Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine a double spotlight on a couple of our beloved Baen authors, David Weber and Jacob Holo. They collaborated on the novel, The Gordian Protocol, a new twist on World War II History and time travel where a temporal not in the 20th Century threatens to destroy whole universes—including our own!
The Gordian Protocol releases on May 7, and we’re looking forward to carrying it. If you want to secure yourself a copy, we’re happy to pre-order it for you! To get you as excited as we are, we’ve got a fantastic interview with both authors, giving some insight into how they came to this horrifying scenario…
How did the two of you meet?
Jacob: My wife Heather was recovering from surgery at the time and contracted a severe case of cabin fever. As a cure, we went to a small local convention where David was signing books. He signed my old dog-eared copy of In Death Ground, and we probably exchanged about ten words total that day.
David: Jacob must be mistaken on at least one point of his otherwise admirable answer, because I have never in my life exchanged only ten words with anyone!
How did the discussion about this subject come about?
Jacob: Over birthday party milkshakes, actually. This was one of your original series proposals to Baen, right David?
David: Yes, it was. Both over the milkshakes and one of my original series proposals. To be honest, part of my thinking when I proposed the collaboration to Jacob was that we’d known each other for a while, I really liked him, and I thought it might make a decent birthday present. Cheaper than buying a card, too! : )
On a more serious note, The Gordian Protocol was actually a story I had pitched to Jim Baen about the same time that I pitched the Honor Harrington storyline. I wanted to write it for a long time (obviously, since I first came up with the idea twenty-five years ago), but I’d never found the time or place to do it on my own. From conversations with Jacob and how well I’d come to know him, I thought he might be the perfect guy to help me get it told. Which he did even better than I’d hoped.
Had you read each other’s work before?
Jacob: Absolutely. David’s books have been a huge influence me. In fact, one of my earliest novel-length works was directly inspired by In Death Ground.
David: I’d read The Dragons of Jupiter, and liked it a lot.
When did you decide you wanted to collaborate?
Jacob: About a nanosecond after David proposed the idea. : ) Though seriously, I’ve been interested in working with David for years, but I didn’t feel comfortable broaching the subject. I believed if he felt I had what it took to write with him, that he would propose a project in due time. And he did!
David: I decided that I wanted to collaborate with Jacob less because I had read Dragons than because I had come to know him and Heather so well. They are very local (like — what? Ten miles from the house?), we like them both a bunch, I’d done a youth writers workshop project with Heather at one of our local libraries, and maybe most important of all I’d come to respect both Jacob’s imagination and his work ethic. Jacob is incapable of giving any project less than a 1000% effort, whether it’s his “day job” or his writing, and he has a fantastic ability to visualize the bones — or the nuts and bolts — of a concept from a standing start. There are some people in the world with whom you just “click” in a brainstorming session, and Jacob is one of those people for me.
What were the logistics of your collaboration? Did one of you do an outline or a synopsis?
David: I think it’s fair to say that I did the original synopsis (although that’s probably too finely developed a term) for our initial book. That’s different from actually building the chapters, of course. The final plot for the novel evolved from a lot of mutual discussion. We sent reviewed memos back and forth, we discussed plot elements over the dinner table both here at the house and at our favorite restaurant (with kibitzing from Sharon and Heather), and we watched the final plot come together out of my original concept, those discussions, and the actual process of writing, which tended to reveal a few plot holes we needed to fill in or an additional scene we needed to add here or there.
Does one of you start a chapter or a draft and then hands it over to the other?
Jacob: David was really smart with how he divided the workload because it played to each of our strengths. For example, as the engineer in this partnership, I performed the detailed design work on our two versions of the 30th century, their respective technologies, and the time travel mechanics. On a lighter note, if you see a bowtie in the book, it might be in there because I really like wearing them. : )
David: As Jacob says, he’s the engineer and I’m the historian, so the story elements sort of shook down naturally in my mind. As far as the actual draft is concerned, I did the first couple of chapters, because that was where the differing histories had to be set up. I also wanted to sort of set the tone for the overall story and — especially — to introduce Benjamin, who is much more my viewpoint character than any other individual character in the book. After that, Jacob wrote (I think) all the rest of the first draft. I may have done one other chapter here or there; I truly don’t remember. My function at that point was more to coordinate and edit and to help structure both our history and that of the various thirtieth centuries involved, with maybe some particular attention to “my” characters’ dialogue, in particular. We sent material back and forth, and reviewed it so thoroughly from both ends, that it’s really difficult to pick any point in the book that doesn’t have both of our fingerprints pretty thoroughly blended.
When there is a conflict of an idea, how do you resolve it?
Jacob: David is the senior partner in this collaboration, so he gets the final say. That said, there were parts of the story and world he felt very strongly about and parts he set aside to be my sandbox. Once I picked up on which was which, things really kicked into high gear for us.
David: I think that’s probably fair, although I also think that there are aspects of the entire process which lie very strongly in Jacob’s strength areas, and not mine. I try to defer to him in those areas, although sometimes it takes longer than other times for him to explain his thinking to me when it’s something that seems counterintuitive from my historian-not-engineer perspective. I’d say that this far, at least, in our writing partnership I’ve been more in control of the story’s direction then he has, because I’ve had a vision for so long of where I want this series and these characters to go. Having said that, we just spent a couple of hours this past week sitting in my office while we completely took one story line apart and basically built another out of the disassembled parts, and the reassembly was only possible because Jacob had given the original storyline a well-articulated skeleton on the basis of our earlier discussions. Any successful collaboration needs a resolution process, and I think that the foundation for any sound resolution process needs to be a mutual respect between the writing partners. If either one of us feels really, really strongly about something, then we both need to articulate and defend our position rationally (not just “because I want to do it this way”) and we both need to listen and be willing to be convinced if the other guy has a point. For example, there was a character in this book that I had originally envisioned living, because there was a plot hook I wanted to create later, at the very end of the story. Jacob had killed that particular character in his original rough draft, however. I started to argue that we needed to go back to my original concept when I realized that what he had done might actually work even better, so we kept it. Instead, I went in and tweaked it to make sure there wouldn’t be any dry eyes in the house after the readers found it!
How long did it take to finish the completed manuscript?
Jacob: About a year, I’d say. A lot of that is the initial planning and outlining, as well the editing and fine-tuning afterwards. My portion of the first draft took me about five weeks to crunch through.
David: I think Jacob’s about right. He’s a very disciplined and fast writer, but I think another factor was that we had so thoroughly planned, discussed, and outlined before we started writing the actual novel. My own books have a tendency to grow organically as I go along. I have a beginning point, an endpoint, and certain things I want to do in the middle, but I’m writing the book at least in part to find out how all of that goes together. In this case, more so than in any of my other collaborations, we had very thoroughly nailed down where we wanted the story to go because the plot is complex enough and has enough moving parts that we couldn’t let it “just grow.” So the actual writing went much more rapidly than it otherwise might have. As Jacob says, we spent more time planning and then editing and fine-tuning than we did in the heavy-lifting phase of the writing.
Will this be a continuing series or a stand alone?
Jacob: We’re already hard at work on the sequel!
David: Absolutely a series. The framework of this literary universe means that while future stories will be built around the same cast of characters, the nature of the problems they have to solve can be very, very different. It’s not like the Honorverse or my Safehold books, where the series has a clear beginning point and is working steadily towards an equally clear endpoint, with each book building directly upon the ones which came before it. The direction of this universe is much more open ended, which gives us a lot more room to maneuver.
What did you enjoy the most by writing together?
Jacob: The “oh, shiny!” moments, as David likes to call them. There’s a special kind of chain reaction that gets set off when we’re bouncing ideas around, ideas that we would have never thought of alone. There’s a rescue scene in the novel that evolved this way. David picked up on a minor bit of lore from my 30th century notes, and the rapid fire emails that followed evolved into what I believe is one of the best scenes in the novel. You’ll know it when you get to it. : )
David: I would agree with Jacob about the “oh, shiny!” moments. To me, that’s the moment in any collaboration where the partners are having the most fun. And I know exactly which scene he’s talking about. I think the Wagner makes it perfect! However, I would say that my greatest personal enjoyment out of writing with Jacob is watching him blossom as a writer. I’ve been doing this for going on 30 years now; he’s been doing it for about five or six, but I have never worked with someone who was more actively and energetically involved in mastering his craft. He is smart, he’s funny, he’s talented, he’s not afraid to argue with the “senior partner,” and I don’t believe I have ever had to explain a single thing to him twice. I think he has the potential to be one of the really, really solid writers in our field.
Thank you both so much for the great interview! We at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester are eagerly anticipating The Gordian Protocol and sharing it with our patrons.