Saturday, May 12, 2012

Author Interview: Walter Knight

"Disillusionment turned to anger, and I stopped querying. However, I kept writing."

I think it is because I enjoy traveling and have been a bit of a nomad much of my life, but I always seem to notice the part of the an author’s bio that mentions where they have lived. That is the biggest part of your official bio and, from what I’m reading it sounds like you grew up in Tucson, did a stint in the army, and then moved to Washington State for college, both undergraduate as law school. How did you end up in Washington and what is it that appealed to you in comparison to Arizona?

I grew up in sunny Tucson, Arizona. It's a great place. However, when I was eighteen, like a country western song, 'happiness was Tucson in my rear view mirror.' I joined the army in 1973, and have been homesick for Tucson ever since.

I always wanted to be a police officer. However, the army would not let me join the MPs because I had too many traffic tickets. Instead, they made me a radio teletype operator, and sent me to Fort Lewis, Washington.

I still wanted to be a police officer, so I earned three years of college while I was in the Army, going to school part time. A year after my discharge, I graduated from Central Washington State College with a degree in Law & Justice. Two weeks later, I was hired as a deputy sheriff with the Grays Harbor Sheriff's Office, on the coast of rural Washington.

I was a deputy at Grays Harbor for ten years, but still continued my schooling, earning a Juris Doctor in Law from the University of Puget Sound School of Law in 1985. However, I flunked the Bar Exam, and never re-took the test.

I'm not sure why I went to law school. I think I just wanted to be rich. I have always had a get rich scheme in the works, owning up to five houses, gambling, law school, stock market investments, working overtime, and now novels.

Washington State is a beautiful state. After all this time, I have not quite got used to the rain. Moss grows everywhere, even on my cars. I missed Arizona. Seeking a compromise, in 1987 I moved with my family to Reno, Nevada, hired as a sheriff's deputy for Washoe County.

Yes, I worked for the real Reno 911. Would you believe all those Reno 911 characters appear to be based on real sheriff's deputies I knew? It's truly amazing. I love Nevada, and still vacation there often. However, police work in Reno was a bit of a culture shock. In Washington, I only dealt with drunks. Reno was full of junkies. Seeking a happier work environment, I returned to Washington, rain and all, where I've been living happily for the last 19 years atop a hill on seven acres with my family, horses, dogs, cats, fish, and other assorted critters. Sorry, but my evil day job is a secret.

 Have you always wanted to be an author?

No. The urge to write just burst forth in a massive energy spurt in early 2008. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, but it seemed like I suddenly had a lot to say. After writing America's Galactic Foreign Legion (Book 1) Feeling Lucky in a few months, I confidently queried all the big time publishers. All I got was rejection letters. Large publishers aren't much interested in first time authors, or in science fiction. I tried small presses and agents, also rejected.

An agent suggested I write a sequel, saying that one-hit wonders are not marketable or profitable for him to represent. “The best publicity for your first book is to write a second, then a third.” Enthused, I wrote America's Galactic Foreign Legion (Book 2) Reenlistment, and sent my queries out once more. Still no cigar.

Disillusionment turned to anger, and I stopped querying. However, I kept writing. In a two-year period, I wrote ten America's Galactic Foreign Legion books. It was fun, and the ideas just poured out.

With a dozen manuscripts, I began querying again in late 2009. My plan was to build my body of work to the point where I could not be ignored. And, I no longer followed the rules. No more just sending queries and sample chapters. No more using snail mail, or double spacing. I attached the whole dozen manuscripts to E-mails. No more waiting for an invitation. They could hit the delete button any time.

Pat Morrison, acquisition editor at Penumbra Publishing, a new small press, expressed an interest. She was a bit put off by some of my characters, finding some not realistic, others not likeable. For example, I had an eyeglasses wearing, briefcase carrying, elderly alien lawyer defending captured legionnaires in an alien court. This was not serious military science fiction. She was right. In my query I had forgot to mention the humor. Pat then reread America's Galactic Foreign Legion in a different light. It had potential.

But a dozen books? No one had ever submitted that many manuscripts at once before. I insisted that marketing and credibility is easier with a book series, and a key to success. Penumbra committed to publishing the whole series. I've since added to the series as the editing process played out. AGFL-15 is on the editor's desk now, and AGFL-16 is a work in progress.

In an ironic twist, after I signed a contract with Penumbra, other small press publishers sent me offers, too. I had to turn them down.

It seems like the typical author with legal training attempts to be the next John Grisham or Scott Turow, writing legal thrillers. You took a completely different route, with humorous science fiction. Why science fiction?

I am always buying science fiction paperbacks from used books stores. There is always a Sci/Fi paperback nearby. Reading science fiction is a hobby.

My other hobby is gambling. Some call it an addiction, but gambling is not really a problem if you win. Denial? Please don't amateur psychoanalyze authors, it's not polite.

Anyway, I was driving from Washington State to Reno to get my gambling fix, when I stopped at an odd roadside park by Oakridge, Oregon. I had stopped there before. It was decorated with road equipment antiques, but I never really investigated. I noticed a war memorial for First Sergeant Maximo Yabes. My oh my, the memorial read something like a John Wayne war movie. Sergeant Yabes' engineer company in Vietnam was overrun by enemy troops, and the man single handedly fought to shield wounded comrades, charging machine gun nests with his rifle and grenades. Just when you thought the citation was over, he attacked again, and again. Sergeant Yabes was a one man army as grenades and bullets knocked him down again and again. Finally Sergeant Yabes just ran out of blood, and died. Sergeant Yabes was awarded the Medal of Honor.

So an idea was born at that park, to write a novel about a compulsive gambler who, joins future America's Foreign Legion to pay off debts, and defies all odds to become a Hero of the Legion in the process. The humor came later. My intent at first was to write serious military science fiction. However, I have a funny bone that works itself into everything. I write parody. That means I am always poking fun at something, or my characters.

I love the parody of The Simpson's. That's not to say my characters are a cartoon. During my childhood, my father took me to the movies every weekend. My pop culture education came from those movies. If you study the Simpson's, its parody often comes from movie characters and the news. I do the same in America's Galactic Foreign Legion, drawing my parody from film, TV, news, the military, history, politics, and science fiction. Did I mention, like The Simpson's? I live near a small town in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. Elma looks just like Springfield, except it's different.

One good thing about writing humorous military science fiction is I have the genre to myself. New authors like me are not going to make the NY Times best selling charts, and so I have to stake out niche. I own the military science fiction niche.

Who are your favorite science fiction authors? Which do you think have had the most influence on your writing?

Harry Turtledove's World War & Colonization 10 book series about aliens attacking Earth during World War II inspired me to write a space opera series using history, action, and culture clash issues.

L Ron Hubbard (Battlefield Earth, and the Mission Earth series) about aliens invading Earth inspired me to write science fiction humor and patriotic themes.

Barry Sadler (Casca series) about a cursed immortal Roman soldier inspired me to make my series as long as possible. I may never stop writing.

Johnnie Clark (Guns Up) This is not science fiction, but it's the best story about American infantry fighting in Vietnam out there, and it's not the usual war protest stuff.

I’ve noticed that humor seems more sensitive to individual tastes than most forms of entertainment, with some people finding nothing funny in what will have others rolling on the floor. How do you approach including humor in your books?

Yes, critics abound. Opinion on my humor ranges from hatred to I walk on water. By the way, I've tried walking on water, it doesn't work. One critic said he would rather read toilet paper wrappers than my drivel.

I devoted an entire chapter to spoofing a literary critic. My legionnaire characters surrounded the house where the literary critic lives in his mother's basement, typing out vicious attacks on the internet. After arrest he still rants, so legionnaires throw him out an airlock, and shoot his dog. Fun stuff.

In the cold vacuum of space, no one can hear you laugh.

Who are your favorite comics or humorous writers? What is it about them that appeals to you?

I love Woody Allen because of his self-deprecating humor. There is a scene in AGFL-1 where legionnaires are surrounded by hostile aliens. A legionnaire comments, “I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.” I got that idea from Woody Allen, and he got it from graffiti painted on a city wall. Also, Allen pokes fun of his NY friends, keeping fair and balanced.

I love it when a serious actor does comedy. Robert De Niro in Analyze This played a Mafia boss seeking psychiatric help for his anger management issues and stress. De Niro did not tell jokes. He kept a straight serious face. But, he was very funny shooting a pillow to relieve stress.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had funny moments in Predator and Terminator, as did Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man. Remember Stallone upset about Taco Bell being the future's best restaurant? Funny stuff.

My favorite Clint Eastwood movie is Kelly's Heroes about American soldiers in World War II punching through German lines to rob a bank of its gold. The all-star cast was hilarious, even though it was a shoot 'em up war movie. I aspire to be that funny.

I became a fan of Robert Asprin (Phule's Company) after I wrote America's Galactic Foreign Legion. His humor is a bit off the hook for most military science fiction. Readers turned me on to Asprin after reading my books, and seeing similarities.

World famous science fiction writer Piers Anthony, noted for his humor, wrote me a nice book review, saying of America's Galactic Foreign Legion, “It's wild, improbable, but great adventure.”

Your America’s Galactic Foreign Legion series is up to 14 books, with I believe at least one or two more coming soon. Tell us about this series. Would you advise a reader to start with book 1(Feeling Lucky), or is it possible to read the books stand-alone?

America's Galactic Foreign Legion evolves from a humanity vs. aliens Starship Troopers type action adventure into a battle of American culture against Alien culture. After a series of wars, humanity and aliens are forced to share a distant planet colony. That's when America brings in its heavy artillery to combat the aliens: our culture.

Aliens succumb to fast food, Walmart shopping, casino gambling, drugs, democracy, football, Nike sportswear, Harley motorcycles, the Teamsters Union, Starbucks coffee, skateboards, TV, freedom, Disney, terrorism, and interspecies sex (yuk).

The alien Emperor belatedly tries to pass laws against the Americanization of his half of the planet, but it is too late. He is already addicted to Starbucks and McDonald's hamburgers.

Through war and peace, the aliens gradually lose ground to American culture. Alien kids wearing droopy drawers and a Nike swoosh snubbing their mandibles at the spider commander is funny stuff. Each book stands independent of the others, but I recommend you start from the first.

I use a lot of hidden history. Most of the events are based on something or someone real. For example, Americanization of the world is a number one issue in many countries today.

My editor described America's Galactic Foreign Legion as being politically incorrect, but I do not agree. What do you think, Al? You read the first book. I think for some, anything patriotic is politically incorrect. I created a future world where America dominates Earth, and takes humanity across the galaxy to fight aliens. Is that politically incorrect?

I don't know if humanity will ever leave our solar system. I fear it’s not possible because of space radiation and limits on speed of light travel. But if humanity ever does cross the stars, it will be on American starships. No one else could do it, certainly not the Chinese, Russians, Japanese, English, French, or United Nations. American ingenuity leads all major technological advances.

One of your books is not like the others. Tell us about Vampire in the Outfield. This is a departure.

Vampire in the Outfield is about a rookie baseball player who discovers he can hit and play better after being bitten by a lovely vampire. Of course, he still has a problem with day games.

Johnny Black signs a contract to play for the Seattle Mariners, but there are many problems. Drug dealers want him to fly cocaine across the border. Gamblers want games fixed. His vampire girl friend wants Black to meet her parents. The Baseball Commissioner is in league with the Devil, and the Evil Empire (New York Yankees) and the ghost of Alex Rodriguez are on to his vampire ways, as is an FBI agent. They will not allow the integrity of the game to be tarnished.

I had a lot of fun with Vampire in the Outfield and I am very proud of this book. However, it has not sold well, so besides the 99 cents Kindle book, I give it away free at the end of America's Galactic Foreign Legion (Book 12) The Ark.

What do you like to do in your leisure time?

Leisure time? What's that? I'm married with children. I like to gamble at the casinos. On vacation, I enjoy exploring Nevada ghost towns and cross-country car trips. I like to gamble. I like historical sites, and will be visiting the Alamo next month. Are there casinos in Texas? With maps, I hunt for hot springs, and enjoy a good swim.

Books and Pals uses a wide definition of indie in defining our niche of indie books. Many are self-published books while others are published by small presses, in your case Penumbra Publishing. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of taking this route to publication as opposed to going it alone or being published by one of the Big 6?

Self-publishing and publishing through a small press are very similar. Penumbra Publishing is an author's cooperative of titles that otherwise would not have been published. Penumbra's catalog is heavily weighted with girl books. By that I mean books written by women, about women, or both. Personally, I do not prefer stories about emotions, family, interpretation of dreams, falling in love, or politically correct female warriors. Some vampire books are cool.

My books buck that trend. I write guy books, and have suggested Penumbra diversify. I even edited a friend's military action adventure novel for submission to Penumbra, and he was offered a contract last week. I believe in Karma. If I do a good turn, good things happen in return.

Penumbra Publishing is only a few years old, and America's Galactic Foreign Legion easily outsold its entire catalog combined. AGFL sales, mostly Kindle E-books, are at 30,000+. We are still learning the business together. Editor Patricia Morrison is a real pro, cleaning up my grammar and organizing my stories. The volunteer artists (slaves) are as good as anyone in the industry.

I am not published through a Big 6 New York publisher because they did not want me. It does not matter because my main business is Kindle. My books are just as visible as any Big Six book, and my editor faster. I'm competitive with the big Six, and that's all most first time authors can hope for.

I am jealous of the Big 6 in one regard. I sell my paperbacks on Amazon, too, but I cannot sell them at bookstores. The Big Six have a monopoly on bookstore distribution that small presses cannot break. Bookstores insist unsold books be taken back, and small presses cannot afford to do that.

I still seek the validation of seeing my science fiction on a bookstore shelf, but will have to settle for just making lots of money. The Amazon Kindle revolution allowed me and other mid-list authors to make our dreams come true. God bless Amazon and Kindle.

What are your future writing plans?

My goal now is sustained sales for America's Galactic Foreign Legion. Kindle ownership is increasing, and Amazon is expanding to the world, so the future looks bright. My books are even selling well in the UK. E-books are forever.

Sales are a struggle. I've crossed the most important hurdle of finally being noticed. In January 2011, with six novels published, I was selling 2,300 books a month. Now, with 14 novels published, I am only selling about 800 books per month. It's a disappointment. I thought I was going to get rich, and be able quit my evil day job.

However, I am still sticking to my original strategy of increasing my body of work to a point where I cannot be ignored. America's Galactic Foreign Legion (Book 15) Lieutenant Columbus is on the editor's desk now. AGFL-15 is about a time traveling Christopher Columbus and General Patton who enlist in America's Foreign Legion. America rewards its heroes with a second chance, fame, and fortune.

America's Galactic Foreign Legion (Book 16) Galactic Disney is a work in progress, eight chapters so far. Galactic Disney is about building a Disney Amusement Park on another planet. Of course, it's a plot to dominate the aliens even more with our culture. America will win. Resistance is futile.

The best publicity for a book is to write another. I will continue writing. I might even write a sequel to Vampire in the Outfield, and have already given Johnny Black a cameo appearance in AGFL-14.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you Al for your interest in my work. Someday I would like you to review the entire America's Galactic Foreign Legion series. This interview was way too short. Maybe we can do this again, discuss pop culture, or the current state of science fiction.

I believe science fiction is dominated by too many stories of evil corporations, a failed America, failed ecology, anti military rhetoric, politically correct female warriors, and United Nations type governments. Give me science fiction where an evil alien is shot or stabbed by a marine, and I'm a happy camper. Hoorah!

For More Walter:

For more, visit Walter's website, or the website of his publisher, Penumbra Publishing.


America's Galactic Foreign Legion series

Book 1: Feeling Lucky                 Review  Amazon US UK Paper

Book 2: Reenlistment                             Amazon US UK Paper

Book 3: Silent Invasion                           Amazon US UK Paper

Book 4: Demilitarized Zone                      Amazon US UK Paper

Book 5: Insurgency                                 Amazon US UK Paper

Book 6: Culture Ware                              Amazon US UK Paper

Book 7: Enemies                                    Amazon US UK Paper

Book 8: Allies                                        Amazon US UK Paper

Book 9: Scorpions                                  Amazon US UK Paper

Book 10: Peacekeepers                           Amazon US UK Paper

Book 11: Cemetery City                          Amazon US UK Paper

Book 12: The Ark                                   Amazon US UK Paper

Book 13: Salesman from Mars                  Amazon US UK Paper

Book 14: Embassy War                           Amazon US UK Paper


Vampire in the Outfield                         Amazon US UK


Cat Carlisle said...

Funny science fiction sounds right up my alley. I will have to check this series out. Oh, and the closest casino I know of to the Alamo is the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass, which is on the border about 2 hours and 45 minutes away.

Walter Knight said...

Kickapoo Lucky Eagle? Outstanding.

I was having withdrawal symptoms just thinking about no casinos in Texas. It's bad enough getting computer withdrawal because there is a line of kids at the hotel computer. Thanks Cat.

BooksAndPals said...

Walter asked me a question in the interview where he said his editor describes AGFL as "politically incorrect" and wondered what my opinion was, thinking that some people saw anything patriotic as politically correct. I didn't want to answer in the interview because I knew my answer wouldn't be short, but since he asked I will here. :)

I generally try to keep my politics out of the blog although regular readers might see some clues. Those who are unlucky enough to be a Facebook friend of my personal Facebook account aren't so lucky.

I didn't see AGFL, at least book 1 that I've read, as politically incorrect. Possibly someone else would feel different, but I think it has a few things going for it so that someone inclined to think that might be less likely to see it that way.

First, it's hard to get upset at fictional characters no matter what they say or do. When the setting of the story is in the distant future I think something is less likely to be interpreted as non-PC.

Something done with humor that is not mean-spirited is less likely to feel politically incorrect.

Regarding the "anything patriotic" is politically incorrect suggestion, I disagree. Maybe this goes to the individual's definition of patriotism. I don't think it is unpatriotic to question our leaders if, for example, they choose to go to war for reasons that don't make sense to us or try to force our way of doing things on other countries.

Possibly your editor saw political incorrectness in the "Americanization of the world" and beyond that you talk about in the interview. I guess I can see how someone could look at it that way, but at least for me, that gets a pass and didn't bother me because it is fiction. Also, the humor in it is more poking fun at it and not taking an obvious stand that I detected, just acknowledging that this is the way it is and projecting a future world where it has continued.

Rebecca Stroud said...

I loved this interview (thanks, Al)! Although I don't read sci-fi, I think Walter Knight has a great future and I wish him the best. (P.S...I like to gamble, too...:)

Walter Knight said...

Houmor can be a difficult thing.

Remember the TV series "All In The Family?" Was the show conservative because it featured Archie Bunker, or liberal because it parodied Archie Bunker? Or was the show just funny? The writers of "All In The Family" upset both sides, and that's how it should be.

Conservatives love the characters in "America's Galactic Foreign Legion," and I feed on that by poking fun at liberals. But at the same time, I poke fun at my characters by having them overreact to most situtations. Woody Allen does the same thing.

Even in the sequels, both liberals and conservatives can enjoy the humor, but as election politics draw nearer people become less tolerant. To some even the slightest joke becomes threatening or offensive. As I said, humor can be a difficult thing.

Ha! I kept my politcal comments shorter than yours BigAl!

Walter Knight said...

Rebecca, gambling is a reoccuring theme in all my AGFL books. I like happy endings, so the characters often win when they go 'all in.'

Gambling is not a problem if you win. Right? We are bothers. I mean, we are casino soul mates. We do our praying at the casino? You know what I mean. 'Blackjack!' is music to our ears. 'Jackpot!' too.

I'm using my royalties to pay off my gambling debts, and my family is still together. All is good in the world. See my website for card counting / gambling strategies that might help.

Good luck.

Rebecca Stroud said...

Yikes! You must have some whopper debts, gambling is fairly low key (meaning: fairly low stakes). But I was raised serving coffee to my relatives while they played poker at Grandpa's so it's in my blood (I'm also part Indian so that just adds fuel to the fire..:)

Walter Knight said...

Hi Rebecca.

Adding fuel to the fire is a hot combination. Keep fueling.

Vicki said...

"However, I have a funny bone that works itself into everything.

Blog comments included. I often find myself smiling at your tongue in cheek comments. This interview was no exception. :)

Great interview, Walter and Al.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Vicki. I agree, Walter's comments are often good for a laugh and laughter is almost always a good thing.

forex robot said...

I also loves traveling , i think there are many places to see in texas, so casino is not important.

Walter Knight said...

You are right about there being a lot to see in Texas. I'm looking forward to seeing the Alamo. My friend from Texas says everything is bigger and better in Texas.

I was showing him Niagara Falls, trying to impress. I asked, have you ever seen anything like that before?

He said no, but in Texas we have plummers who can fix that sort of thang.

Walter Knight said...

Good night Big Al and pals. Thank you for allowing me to visit.

Write long and prosper.

BooksAndPals said...

And thank you for agreeing to do the interview, Walter. It was one of the funnest interviews I've had.

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Hello from a fellow Tucsonan! I lived there from 1989-20001, so basically my Tucson isn't the one you lived in. From what I've heard, the Tucson of 2012 is different than the one either of us knew.
I like your agent's quote: “The best publicity for your first book is to write a second, then a third.” Very true!

Penumbra Publishing said...

Great interview, thanks to Big Al for the feature. As for 'politically incorrect' - a term that obviously bothers Walt because he keeps bringing it up ... it should be noted that I personally do not think of his work as politically incorrect, but the term was used as a sort of disclaimer to warn readers who might think so. We have ratings for all our books that warn about violence and cursing and so forth, so that potential readers will know that content is in there. And we like to use non-PC as a sales tool - people often like what they're told is not good for them. Not that humor isn't good. But naughty jokes and poking fun at everyone sometimes can be a great source of giggles, even though not everyone will think it's funny.

Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Pat. That makes sense. I love things that aren't good for me. :)

Walter Knight said...

I pick on those I like, like a kid in school. I even gave Pat a couple of cameo appearances.

Unknown said...

I missed this when posted, but glad I caught it now. What an interesting journey you've had, Walter!

Walter Knight said...

I just this interview, again. I just published book 32 of the "America's Galactic Foreign Legion" series. It's been a fun ride. Yes, I still maintain that humor can be a difficult thing.