Friday, September 20, 2013

"Marching with Caesar-Antony and Cleopatra, Part II": An Interview with R.W. Peake

About the Book
In the fourth book of the critically acclaimed Marching With Caesar series, Titus Pullus and his 10th Legion are still in the thick of the maelstrom that follows after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar. With the disastrous campaign in Parthia behind them, Mark Antony continues his struggle with Octavian, both men vying for ultimate control of Rome. Enter Cleopatra VII, the Pharaoh of Egypt and mother of Julius Caesar's son, who harbors ambitions and dreams of her own. Through her son Caesarion, Cleopatra is a powerful player in her own right in the continuing drama being played out for control of the most powerful society on Earth. With Cleopatra combining forces with Mark Antony, Octavian, the legitimate heir to Caesar's fortune is facing the most formidable barrier to his ascendancy yet. Through it all, Titus Pullus and his men must tread a very careful path as the two forces head for an inevitable showdown at a place called Actium. 

An Interview with R.W. Peake
What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?
I think the biggest issue/challenge I've run into is the bias against indie authors. I can't deny that there are valid reasons for this bias, but there are exceptions. And the reality is that, while at first I decided to self-publish because I had been rejected a whopping 22 times and thought, "Boy, do I suck", after seeing Amanda Hocking's story about her being rejected 1,000 times and hearing how she self-published and ended up with a book contract, I decided to try that approach. My hope was that, like her, I would attract the attention of a "real" publisher. While that's happened, I am very thankful that it didn't happen right away. By the time I was approached by one large and one small publisher earlier this year, I had learned enough of the business and had achieved a level of success in the form of sales to understand that I would have nothing to gain, and quite a bit to lose by going the traditional route.

And yet, even now, I get questioned by other aspiring authors about how I can feel like I'm successful without having a "real" publisher, despite the fact that of the six books that I've published, four of them have spent time at #1 in the genre in which I write, Ancient Rome. My daily sales are in the 3 figures, and yet I still run into this idea that the only reason I am self-published isn't by choice. However, I would maintain that, for the majority of authors who would be termed "mid-listers", going with a traditional publisher is the true "vanity publisher".

Is writing a full-time career for you? If not, how else do you spend your work day?
Yes, this is all I do. I've been extremely fortunate that, within six months of the release of my first book, my sales were such that I didn't have to put in my application to Costco, as I feared I would. Now every day is spent with activities that support my books, and advance my brand as an author. I've always been a workaholic, and I would say that I spend at least 10 hours a day doing this, but the difference is that I love what I'm doing, so it doesn't seem like work. And the results of my work are easier to see than when I was a VP of a software company, which was what I did before I decided to roll the dice and do this full-time.  

Tell us about your favorite character in this book!
He's the same character that's been my favorite in the previous three books, and that's the main character, Titus Pullus. By this point in the story, he is the Primus Pilus, or First Spear Centurion of the 10th Legion, which he joined as a teenager in 61 B.C., when the then-Praetor of Hispania, Gaius Julius Caesar raised the Legion to conduct a campaign against rebelling tribes. Titus was born very large, and his size was too much for his mother, who died in childbirth, for which his father Lucius held him responsible. Their relationship is one of the reasons that Titus is determined to leave his farm outside of Astigi, and for a member of his class, the only way out is through the Legions. With his boyhood friend, Vibius Domitius, they join the 10th, which was the most famous Legion of the day, becoming known as Caesar's Legion. One of Titus' characteristics is his immense size and strength, particularly compared to his fellow Legionaries, as he stands over six feet tall. However, despite his lack of education, Titus is also extremely intelligent, and ambitious, and very quickly he comes to the attention of Caesar, who promotes him up through the ranks very rapidly.

By the opening of Marching With Caesar-Antony and Cleopatra: Part II-Cleopatra, Caesar has been dead for some time, and Titus has been the Primus Pilus for more than ten years. In the intervening time, his friendship with his childhood friend Vibius has dramatically ended, on the field at Pharsalus when Titus was the commander of the Second Cohort, and Vibius, his Optio, participated in the mutiny of the 10th Legion. So enraged at what he thinks is a betrayal of his general, Titus comes very close to striking his best and longest friend down, but while it ended his friendship, it helps his career because Caesar sees what happens, and realizes that Titus is his man to the death.

One theme of Titus' story, and his life is that, while he is extremely successful in his career, his personal life suffers accordingly. He has already lost his wife and two children, claimed by a plague while he was in Africa with Caesar during the first civil war. This sense of loss is beginning to wear on Titus, as he questions some of the choices he's made, when he chose his career over the part of his life that is supposed to be what makes life worthwhile; family and friends.

Which character in Marching With Caesar-Antony and Cleopatra: Part II-Cleopatra will be the most difficult to part with?
Without a doubt, Titus. In fact, I began what has become the MWC series in 2008, and I actually wrote almost the entire story before I released the first book in 2012. While this wasn't anything I planned beforehand, I made the decision to finish Titus' story before I released the first book, which has turned out to be one of the key factors in the success of the series, IMO. Basically it has allowed me to control the pace of the releases, so that I have built an audience more quickly than I would have if I had released the first book back in 2009 when I reached that point, then not release the second book until 2010, the third book in 2011, etc.

However, it wasn't until a couple months ago that I actually sat down and finished the very ending of Titus' story, and it turned out to be extraordinarily difficult. I'd read other authors who talked about how attached they had become to their characters, but frankly, I didn't buy it; until, that is, it happened to me. It was particularly difficult because of the circumstances of the story; the first book opens with Titus as a 62 year old man, reflecting on his 42 year career under the standard, after he's achieved his ultimate goal of elevating himself to the equestrian class. So he's at the end of his life, looking back, and each book covers a part of his extraordinary life and career. The last book, which will be released in November and titled Marching With Caesar-Final Campaign, finishes the story, and it is...bittersweet, both for me as an author, and for Titus, who achieved so much, but as he realizes at the end of his life, at a terrible cost.

Do you share any personality traits with Titus?
So I've been told. I think more than anything, what Titus and I share was the relentless focus on our respective careers, although I would like to think that I learned before he did that the cost that comes with that kind of ambition is too high.

And I also think that another thing we share is the chip on the shoulder that comes from being considered less intelligent than we actually are, simply because of our educational background. I didn't attend college until after my retirement from the Marine Corps, but before that, like Titus I frequently ran into people who had the attitude that the reason we chose the military as a career is because we weren't smart enough to do anything else. This was accentuated by the fact, at least in my case, that I actually chose to serve in the Infantry, and going farther, volunteered and was trained as a sniper. Just like in Ancient Rome, there is a large segment of our society that automatically views people like Titus and me as knuckle-draggers. And like Titus, I used this as fuel to excel.

What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?
Other than the money? I think the best thing that's come from this series is the response I've gotten from veterans, particularly those who have seen combat. One of my goals when I started writing about Titus was to communicate the idea that there are timeless elements that fighting men of every age would recognize. Even more than the danger, more than the horrors of combat, the camaraderie, and the humor that is an integral part of the daily existence of men who live on the ragged edge of combat. Having those aspects recognized and appreciated by so many readers has been the best part.

What kind of research was involved for the series? Did you find it became easier with each book?
Yes, it did become easier, mainly because once I did my "immersive research" at the very beginning of this project, which found me dressed as a Late Republican Legionary and wandering around Big Bend National Park, to get an idea of what it was like to force march over rugged terrain, then spent a couple of days stabbing a (dead) pig hanging from my garage to get an idea of what it was like to handle a gladius, everything after that was gravy, so to speak. All that was required after that was a willingness to spend money on out-of-print books from the late 19th and early 20th century, along with struggling with my college Latin to read the primary sources in the original language.

Who are your writing inspirations?
Louis L'Amour, Stephen King, Edward Rutherfurd, and Bernard Cornwell

What type of hero do you like best?
Flawed. A hero in the classical sense.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Probably Stephen King, and I would want to know if he ever planned on doing a follow-up to The Stand, which I consider to be not only his best book, but one of the best stories I've read.

What was the last book that made you cry?
Ooh. Uh, I think it was "Wild Animals That I Have Known" by Ernst Thompson Seton, when I was about seven or eight. I'm not a big crier, over books anyway. Sports teams, on the other hand...

The last book that made you laugh?
Probably "Merde Actually", which is the story of an expat Brit living in Paris. It brought back a lot of memories of my own year that I lived in Paris in 1997 when I was sent there by my software company.

What’s the best book you read this summer?
Mine? :-)

What were your favorite books as a child?
The Hardy Boys, then Louis L'Amour.

If you could live the life of any character in any book, which would choose and why?
One of the characters from The Stand (the good ones of course). Just the idea of living in a world where the rules are being rewritten, and all that matters is sheer competence, without worrying about politics, ideology, or religious views. Plus, I like the idea of being completely self-reliant on oneself.

Is there any place and time in the world and in history that you would like to visit? Uhhh, Ancient Rome. No doubt and no hesitation. I would LOVE to be able to travel back in time to see the world's greatest power in action.

How do you unwind after a long writing session?
Spend time with my Yellow Lab Sadie. Living where we do, it's a dog paradise, where there are mountain rivers to explore, and the Straits of Juan de Fuca less than a mile from my house, where she loves to swim. Just today she spent time in the Dungeness River trying to catch the salmon swimming upstream.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
The chance to explore history at a level that allows me to explore the day-to-day challenges and existence of the people who lived during that time. After all, history is created by people, just like you and me.  

Tell us the soundtrack to your book.
Something by John Williams; think the Gladiator soundtrack.  

Why did you choose to be an Indie writer and would you choose to self-publish again?
Absolutely. I'm very happy I chose to go this path, and I've been approached by two publishers, one large and one small, and it took me about 10 seconds to say no to both. There just is frankly no upside for me at this point to go the traditional route, and while I've learned never to say never, I am hard-pressed to think of a scenario where it would make economic or artistic sense for me to change my mind.

If you had a chance to rewrite, is there anything about your book you would change?
I wouldn't do my own editing of my first book in the MWC series. Although it hasn't hurt it, now that I have an editor, and I see the difference between the second book on and the first book, I absolutely cringe. It was a rookie mistake, but one I won't be repeating.  

How long did it take to get this book from idea to being published? What was the most grueling process?
I started what has become the MWC series in March of 2008, when I was still working as a VP of a software company. When my company went belly-up in December of that year, I realized that I really, really hated my life at that point. On paper I had a great job, a six-figure income, and a big house; all the things that we're supposed to want. But I was miserable. Because I was responsible for running software development teams in both the U.S. and India, that meant I literally slept with my Blackberry under my pillow, and I can't count the number of midnight (and later) conference calls I had. But I was finished with what would be the first book in 2009, and yet I didn't publish it until 2012. My reason for that was that I decided to finish the entire Titus story arc, before I published the first book. I wish I could give a good reason, but it turned out to be the best thing I could have done, because it's allowed me to control the pace of releasing each book, and build a reader base more quickly than if I had gone ahead and published in 2009. That said, it meant that 2010 and 2011 were very much a grind, because I wasn't sure I was doing the right thing.

Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
Apparently. One of the most common questions I get now is "What's your process?", or "How do you do that?" And what I've realized is that I'm...unusual, because almost everything is "written down" before I actually start typing. But it's all in my head. When I actually sit down to write, it's more dictation than actual creation, because sometime in the night, or in the car, or wherever, I've done all the writing in my head. What this means is that I'm very prolific; honestly, I feel badly when I'm asked how I overcome writer's block, or when I'm struggling, because it just doesn't happen. I've never had any difficulty in creating a story. That doesn't mean that I don't tweak what I've created in my head once it's down on paper, but by and large everything is fully formed.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first book at the age of 10, and it was a story about the Commie hordes of Russia street, and my friends and I were the only things there to stop them. Why they chose my street I never went into, but at the time I was immersed in WWII, so all the weaponry that we had was from that era; personally, I favored my trusty Tommy gun. What I find interesting is that you can also track my changing interests, specifically when I first started reading Louis L'Amour. This elicited a location change, to the only other area of the country I knew, and is featured in many L'Amour stories, the Four Corners area of Colorado. Our relocation was accomplished by the only thing I knew how to drive, a riding lawnmower, although we did "soup it up" so that it could go a whopping 20 mph. Once in Colorado, our weaponry changed from WWII-vintage to trusty six-shooters and Winchesters, where we would mosey into town and engage in epic shootouts with the unfortunate Russkies. I still have those notebooks; who knows, maybe one day I'll finish that story as well.  

Laptop, desktop or notebook and pen/pencil for writing?
Laptop, always.  

Do you believe in writer’s block? Has it ever happened to you?
Not that I don't believe in it, but as I mentioned earlier, I just don't understand it. And no, it's never happened to me.  

Is there a book you’ve ever read more than five times? Which book and what drew you back to it?
The Stand. In fact I'm actually listening to the unabridged version of it now.

Favorite place?

Best Christmas present?
Trip to Paris, with my daughter and her husband

Favorite color?
Two; scarlet and gold, colors of the Marine Corps and the USC Trojans

Meet the Author
R.W. Peake is a 53 year-old retired Infantry Marine born and raised in Texas and currently living in Washington. This is his third published novel and is Book III of his completed series that covers the career of Titus Pullus.  


1 comment:

  1. Just finished the first of the series. Not a big fan of Roman history but this author has peaked my interest by telling the tales from a different perspective. It is on to book 2 "Civil War" and I am really looking forward to another good read.