A New Jersey native currently living in the Kansas City area, Robert “Bob” Krenzel is a retired Army officer and a veteran of the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
He is a happily married father of two, whose time is mostly spent sharing his children’s activities or tending to a dog and a small herd of cats.
A passion for history and desire to share with others inspired Bob to write historical fiction. The third novel in his Gideon Hawke Series, A Nest of Hornets, published in December 2016. His previous works included This Glorious Cause and Times That Try Men’s Souls.
Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
I have always enjoyed a good story! I grew up in a family that loved to gather and tell stories—usually the same stories over and over—so it came naturally. Early on I developed a love of history and of writing, and I found I really enjoyed reading historical fiction, so it all just kind of came together for me. Now I have a family of my own, and reading has always been very important to us. My wife and I read to our kids from before their births, and that time together has remained very special. When I was in Iraq I went so far as to buy children’s books online and have them shipped to me; I would record myself reading them, and then send book and tape home so I could be there indirectly. Now that my kids are a little older, writing the Gideon Hawke Series is in a sense an extension of that passion for books and stories.
I have also found that writing is therapeutic. I struggled a bit with post-traumatic stress, and writing has helped me purge some of those demons. What’s more, writing is a very hopeful process: when you write you are telling a story for a future audience. Being able to deal with the past while looking to the future is a pretty good deal.
What character from your book fills you with hope?
Ruth Munroe gives me hope. She is a strong, independent young woman making a difference in a male-dominated world. She does not settle: she dreams and then she makes it happen. Ruth reminds me not only how far women have come, but also how much potential there is for my daughter.
What character from your work frightens you, makes you feel dirty to write?
Most of my characters are just ordinary people living in extraordinary times. I even feel empathy for the enemy soldiers; having fought in a couple of unpopular wars, far from home, against an enemy who plays by different rules than mine, I can relate! So it is not often one of my characters gets under my skin.
That said, in my forthcoming novel, A Nest of Hornets, I introduce Dan Scott, a militia officer with a habit of murdering his prisoners. I can’t really say that writing him makes me feel dirty, but he does scare me from time to time, because he reminds me how easy it is to slip down the moral slope, especially in combat. I have been in situations in which I felt the pull of those dark forces myself; I was fortunate to have the support and grounding to stick to my values. I think what frightens me the most about “Black Dan” is that while he is a fairly awful person, there is solid logic behind his actions. He is not insane: he follows a reasonable if immoral path as he copes with tragic times during which unspeakable things happen to people. If you turn on the news tonight and watch carefully, you will find that the world is full of Dan Scotts. Perhaps that is what is so frightening about him.
Your main character walks into a bar. What happens?
He gets thrown out because he’s underage! Unless, of course, it’s an Eighteenth Century tavern, in which case Gideon Hawke probably finds the quietest corner he can, orders a pint, minds his own business, and gets lost in his thoughts. He’s an introvert, and not terribly exciting in that regard. Where it could get interesting is if someone picks a fight with him. If I know him as well as I think I do, Gideon tries to talk his way out of the situation, using a bit of humor and flattery to win over his foe. If that does not work, and he is pushed over the edge, things are going to get really violent, really fast; and Gideon is probably going to win.
When you are writing, tell me about the emotions that are running through you and what it takes to work alongside them.
When I am “in the moment” I tend to be analytical rather than emotional. I focus on what needs to be done, and the emotion comes later. After writing a particularly good scene I may sit back and think, “Whoa!” Now that I think of it, that is one characteristic Gideon Hawke and I have in common. I will admit, though, that I will often use music to put myself in the right frame of mind, and when I start writing a scene and the creative juices are really flowing, I do tend to get a little excited.
How do you police your production? Do you have a word quota, or a page goal, maybe you work for a set amount of time? Do you place demands on yourself when you’re working? How do you meet those demands?
Life happens way too much for me to have anything like a set time to write every day! My overarching time goal is to stay ahead of the 240th Anniversary of the events in my books. In order to do so, I set an appointment with my editor, Ashlee Enz, and use that as a deadline to motivate myself. I use monthly word count milestones to let me know if I am on track to meet that goal. So far it has worked.
A publishing house gets ahold of you and wants you to take over writing an established character. For instance, DC Comics calls you and tells you they want you to take over writing Batman. What is the dream? What established character would you love to write?
I would love to write Gru, from Despicable Me! He is such a delightful blend of naughty and nice; I think he really speaks to the inner villain in each of us. What’s more, I have been told that Gru and I have a lot in common; I can only assume that in saying that my wife was referring to my army of minions.
You’ve chosen a specific historical era as the setting of your series. Do you have a historical background, and how much research was involved in the telling of this story?
I have a bachelor’s degree in History, but more importantly history has always fascinated me. I enjoy reading it, but even more I love traveling to places where historical events have happened. So, yes, I am a proud history nerd.
Writing historical fiction requires continuous research. I read books, browse websites, and look for ways to bring a bit of history to life. But my favorite aspect of research is visiting the sites. I do my best to physically visit as many of the locations I write about as I can. I recently spent a little quality time at the Saratoga National Battlefield researching my next novel, A Constant Thunder. I had read a number of books about Saratoga, but until I stood on that ground I could never envision what the clashes at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights were like. By the time I was done I could not only envision them, I could almost smell the gun smoke. If I do my job properly, my readers will smell the smoke as well.
You have in these novels a blossoming relationship between your young protagonist and the girl he finds himself in love with. In writing the book, did the time period provide any challenges because of archaic courting customs? How were you able to create a romance in this time period that young adults could identify with?
I did, and continue to do, quite a bit of research on courtship/dating/marriage etc. in the 1770s. I get a bit of a bye on courtship rituals because of the extraordinary circumstances in which this romance blossomed: the spark started routinely enough, but the winds of war fanned it into flame. Gideon and Ruth have to seize every day, because they never know which will be the last.
The Gideon-Ruth relationship seems to be one of the things about the series that resonates most with readers; I think the reason is that when I created those two characters I realized that people in the 1770s were not so different from people today. They share many of the same hopes, dreams, and fears. Gideon and Ruth are ordinary teenagers doing their best to figure things out and make their way in the world. They have the added attraction of being the kind of people you’d want for friends. I think readers identify with them because it is a bit like watching two good friends fall in love: you are excited for them and pray that it works out.
Without giving any spoilers, what is your favorite thing about this book?
In A Nest of Hornets I incorporated a “whodunit” storyline with a lot of twists and turns. I am very pleased with how that worked out: I think it keeps the reader guessing right to the end.
If we wanted a good story—book, show or movie—one that you didn’t write, where would you send us?
If you are looking for something fresh and new, I would direct you to Rebel Song by Amanda Clay. It is a young adult dystopian adventure/romance. That genre is not my normal preference, but Amanda did a wonderful job building her world and crafting her story. And she threw in a delightful surprise at the end that really hooked me.
If you are looking for something more “seasoned,” I recently rediscovered J.R.R. Tolkien, so I’d probably send you to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I live near the National World War I Museum; as the Museum observed the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I attended a lecture by John Garth about how Tolkien’s experiences on the Somme are reflected in Middle Earth. That was quite a revelation! More significantly for me, it also made me realize how my experiences in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan manifest themselves in my writing. So, if you asked me for a good story, I’d probably tell you a little about the Somme and encourage you to read some Tolkien. I’ll bet you’d never look at Hobbits or the Dead Marshes the same way again.
Let’s talk about tools. Do you have a word processor that you would tell us to use? Is there a certain computer that has become your favorite? What do you look for in a keyboard? What would you absolutely have to have if you were to sit down and write your next book?
I write whenever and wherever I can on whatever platform I can. I always assemble my manuscript in Microsoft Word, mostly because that is what I am accustomed to using. It works for me, my editor, and for Createspace, so I see no reason to change. As for a keyboard, I prefer one that is quiet, mostly so I don’t bother others.
How do you balance historical accuracy with the drama of the story to keep the young adult reader engaged in the series?
I feel that some historical fiction writers, even some very successful ones, have to really stretch to keep their characters involved in exciting events. When I was creating Gideon Hawke I wanted a plausible character who could realistically be involved in some of the most monumental events of the Revolution. My research revealed a few units on which Washington consistently relied; so I created a character with traits and a backstory that could place him at Lexington and Bunker Hill, but who could wind up in the 1st Continental Regiment, fighting at Long Island, Trenton, Princeton, and beyond. I also benefit from the fact that the Revolution itself is a pretty dramatic story, with the underdogs getting smacked around but always coming back for more, and ultimately coming out on top.
Having placed Gideon in the right unit, the historical record forms a sort of base around which I weave other themes and storylines. Battles and skirmishes form a backdrop for the Gideon and Ruth to explore their relationship, life in general, and the world around them. I think the combination of dramatic historical events and relatable plot points is a winner!
Robert Krenzel’s books are available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle at the following links:
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