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Taylor Anderson: On Creating Realism in the Weird

New York Times bestselling author Taylor Anderson discusses the process of writing his new science fiction novel, Purgatory's Shore.

Taylor Anderson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Destroyermen novels. A gunmaker and forensic ballistic archaeologist, Taylor has been a technical and dialogue consultant for movies and documentaries and is an award-winning member of the National Historical Honor Society and of the United States Field Artillery Association.

Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson

In this post, Taylor discusses the process of writing his new science fiction novel, Purgatory's Shore, the importance of invoking realism in the weird moments, and more!

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Name: Taylor Anderson
Literary agent: Russel Galen
Book title: Purgatory’s Shore
Publisher: ACE
Expected release date: Sept 21, 2021
Genre/category: Alternate History/Military Science Fiction
Previous titles: The New York Times Bestselling Destroyermen Series, including Into the Storm; Crusade; Maelstrom; Distant Thunders; Rising Tides; Firestorm; Iron Gray Sea; Storm Surge; Deadly Shores; Straits of Hell; Blood in the Water; Devil’s Due; River of Bones; Pass of Fire; and Winds of Wrath
Elevator pitch for the book: 1847. On their way to fight in the Mexican-American War, a group of American soldiers are swept away to a strange and deadly alternate Earth in this thrilling new adventure set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Destroyermen Series.

Taylor Anderson: On Creating Realism in the Weird

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What prompted you to write this book?

There are quite a few different groups, cultures, factions, even countries that became important to the characters in the Destroyermen Series. All required considerable thought and research, but time, space, and the focus of the tale never let me delve as deeply into some of them as I would’ve liked. Obviously to readers, based on what I was able to reference—quite vaguely at times—some of these different cultures had pretty “epic histories” of their own. I thought the “origin story” of the “1847 Americans” who ultimately founded the “NUS,” would make a particularly fun and interesting tale, capable of standing entirely alone, but tying in nicely for those familiar with the previous—later—D-Men.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

I’ve been contemplating Purgatory’s Shore and the following books in the series for quite some time, at least since the long-mysterious NUS—and a certain character in particular—became such a big part of the D-Men Series. As more and more hints were dropped about the NUS and they grew into important allies for the “good guys” in later books, even providing a large percentage of the naval and ground forces against the “Holy Dominion,” I thought it was more important than ever to tell the story of how they got started.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Alternate History, Military Sci-Fi—whatever you want to call it—Purgatory’s Shore is a mid-19th century yarn. I’ve always been kind of a 19th century sort of guy, in terms of many of my interests, so I thought writing it would be a cinch. Boy, was I wrong!

I started out in full Patrick O’Brien mode, writing everything—dialogue, narrative—as it would’ve been done in the 1840’s. After a while it dawned on me that wasn’t going to work. Independent story or not, Purgatory’s Shore remains strongly associated with the Destroyermen Series, and such a huge departure from the writing “style” I used for that would not only be extremely awkward, but probably jarring to fans.

Taylor Anderson: On Creating Realism in the Weird

I decided to write Purgatory’s Shore in close to the same narrative style I’d previously employed, (and there’s actually a built-in explanation for that), while allowing the 19th century to creep into the dialogue, but not (I hope) to a terribly distracting degree. Some newcomers may cry “foul!” and say, “People didn’t talk like that back then!” I know. Some may be relieved that I didn’t waste half my word-count doing away with contractions. Most who’ve read my stories before will understand, I think.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Entertainment, of course.

I don’t delude myself with any notion that people will be studying my writing in literature classes a hundred years from now. I’m just an old-fashioned, sitting-around-the-fire storyteller at heart, and I want people to enjoy the story. I only hope I manage to string the words together well enough that they can. If parts of it leave people thinking “Hmm...” about various things, (in a good way, of course), from time to time, that’s great.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Turn 40. I know, right? Kind of a bummer. That’s a metaphor, of course, for “get some life experience.”

I know lots of people much younger than that who’ve earned plenty of life experience to write a great story, (usually the hard way), and others who are good enough observers and have strong enough imaginations to write wonderful tales without ever being on the “pointy end of life” at all. Generally, though, having actually done something like many of the things you write about or knowing lots of people who have will add essential authenticity to your story. And the weirder a story is, the more “authenticity” it needs for people to suspend enough disbelief to choke it down. That may sound strange, but it’s true.

Obviously, in fantasy—and all fiction is fantasy of a sort—much of the story involves things that nobody’s ever really done, so a writer has to “live” that stuff in his or her mind convincingly enough to tell it like it’s real. That’s where it comes in handy to have done something at least vaguely similar, or known someone who has. My point is, the real stuff needs to be as real as you can make it, and the weird has to feel just as real. That goes double for the characters. Get in their heads, pattern them after yourself, or parts of yourself, or other people you’ve known. Most of my characters are composites, with personalities, skills, quirks, even failings cherry-picked from countless real people I’ve known in my life.

Speaking of “characters,” in the west Texas sense, (probably lots of other places, where calling someone a “character” is a polite way of saying they’re just a little . . . off), get to know a few, if you don’t already. “That Taylor fella . . . Yeah, he’s a character.” Anyway, there are reasons they are the way they are. Mix a few “characters” with your characters and let your readers figure them out—but it’s easier to write them if you already have.

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