An interview with author Peter Prellwitz . . .
Peter Prellwitz broke onto the science-fiction scene with his four-book series Shards. Over a period of six months, they held four of the top five sellers in sci-fi ebooks. Since then he has expanded to new characters, ideas, and worlds in five additional books and many short fiction in various anthologies, many sharing space in the sweeping time span of the Shards universe. With 10 novels and eight anthologies to his credit, Peter also has entered the newest phase in his prodigious writing career with two Martian Western novellas, “Company A” and “The Bombala Mines Fast Draw”,by channeling the “most popular author on Mars,” H.K. Devonshire.
His hobbies are collecting comic books (25,000 to date), scuba diving, and maintaining his perfect record at not dying.
Interview by BWG member Christopher D. Ochs
Bethlehem Writers Group: Your professional experience has long been in systems analysis and IT. How and when did you pick up the writing bug?
Peter Prellwitz: Fourth grade. It was 1969 and I decided to write a Thanksgiving play just to do it. I was nine years old, and I both kept one cardinal rule and broke another. I wrote what I knew and I plagiarized. The only Indians I knew were the ones on F-Troop, so I wrote them into the play for the traditional Indians & Pilgrims having the first Thanksgiving. (Remember: 1969, nine years old.)
My teacher, Mrs. Schwefel, was so impressed that I’d done it, she “produced” the play, using my class of 18 as cast. It played twice in front of the entire school.
Nine years old and I’ve been published/produced. How do you not get hooked on the writing bug? I wrote a better play in fifth grade along with two fellow students. It was also produced and I was now a writer!
BWG: Given that you’re grounded with a 9-to-5 job, how do you schedule in time for writing to generate your prodigious output?
PP: Bluntly, I don’t. Between my full-time job, my work with transgender folks, the 25,000 comic book collection my wife and I own and are organizing for selling, our scuba diving, fixing up our home to sell once we retire in five or so years, and working to reissue my novels with my own company, Lofty Publishing, there’s no place left to schedule writing.
No worries. Writing pushes its way in. If I don’t write a few hours a week, I become antsy and even irritable. So, I tend to set aside the early mornings–around 5:00–to write. Hopefully I can increase that in the near future. I’m more than half-way through no fewer than five novels at this point, so . . . yeah, I want to write more.
BWG: You’ve written both series and stand-alone novels. What do you find are the advantages/disadvantages of each? What are their unique challenges for you?
PP: While I do write series and stand-alone novels, with only one exception, my published stories are all in the same setting: the Shards Universe. That allows the stories to simply be themselves in length, nature, and character. My universe covers an entire galaxy (ours) and a small part of another. And my stories currently cover a period between 1946 and 4012. That increases the advantages by offering variety and a consistent history. It also minimizes the disadvantages because my characters’ abilities, stories, and background can be extremely varied because of the huge span of time and space in the universe “sand box.”
One unique challenge is the massive time span. We break the light barrier in the 23rd century, using raw, untested, and potentially dangerous engines. By the 41st century, we’re able to jump galaxies in less than five years. I have stories spread out in that gap, and I need to demonstrate a believable progression of that.
A second unique challenge is showing story continuity over that span that ties characters together in such a way that is both believable and captures the reader’s interest in the overall storyline of the universe.
BWG: A universal task for writers is to write from the POV of characters, with whom the author has little in common. Even more so in science fiction, when writing from the POV of a human who has little in common with homo sapiens, or even the POV of an alien or monster. What advice can you offer on facing these challenges? Do writing aliens help/hinder your portrayal of humans?
PP: There are no real aliens in the Shards Universe. My focus is on the traits, strengths, and failures of humans as a race. In the Shards Universe, there are four human races: Homo sapiens, Homo marinas, Homo magicus, and a fourth as-yet unclassified 4th human race. So, sort-of aliens, since they have distinct differences physically, mentally, socially, and race viewpoint.
My ability to write such varied POVs comes from a birth defect. I was born transgender. In some ways, I’ve been an alien all my life, writing about humans. Since I was a kid, I’ve always struggled to find my place and failing. I’ve studied people all my life fascinated on the lives they lead, the worldviews they have. Any advice I’d give is to write about someone different than you. Consider yourself average for what you are. An average person of average skills and intelligence with neutral worldviews. Establishing that baseline, look around you and observe the differences between you and what you’re writing about. Study a difference and work out what impact it has on you. For science fiction or fantasy, expand those differences. A lifespan that is naturally ten thousand years. Speaking with colors. Capable of breathing air or water or even flourishing in the vacuum of space without protection or shelter. Perhaps program like humans, but with reality as a platform.
BWG: Which authors are your favorites? How much influence do they have on your style?
PP: The three authors who’ve had the greatest impact on my style are Robert Heinlein, Alistair MacLean, and Louis L’Amour. I was series reading each of them before I was a teenager. When Eight Bells Toll was my first Alistair MacLean read, when I was nine. (Yeah, 1969 was a pretty good year for me.) Utah Blaine was my first Louis L’Amour and The Door Into Summer my first Heinlein, both when I was around twelve.
All convinced me to write primarily in the first person. All three use humor as a coloring of the story, no matter how grim or serious. Mostly understated, dry or self-deprecating, it is a humor that can cut to the point as needed. And all three write with the goal of convincing the reader to read “just one more chapter.”
BWG: Many of your books share the Shards Universe. Describe your world-building process. How might universe-building differ from world-building?
PP: It is a matter of scale. A universe is a place of many worlds, each which develop at different rates, worldviews, cultures, and goals. Worlds that are in communication with each other will create differences that must be dealt with in different ways.
An added complexity is time-building. What happens in a universe changes from year to century to millennia. An added benefit is that the possibility of stories to tell explodes.
My main process is to start with normal (for them) people, put them together, and see what happens. I build on the interaction, then nudge it by inserting an extrapolation that alters and intensifies the natural interaction.
BWG: Is there a genre that you haven’t written in, that beckons to you now?
PP: Yes. Screen/TV writing. Mike D’Ambrosio and I have adapted my YA adventure novel into a television series that’s been floating around the studios for a few years. (Covid stagnation.) Caribbean Angel is adapted from my novel The Angel of St. Thomas vs The Galactic Good Guys, but Mike is the experienced TV scriptwriter. I so want to expand into that skill. Not to replace Mike–we’re total partners in this endeavor–but to simply learn and help.
BWG: Under the pen-name of H.K. Devonshire, how does it feel to be Mars’ most popular author? How do Martian fans differ from Earthers?
PP: I’m having a blast with being H.K. Devonshire! His writing style is radically different than mine since he writes for Martians (humans who’ve settled on Mars), and I write for Terrans. I’m also enjoying muddying reality, since H.K. is a character of the Shards Universe. He writes for my characters. Now that he’s being published on Earth by Falstaff Publishing, my readers can read what my characters read. If you read my novel Redeeming the Plumb or Horizons or TAU, you’ll see references to stories and novels that you, my reader, can now enjoy. He’s also vastly more successful than I am, with dozens of novels, holovids, and other media. His stories are popular over centuries and on many planets. Even after Mars’ civilization is destroyed in the Terran/Martian Wars and humans never return to the red planet, he remains popular.
BWG: What projects do you have gestating in the breeding vats? (i.e., what are you working on, what’s next to come out?)?
PP: Yeah . . . that’s a lot. Double-Dragon closed after 20 wonderful years, so I’m working at reissuing all my Shards Universe novels (Troid Piracy War, Alone & Afar, Dixie Gomez: Bounty Hunter) and my Caribbean Angel universe books (Ærinndís, The Zombies of Wolfsville, and a graphic novel, Celeste the Pirate) with Lofty Publishing.
BWG: You mentioned a birth defect, resulting in transgenderism. How has that shaped you, and what impact has it had on your writing?
PP: First and foremost: At least for me–and for nearly any trans person who is diagnosed as being “severe”–it’s not fun. Most reading this have an identity of gender that is so solid that it’s not thought about anymore than thinking to breathe. It just is.
I don’t have that. I live a life that, even as an active and loving Christian, the thought of suicide is a lifelong companion. I look at people and don’t understand any of them. I’m excluded–and self-exclude–from everyone. Think about it: I live a life of lies I can’t avoid because nobody sees me as I what I am. Even those who know and try mightily to, they can’t.
Okay . . . bummed out enough? Having said all that, I will say there are a few defenses to living like this that translate well to writing. I’m willing to bet whoever talked about “suffering for the art” was or knew someone who was trans.
Since I have to live a lie, I got pretty good at telling lies. I had to. And with a half-twist, lies turn into stories. I wrote Shards–four books totaling 296,000 words–in a single year. Not to publish, but simply to write about being transgender. And the kicker is I didn’t even know it was a real thing when I wrote it.
Science fiction and fantasy were the natural genres for me. So was writing in the first-person female, which is my choice for most of my stories. I’ve been complemented many times at my skill in writing a female POV. Confession: I’m cheating. I have a female brain. And yet, I’ve lived—been forced to live without anyone knowing—to live a male life. So, I have insights there, too.
But I’m neither. And both. Adaptation is required, but so is escape. So, I’m not only great at lying, I have a non-stop imagination that can go places most can’t in my attempts to survive. “Lost in the wilds of my mind’s eye” is a phrase I use to describe it.
Yet I also have the outsider viewpoint, and a disassociation from cis folks, which most of you are. That makes me an alien is some ways. I just don’t “get” normal. Medical treatment has eased the intensity of the never-ending conflict in me, but it won’t ever make me normal.
All these things—accomplishment at lying; non-stop, self-preserving imagination, and social disconnect—can be of great value when you want to write a story. That gives me a unique life that most likely provides an advantage when it comes to weaving tales about what could be.
BWG: Thank you for a great interview, Peter!