t you know), tinkering on cars – I’m a gearhead, I admit it.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don’t watch television. Seriously, I don’t. The last television series I watched in its entirety was the 2004 iteration of BattlestarGalactica, and I watched that on DVD. As for films, good historical dramas always work for me, as do thrillers that depend on suspense rather than gore. I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson, Christ Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a lot of Steven Spielberg’s work (when he’s not in uber-liberal preaching mode); I loved the Star Wars movies, at least Episodes IV through VII and Rogue One, but things went so damned sideways in Episode VIII I’ve given up on it. Basically, I enjoy movies that engage my brain and my emotions simultaneously. I thoroughly despise films that revel in sadism, you’ll never find me watching one of the Saw movies, for example. I find I often enjoy movies that many people pan, because I’ll see something in them that just blows by most audiences. The Lone Ranger and John Carter of Mars are two good examples of that.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I’m gonna get into so much trouble with this! I’m a carnivore, so a good Porterhouse done rare, with steak fries and a horseradish sauce, washed down with a good stout is my idea of a perfect dinner. No, scratch that, my idea of a perfect dinner is a porterhouse steak with steak fries and horseradish sauce, a good scotch, a good cigar, and a good woman. Or a bad woman. That sort of depends on how much happiness I can handle at the time….
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Build furniture. Woodworking is one of the hobbies that I’ve been pursuing for about fifty years, and I would be perfectly content making my living doing that if the writing had to stop.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Damn, it’s dark down here!”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My personal website is http://www.danielallenbutler.org/
The website for The Blade Files can be found at http://www.cogitoorbis.press/
My Amazon author’s page, which lists all of my books, is here: https://www.amazon.com/Daniel-Allen-Butler/e/B001H6NRUG?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060
My book page from my website is http://www.danielallenbutler.org/?page_id=2