INTRODUCTION TO THE HUMAN LEGION CREATOR:
Hello Space Cadets, I wanted to offer you a treat in honor of the recently passed holidays. I’ve managed to snag an interview with the creator of the Human Legion Universe, Tim C. Taylor. Other than being an amazing author, he’s also the man who’s giving me my first literary break!
Long before I was writing a spin-off series in his world, I was a fan of Tim’s science fiction masterpieces. I stumbled into his universe after I had just been introduced to the Kindle by my neurologist, who was trying to get me to read again. Because of my Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, I must exercise my grey matter or I’m at a heightened risk for dementia and other related issues.
I’d stopped reading because printed books gave me migraines after suffering my TBI. Yes, even large print books. My care-team struggled to find a solution; my doctor, my mom and my wife didn’t give up though. Then my mom remembered that you could magnify the heck out of the print with the new Kindles. I gave it a try, then I was off to the races reading again. I’ll always remember 2014 fondly because of this rediscovery of my love for the written word.
I started with every free book I could find and then narrowed in on several genres. It kept me occupied while languishing in the Veteran Affairs medical waiting rooms—where I spend too much of my life. Books let me escape the depressing hospitals, and charge into other worlds. After a ‘writing as therapy’ class, I gravitated towards science fiction and read everything I could afford. I read so much that my family gave me Amazon gift cards that Christmas!!
Eager to spend my newfound digital currency, I went looking at the Hot New Releases in the science fiction, and found Marine Cadet by Tim C. Taylor. I enjoyed it so much I became a dedicated fanboy, annoying my family with unsolicited book recommendations and looking for swag in his universe. [NOTE TO TIM: Still no swag in your world 😉] To shut me up, my wife “jokingly” told me to find a support group. I found Tim’s website instead.
With Tim’s website bookmarked, I took to the discussion boards. I spent hours there talking about his books and science fiction in general. After some back and forth with Tim, Hans and I ended up making a Human Legion Wiki. Hans is a prince among men and helped handle the technical end of the Wiki until his health failed and taught me a lot about science along the way. The Wiki’s not the prettiest, or even current anymore now that book four and five are out, but it was a labor of love for two of Tim’s loyal fans.
As part of these discussions, we sent Tim suggestions for spin-off stories he might pursue and offered suggestions of where we thought the world could go. Right around this time, I took the VA’s writing therapy class and decided to write my own book. I knew Tim had a publishing house, so I wrote the first chapter and sent it to Tim seeking advice. He was very encouraging, but told me Greyhart Press was shutting down so he could focus on his writing.
I didn’t give up, and I improved the first chapter. I submitted it, officially, as a work for him to consider publishing under his new Human Legion Publications company. Obviously, he liked it, because he counter-proposed that I write the spin-off series I’d suggested HE write! He told me I would have to write a synopsis and a chapter to show where I was going, but that he was prepared to be convinced. After reading my proposal, we signed a contract. The rest is history.
As a side note, to those of you who don’t know, the Brits still wear wigs when in court. To honor my Boss Man, I wore one when I signed on the dotted line! Now, this contract is close to fruition and books one and two of The Sleeping Legion are due out in a few weeks. To help show the people reading this blog what the universe is like, I’ve decided to interview the big boss man himself!
1) Where did the spark that lit the Human Legion flame come from? What was the inspiration for this universe?
The spark was Doctor Who; the fuel was beer, though probably not in the way you might expect. This was way back in 2002. Doctor Who was off the air, but the BBC were releasing the ongoing adventures of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in the form of novels, releasing 73 books in total. There are some things in print that are difficult to do well on screen and I was hooked on the detail and the development of the characters in the book series.
At that time, I’d written software, music, RPG adventures, but writing stories had never occurred to me. One thing I did make was beer. October through March every year was brewing season and I would mash my own grains and produce ales to my own recipes. A big part of why I brewed (other than to sample the delights of the finished product) was to broaden my appreciation of ales by having a go at making my own.
The thought popped into my head that if I’d gotten so much satisfaction from making my own beer, I could deepen my love of science fiction literature in the same way by writing some stories. So I set about sketching a future history starting with first contact with aliens and leading up to the war you see in the Human Legion books. I spent about an hour sketching out these ideas. Fifteen years later, I’m still writing the books that are falling out of this plan.
2) Tell us more about what led you to write Science Fiction. Do you have a background in technology?
I write science fiction for the same reason I read it: other forms of literature feel so dull in comparison. Actually, I also read and have written alternate history, historical fiction, and fantasy because all of them can deliver the sense of wonder at experiencing a world that is different from the world I see around me.
When I was at school I was mad keen on astrophysics and quantum mechanics and the like, far ahead of what I’ve ever been taught. I never took it any further, deciding to double major in computer science and business studies at university before a career in the software industry. So I guess that other than software matters, my interest in science technology is pure hobbyist.
3) Can you give us some more insight into the origins of your characters? Are they based on people you know?
Only loosely. Marine Cadet, the first Human Legion novel, was actually my sixth novel, and I think I ran out of real people to base my characters on in the earlier books. That said, you can’t help but base characters on your real experiences, and so there are hints of real people hidden in there. I would say in the Human Legion books that Springer and Indiya are the most like me, and Brandt is an amalgam of various people I’ve worked with in my previous career.
The character of Arun McEwan went through more name changes than any other. He was called Ernst in an early version, and Brand and a host of other names. I used to work with a guy called Arun and things took off when I borrowed his name.
In general, rather than start with a real-world person and mold them into a character, I start with a character and accrete little details based on real people. I ask myself who has the most interesting story to tell and what is the most interesting perspective to tell it from. That’s the core I base my characters on.
4) When you started this journey, did you imagine evolving into the wider universe it has become with spinoff series by other authors and follow-on novels by you?
I didn’t expect to involve other authors at all, that’s for sure! But I had always expected follow-on novels and short stories, and inviting other authors to contribute is an awesome way to expand the universe. It’s fascinating to see other creators at play in my universe. The Human Legion is the fourth series of novels in this universe so far, and I have published seven short stories as well. I love to read a richly detailed universe, and I guess that shows in my writing because I’m trying to do the same thing.
5) What made you decide to skip FTL and artificial gravity in your world? With your science in general, how did you decide what tech to use and which to exclude?
When I sketched out ideas for the universe back in 2002, I challenged myself: what is different about the setting to my stories? Much of the answer has still to play out in my published work, but centers on answering the question of why we on Earth have not previously seen evidence of alien civilizations and why aliens would be interested in visiting Earth. The lack of FTL travel was part of that initial sketch too, and both questions fed off each other. If it takes huge amount of effort and time to go from one star system to another, how does trade happen? How do you project force over that kind of distance? Why would anyone bother to invade Earth when it’s so impossibly distant? These questions have answers.
The lack of artificial gravity came later, but as part of a theme of trying to inject a little realism into interstellar travel and a sense of the practical difficulties it would entail. I didn’t want the Star Trek feel where people walk around ships as if on luxury liners. Not for this series. I’ve written about artificial gravity before, and it’s a common trope that became commonplace in order to make it easier to film science fiction. I don’t see the need for authors to use artificial gravity, and doing away with it adds a little distinctiveness since my characters have a different experience of getting around starships.
6) What is your writing process? Do you plot it out or fly by the seat of your pants?
I outline my books in advance. I know roughly what happens in the plot and how the characters will develop. Very early on I will write key scenes and snatches of dialogue. Once underway writing a new book, I will start at the beginning and write to the end. I know in a lot of detail what I want to do in the next few chapters, but keep the rest of the book more loosely outlined so I can change the plan easily as I discover more about the characters, and as plot twists occur to me. By the time I’m halfway through, I’ve thought ahead about so many opportunities to develop plot and characters that the rest of the book is mostly sketched out.
7) Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Either way, what are your thoughts on it? I ask this because we’re in the midst of NaNo Season!
I’ve never done NaNoWriMo because it’s never fit well my schedule. One year I will! The idea of writing fast without stopping to edit is a good one and similar to what I do anyway.
8) Now that you’re about to wrap up the Human Legion Saga, please tell us more about the new series. From the covers posted on your website it looks intriguing.
Revenge Squad is told from the perspective of NJ McCall, a former soldier of the Human Legion who was retired to the liberated frontier world of Klin-Tula and told he is now a colonist. That doesn’t work out too well for him and he falls in with an outfit called Revenge Squad. In the lawless areas of the planet, some semblance of peace is kept because if you mess with one of Revenge Squad’s policyholders, someone like NJ McCall will show up in your face and deliver some serious retribution.
I only started reading the author, Jim Butcher, about a year ago and was immediately hooked on the Dresden Files series. I thought I’d love to write a character like Harry Dresden. So I did. Revenge Squad and NJ McCall is the direct result.
There are differences from the Dresden Files to be sure, not least that NJ McCall accepts he need to buddy up and to be part of a team, unlike Dresden. Also, the Chicago PI Jim Butcher writes about doesn’t have the digital ghosts of his dead friends constantly in his head. But there’s a similar sense of a wisecracking main character always moving forward who daren’t stop and daren’t look behind, because if he does, all the darkness in his past would catch up and destroy him. I have a lot of fun writing NJ McCall, and for an author that’s a good sign.
I sprinkle the books with some dark humor, which is just as well because the world of Klin-Tula is a seriously troubled place, forever lurching from crisis to crisis. The people of the Human Legion have no experience of running their own affairs during peacetime. They don’t even have experience of soldiers being allowed to grow old. Klin-Tula has three million settlers from five major races and they have to figure all this out for themselves. Like I said, it’s not going well, and that leaves plenty of opportunities for Revenge Squad Inc. unfortunately it also leaves opportunities for far worse people.
Compared with the Human Legion books, Revenge Squad will be more self-contained ‘adventure of the week’ books, but there’s a lot of character development planned in, and as the series builds we learn more about the dark secrets behind Revenge Squad until finally… Well, let’s just say there are some world changing turnarounds on the way, but you’ll have to read a few books before you get to that point. Actually, come to think of it, I need to write them first too.
9) Where do you plan on the universe going next? Will NJ McCall be it, or are there more series to be written?
I have a lot of ideas, but to be honest because I need to put food on the table, I have to gauge the financial success of the new Revenge Squad and The Sleeping Legion series first. There is a season 2 I’ve planned for Revenge Squad, and NJ McCall is definitely in that. I have a series that comes after the Human Legion and features several main characters from that series supporting new ones. I’ve already written Arun McEwan’s final scene! I’ve also just written a scene for the series set in the 2060s on Earth, and a decade ago I wrote two novels for a series set in a parallel dimension where we meet another set of descendants of the children given up to aliens in the 2080s. At one level, that last series is a science-fantasy rerun of the First World War (and there’s a good story reason why that is so). I always assumed I would release that a century after August 1914. The books were ready in 2014, but I was writing the Human Legion instead.
So, I have plenty of ideas about what might come next. And that’s only in the Human Legion universe.
10) What authors would you consider your inspiration? Also, who would you be most honored to be compared too?
Robert Heinlein, Alfred Bester, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, David Brin. That’s a starter for ten, but I also have to acknowledge the huge excitement I also had from reading 2000 A.D. back in the 70s and 80s (Pat Mills, John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day), and also the fine writers and rules designers for RPGs, notably Tunnels & Trolls, Dungeons & Dragons, and Traveler.
I would most like to be compared with Peter F Hamilton, because he is the only science fiction author my wife enjoys reading. Plus, when he was guest of honor at DragonCon last year, he got to sit in the back of a car in the parade and wave at the good people of Atlanta. Like the Queen. To be honest, I’m not a massive fan of the royals, but I have to admit they are very good at waving to crowds, and I think that would be a cool thing to do professionally.
11) In closing, what advice would you give to new authors and writers in general?
There’s a huge amount of good advice for writers already out there (amid the dross), so I will limit myself to a specific group of authors: those who wish to earn a living from writing novels, and for whom at least part of their strategy involves self-publishing.
Firstly, it’s important to cultivate the ability to switch in and out of an artistic/creator mentality, and a commercial one. I’ve known people facilitate this by working in different locations and wearing different clothes to help their minds to fit in the right persona. I don’t do that myself, but I try to separate out commercial and artistic work times, and when I’m thinking commercially I will deliberately use language such as ‘product line’ rather than ‘book series’.
It’s okay to spend time in a commercial mindset. It doesn’t invalidate your artistic side, nor does it mean you cannot go back to your artistic self what you’ve done with your business self for now.
Writing novels is extremely time-consuming. Marketing and promotion are also time-consuming. Of all the things you could do as a writer, you only get the time to do a tiny fraction of them. Being able to think from a distanced, commercial perspective can help enormously to steer you to do the things that will be most value to you.
For example, many successful self-published authors will talk of the idea of a Venn diagram of possible book projects. Which sub-genres and styles are popular? Which are you most able to sell? Which would you most enjoy writing? Which are you most skilled at writing? Look for the areas were all four sets intersect and pick your next book project from one of those points of intersection.
There are now many successful self-published authors in science fiction and beyond, and many share freely of the experiences in interviews, and in particular with podcasts. If you listen or read these interviews wearing your commercial head, you will see that certain patterns of behavior are very commonplace. For instance, successful self-publishers will acknowledge the role luck plays in their success, but they also did their best to engineer their own luck. I think it was Nick Webb who said in a podcast that success in publishing science fiction is like winning a lottery ticket. Well, he didn’t like those odds, so he bought thousands of lottery tickets.
My second piece of advice sounds obvious, but often gets forgotten amid all the detail about marketing and so forth. There’s a huge amount of competition in hot publishing areas such as science fiction right now. When I say a huge amount, I mean there’s never been anything like it in the history of publishing. The inevitable result is that readers are becoming more and more discerning. You have to write great books! And it doesn’t matter whether a reviewer in a magazine or newspaper thinks your books are good, or whether an award jury likes you, it’s the readers that matter. If you haven’t yet attracted a large enough fanbase to sustain you commercially to write whatever you want, look for the authors who consistently have bestsellers on Amazon and figure out why they are so popular by reading them. Then channel some of that into your own books while adding your own distinctive twist. If you read the bestsellers and scratch your head because you can’t understand why so many readers would buy these books, then you’re probably trying to write a book for the wrong audience.
But maybe not!
Because the final word of advice is that publishing is a chaotic, messy, and changing business, and there are always a handful of people who break all the ‘rules’ and succeed anyway. That could be you. But to use that metaphor from earlier, if you disregard the advice from successful authors you still get to buy your lottery ticket, but in your case you only get the one set of numbers.
If this convinced you to find out more, look Tim up here:
Amazon, website, Facebook
I hope you all had a great time getting to know Tim! Don’t be afraid to say hello here or on his own website. He’s always quick to respond when he’s not grinding away on his books and dealing with my craziness.
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are cover art owned by Human Legion Publications under licensed use for JR Handley.