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A look at the Rhine: Interview with Tom Kratman

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TheCO: Watch on the Rhine is set in John Ringo’s Polseen Universe, when in the series does it fall?

TK: It actually extends outside the series. The first action is set in June, 1944 (an historic case, by the way) and the last sometime before Ringo and Williamson’s Hero. The bulk of the book takes place between just after Gust Front and just before Hell’s Faire.

TheCO: Are the cast of characters in this book mostly returning characters readers already love, or are they a new treat?

TK: With the possible exception of the Tir, and the brief appearance of a couple of minor characters (German Oberst Kiel, for example, who was mentioned but never seen in the core series) all the other fictional characters are new.

TheCO: Of the characters in this book, who would you most like to spend a night drinking and trading tales with?

TK: Unquestionably Gudrun…but then I’ve already done that. ;) Ohhh, you meant trading “tails”…my bad.

TK: Tough call. I’ve spent a few good nights…okay, oKAY, more than a few… drinking and singing with various of the kind of people I wrote about, some of whom are in the book in small ways. Let’s see…Hans Brasche’s a boy scout. Krueger’s just an evil bastard I’d rather shoot than talk to, and then only if there were no rope available.

TK: Muehlenkampf, or his real life self, Wilhelm Moehnke. Sadly, my Quija board is down for maintenance so Moehnke is just right out as he died a couple of years ago.

TheCO: What type of story would you term this book as? Coming of age? Something deeply introspective? A cautionary tale?
TK: How do you have a coming of age story for men who are pushing 100 years old?

TK: What you want, a simple answer, is not that simple. There are a couple of characters for whom the story _is_ about coming of age, but in a hellish time. There’s one significant one, a French woman (who is very much real, by the way, very left of center but an impressive woman for all that) for whom the story is not about coming of age so much as it is about finally growing up, being stripped of the usual European illusions and delusions by a harsh new reality that cannot be avoided, ignored or hidden from.

For others, exemplified by Hans Brasche, the story is more about redemption. In a way, it’s about redemption for Germany and Europe as a whole, not that I think redemption is very likely.

TheCO: Can you describe a bit about the ‘hows’ of your writing?
TK: Sadly, I have more ideas that I would like to set down than I am likely to have years in which to write. Are all the ideas good ones? No. But more are good than I will have the ability to do. That’s one, and really the major, reason I am pretty free with idea sharing.

Mostly, my writing begins with a moral, philosophical or political point or points. The title usual follows without much having to try to come up with one. If the title does not just come, I tend to push the idea aside until it does. From there I go with a very rough outline which generally includes ideas, not all of which are usable, for specific scenes. The outline sets the general order of events.

Then I write it up, usual without a lot of the physical and emotional description. Once that is done, I go through it all again, adding in transition sentences and paragraphs, emotional responses, physical descriptions. It is usually then that I chop up my sentences (which can be too intricate…hey, I went to Boston Latin, that’s how I was taught) into ones easier to digest.

Then I do it all again after which I ship it to Jim Baen, Toni Weisskopf, or John Ringo.

TheCO: You’ve collaborated with John Ringo on this volume, what did you learn in doing so?

TK: You realize there is no good answer to this kind of question, right?

TheCO: Will you and John Ringo be writing more together?

TheCO: Butt loads. At least five more books in the Posleen series. We might do something else at some time but, frankly, both of us have too many of our own ideas to want to do someone else’s.

TheCO: In reading reviews of your solo novel A State of Disobedience on Amazon i noticed you were rather sharply criticized in a few regards. Namely they called aSoD “reactionary”, “over stereotyped”, and a few less savory things. What is your response to this criticism?

TK: &%^* $@#!

TK: Okay, I couldn’t resist that. Well..I could have but I didn’t want to.

TK: Did you notice, CO, that the reviews tend to fall, pretty evenly split, too, into two cataegories: a) this is great and b) this sucks? I’m not going to comment on the half that were positive reviews. But I couldn’t help noticing that the negative reviews were…oh….”unsavory”. For example, there is one that says you do not have to eat all of an egg to know it is bad. This would be a great criticism…if books were eggs and if you could know how they are without finishing them. Or how about the one that suggested censorship was a right wing phenomenon. How miffed Joe Stalin or Pol Pot would be to be slighted so. I know for a fact that one reviewer on Amazon never read more than the unedited snippets. Then there was one…mmm…”idiot” is too strong a term but not by much…who insisted I was saying “republicans come from heaven and democrats from hell” or some such. Apparently he never noticed that the heroine of the story is…wait for it…a DEMOCRAT.

So the short version is that, good or bad, most of those reviews were politically motivated and have very little to do with the merits of the book.

As for “stereotyped”…well, the way something becomes a stereotype is because it is stereotypically true. The speech Madam President gives to Congress to which some objected? That is little more than a truncated version of the Democratic Party platform for Election 2000. If you don’t believe me look it up and compare.

TheCO: Are there any author’s you’d like to work with in the future?

TK: Yes and no. While there are some I wouldn’t mind working with one has to be realistic. I have strong (wow, is THAT an understatement) political and philosophical views (and they are not entirely right wing, either. Mostly? Yes. Entirely? No…long story). But so does virtually every other one of Baen’s writers. We’d be at each other’s throats unless there was something on which we already agreed. And there would be some serious limits. One example: Eric Flint and I could cooperate on a civil war series, say, because we tend to agree on most of the subject. But that would be true only up to the Great Proletarian Revolution of 1864 or the Scourging of Mississippi in 1863. You see the problem?

TheCO: What else is in the works for your fans?

TK: Another PosVerse book, Yellow Eyes, is currently in the works and about 2/3ds done. That concerns the defense of the Republic of Panama and the Panama Canal. Thats a Ringo-Kratman work with a Kratman lead. It is _very_ funny and not a little tragic, too. Then there’s going to be Mother’s Milk, set in the Balkans during the Posleen invasion. That’s another Ringo-Kratman with a Ringo lead. We’ll do three or four more of those, if they continue to sell well. And we might each do a novella for inclusion in a PosVerse anthology. John had collected a number of submissions for such a book.

Right after I finish Yellow Eyes and do my part of Mother’s Milk, I intend to get to work on A Desert Called Peace. That is actually mostly written, but not as science fiction. Anyone who wants to read the first 6-7 chapters on the non sci-fi version can read it on my web site ( www.tomkratman.com ). Then another Posverse Book, most likely, maybe the Vietnam story. Then I’ll probably do the first volume of the Caliphate trilogy.

Beyond that is too far to plan.

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Well Ladies, Gentlemen, and Usenet trolls, that is Tom Kratman, an American original. One of the few men with the courage to take a very touchy subject and make a serious novel about it. Oh yeah, and he has a hot wife. Watch on the Rhine is on shelves now.

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