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IRB: Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
GTC: History comes easy. I have been reading history books and magazines since I was a kid so the drive to use some of that material has been a strong one. As I have been reading science fiction almost as long, ending Sudetenland with a dash of alternative history was attractive as well. A lot of the history I was reading was told like a great story with tension, drama and conflict. Back in the day a good history magazine article often read like the telling of an epic poem. That kind of stuff was intoxicating for a young kid with a vivid imagination. The tales still hold their power for me and I am at a point in my life where I want to share.
IRB: What research is required?
GTC: For Sudetenland primary research was broken down into three groups. First was the factual research – creating a day-by-day timeline for 1937 and 1938 to build the plot around. Second were first-person observations to get the color of what was happening. Memoirs and news reports from the period were invaluable here. Third there was the contextual research – attempting to get a feel for particular places, cultures and personal motivations. Then during the writing phase there is spot research – those times when you suddenly release you need the name of a hotel or pub, or call up a relief map to check what kind of terrain some reporter was writing about, or track down old postcards to help you with atmosphere.
IRB: Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.
GTC: Being rather old fashioned I prefer working with external threat. After living with the characters for a while during writing they begin to reveal their flaws, rough edges, virtues and affectations. It's an ongoing process. The more you tag along with these people the more they show you and the more you learn. By the time the end of the book they have become very rich characters.
IRB: Do you have any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?
GTC: Given that I do not come at writing from an English literature background I am sure that my old teachers would intone I am doing everything wrong. My formal training is actually in screenwriting, and my career experience is as a journalist and editor. For the latter, my skillset was not honed as a journalist or English major but from competitive speech and debate during college. Screenwriting and journalism give you a great sense of quick pacing and tight exposition. Whether the work is short or long it has to keep moving. An old film dictum is that motion equals conflict equals drama – in a visceral sense for the audience. My masters thesis advisor drilled a lot into our heads and I can still hear his voice going on about narrative structure. A script is formatted so one page amounts to one minute of screen time. He used to pound into us that no scene should be longer than two pages, and if the scene had to be longer than two pages the characters had to move. Since my stories involve a good deal of tension, this movement and physicality as a style works very well in print too. But you don't want to wear the reader out so I like to add some screwball comedy for tension relief. Since I have a cabal of 1930s reporters in Sudetenland the comedy comes easy. So while the book is long, it doesn't feel long while you are reading it.
IRB Are you a plotter or pantser?
GTC: Honestly, somewhere in-between. A strict outline is a waste of time for me since I will always have to blow it up when, inevitably, I change things. Neither does jumping in with no direction at all work. My system is to know where the story starts, where it ends, and major plot points in the middle. That way I can dash and weave any way I want along the way and the end result is true to itself.
IRB: Look to your right – what’s sitting there?
GTC: Toys on the bookshelf. Some of the highlights... a Maltese Falcon, Talos from Jason and the Argonauts, a metal Lockheed Vega, Foghorn Leghorn about to munch on some corn, and a pewter Mechwarrior Timber Wolf.
IRB: Anything new coming up from you? What?
GTC: Yes indeed. The sequel to Sudetenland is going to take a while to pull off as I am right in the middle of primary research. For those who read the novel and are asking for something new, I am adapting an old Film Noir screenplay I wrote years ago. People really enjoyed reading it at the time and I still really enjoy the story. It is a much more modest affair compared to Sudetenland but there are definite similarities. There are some historical hooks in secret German aeronautics technology that surfaces after the war... and people start dying. Plus there is a fun look at Los Angeles during the late 1940s – hamburgers for 15 cents – have to love it. I hope to have it done and published in three months or so.
IRB: Do you have a question for our readers?
GTC: Sure thing. When it comes to historical fiction what appeals to them?
Enjoy an excerpt:
So this was how it was to be. Abandoned like a faithful spouse to the vagaries of a cheating scoundrel. Despite all of the warning signs and the advice of good friends, the fleeting hope that the one who you had invested so much history with would not betray that which had taken so long to build, was dashed. What Masaryk had said on the phone was right: screw them!
Štefan Osušky could not remember when he had felt so embittered. The Franco-Czechoslovak Pact was dead. It had been dying for months through the long summer. For the last hour Bonnet had hammered the death certificate onto a public wall. Osušky had been summoned to the Quai d'Orsay to meet with the French foreign minister. Daladier and his cabinet ministers had been meeting since ten-thirty in the morning at the Élysée Palace to approve or reject the Anglo-French plan that Daladier had crawled back to Paris with from London. When they had finished, Osušky was to be waiting at Bonnet's office to hear the results. No audience with the premier was available.
Osušky held no illusions as to what Chamberlain had proposed to Daladier. The newspapers had been shockingly detailed in their presentation of the expected major points. So many leaks to such a plethora of reporters usually suggested a raison d'être behind the disclosures. Osušky calculated there was a chance those ministers in Daladier's cabinet that opposed ceding Czech territory to Hitler might be setting the stage for an uprising against Chamberlain's cravenly acquiescence to the dictator… but a very small chance.
When Bonnet arrived back from Élysée Palace he got right to the point. Daladier's cabinet had unanimously approved the Anglo-French plan. As Bonnet read off the terms it was just as the press reports had purported. The only difference was that Bonnet had the full list while most of the newspapers lacked one component or another. The next hour was a blistering back and forth between the two diplomats. Osušky reminded Bonnet of the last two years of French assurances, to which the Frenchman countered the break-up of Czechoslovakia was, the least unpleasant solution. Osušky went on to reiterate the fullness of France's treaty obligations only to be instructed they were mere words on paper. The British had said in no uncertain terms that if Prague refused the Anglo-French plan then Britain would disassociate itself from the dispute. Without British solidarity the assistance that France could offer Czechoslovakia was of no effectiveness. The Czechs would not be allowed to drag France into a war over three-and-a-half million Sudeten Germans. Osušky's further protests only fed Bonnet's burgeoning hostility. France demanded that Czechoslovakia accept the plan. That was the message Osušky was to take to President Beneš without further argument.
There was nothing more to say to such intransigence so Osušky made his leave. Heading down the hall to the main entrance, Osušky felt his own emotions exploding as he replayed Bonnet's words in his head. The ostiary opened the tall, narrow door Osušky had been through so many times in better days and the Czechoslovak envoy stepped out to overlook a courtyard full of anxious correspondents. He couldn't restrain himself.
"Do you want to see a man condemned without a hearing?" Osušky played to the crowd while descending the stairs. "Here I stand!"
Chronis is married with two daughters, and lives with his wife in a Southern California mountain community.
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