This week’s interview is with Dan Repperger, author of “Surviving Sunset” and host of the Fear the Boot podcast.
Where did you get the idea for your story?
When people talk about history, we seem to focus on what happened but not always why. As an armchair historian, I’ve always been fascinated by deconstructing the people who created history’s major turning points. What kind of person did these great or horrible things? What were their motivations and fears? Strengths and weaknesses? Life story before and after the events?
How did Hitler become so evil? What kind of music did George Washington like? What made Clifton Sprague crazy enough to fight the Battle off Samar and resourceful enough to win?
That’s really what inspired “Surviving Sunset.” The story is about a major event (i.e. the fall and occupation of an entire planet), but that’s used as a mechanism to test the characters and draw out who they are when social facades are literally and figuratively burned away.
Do you plan to write more stories in that setting or with those characters?
Yes. In fact, I already have. I first started developing the setting in 1997. It went without a name for many years before I settled on Epoch of Rysos. In the early 2000s, I was contracted to publish serial fiction about another corner of the setting. That series ran for several years before the publisher shut down; however, I continued developing the idea.
I’ve been asked to do something quite specific for the next volume of Sojourn, but I have every intention of revisiting Epoch of Rysos in volume three, as well as trying my hand at a solo project somewhere along the way.
What was the appeal of Sojourn for you?
First and most importantly, it was a collaborative project with people I knew and respected. Having that sense of community kept me focused, motivated, and pushing myself harder than I would have if I’d been doing it on my own. I think it also made the whole thing feel less intimidating, since I wasn’t doing it alone.
Second, I’m humble enough to admit I’ve not spent nearly as much time perfecting my writing as I have my speaking (mostly through eight years of podcasting). I didn’t feel quite ready to tackle a novel. But a short story done with the support of friends and oversight of professional editors? That felt like a very reasonable goal.
What was your favorite part about writing for the Sojourn anthology?
Having it done! Not because it was a dreadful process—farthest thing from it—but because of the awesome feeling of holding the book in my hands, seeing it on the shelves of bookstores, and hearing how much readers have enjoyed it cover-to-cover. It’s that indescribable joy of saying, “Hey, we did this.”
Did you learn anything while writing your story, if so, what?
A piece of fiction is only yours when you’re creating it. The moment you put it in front of other people, it becomes a shared idea. A reader’s own life experiences will influence how they interpret your story, and they just might understand parts of what you wrote better than you do.
When I was first drafting the story, there was a central character by the name of Hollenbach who was trying to win for the sake of “king and country” without any real regard for the people caught in the middle. That clashed with the more humanitarian views of his second-in-command, Mercer, until various characters were able to out some of Hollenbach’s secrets and get him deposed as unfit for command. However, if you’ve read the story, you never encountered that character.
When the editors first looked at my story, they felt he was almost a distraction, taking up space that would have been better spent developing the other characters. And they were right.
I’m a firm believer in respecting authorial intent, but I think authors that stick to their guns too firmly can miss out on the chance to explore some of their best ideas, simply because they’re so focused on one aspect of the narrative that they don’t realize the even bigger potential sitting untouched elsewhere.
Is there any trivia or behind-the-scenes information about your story you would like to share?
Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, my brother and I co-wrote material for Battletech. We started writing through AWOL Productions (publisher of the official fan magazine at the time) and then later doing small projects for FASA itself. We were given a shot at some bigger projects, but unfortunately FASA went under before any of them saw the light of day.
While many elements of “Surviving Sunset” are original to this project—and almost all of them are original to Epoch of Rysos—some of the specifics about the resistance and its leadership were resurrected from those unpublished Battletech projects. For example, John Mercer was originally written as the second-in-command of a mercenary corps that had been defeated by the Clans and lost its original leader in the process. He inherited the unenviable task of trying to inspire a shattered organization he wasn’t qualified to lead and then pit it against a vastly superior enemy. All of the specifics changed when I ported him to Surviving Sunset, but the character is still there and has an arc drawn from what I developed years ago.
There’s a lot more ahead for him, and it’s been fun trying to figure out how to adapt a Battletech-inspired story into a very different setting.
What was the biggest influence on your story?
I already mentioned an interest in the human dimension of history, which heavily influenced the framework of the story. However, since the story focuses on two sisters, I had to draw from the most reliable source I had: growing up with two younger sisters. I vividly remember how I interacted with them and how they interacted with each other—the love, unintended cruelty, misunderstandings, difference even just a few years of age made in how we viewed the world, and inexplicable bond that just keeps drawing us back together.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
I’d like to thank the authors and editors who believed in the project enough to make the book a reality, putting in the work needed to make it something we can all be proud of. I also want to thank the readers who believed in us enough to take a chance on the book.
Volume Two is already shaping up to be an even larger and better collection—featuring many of the authors from Volume One—so stay tuned for more! I’m excited and already partway through writing a fantasy-themed comedy about a gnoll that wants to save Christmas.