Friday, December 17, 2010

Interview with Robert W. Walker

Robert Walker's an old friend, and earlier this year I helped him get his backlist of 30+ out of print novels onto Kindle.

Now he's got a new ebook out: Titanic 2012 – Curse of RMS Titanic. In the spirit of that, here's a fanciful interview and an excerpt from his latest...

It was no easy task locating author Rob Walker. It required my chartering a helicopter to go out over the North Atlantic to be set down on the Scorpio – Rob’s amazing science fiction NOW salvage ship which set out to pillage the wreck of Titanic in 2012, a hundred years after she sank…to pillage her of any remaining treasures found inside.

The principal characters have the technology to safely descend to amazing depths and actually dive the wreck thanks to liquid air they breathe and their space-age suits.

I found Rob in the control room aboard Scorpio, and while glad to see me, the man was busy with mapping out the dive, determining last minute decisions for the dive team. I could not imagine the weight on Rob’s shoulders and couldn’t help but notice the deep creases in his features since last I saw him at a bar in Chicago some years before. He’d aged of course, but this was more than normal aging; this was the stress of pulling off the impossible, to in a sense ‘raise the Titanic’ in terms of raising awareness of what really happened that night in 1912 aboard the ill-fated ship he nowadays refers to as his “mystery ship”.

Somewhat annoyed at my suddenly showing up, despite the fact we had an appointed time, Walker reluctantly turned over duties to Captain Juris Forbes, and he led me to a specific area back of the ship where he insisted we sit at a table outdoors a mile and a half above the wreckage of Titanic. It was here that the impossible happened, and I was completely taken by surprise, as we had stepped into a force field activated by nature itself, one that placed us onto the deck of the Titanic in 1912.

Walker slyly winked at me and said, “My novel is Dr. Who meets Conan Doyle and Michael Crichton on the steampunk ship Titanic.”

And so, despite be shaken up in realizing I had gone back in time, being the pro that I am, I started in on my interview of Rob Walker while stewards aboard Titanic came and went with tea, coffee, sweets, and politeness. We were at the stern at an outdoor cafĂ© aboard, just above the ship’s powerful wake, the sound of which created a beat to our discussion.

JA: Rob, after all that has been written about this ship we’re somehow on, topped by Cameron’s film, why did you wish to tackle what your publisher told you was a ‘tired subject, done to death’?

Rob: Where did you hear that? Man, try to keep things quiet in this business. OK, yeah, my traditional publisher who did my Alastair Ransom City Series was not interested when I suggested that Alastair needs be placed on board the Titanic now that the Chicago World’s Fair titles had ended in a trilogy.

My editor, understandably doubtful, was not interested. In fact the idea had been floated the year that Cameron’s film came out minus Alastair and was turned down by agents and editors alike as not a good time to deal with the ship. A bad time to be in love with Titanic. But honestly, there is and always will be a huge audience of readers fascinated with every aspect of the Titanic story.

JA: So you took it to Kindle and published it yourself, right? How has that worked out for you?

Rob: I found this so serendipitous that a story chockfull of technology and science fiction is being self-pubbed. In fact, my last five booklength works, one a how-to, have been Kindle original titles.

I say serendipitous because my dream as a writer had always been to publish as I produce – no nine month gestation period, no year and a half wait for print, but pubbed the day after completion, hot off the brain. Technology in the real world has caught up to my dreams, and in the novel, technology has caught up to the dreams of my shape-changing creature who is among the divers going down to Titanic, a hundred years after surviving the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ ship. How coincidental is that?

Walker paused to sip at his coffee, then pulled out a flask and topped it off with Jack Daniels, offering me a tweak, which under the circumstances and still reeling from our time travel, I gladly took. It improved the 1912 coffee to no end.

JA: But your answer does not cut to the real issue—who are you, Robert Walker, to take on the Titanic? You are known for your serial killer and police procedural and medical examiner novels and forays into the horror category.

Rob: I brought all the categories I have ever written in on this novel: mystery, history, autopsy, horror, science fiction, coming of age, suspense, generational, thriller, steampunk, romance—

JA: Sounds meaty.

Rob: The novel is meant to cut across time, space, and genres or pigeon holds and traditional publishing holes. The novel has more layers than an onion, and as they are peeled away it falls into place like a puzzle in two time zones—past and future. Drink up. You’ll need it, Joe.

I felt the entire ship groan and we both looked up to see a wall of black ice in the night sky and it began to rain down chunks of ice.

JA: What’s happening?

Rob: This is the scene where the orders from Captain Edward Smith are being carried out—to run the ship into an iceberg, but apparently they’ve botched it. It was supposed to be a dead on hit. Now we can stay here or go into the Ballroom and raid the bar. Either way, Titanic is going down.

JA: Are you kidding? I know the ship must go down but you’re telling me it was intentional?

Rob: Just as intentional as Inspector Alastair Ransom getting drunk, sitting in on a card game in an attempt to win a new pair of shoes to die in, and managing to get into a fight as Titanic is going down, yes.

JA: But why would Smith wish to destroy Titanic? His own ship?

Rob: That is what the novel’s pivotal question is all about, and I refuse to give it away. This interview is over!

JA: Hold on! You can trust me. I can handle the truth.

Walker was heading for the bar by now, and I following.

Rob (turning on me): But can readers handle the truth? I am toppling a lot of pedestals in this novel, raising questions about the questions that have plagued us for a hundred years.

JA: Tell me.

Rob: Smith sunk the Titanic...to kill something onboard.

Walker's words sank into me, and then the deck beneath my feet lurched, groaning terribly.

JA: Any chance, Rob, we can get off this ship and get back to the more stable deck of Scorpio? Feels like the ship is coming apart.

Rob: Frankly, I’d be happy just to have us go to Chapter 30 – not aboard Scorpio but INSIDE Titanic.

EXCERPT:

…David helplessly watched in the same instant as his dive partner imploded, his suit fragmented from the force of the implosion. Compressed pieces of his flesh rained around David like blood-red flakes of fish food.

The autos and the ghosts within them, a fatherly figure at the wheel, wife beside him, children in the rear, were by now filling screens topside, fueling the imaginations of some, the greed of others. Books and films were inevitable deals in the works, for sure, thought David. Scorpio’s monitors would create the first glimpse mankind would have of these buried treasures—thanks to Mendenhall’s rash action when in fact their orders had been to locate Kelly and Swigart, and to reunite with them. But the allure of seeing up close and personal Dr. William O’Laughlin’s Renault touring car had taken a sudden deadly turn.

The impact of the implosion spawned a shock wave that hurtled David end over end, and as David righted himself, he saw a number of eerily preserved bodies tumbling in ragdoll fashion across the floor, tossed out of the shadows. A normal-appearing dead man in the water was enough to shock a man, even black-water divers working for police departments, but these hundred-year-old perfectly preserved mannequins in the dead zone, flesh turned to a kind of Jell-O, their clothes like sheets—moving with the eddies, these ghosts of Titanic proved even more disturbing as parts of them stretched out to David as if drawn to the only living being in the water now.

These were bodies that had lain hidden behind cars and in the shadowy reaches of the cargo hold. Some of these grim figures still sported hair and nails. One in particular cascaded into him as a drunk might stumble from a bar—this one without shoes.

It was as if the dead wanted both of them to join them here for eternity.

Almost perfect in their preserved bodies, the disturbed dead now seemed everywhere. Bodies preserved due to the pressures and containment within the once sealed cargo hold sported intact exaggerated features, their mouths open like so many banshees. Men, women, and children staring out of glassy eyes that made them appear as grisly wax figures. Their equally preserved period clothing only added to the surreal nature of this place.

David pushed away the growing number of bodies that came at him, or rather the exit behind him—each one more surreal than the one before it, and all of them like so many mannequins in appearance. He thought of what he, Jacob, and Scorpio had just accomplished, for no one had visited or seen these people for a hundred years. These were first class passengers aboard Titanic who sought refuge not in drink or music or prayer but in their latest acquisition. Those who, in a last ditch hope to die rich, David imagined, wanted to cross over with their most valued possessions firmly in hand—their motorcars.

JA: Eerie scene, Rob.

Rob: Now I’d best get you back to Scorpio and your chopper, Joe. I know how very busy you are and time is money as the say!

With that, I found myself back at the table at the stern on Scorpio as if we’d never left. Coffee still warm and Rob pouring a shot of whiskey into my cup. I didn’t ask after the fantastic technology that made the previous events occur, but rather shook Rob’s hand, and Rob pulled me into him for a ‘man hug’ and a slap on the back to send me off.

As the chopper blades drowned him out, I saw Rob mouth the words, “I love ya’ man!” to which I saluted and shouted back the same as the chopper lifted off. As we rose, I looked down at Scorpio only to see that it had again turned into the Titanic, and I saw a dark and sinister hound of hell lurking about the top deck which made me wonder about Robert W. Walker’s fantastic tale of a creature that made of Titanic a plague ship…a mystery called Titanic 2012 – Curse of RMS Titanic...