Please welcome W. L. Goodwater to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Breach was published on November 6, 2018 by Ace.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece of fiction you remember writing?
W. L.: I remember starting a noir detective story when I was in the 1st grade. I didn’t know that detective stories had to have a plot – I was mostly focused on the cool hat and trench coat – so I didn’t make it much past the first scene, but I was hooked and have been writing ever since.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
W. L.: Originally I was a proud pantser, but I can’t do it anymore; outlines are just too helpful. My creative process benefits from separating the “coming up with an interesting story” bit from the “write good words” bit. Otherwise I spend too long staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor. That said, at least twice while writing Breach I made significant deviations from the outline because the story made it clear that it needed to go in a new direction.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
W. L.: Being creative on demand. I like to sit and wait for inspiration to strike – actually I like to go for long walks, that’s when my imagination works best. But deadlines don’t go away, so I’ve had to learn to just start writing. Once I’ve built some momentum, the creativity usually catches up, and we’ll clean up the rest in editing.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
W. L.: Like most writers, I read constantly and I know my writing benefits from all those wonderful stories and well-crafted sentences bouncing around in my head. There are brilliant writers who I wish would influence me more so I could have a fraction of their skill, some of my favorites being Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Cormac McCarthy. For Breach though, my inspiration came mostly from the books of John le Carré and Lev Grossman, and from the TV show Agent Carter.
TQ: Describe Breach using only 5 words.
W. L.: Cold War magicians uncovering secrets.
TQ: Tell us something about Breach that is not found in the book description.
W. L.: Here’s a Breach Easter egg for you: one of the villains is named after a dear friend of mine. When I started writing the book, he offered to help me with any untranslated Russian, so in turn I immortalized him as a bad guy. Seemed like a fair trade.
TQ: What inspired you to write Breach? What appeals to you about writing Alternate History?
W. L.: The idea came to me in fairly vague terms: Cold War fantasy novel. There are a few examples out there of this sub-sub-sub-genre, but not many. The Cold War spans the whole globe and a huge timeline, but I immediately knew I wanted to write something set in divided Berlin in the years following WWII. It is such a unique and strange part of our recent history, and I knew throwing magic into the mix could only make it more so.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Breach?
W. L.: Once I had the idea for the story, I knew I needed to learn a lot more, so I did what any writer would do: I got a bunch of books. Some were very helpful; some were a bit dry (turns out that the CIA and KGB don’t always hire agents because of their engaging prose). The best were Frederick Taylor’s The Berlin Wall: A World Divided and Frederick Kempe’s Berlin 1961.
TQ: Why did you set the novel in Berlin during the Cold War?
W. L.: It is just such an evocative setting: the clothes people wore, the cars they drove, the condition of the city as it recovered from the war, all of it. And Cold War Berlin has an abundance of what every good novel requires: conflict.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Breach.
W. L.: I love the cover for Breach. I was honored to have a cover by Pete Garceau who has done stunning covers for Neil Gaiman, Lee Child, Mary Roach, and many others. The cover shows a historic map of Berlin overlaid with the colors of the German flag and a bright and jagged tear – the titular breach. I love that I’ve never seen a cover quite like it; it really stands out on a bookshelf.
TQ: In Breach who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
W. L.: My main character Karen was often the hardest, because I so desperately wanted to get her right. I did not want to join the ever-expanding Hall of Shame for men writers who write terrible female characters; my readers (and my characters) deserve better. Through the hard work of my wife, my agent, and my editor, I hope she feels authentic.
Villains are often the most fun to write, and I very much enjoyed writing for my deadly KGB colonel, the Nightingale. He believes himself a decent man, committed to his family and his country, despite the terrible things he does for the Soviet Union. That duality – and sometimes just hypocrisy – made writing him always interesting.
TQ: Does Breach touch on any social issues?
W. L.: Since the book is set in the 1950’s with a female main character who is driven to succeed in a male-dominated field, she’s forced to confront misogyny as well as Soviet spies. I wish struggles like this were – like the Berlin Wall – relegated to the past, but obviously our society still doesn’t know how to treat women equally. I think Karen does a good job excelling despite the confines her culture tries to force on her, but it means she’s hindered even by her allies.
TQ: Which question about Breach do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
W. L.: “What’s the deal with that one Yiddish phrase you use in the first chapter?”
I’m glad you asked! The phrase is: “A shod m’hot nisht geredt fun moshiach” and literally translates to “We should have been speaking of Messiah.” It is used the same as the English phrase “Speak of the devil and he shall appear.” I think the idea is “We were talking about this guy and he showed up; maybe if we were talking about Messiah, he’d appear too.” I found it on the internet some years back and thought it was such an interesting phrase so I’ve been looking for a way to use it. During copyediting for Breach, my publisher wanted me to confirm that it meant what I thought, but that proved harder than expected. A friend put me in touch with a dozen or so rabbis and professors, who all had different takes on it, ranging from “Never heard of it” to “Well, maybe…” In the end, I decided to keep it in the book and hope for the best.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Breach.
W. L.: I love Karen’s exchange with one of her sexist co-workers early on in the book, after she runs out of patience for being talked down to:
“Listen here, Honey—”
“Yes, Sweetheart?” Karen replied. This stopped the old Texan cold. Stopped the whole room, actually. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Karen said, “I thought we were being familiar. My mistake.”
And I think the curmudgeonly but poetic nature of Arthur, the CIA chief in West Berlin, is well summarized by this quote of his:
“Someone once told me that life is just the accumulation of memories and regrets. Worst part is, the older I get, I forget about the memories, but those regrets tend to stick around.”
TQ: What's next?
W. L.: Currently I’m working on edits for the sequel to Breach, which should be out in November 2019. The Cold War has decades of conflict available for inspiration, so there are plenty more stories to tell.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
A Cold War Magic Novel 1
Ace, November 6, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
The first novel in a new Cold War fantasy series, where the Berlin Wall is made entirely of magic. When a breach unexpectedly appears in the wall, spies from both sides swarm to the city as World War III threatens to spark.
AFTER THE WAR, THE WALL BROUGHT AN UNEASY PEACE.
When Soviet magicians conjured an arcane wall to blockade occupied Berlin, the world was outraged but let it stand for the sake of peace. Now, after ten years of fighting with spies instead of spells, the CIA has discovered the unthinkable…
THE WALL IS FAILING.
While refugees and soldiers mass along the border, operatives from East and West converge on the most dangerous city in the world to either stop the crisis, or take advantage of it.
Karen, a young magician with the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment, is sent to investigate the breach in the Wall and determine if it can be fixed. Instead, she discovers that the truth is elusive in this divided city–and that even magic itself has its own agenda.
Walter was born in northern California, in a small (and often miserably hot) town called Red Bluff. He started writing at a young age, writing often about magic, history, detectives, and swords. He went to college to study Computer Science at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and fell in love with the mild climate and decided to stay. While in college, he competed with the Cal Poly fencing team, who won league titles nearly every season. He currently coaches the high school fencing team for the Dunn School in Los Olivos, which has won multiple championship titles.
While he loves to read and write fantasy, he especially enjoys books that span genres. His debut novel, BREACH, takes the chocolate + peanut butter approach of merging fantasy with a Cold War spy thriller, to create a world that benefits from the power of both kinds of stories.
When he isn't writing, Walter is a software engineer specializing in user interface design. He has a passion for creating enjoyable user experiences even out of mundane tasks, and applies the principles of good UX even when writing novels.
Walter loves books, the beach, and Birkenstocks. Root beer floats are also pretty great.
For more insight into the mysteries of Walter, check out the Journal.