HEIDI'S PICK SIX: Charles E. Gannon


Charles E. Gannon

1. Which of your characters is your favorite?
My favorite is a character is also the epicenter of my Tales of the Twenty-Second Century series of both novellas, and soon, novels. I like this character (Riordan) for a lot of reasons, but from a "fun to write" standpoint, the two key features are that he is:

1) a genuine polymath

2) a guy who tells the truth--even when that's not at all good for his long-term prospects ( or immediate physical wellbeing.)

Riordan ultimately becomes a very capable soldier and statesman, but not without some initial reservations—which resurface to haunt him at highly awkward moments. That all makes him FUN to write. But he’s my FAVORITE because he’s also my bow to the true “citizen soldier.” About which I’d like to make a delicate but important point.

The soldiers who went off to fight World War II were the last of a certain breed of American warfighter: they were everyday persons who were either drafted or volunteered to undertake one of the great enterprises in recorded history: to help win BOTH fronts of the most sprawling war that humanity had ever witnessed. They were people who were living their own ordinary lives, with their own ordinary hopes and aspirations, when history interrupted and called them forth to display extraordinary valor in the process of performing extraordinary deeds.

The soldiers of our contemporary armed forces do no less, and they probably accomplish more, per individual, being as superbly trained as they are. But that superb training is, in part, a measure of how armies have changed. In an all-volunteer, professional army, these are largely heroes who chose the life they are leading. That makes their stories inherently different—not better or worse; just different.

These are the heroes at the center of so many books, these days. If you look at the overwhelming majority of military SF, the protagonists are *professional* soldiers. Theirs is an important story—and many SF authors tell it with superb drama and seriousness, as well as panache.

In contrast, and quite purposely, Riordan’s story is closer to that of the citizen soldier of the Second World War. He is not career military. He had other plans. But then he got caught up in the gears of history and fate—as did millions of young men and women alive in 1941-1945. Theirs is arguably a different kind of heroism in that they would choose to be elsewhere, doing other things—except that they heard and answered the call of their country. They set aside their other plans because of that summons—which not only stole them away from their dreams and aspirations, but often from life itself.

Any story of such soldiers is often a kind of “delayed coming of age story.” Riordan is in his thirties when the thread of his life becomes entwined and bound into the loom of history. He therefore reacts to the tribulations of war with a very different outlook: there is no rush of youthful adrenaline to bolster and redouble his courage. He is a grown man confronting the dire necessities of war: his duty to his country and his species must not only be the objective, but the source, of his actions.

I wanted to tell his story because I think we are increasingly forgetting about the citizen soldier. I have heard people claim that we will “never need citizen soldiers again.” I will not debate that issue here. But I will say this: when people talk about a situation that will “never” occur, or will “always” occur, they are flying straight in the face of the most basic lesson of history: nothing is assured and all rules are defined by their exceptions.

And, lest we forget, our nation—and its foundational principles of pluralism and democracy—were carried into this future upon the shoulders—and often, biers—of common men and women who elected to fight for what they believed. Freedom, home, justice, hope—their beliefs took many shapes, wore many names. But they were willing to risk their lives for their ideals and visions, for themselves and their children. Riordan is, in part, my method of writing stories that ask us to remember this truth: that, just when you think it impossible, you may hear the call of your country at need.

2. Tell me about your travels.
Travel influences my writing in a number of ways.

Firstly, when working on alternate histories, going to actual sites is invaluable in creating a sense of descriptive authority. Sure, you can go to Wiki or Google earth to get a (pretty good) selection of visuals and views...but what about smell? The sound of the wind in that place, the minutiae that only reveal themselves to actual rather than virtual visitors: that's narrative gold.

Secondly, it gives some pretty fair perspective on what the word alien means. You don't have to travel to another planet to behold various oddities of both flora and fauna that defy easy belief or comprehension. Good basic training for preparing to write about extraterrestrial aliens.

Lastly, it teaches about human psychology and reaction to the strange, or even the disorienting in both biomes and societies. You get a chance to witness the full--and often baffling range of how people handle immersion in environments filled with novel or incomprehensible objects. That makes for some interesting character studies.

3. Coffee, tea, or milk?

4. What else can you do besides write?
I was a television producer for about 7 years, so I can do that. Same with teaching literature (and more) to college and grad students (did that for 16 years). I’m a pretty fair “combat cook” (which means, no, I don’t much conceive and concoct gourmet fare, but I can whip a tasty meal together out of some pretty diverse elements/leftovers). I’ve run medium sized organizations, and have modest skills at fencing, shooting, and shotokan karate. But I think my most important skill is that I'm a pretty darn good Dad: ask my kids (even when I'm not there!!!)

5. Who are you reading right now?

6. Pop culture or academia?
Neither. Both have their moments, but both are extreme ends of the same spectrum. At the pop-culture end, we have the “no brain required” sign; at the other end we have the “no fun allowed” warning. The hell with them both: most of us don’t live in either of those places. At most, we visit. We need both impulses in our culture, but they’re not so appealing when they are encountered in their undiluted, condensed forms.

7. What is the toughest scene you ever wrote?
That's hard to say, because two different kinds of hard come to mind: technically hard, or content hard.

There are certain scenes that require a lot more attention to nuts and bolts. For instance, I frequently use a cross-cutting technique during action sequences, where there are converging points of view getting more tightly interwoven as they head to the climax of the scene. These are fun to write, but very labor intensive: there's a lot of traffic management involved in this kind of structure. Is each section tight so the whole scene stays gripping? Does the "voice" in each section match the mind and perception of the PoV character? Is the time and event flow clear to the reader despite the frequent changes in PoV? A lot to keep track of.

I guess I remember this kind of difficulty more than the others. I don't find the character content ever very difficult. I know the story, but I don't dictate the moment to moment exchanges and feelings of the characters. They live it; I merely transcribe what goes on in their world and their heads. I think there's only one thing I would find hard to write: a scene in which a character is coping with a terminal disease. I've had close contact with that multiple times in my own life, and find that scenario so fearsome and aversive that I don't willingly deal with it any more than I must. Happily. I've not needed to write such a scene, but I know it would be very difficult to do so.

8. Where do you find your inspirations to write?
9. Food you could eat everyday.
10. Are you into sports or other physical activities?
11. What kind of music speaks to you?
12. Do you outline your stories or do they just take you along for the ride?
13. Celebrity crush.

14. Who are the biggest influences on your work?
Wow. That's a hard one b/c there are so many, and each one for different reasons. So I'm just going to rattle off a fast list. Heinlein, Dickson. Oliver. Anderson. McLean.O'Connor. Faulkner (for reasons you might not suspect). Howard.

15. Do you still watch cartoons?

Dr. Charles E. Gannon is a member of SFWA and SIGMA, a Distinguished Professor of English (SBU), a Fulbright Senior Specialist, 2004-2009, the winner of the American Library Assoc. Choice Award (Best Book, 2006: Rumors of War and Infernal Machines). His current novel is: Extremis (w/ Steve White), book 6 in Baen’s NYT best-selling Starfire series (May, 2011).

Find Charles online at these links:

WEBSITE - http://www.charlesegannon.com

- http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1277327007

- http://twitter.com/cegannon1


  1. Thank you for stopping by, Charles!

    You are so right about the art of POV, especially among intersecting plot threads. When it is done well, it is breath-taking.


  2. Awesome interview and I have to say I LOVE the cover of the book! Totally draws me in!

  3. So, when are you going to do one of these for me, Chrissy?



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