Feature Interview: Kenneth Tam
A founding partner in Iceberg Publishing, Kenneth Tam remains one of the company’s leading authors. His Equations and Defense Command series have anchored the Iceberg fiction lines since 2003, and are now being built upon by authors Wesley Prewer and John Fioravanti. We sat down with Kenneth to talk about those series, and a new adventure that he will be launching in 2008.
Iceberg Publishing’s first fiction title was The Human Equation in 2003. How have things changed in the four years between the launch of that book and today?
They’ve changed a lot. When we started Iceberg, we knew we’d be anchoring the company with two books: Standing Tall: A Daughter’s Gift, and The Human Equation. We had plans for more books in the Equations series, but that aside, we didn’t have any firm blueprints for what would come next. We wanted to add more series and more authors, but it took time for our success to build to the point where that was possible. Four years later, we have Wes and John on board, we have fifteen books in print, and we have many new developments on the horizon. It’s been a good four years!
Speaking of things on the horizon, tell us what’s coming up for the Equations novels.
The Equations are going along steadily. The core eight novels are still on track –– we’ll be releasing The Nemesis Equation, the seventh book, in July 2008, and the final volume, The Destiny Equation, is on track for July 2009. Wes Prewer’s Campaign Equation duology should be finished up in 2008, and John Fioravanti’s Genesis Saga will be debuting then too. That universe is vast — when the core Equations novels finish up, readers will still have plenty of fresh stories to read.
Will your writings in the Equations universe stop after the core eight novels?
I doubt it… I expect I’ll be going back to the Equations again after The Destiny Equation is done. I have ideas kicking around in my head for a couple of Campaign Equations, and there could even be more core Equations novels… but only if the story is there. I have no intention of continuing the series if it jeopardizes the integrity of the stories and the characters.
With the Equations coming to a close, are you spending more time on your Defense Command novels?
At the moment, I am spending quite a bit of time on DC books. The series has proved so popular that we need to keep the books coming out at a rate of four per year. There’s not a lot of time to stay away from them… not that I’m complaining! Writing for Ken Barron’s universe is a lot of fun, and it gives me the chance to tell different kinds of stories than I could in the Equations universe.
What’s coming next for Ken Barron and his gallant compatriots?
Well, there’s a war on, so I’ll wager there’s some fighting! In December, The Sinope Affair and The Dark Cruise will be released, and they’ll complete the reminiscences for the year 2232. This Martian War series will be running to the end of 2235, to a total of twenty books… so there’s a lot left to come. I will say, though, that while all those books will still be part of ‘The Martian War’ series, official hostilities are not going to last nearly that long. The plot will continue to move as organically as possible.
Organically? Would you mind elaborating on that?
Well, my goal with this series has always been to make DC as historically plausible as possible… to make it feel like you’re reading the reminiscences of a real officer, who fought in a real war. In my history studies, I often read these sorts of accounts (albeit with less dialogue), so when it comes to figuring out plot, I try to make sure what happens in the Martian War is credible. It must have some anti-climaxes, moments full of absurdity, and everything in between… because that’s the way history really is. That means the war can’t just labor on and on because I need stories to fill books… the war will end when the natural course of the plot dictates it must. But as is the case in history, there will be plenty of messes to clean up – and scores to settle — after the ceasefire is signed.
Will there be more series in Ken Barron’s universe after the Martian War ends?
I think so. I already have an idea for a short follow-up series, actually… looking at the consequences of the Martian War and its fallout, there are plenty of stories that are left to tell. If I do end up writing those stories, though, Ken Barron will have a different role in the action – they’ll still be from his point of view, but he’d be in a very different time in his personal life.
So to review, you have two successful ongoing series, both with strong prospects of continuing well into the future. And now you’re adding another adventure series?
Ha, I suppose that’s more or less what’s happening! We’ll be launching His Majesty’s New World: The Grasslands in April 2008.
Tell us about this new series –– is it a departure from your other books?
Yes and no. It is quite different from the Equations and Defense Command in its setting –– it’s an alternate history based in 1919. But like the other series, it’s anchored by a military unit, and is essentially an adventure on an alien planet.
A military force from 1919 ends up on a ‘new world’?
Indeed. The premise is that, in 1881, an explorer in the Canadian Rocky mountains discovers a cave that turns out to be a gateway to a new planet. Shortly thereafter, the Americans find another such cave in the Rockies on their side of the border. By 1919, the United States and the British Empire have become close allies, and are colonizing and exploiting the resources of this new world in classic Imperial style. That’s when we join the story, with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment being assigned to join two mysterious ladies on a mission to uncover one of the secrets central to life on this new world.
Has writing alternate history been more difficult than writing fiction set in the future?
There’s a lot more research to be done for alternate history, I think. You can make a lot up when you’re setting your story 200 years in the future, or better yet, 700 years out there. But when it’s rooted in an alternate past, you do have to be very conscious of what really happened, before you can mess around with it. I was lucky: some of the research I did for my Masters program [in history] actually formed the base of the story in His Majesty’s New World… killed two research birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive the analogy.
Tell us about the recent photo shoot for His Majesty’s New World.
That was an incredible amount of fun. Because the series is set in 1919 with a regiment from the British Empire, we were able to ask First World War re-enactors to participate in a photo shoot. The men of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry unit of the Canadian Military Heritage Society agreed, and we were able to get incredible photos during a wonderful shoot. Readers will be able to see some of those when the site for the series comes up… and of course, when the books come out.
So a lot is happening right now in Iceberg fiction… as a partner in the company, are you pleased with how Iceberg is developing?
Honestly, I’m thrilled. The success we’ve had so far has been incredible, and we’re getting the chance to build on that success with each year that goes by. I’ve personally had the chance to go coast to coast promoting my books, and now we’re seeing great reaction to John Fioravanti’s Heart of Teaching and to Wes Prewer’s Campaign Equations. These are really exciting times for us, and we’re looking forward to many more exciting years ahead.
What would you say to writers looking to get published, or to get into publishing themselves?
Publishing is not an easy business — publishers everywhere have to deal with some very tight profit margins, which means they often can’t afford to give new writers a chance. Persistence and patience will pay off with some of these established publishers, but with the technology available in digital printing today, it is entirely possible to set up your own company… that just takes a lot of work — and some luck. First and foremost, you have to love your stories. If you don’t care deeply about the stories you’re trying to tell, you may have problems hanging in there, whichever route you take. If you really believe in your stories, you must keep pushing them forward, by whatever means necessary. That’s been my philosophy, at least… it’s never easy, but I’ve never regretted it.
Stay tuned to www.icebergpublishing.com for news on Kenneth’s upcoming His Majesty’s New World novels, and visit www.earther.net and www.defensecommand.net for information on his ongoing series.