I came across Brian Dorsey quite by accident. In my early days of twitter, I was checking out the followers of another science fiction writer and happened to see his profile. After looking at his website and reading a sample of Gateway, I knew that this was a writer I wanted to engage with. He is one of those writers that honestly likes to talk with his fans, even if it is just about ordinary, everyday topics.
One of the exciting things that Brian has done is to develop a website that is a virtual Gateway encyclopedia. There you can find specs, lineage, personnel records and government data as it pertains to his books. Plus, it has really, really cool pictures! It is one of the better websites I have come across for a book series and he’s done it all by himself. You can find the link at the end of the interview.
EC: I noticed that you created a very in-depth website for your books. I love it when an author provides behind-the-scenes goodies for their stories. Could you tell us about it?
BD: Thanks. At first I started the website because my publisher wanted me to start one. I am by no means tech savvy when it comes to social media and IT so I did a little research (and asked an IT guru at the company I was working for at the time) and decided to go with wix.com for the platform. Luckily, it’s fairly user-friendly so it didn’t give me too many headaches.
As for the content, it was (and still is) a work in progress. My idea of a website is that it should be a place where readers/fans can interact with the writer, learn more about the universe in which the story lives, and find out what the author is working on next. I added the basic pages I think you would expect to see on an author site such as links to buy, cover photos, and reviews. After that, I tried to think of things I would want to see if I were a reader that really ‘got into’ the storyline. I think from that perspective, three things have been very successful.
1. Concept Art: Although my publisher handles the cover art and other aspects of marketing, I went out on my own to have some additional concept art done. I was lucky enough to find Jed Tarkowski and he and I have worked pretty well together developing concept pieces for the Gateway Universe. I think the concept art helps people in two ways: First, it shows people a little bit of what I think things should look like (with some input from Jed) and secondly, some people are more stimulated by visual information and it can actually draw them into the story more than providing excerpts.
2. Excerpts: I added links to some samples of my writing to give people an idea of the story and the characters in case they aren’t sure Gateway is for them but want to at least check it out. I also occasionally include extra ‘stuff’ that I have written as character development that may not be part of the main storyline.
3. Wiki/Gateway Universe: This is my favorite part. I wanted to provide a way for people who enjoy reading Gateway to be able to dig deeper into the society, the military, and the characters. If you really like a character, some of them have military records that you can access. If you like the ships, some have their specs available. Jed Tarkowski and the concept art came in pretty handy in this area too; he did several ‘schematic’ drawings to go along with some of the ships. Also available are government structures and some family lineages. This page will always be a work in process for two reasons: First, as I continue to develop the series, I will also continue to develop and intertwine the underlying frameworks of civilizations and people involved. Secondly, I have more information ready to post, but I also try to balance the release so that people have a chance to read the next book in the series and let some of the information be delivered more naturally through the storyline. What that means is that when Saint (Book 2) releases, there will be another spike in information available on wiki.
EC: Brian, what kind of research do you employ to base your battles, ships, and maneuvers on? Do you use military experience or gathered information from other sources? Both?
BD: It’s a combination of experience, interviews, and research.
I retired from the Navy after 23 years of service, both enlisted and as an officer, so some of that can be seen in my writing although I purposely change some things slightly such as names of compartments and equipment. (You won’t see a Combat Information Center in the Gateway series; it would more likely be called Combat Center and instead of the ship establishing Material Condition Zebra for combat, it might set Combat Containment). My plan was to write it in a way that a novice would get the idea but still be close to technically correct. So if there are vets out there that read a line and say “that’s not exactly right,” it’s on purpose to be more inclusive.
For ground combat research, I spoke with some friends with infantry experience as well as utilized my own research (in addition to sci-fi, I have also published historical nonfiction, mostly military history). An example of interviews is the use of a PLIC (Personnel Clearing Line Charge) which I adapted from discussion with Marines about MICLIC (Mine Clearing Line Charges) and their adapted uses in the recent wars.
In addition to my military experience and academic work in history, I also have a degree in Radiation Physics and have worked in Navy’s nuclear propulsion program throughout my military career and currently as a civilian Navy employee. This technical background also helps with some of the science in the series.
EC: Are any of your characters based on yourself? People you know?
BD: Not really. Some of the main characters have names (or part of them) based on friends or family members but not their characteristics or personalities.
Of particular note, however, is the Tyler Stone character. You may notice the character does not use his more formal name (Venarius). This is for two reasons. First, if you check out the family lineage tab in the Gateway Universe tab on my website (www.briandorseybooks.com) you can see the reason that fits the plot line. Secondly, the character is named after a close family friend (and best friend of one of my kids) that lost his battle with cancer a few years back at the age of 14 (his father was a Navy friend of mine that was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2008). Before Tyler passed, I made a promise to him I would name a character after him and it just seemed right for it to be the lead character. In support of the continuing fight against cancer, 10% of my 1st year’s profits from Gateway will go to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program under Tyler’s name and my publisher has graciously agreed to match that amount.
As for the other characters, Cataline Tacitus was based on two of the worst leaders I met in the Navy but I’m not naming names. Likewise, some characteristics of other characters such a Captain Emily Martin, Captain Hugh Jackson, Captain Mori Skye, and Major Tyler Stone are based on a combination of traits from some of the best (or at least most interesting) personalities I have met along the way.
EC: Of these characters, have you ever received an unexpected review of them?
BD: I would say it has to be the Emily Martin character. At first, I added her as a supporting character because I wanted show a female in a leadership role in the book. After a while, however, the character seemed to just write itself as if she was telling me what the character would do next. From the feedback I have received so far, she has become several readers’ favorite. Besides seeing her in book 2 of the series (Saint) due out in summer 2015, I am developing a novella based on her as a young lieutenant which should hopefully be available by fall 2015.
EC: Do you classify Saint as space opera? Military SciFi? Both? Neither?
BD: I would classify it as both. In my opinion, I think it has the dramatic and epic elements that space opera fans can identify with while at the same time I definitely don’t shy away from the military/combat elements of the story—the lead and almost all supporting characters are in the military so it would be hard not to focus on that element. Maybe military space opera would be the best descriptor.
Some readers have, however, stated they enjoyed the character development and interaction as much the action and military aspects of the story.
EC: What makes Saint different from other books in the genre?
BD: I think (or at least hope) two things make Saint, and for that matter the Gateway series, stand out from the rest.
First, I attempt to write the storyline on three levels. The first level is the typical shoot ‘em up military science fiction with battles, spaceships, and even a little swordplay. With the second level I attempt to develop the characters in a way that people understand why and how they interact with people around them and why they react the way they do in the situations in which they are placed. One of my best moments as a writer was when I saw two readers having a ‘discussion’ about why Emily Martin would or wouldn’t have done something in a scene. Finally, at the lowest, underlying, level I try to look a societal element. In Gateway, I try to show how society, cultures, and government actually shape our perception of reality and what happens when that reality is challenged. In Saint, that third-level aspect will look at religion used as a weapon.
Secondly, the main character will not reach full development until the fourth or fifth book in the series. The Tyler Stone character is one that ‘thought’ he understood his purpose when Gateway begins but eventually has his perception of his universe shattered. He wants desperately for the world to be black and white and has used codes and principles to guide him and help him to categorized things to fit that mindset. Once his reality is destroyed, he now has to struggle with a world that is much grayer than he likes. To help, or maybe make things worse, he has two very strong-minded women (Emily Martin & Mori Skye) pulling him in two directions (which you really begin to see toward the end of Saint). Both believe what they are doing is right but pull Stone in two different directions. Eventually he will need to choose and the choice will have significant ramifications not only for Stone and his friends but for entire civilizations.
EC: I’d like to hear about your writing that is not in this genre.
BD: Although I had the basic storyline for Gateway in my head for about 15 years before I actually wrote it, the Gateway series is my first foray into fiction. Before that, I wrote academic nonfiction historical works. In addition to journal articles, I have published two nonfiction books. They are:
A Call to Arms: The Realities of Military Service for African Americans during the Civil War. This book examines the factors impacting recruitment of African Americans during the Civil War from a regional perspective.
Southern West Virginia and the Struggle for Modernity. This was my final project from my graduate program at Syracuse which I developed as a book. It looks at the social, economic, cultural, and political history of Southern West Virginia (as part of greater Appalachia) from post-Civil War through the present.
EC: What would you like your readers to learn from Saint?
BD: First, I hope they are entertained and connect with the characters. The series is meant primarily to entertain and tell (hopefully) a good story. From a social perspective (as mentioned earlier) Saint has an underlying tone that is a cautionary tale for religion gone wrong.
EC: What impact would you like to give readers so they will remember Saint, long after they are finished reading it?
BD: First, don’t piss off Emily Martin. But seriously I guess the takeaway is that we are created by the environment in which we are raised and live and in turn form our opinions of other people and cultures based on our created ‘self.’ We should strive to learn more about people different from us even though it may complicate things and challenge long-standing beliefs.