An interview with Wing Commander author Andrew Keith
On December 16th, 1996 I conducted an interview with Wing Commander author Andrew Keith in the now-defunct DALnet #Wing-Commander IRC channel. Mr. Keith was kind enough to provide fans with a 'preview' of False Colors' prologue, which is available here. Note that this interview took place over two years before the novel was actually published in January, 1999! A followup interview occured in August, 1998 and is archived here.
LOAF: Lets start by asking about how you got the job of writing the Heart of the Tiger novel?
Keith: Bill Fawcett, a novel packager, is a friend of mine. He put together the package.
LOAF: Novel Packaging? Mind explaining how that works to those of us like myself who have no idea?
Keith: Well, the idea is this. A publisher goes to a packager with an idea for a book series. The packager puts them together with the writer or writers needed. This one was more complex, of course, because Origin was also involved. Bill Forstchen had already written other books for WC. But he is very busty with projects, so they had me do the primary writing. Then he cleaned up grammar, added a few scenes, that sort of thing.
LOAF: Did you have an previous experience with the WC universe?
Keith: Not a bit. They sent me a copy of the script for the movie part of the game. I took it from there and prayed I got it right.
LOAF: Apparently you did... WCIII used a branching plot, how did you decide which options were used and which weren't?
Keith: Just decided what would make the best story, mostly. I had to drop some things for space considerations. The whole thing about rescuing the scientist with the Temblor Bomb, for example. I should say that my choices are no more valid than anybody else's. If your version of the game goes differently from the book, that's fine. That's what interactive gaming is all about.
LOAF: How involved is Origin in the writing or editing of the books?
Keith: Well, not much . . . until the final edit. They waited until then to make me ressurect two very dead characters in HOT.
LOAF: Dead characters? Which ones had been killed off?
Keith: Maniac was one. I forget the other, but he was in the final raid on Kilrah. Vaquero? Vagabond? One of them. My original orders were to kill everyone but Blair.
LOAF: I think both of them ended up dying in the actual book, though...
Keith: No . . . if you look very closely you'll see Maniac bails out. As for Vagabond and Vaquero . . . I really don't know. Whoever survived was the one I had to fix. It's been two years and several novels now . . . I'm told it was Vagabond who lived.
LOAF: Speaking of other novels... I personally am not familiar with your other works (but then I seem to only read WC)... mind telling us about some of them?
Keith: Well, there've been a few . . . My other big SF series to date was called The Fifth Foreign Legion. It followed a unit derived from today's Foreign Legion in the 26th Century. It may be hard to get, but I've seen books from the series floating around. (See bibliography for titles). I've also written or co-written various modern action/adventure books. A series on a Carrier Battle Group was the best of these. It helped prepare me for WC. Right now I'm working on a series of historical novels covering US Navy SEALs from the original WWII UDT to the present.
LOAF: I'll be keeping an eye out for any of the books on that list... speaking of co writting how does that work?
Keith: Co-writing is interesting. When I work with Bill Forstchen, I write the whole thing, give it to him, and he revises it. My other work has been with my brother, Bill Keith. That usually involves the two of us sitting down together with baseball bats to work out a plot together. The one who comes out of the planning session gets to decide what to do.
LOAF: So you wrote the majority of HOTT?
Keith: The basic story is mine, derived from the movie script. If I had been writing it from scratch it would have been a lot different. Bill Forstchen added a few things and made grammar and editing changes . . . not all of which I agreed with.
LOAF: And you're writing your new WC book from scratch?
Keith: The new book, False Colors, is done. I wrote it from an outline put together by Bill Forstchen.
LOAF: What can you tell us about False Colors?
Keith: Well, some of you have seen the first chapter. The rest works like this . . . The war is over, but Kilrathi warlords are trying to rebuild the Empire. The Confederation is facing trouble from an internal conspiracy. Admiral Tolwyn, in disgrace after the Behemoth incident, gets a jod with the navy of the Landreich, on the frontier. He brings Jason Bondarevsky out of retirement to help him. Their job is to salvage the Kilrathi carrier Karga, lost in battle. They have to fight pirates backed by the Terran conspirators to get the carrier mobilized. When they do, they discover that a Kilrathi dreadnought has joined the warlord about to attack the Landreich. This is one of those things you can't kill from WCIII. They use the Kilrathi carrier to mount a raid on the warlord's home base and try to take out the dreadnought. I won't say how that goes . . .
LOAF: Will we be seeing a lot of returning characters?
Keith: Jason, Sparks, Admiral Tolwyn and his nephew . . . the leader of the Landreich (whose name eludes me) . . . Also a couple of minor characters from past Bondarevsky books.
LOAF: Any chance of Doomsday returning?
Keith: He's there. He even gets a real name. Andre Dumas.
LOAF: I believe he had a name in the game...
Keith: If so, nobody ever told me. Don't forget, I never played. It can still change in edit.
LOAF: He was "Etienne Montclair",
Keith: Ah, well. That's the sort of thing Origin will catch. Thanks.
LOAF: Well there's always the chance that he's not the same Doomsday as in the books...
Keith: True enough.
LOAF: Any future plans for working with WC?
Keith: I hope to pitch two new novels down the line. But it depends on Baen Books, Origin, and others.
LOAF: What about writing for the games or the TV show?
Keith: Doubtful. From what I hear, the games are kept pretty much under company control. As for TV . . . that's still out of my league.
LOAF: Two new novels? Can you give away any information on those?
Keith: The book ideas are still vague. One I'd like to do would involve a Kilrathi prince -- a friendly one -- from False Colors. Sort of Bonnie Prince Charle in Scotland, with Cats and carrier support by the Karga. The other would put the Landreich at war with the Confederation. I'm thinking of following something like the Alamo/Goliad/San Jacinto model.
LOAF: I think WC4 pretty much told the story of a war between the Landreich and the Confederation. The actual game didn't really say that the Border Worlds and the Landreich are the same, but the WCIV novel implied such.
Keith: Could be. That's something else I didn't see. But there could still be things we could do with it. Like I said, these are just ideas.
LOAF: Actually its not much of an implication, just that Kruger gives the BW some support... and it wasn't much of a war, anyway.
Keith: Well, then there are possibilities. I'm looking at this as being before WCIV.
LOAF: Besides WC, do you have any other major projects ahead?
Keith: I'm currently working on a SEALs book, For Extraordinary Heroism. This is set in the early years of Vietnam. It's under the pen name of H. Jay Riker.
LOAF: How long does it usually take for a book to go from your hands to ours?
Keith: That depends on lots of things. Then anything up to a year to see it in print. False Colors was turned in this September. I'm hoping it'll be out in the spring, but I haven't heard.
LOAF: What do you do in your spare time?
Keith: Spare time? Define?
LOAF: Err, anything besides writing... family, maybe?
Keith: My family is two cats . . . I do some work for the Clan Keith Society, a Scots family organization. I used to belong to the SCA, but haven't gone there recently. Other than that, I write. Although I've spent way too much time messing with the Internet since I upgraded the computer. Amazing how much time you can blow surfing.
LOAF: Are you allowed to read WC fan fiction on the 'net?
Keith: I could. Haven't seen any so far. A word of general warning, though. I've always made it a policy not to read fan fiction for critiquing purposes. I've found it's the quickest way to lose friends. Also, I think fan writers should do their own thing and not worry about what others think. I would like to see some of the WC fiction floating around, though.
LOAF: Have you had any involvement with Forstchen's other upcoming WC book [Action Stations]?
Keith: No, I haven't. I've been rather slow on my past couple of books. As a result, I don't set up to do things very far ahead. I hope I get a chance to work with Bill again, though.
LOAF: Do you plan to be more involved in the WC universe? Maybe play some of the games?
Keith: I'd like to. Time is the main problem. If I can ever figure out what happened to my free copy of HOT, I'd like to play that. Also, if time permits, I might get involved in the WC RPG Dundradal's running. Maybe.
LOAF: What does it takes to get into writing novels?
Keith: A lot of work, and a lot of luck. Your best bet is to write as much as possible and submit everywhere you can. Eventually you might just get lucky. You'd be advised, though, to write non-WC stuff.
LOAF: How did you personally get into it?
Keith: I broke in writing for RPGs back in the late Seventies. I met Bill Fawcett through that . . . he was involved with a game publishing company back then. Later, he recommended my brother and me to the folks at Berkley. We wrote a series called Freedom's Rangers for them. The rest, as they say, is history. Literally -- it was a time travel series . . .
LOAF: Is there anything you'd like to say in conclusion?
Keith: Well, I'm sorry I offended so many people over Flint.
LOAF: It would have been the same the other way around!
Keith: Heck, I didn't even know Ginger Lynn Allen played Rachel til the project was done. What can I say?
LOAF: Are you interested in writing anything outside of your current realm of topics?
Keith: I've got a couple of pet projects. I've always wanted to do a Horatio Hornblower type series. Also a series set in Bronze Age Greece, at the time of the Trojan War. I've also got a proposal working for a ‘Carriers in Space’ type series. Rather oddly familiar, that one . . . But my universe, not Wing Commander. Much as I like WC, there are things I'd do differently.