The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Steven Burgauer

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Steven Burgauer

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Summary: Ani thought that The Road To War: Duty & Drill, Courage & Capture by Steven Burgauer was personal, inspiring & insightful. She had quite a few points to discuss when Steven Burgauer popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 3 November 2016
Interviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson

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Ani thought that The Road To War: Duty & Drill, Courage & Capture by Steven Burgauer was personal, inspiring & insightful. She had quite a few points to discuss when Steven Burgauer popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Steven Burgauer: I see highly intelligent, curious people. Those are the people I write for. They are in my target audience, especially for my science fiction. Let’s face it: not everyone is a book reader. That probably eliminates half the population from consideration right off the bat. Many people enjoy science fiction, but only when it is spoon-fed to them on a large (or small) screen. People are busy. It takes time to read a book and only a small percentage of the population even enjoys reading science fiction. So, I write for them. They have a basic understanding of physics, a basic grasp of economics and anthropology, a sense of history, a taste and wish for destiny. Science fiction is forward-looking and so I write to seek an optimistic, successful future, not dystopia. I am a libertarian and I believe in people’s right to choose without interference from government.

The target market for historical fiction is not altogether different. People who read and know about actual events in a global war like World War II are often more informed than I am on narrow topics or certain specifics like what weapon was used in a particular theater of war, or how many men were in a given action. These readers are smart, well-informed, and highly intelligent. So I have to carefully research my facts and solicit opinions from specialists in the field so I do not embarrass myself as a writer. I have many friends and associates who were (are) in the military or armed forces. Their input is incalculable.

  • BB: We understand that you became an author later in life. What led you to make the unusual switch from successful investment broker and mutual fund manager to author?

SB: The magic of modern medicine and the promise of clean-living allows one to enjoy a long, productive life. If a person is willing to take the necessary risks, there are enough years in a man’s life today to enjoy more than one career. I felt that after twenty years I had accumulated enough wherewithal to see me through to the end and yet, I had an unmet need to say something and to leave behind a written legacy. So I quit my job and took the plunge. Writing allows me to talk about some of humanity’s possible futures, where we settle other planets, tame wildernesses far away, where we build new societies from scratch, exploring, harvesting asteroids, terraforming, corralling comets to bring cold water to hot places like Venus. Likewise, I still enjoy learning about past events, reading biographies and learning about often unsung heroes who made a difference to our way of life.

  • BB: Your surprise switches didn’t stop with your career. The Steven Burgauer back catalogue is packed with science fiction yet you surprised everyone in 2010 with The Road to War: Duty & Drill, Courage & Capture, a historical biography centered on World War II. Would you like to tell us a little about the book?

SB: Yes, of course, it would be my pleasure.

When I was a boy, I lived across the lane from this man. He was different from my father. This man had a gun. He had been in the war. My father had not.

My parents were very close to this man and to his wife. The wife was at my family’s house nearly every day, visiting with my mother. Her name was Dottie. His name was Bill. I called them Mr. and Mrs. Frodsham, occasionally Mr. and Mrs. F.

Bill and Dottie had two children, both much younger than me. I was maybe fourteen at the time. Sometimes, when Mr. and Mrs. F went out, I would baby-sit for the two younger kids, a boy, Christopher, and a girl, Victoria. The kids were fun, and I liked them. Apparently, my parents did too, as they soon became godparents to these kids from across the street. I wasn’t sure what being a godparent meant, but it sounded important.

Fast forward now, half a decade. I am done with college and getting married. The families are still close. Vicki is a flower girl in our wedding. At rehearsal dinner, Christopher, now twelve, is sipping on a beer, slowly getting drunk. My father is playing the piano, something he loved to do. Everyone is smiling.

Now married, I moved away from home. In time, Bill and Dottie leave the area as well, move east, relocate in the Carolinas. I lived my life, lost track of theirs.

Flash forward now, three decades. I have had a career in investment brokering, retired, now teaching economics part time, writing science fiction most of the time.

Suddenly comes a question. That little girl Vicki, now a full-grown woman with children of her own, contacts me. It is the sixty-fifth anniversary of D-Day, both her parents are dead, and she has in her hand her father’s memoirs recounting his experiences in World War II. She knows that I am a writer. She would like to see her father’s memoirs published. Could I give her any advice how to make that dream a reality?

Next thing I know, she has commissioned me to write the book and I am deeply involved in the project. Being able to handle original material and write such a book was an inspiration and a well-deserved vacation from writing SF.

  • BB: What a wonderful story - and how lucky Vicki was to have found you again!

You have mentioned that, as Captain Frodsham hadn’t spent a lot of time outlining his feelings in the book, you fictionalized some of the contents to add to the texture. Did you have any criteria (self-imposed or otherwise) as to where to draw the fictional/factional line? If so, was it hard to stick to them?

SB: Excellent question. Rather than just a dry recitation of facts and events, I have written The Road to War as a 'novel.' I put the word in quotation marks because novels are generally fiction. This is not. This is real.

But in some sense it is fiction. To avoid making this account read like a Russian novel, filled with countless unpronounceable names and enough characters to fill a small telephone book, I have simplified matters a great deal, changing names to protect identities, eliminating characters that add little to the story, constructing others as composites of several people spliced together as one. Historical characters, such as General Eisenhower remain intact, blisters and all.

So as to not make this account an unreadable textbook, I have limited the use of maps and the like. But, inevitably, a reader may want to summon a Google map of southern England or the Normandy coast to help follow along. There are countless online sources of maps. I only mention Google, as I referred to it often.

Writing this book entailed much research. I don’t know from guns or grenades. Wikipedia was an incredible aid to me in this regard.

William had a remarkable memory. Written so many years after the fact, I would say William possessed a stunning clarity in his recollection of events. I, myself, at a much younger age cannot lay claim to remembering so many details from my twenties. Even so, William had at least some of his 'facts' wrong.

For instance, he reports in his text that he returned to the United States after the war onboard the U.S.S. Lafayette. He specifically mentions that the Lafayette was formerly an Italian luxury liner by the name of the Conte Grande before the United States military commandeered it to carry troops. — Not possible.

The Lafayette began life as a French-built luxury liner called the Normandie. The Normandie was seized in New York by the United States after the fall of France. It was to be converted into a high-speed troopship but caught fire and sank. It was later raised again at great expense and floated to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard for repair but never returned to service and was later sold for scrap.

The Conte Grande, on the other hand, was indeed captured from the Italians. It did indeed become a troopship. But it was renamed the U.S.S. Monticello, not the Lafayette.

So which story is correct? I suspect William came home on the Monticello, as the Lafayette was still in a Brooklyn shipyard at the time of his return.

I found several such 'problems' in Mr. Frodsham’s account. In each case, I had to go with my best guess as to the actual facts. Any mistakes in this regard are entirely mine.

Thus, I call this work a 'novel'. It is somewhat fictionalized and somewhat improvised. William reveals very little about himself in his account. He doesn’t reveal whether or not he misses home, whether he is lonely, whether he is scared. So I have tried to ferret out his feelings the best I could. Again, any mistakes in this regard are entirely mine.

But even with these admitted shortcomings, what remains is still an amazing story of youthful valor. A young man — patriotic, athletic, daring, willing to take risks — enlists in the Army to defend the country he loves so dearly. His leadership skills and acumen with guns and field artillery is quickly recognized by his superiors, and he is encouraged to become an officer.

William trains hard, leads his men into battle, makes snap decisions, is wounded, captured by the enemy, slapped into solitary confinement, sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on the Eastern Front, starved to within a few inches of his life.

Yet, he returns home after the war a hero and what does he do? — promptly enlists in the Army Reserve.

A classic American story. I think your readers will like it.

  • BB: What a remarkable man he was.

To what extent were William Frodsham’s children involved in the creative process and what was their reaction to the book?

SB: William’s daughter Vicki was involved at the most profound level, allowing me access to family photograph albums and the like, not to mention allowing me full use of William’s handwritten notes. She has also been active in promoting the book. Vicki maintains a very effective Facebook page for the volume as well as visiting WW2 re-enactments in the United States where she does an amazing PowerPoint presentation.

  • BB: There is certainly a big difference between the science fiction with which you began your writing life and the later historical non-fiction. How easy was it to switch genres and which genre do you prefer to write in and why?

SB: As it turns out, it is surprisingly easy to switch between genres. I have always had an eager mind for history and for ferreting out facts. My high school aptitude test stated unequivocally that I ought to be a librarian when I grew up, not the stockbroker I actually became. Writing has led me back to my intellectual roots, making sense of (and bringing order to) a disorderly world. But, science fiction is not the same as fantasy.

When a writer composes a fantasy story, he can have a flying horse simply by invoking magic and mysticism. But to achieve a flying horse when one writes science fiction, the author has to invoke physics and genetic manipulation, perhaps biological implants. Two very different worlds. As a writer, I cannot live in a world of magic. I can conceive of fantastical things, but I only wish to bring them to life in the rather more orderly world of physics and mathematics. In that world, no matter how magical, behavior still observes certain immutable rules. Even one of my best-selling books, my time-travel story, The Grandfather Paradox, approaches time-travel as a matter of complex physics not incomprehensible magic.

But, to return to your question, switching between the genres of historical non-fiction and science fiction. Nowadays, I switch back and forth between genres with relative ease. After The Road to War, I wrote two more SF titles, Skullcap and The Railguns of Luna. Then I was drawn back to writing history after visiting the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The re-built Higgins boat in the lobby fascinated me, as did stories of Nazis trying to infiltrate the U.S. during the war to disrupt our war-time production. No one can ignore true stories of Operation Pastorius. So I came to write my newest book, out before the end of this year, Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou. Currently, I am back to sci-fi with a manuscript entitled Moon Beam.

But my genre switching may go further than you suspect. I have written an investment guide — The Wealth Builders Guide, a serial mystery book with SF-great Philip Jose Farmer — Naked Came the Farmer, and a story about Neanderthals interacting with humans 40,000 years ago, just out now with a new Kindle edition — The Night of the Eleventh Sun.

  • BB: Nazis and bayous are two subjects which most people would not ordinarily associate together. Yet these subjects are the foundation on which Nazi Saboteurs of the Bayou are built. How did you come to put them together for this historical thriller?

SB: It was not until I visited the National WWII Museum in New Orleans that I came to grasp the central role that city played in winning the war. The steel-ramped landing boats that made beach landings possible at Normandy and North Africa and on every Pacific island were designed and built in New Orleans by the hundreds each month and mostly with unskilled labor. While it is a well-established fact that Nazi saboteurs targeted East Coast steel mills and boat assembly yards as part of Operation Pastorius, I theorized that the Higgins boat plants might be targeted by the Nazis as well. On this premise I built the central storyline. The idea began to take shape as I studied the full-scale model of a restored Higgins boat parked in the lobby of this wonderful American museum.

  • BB: Many historical novels have been written about World War II. What makes Nazi Saboteurs on the Bayou unique?

INITIALS: Other World War II stories, both fictional and nonfiction have been written about Nazi efforts to undermine the Allied war effort both at home and abroad. But most of the stories that take place in the U.S. focus on Operation Pastorius, where Nazi commandoes targeted manufacturing facilities in the northeast, New York, New Jersey, those areas. I believe my book to be one of the few books — if not the only one — to center the story on the Higgins boat plants in the New Orleans area. Also, while not unique, I have introduced the role of the Sicilian mob, both in the Allied war effort as preparations for the North Africa amphibious landings got underway, and their out-sized influence on the labor markets where Andrew Higgins had to find his factory workers.

  • BB: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers who believe they have that book inside them? For instance, is there anything you would definitely recommend they do and anything they should definitely avoid?

SB: Write one good page every day.

Be prepared for rejection. Work hard. Don’t give up. Visit libraries and be kind to librarians. Librarians are the keepers of our heritage in words. I have had some success hitting the bricks every week and visiting libraries around the country to make presentations on topics of interest to local library patrons and where I am allowed to sell my books afterward. Great exposure.

Find lots of readers to read and comment on your book, especially those willing to give you harsh criticism. It helps!

  • BB: When you get a chance to turn off the creative process and just wallow in books, which genre do you choose and which authors have inspired you?

SB: I seek out well-written biographies of daring men and women, Chuck Yeager, Alexander Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Pancho Barnes, people like that. The Happy Bottom Riding Club is an unknown book about a fascinating subject.

Plus, I love to travel. I would love to go back to Africa again. I took my children there when they were young and the wild environs of the savanna were a moving experience. And I would also love to ramble among the ruins of ancient cities and prehistoric sites in the Mideast. The most terrible thing that has happened to me in the last years is the turmoil that violent Islamic terrorism has imposed on my willingness to risk my life and visit Mesopotamia, for instance. It really takes my breath away, the destruction of our western heritage that has been crushed to rubble by these heathens.

  • BB: What's next for Steven Burgauer?

SB: Being a grandparent. My first grandson was born one month ago. I take great inspiration from the ordinary people I meet every day on the street who are heroes in their daily life: The women who make good mothers, great wives, and pursue successful careers. The men who give their all to be good fathers, great husbands, and excel at their chosen trade, whatever it may be. The sons and daughters who make the most of their God-given talents and take the calculated risks in life to make their parents proud and to become contributing members of society.

My next book project, as I said, has the working title of Moon Beam. It is the story of the building of the first lunar space elevator, running from the surface to Lagrange Point 4.

  • BB: There's plenty for us all to look forward to there, Steven. Thank you for taking the time to chat to us.

You can read more about Steven Burgauer here.

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