MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Walter H. Hunt is a science fiction writer known primarily for his “Dark Wing” series, a “military space opera.” His most recent work, A SONG IN STONE, deals with the Knights Templar. He lives near my old stomping grounds (Boston area) with his wife and daughter. His web page is here.
Walter, you began writing scenarios for games. (As a person who has done the same — albeit for LARPs — I know what that’s like!) How did you get published that way? In other words, how did you turn your hobby into a business?
WALTER H. HUNT: I had the good fortune to encounter Rich Meyer and Kerry Lloyd of Gamelords in 1981 and was pulled into the company as a writer. Between 1981 and 1984 I worked on a number of projects for them. When they stopped publishing Richard and I (along with others, including my wife) began Adventure Architects to write free-lance in the game industry. We worked for Mayfair, Iron Crown, FASA, and several other companies.
VENTRELLA: Is there still much of a market out there for writing for games?
HUNT: It seems so, though I haven’t done any of it for quite some time.
VENTRELLA: When did you decide to start writing fiction, and what were your first attempts like?
HUNT: When I was in elementary school. And it was predictably awful, though it meant that I wrote lots and lots of words and learned how to set scenes and compose dialog. I wrote six novels in middle and high school. They will never be seen, I hope.
VENTRELLA: How did you get your first big break?
HUNT: I’d shown a manuscript to a friendly editor at a convention in 1987, and when he began working for Tor Books in 2000 he contacted me through a mutual friend to see if I still had it available. The mutual friend lined up the agent, so I got the agent and the publisher at the same time. Lucky break – though it took almost 14 years for me to get so lucky.
VENTRELLA: Lately it seems that fantasy of all varieties has taken the place of science fiction on the bookshelves. To what do you attribute this change?
HUNT: Haven’t a clue. There is a lot of bad fantasy, but there is a lot of bad science fiction too – especially on television. Sturgeon’s Law, I suppose.
VENTRELLA: Your most recent work is about the Knights Templar and the Rosslyn Chapel, something most people had never heard of before Dan Brown. How did you decide to tackle that subject?
HUNT: The Order of the Temple is an interesting subject, with plenty of scope for writing. I’d heard of Rosslyn before reading the Brown book – it’s common pseudohistorical fodder in Masonic circles, and I’ve been a Freemason since 1988. When we went to Scotland for Worldcon in 2005 I put it on my itinerary, and was fortunate to receive a tour from a fellow Mason. He pointed to the ceiling of the lady-chapel and said, “that’s the Rosslyn music.” As the lead character in “Despicable Me” is fond of saying, “light bulb.” By the time I came back from Scotland the book was plotted and partially written.
VENTRELLA: You are a regular at science fiction conventions (and indeed, we have been on panels together!). Why do you attend them?
HUNT: Why, to meet fascinating colleagues. Seriously, the opportunity to meet readers and fellow writers is something not to be passed up. For professionals (or aspiring professionals), there are editors and publishers as well. I arranged my most recent book deal at NASFiC this summer by having the right conversation with the right person. And I’m still a fan: I’ve gotten to sit next to people like Robert Sheckley and Frederik Pohl and Connie Willis and David Brin and a dozen others – and talk to them (and listen to them. More listen than talk, I hope.)
VENTRELLA: What advice would you have for an aspiring genre writer for attending these things, even if they haven’t been published yet?
HUNT: Finish the book. No one buys an idea from an aspiring writer – only a manuscript. But by all means believe in your own work; I have seen too many occasions when an unpublished writer lets his/her work be folded, spindled and mutilated by people who want to make it into something else because it might be more “publishable.” Write what you understand, trust your creative instinct, and finish it.
VENTRELLA: What’s your pet peeve about the industry?
HUNT: I’ve heard it said that the criteria and market studies for genre fiction are thirty-plus years out of date. I think that some editors base decisions on what to buy and what to promote based on inaccurate perceptions of the composition and demographics of the buying public. But, again, I have no idea if this is true.
VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?
HUNT: To assume that there’s any money in this business. I’m married; as the old joke goes, “what do you call a full-time writer who’s single?” The answer is, of course, “homeless.”
VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on small press and self-publishing?
HUNT: Small press deserves better respect, and I think the internet is helping with that. My Rosslyn book A SONG IN STONE is currently published by a small press. Self-publishing is a mistake: it says, essentially, “no one professional will buy my work, but maybe the reader will. I hope so, my garage is full of these things I paid to print.” So I’d wait to have someone buy my work.
VENTRELLA: I see you are a historian or sorts, having studied that in college. With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?
HUNT: Top of the list would be Benjamin Franklin – polymath, wit, diplomat, Freemason. Erasmus of Rotterdam. Stanley Weinbaum and Cyril Kornbluth, two great science fiction writers. My parents, whom I miss terribly (they’ve been gone for twenty years and never saw me succeed as an author. My mom would enjoy meeting Franklin, I suspect.)
You know that Hendrik van Loon did this little thought experiment, right?
VENTRELLA: Um, no. Hendrik van Loon? Did you make that name up?