Interviews & Articles
See also the CNN-FN interview.
Interview: The Creation of an Epic World
By David Brubaker
Robert Stanek, author of the highly popular Ruin Mist books, has gone through several major personal and professional changes in his life, but says he's always been a writer in his heart. His earliest memories of writing are as an editor and writer for the Jane's School Gazette, an elementary school newspaper. A time he says seems so long ago. In this interview, David Brubaker talks with Robert Stanek about his early fiction writing and how he developed the world of Ruin Mist.
DB: I learned about your books from [a recent magazine article] talking about Ruin Mist, the fantasy world you created. What do you say to those who are calling you the Tolkien for the new millennium?
RS: I'm not a Tolkien Scholar. I don't know enough about Tolkien the man to answer that. The epic story and history written into his books changed my life. That's what I've said for the record. I don't know what others are saying [about my writing].
DB: Okay, for the record. I see from your resume that you worked in Intelligence in the military. You were a linguist. Tolkien was a linguist. You are a combat veteran, a very distinguished one. Tolkien's writing was shaped by his love of language and his experiences during World War II. How did those things influence your writing?
RS: First, clarification.
RS: Tolkien knew Middle English, Latin, Finnish and a half dozen other languages. I've studied, "studied", Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean and Russian.
DB: You lived in Germany and Japan.
RS: Passable speaker when I lived there, but that was years ago.
DB: [Smiles] Okay, I'm rooted back to earth now. It's refreshing that you are so down to earth about all this. Can we get back to how language and war influenced your writing?
RS: Well, I started writing about Ruin Mist in '86. I was stationed in Japan then. I learned a lot about eastern cultures and philosophies. I studied the language. Having just come from the Defense Language Institute's intensive Russian Language course, I had an easier time learning Japanese and then Korean. Eastern culture and philosophy is so fascinating. A lot of the language and culture spilled over into my writing, especially the history of Ruin Mist. Ruin Mist has three realms: Over-Earth, Under-Earth and Middle-Earth. A lot of Under-Earth's feudal history comes from ancient Japanese and Korean history.
DB: I'm Polish. I see a lot of Slavic influence as well.
RS: Definitely. Many philosophies from the Slavs. I am a Slav. My father is Polish-Hungarian. I've borrowed words and word bases, like Kapital and Zashchita. Many others. Ancient Elvish in Ruin Mist has a Slavic base. Hence "Eh tera mir dolzh formus tan!" are the words of power Xith speaks to activate one of the Gates of Uver. Loosely translated, it means "From the earth the gate must form." Contrast that to Tolkien, who might have thought this language too harsh for his romantic notion of elves.
DB: You mentioned Tolkien, I didn't.
RS: Fair, I did. [Smiles]
DB: Have you worked on Ruin Mist steadily since '86?
RS: No, on and off. I wrote the first part of the history and several of the books in the 80's while stationed in Japan. After that I went to Combat Air School, then to Germany. Things changed after that.
DB: The Gulf War?
RS: Yeah, that changed a lot of priorities for me. I saw things so differently afterward. The experiences changed my view of everything.
DB: You started college. '91 to '96. Earned a bachelor's and a master's degree, both with distinction, while still in the military.
RS: You did your homework.
RS: You could say I became a little bit obsessed with work. After the Gulf, working practically 24x7 for all those months, it was hard to shift gears. If I wasn't doing something, I'd go stir crazy. I still can't just sit down and relax without making myself do it.
DB: Where was Ruin Mist during this time?
RS: On my mind frequently, but I didn't have time to write that often. My wife and I had our first child in '92. That changed a lot of things as well. I did manage to complete the realm maps and more of the history.
DB: Do you plan on publishing the history as well as the books?
RS: I've written a companion volume called Ruin Mist Heroes, Legends and Beyond. That has some of the history, but I don't think I'll ever publish the whole history. Who'd want to see it anyway?
DB: About a billion Tolkien fans for starters.
RS: You said Tolkien? [Smiles]
DB: I did? [Looks at his watch] We've run over. You said you had to finish by 3.
RS: Yeah, I really do need to. Is that okay?
DB: Next time, then?
ROBERT STANEK: Sure. I think it'd be fun.
Feature: A Face Behind the Future
By Walter Neary, The Olympian
Author William Robert Stanek is breaking new ground in shaping the future of business on the Internet. The uncertainty of changing technology makes Stanek's work challenging.
There's an old saying among writers that someone who wants to be published should write about what he or she knows.
Stanek is one of the gurus of the Internet and the World Wide Web. He has written more than 25 books about electronic publishing and the Internet.
"He certainly has been an aggressive leader in charting the course for the future of publishing and business on the Net," said Walt Howe, Internet director for the Delphi on-line service. "He is well-respected."
His story begins inside an airplane, on a secret mission over Iraq, with anti-aircraft fire bursting around him.
Well, not quite yet. The story actually begins in Lake George, Wis., where Stanek grew up. He was a quiet, private boy. Stanek loved science fiction writers, devouring the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey. And he loved computers. He wrote computer games for the first Apples.
When he grew up, the Air Force recruited him. Stanek became a Russian linguist. After all, Tolkien had been a linguist. Stanek wrote on the side, and in the meantime became respected within the Air Force for his work in both computers and linguistics.
He was among the first U.S. troops to get involved in the Gulf War. He flew in EC-130s that jammed the communication of the Iraqi military forces. "That was our job: Black them out," Stanek said.
For a reason: Those intelligence activities still are classified.
Stanek was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism. If asked, he'll show it off. There's a complicated description attached of why he received the award, but he smiles and says that it's written in such a way that you can't really tell what he did.
It was while flying on a plane that preceded troops, with the anti-aircraft fire sounding death in his ears, that Stanek made some decisions. "It was a turning point," he said. "I asked myself if I had really done what I wanted to do with my life."
He was next stationed in Hawaii and finished his bachelor's and master's degrees within 3 ½ years.
In 1994, when he was finishing up his master's degree, Stanek took a class on the information superhighway. The military had been using the Internet many years before it became available to the general public.
Then it hit him. As a computer guru within the Air Force, he had been using the Internet for nearly a decade.
"We didn't call it that. We called it e-mail," Stanek said.
The Internet and computer programming were subjects that he knew a lot about. He knew those subjects were hot, and getting hotter.
Write what you know, remember? His first query letter sold his first book.
Stanek got out of the Air Force in May 1996. He and his family traveled around the West Coast before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
He writes his books during 16-hour days in a second floor home office, spending dinnertime and tucking in time with his children.
There are good and bad sides of being an Internet celebrity. You can get 200 to 300 e-mails a day. Stanek said one of his regrets is that he's had to send automated responses to some messages in order to keep up.
On the other hand, Internet gurus don't get bugged while they're out shopping.
"Nobody recognizes me when I leave the house, which is good," Stanek said.
Stanek is busy working on his next book. He's also seeking more readers by moving into magazines. His books can sell 100,000 copies each, while PC Magazine reaches several million readers.
His first article for PC Magazine appeared in the summer of 1997. "He's really sharp," said senior associate editor Sharon Terdeman. "He knows what's happening and what is important now."
Stanek is among the programmers who are merging complicated databases with the emerging Web technology, Jonathan Erickson said. That marriage is key to future uses of the Web, he said. Erickson is the editor of a programmers' magazine, Dr. Dobb's. Stanek was one of his columnists.
"He was the right man in the right place at the right time," Erickson said.
"We see a lot of programmers who don't have the technical wherewithal to express themselves … It's a rare pleasure to find someone with superior technical skills and superb communications skills."
© Walter Neary, The Olympian