The Art of Alternate History — Meet James Young

[Charlie:] Some administrivia here: first of all, we have now officially run out of books to plug, so you may now start submitting again. To submit a book, mail the necessary information to [email protected]. The necessary information is slightly changed:

  1. Title, and Author, and a link to the book for sale on Amazon.
  2. Refer to bullet 1.

Yes, no more blurbs, because they take too much space, and they take too much space because, frankly, most blurbs suck. Read Sarah’s piece on writing good blurbs; we will also have a piece coming soon on the art of describing your book in 21 words. If you can manage a 21-word blurb, we’ll use it. Hell, you can go up to 25. Exceed 25 and you get no blurb at all.

Second, if your book is plugged, you accept a solemn vow of honor to link the Book Plug Friday in which it appears. The other day, we had a BPF that got 127 page views. Total. PJ isn’t going to let us keep doing this without people reading it, and — this is not rocket surgery — if your book is plugged, it’s to your advantage to push it. Use the “share to Facebook” and “share to Twitter” buttons. Email your friends. Email your enemies. Post it in Facebook groups, or on Reddit.

Third, I would like to note that it is in fact Friday. Late Friday, but Friday. Book Plug Friday is on Friday this week.

[Sarah:] Writing alternate history is an art in itself.

Lately, I’ve come across a lot of people who believe that since it’s a completely different world, you need to have absolutely no contact with the real world.

But this is not… precisely true.

Alternate history is a branch of fantasy or sometimes of science fiction, in which you take an event that could have gone another way and extrapolate from there.

Say Leif Ericson not only sailed to the Americas but the Vikings colonized the East coast, and everyone knew about this continent long before Columbus.

Or more fantastically the Great Moon Hoax was true.  And there were all sorts of moon men, bats and cows, and whatnot, leading to the Moon being colonized, leading to—

Alternate history then comes into two types, proceeding from that.  One is one in which you use historical people or events, within this changed time frame.  Another is one in which you just follow the history with characters you make up.

The first one is akin to riding two horses.  You have to stay true to what we know of these famous people in our reality while introducing your “altering condition” be it Fantasy or Science Fiction.  Say you are writing a novel about Shakespeare where magic exists (Ah! Who would do that?) and some elves stole his newborn daughter and his wife (Really, who would do that?)

You must write your story centering around the young Shakespeare trying to rescue his family while at the same time keeping true to what we know about Shakespeare at the time.


Well, because your first customers for the book are likely to be at that intersection of SF/F and Shakespeare fandom, which is not as rare as it might seem.  Impress them as a fellow Shakespeare-phile and they’ll talk up the book in word of mouth. Depart from what we know of Shakespeare and go chasing butterflies because it fits your worldview better, and you lose your initial readers and no one buys it.  Plus you get negative word of mouth.

The second way of doing alternate history is to take an event or a set of characters that aren’t important/recorded in history.  Take S. M. Sterling’s excellent Island in the Sea of Time, in which an island is taken back to our bronze age.  Yes, you’re going to have interactions with the rulers of the time, at least in so far as sometimes you’ll have to fight them, but most of his characters will be people from our time and the people they meet and attach on the other side, most of whom are not known to history.  This gives you a great deal more latitude, though you still have to stay somewhat true to recorded history.

The third type is one I [Sarah] never understood the point of.  It’s what I call “This is a completely imaginary world, but we’ll call it an alternate world.”  More honest and saner to make it a completely different world.  At a guess, this exists because people think some kind of prestige attaches to alternate history even when completely imaginary.  It doesn’t.

Prestige does attach to well-written alternate history.

You probably know all the big time practitioners, but I think it’s time you meet James Young, who writes excellent alternate history and has cost me many hours of work whenever he releases a book.  (I think I’m due to go back through his work, anyway.)  His history is always impeccable, and his writing craft also.

PJM: So, you’re one of the new independent writer/publishers, making it out there, in the new world of selling stories directly to the public.

My name’s James Young, and I write military sci-fi as well as alternate history.  I grew up in Missouri and now call Kansas home.  My books have been called David Weber’s style with George R.R. Martin’s propensity for offing characters.  I can only hope to achieve the first author’s skill someday, while the latter reputation for character murder is a bit overblown.

PJM: Tell us how you came to publish indie?

I came to publish indie after I’d submitted a story to a writing contest and received “Honorable Mention.”  This was about the time Amazon Kindle was first starting up, so I expanded the story into a novella entitled Ride of the Late Rain.  It performed well, so I decided to expand another short story into my first novel, An Unproven Concept.

Was it a choice? 

It was more or less an acknowledgment that I did not have the time to go the traditional route with a full-time job, a lengthy commute, and doctoral studies.  I have plenty of friends who have climbed that tree, and it’s a lot of work with mixed results.  In many ways, I like having the ability to “make my own luck” when I see an opportunity.

Did you ever do it traditionally? Do you also traditionally publish?

Yes and no to the traditionally published.  I have never published a novel traditionally.  However, I have been featured in the Journal of Military History, Proceedings, and won the Naval Institute’s Cyberwarfare Essay Contest in 2016.

PJM: Tell us about your latest book?

My latest book is Aries’ Red Sky, a novel that takes place in my Vergassy Chronicles universe.  Set in the year 3035, it tells the story of Humanity’s latest civil war.  On one side, you have the Spartan Republic, descendants of a group of people exiled from Earth over seven centuries before.  On the other, you have the Confederation of Man, a star nation that arose from the wreckage of the last Terran Empire.  The Spartans have been waiting all this time for the Terran Empire to show up.  When the Confederation makes it clear they believe all of humanity, to include the Spartans, must answer to Earth’s government…well, things get rather heated.

PJM: How did you start writing?  What did you envision as your career in writing (if you did)?

I started writing because I was an avid reader from a young age.  I used to do longhand, then was so happy when we got a computer and I learned to type.

Being young, I was a dreamer and hoped someday writing would pay the bills.  Well, it can pay some of the bills, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes with that.

PJM: What are the good and bad points of being an indie author? 

The good thing about being an indie author is that I’m master of my own destiny.  The bad thing about being an indie author is that I’m master of my…you see where I’m going.  The stories my friends who are traditionally published tell me about agent/editor vs. author disputes make me wince sometimes.  But at least in their case, when they’re talking about “That idiot…” who made a bad decision, said moron is not staring out the mirror at them the next morning.

So I guess if you’re a fan of autonomy and have a high drive, go indie.  If you’re willing to trade most or all your autonomy for being able to really, truly focus on just putting words on paper, you need to find an agent/press.  But if you do go the traditional route—do your homework.  There are more than enough horror stories/cautionary tales out there to explain why.

Would you like to be traditionally published someday, or do you have absolutely no interest in doing it?

I keep contact with good agents and publishers for a reason.  At some point, I may say, “Okay, I’m tired of wearing all these hats, and I’d really like to build a partnership.”  That day’s not today, and it’s probably not going to be tomorrow, but I am sure it will eventually happen.  Or, alternatively, there will be a confluence of events that make crossing over worth it.  Without naming any names, I do have a short list of publishers who, if they asked, I’d at least listen to the pitch.

PJM:  A lot of people point to things like getting editing, covers and such things that the houses used to do.  Is this very difficult for you?

I’m married to one of my cover artists, so one can judge the difficulty as minor (“Hey honey…”) or major (“I had to give half of everything I own…”).

In all seriousness, I was blessed with a gregarious personality.  That means I have gotten to know a lot of folks with “certain skills” that lend themselves to the indie life.  Even better, these folks are willing to share their contacts, which leads to a professional network with a lot of redundancy.  I’ve discussed covers on my blog once or twice.

PJM: Where do you want to go with your career.  Pie in the sky – where would you like to be in your writing career in ten years.

Pie in the sky?  With a hat tip towards Larry Correia, I’d like to be a “D” or “E”-list author.  That being said, there’s a lot of luck in that.  A solid G-list would not lose me any sleep.  However, I know I have to put the time in.  So, with that, thanks for having me—I gotta get back to work, as there are sequels to write.

FROM DANIEL FOTY:  Moore’s Law: The Untold Story.

“Moore’s Law” has entered popular parlance in a variety of ways. But what exactly is “Moore’s Law?” And how did it happen? In this book, Daniel Foty – a Ph.D. engineer and commercial-grade veteran of more than twenty-five years in the semiconductor industry and allied fields – takes the reader through the tangled and bizarre sequence of events that eventually led to “Moore’s Law” and the ubiquitous silicon technology which has resulted. The deep roots of this remarkable story go back some twenty centuries, and that story involves an unlikely collection of happenstances, gifts of nature, and totally unexpected developments. Along the way, the reader meets many of the players in that story – from the well-known (such as Benjamin Franklin and Gordon Moore) to the (unfortunately) less-well-known (such as Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce). In the final analysis, “Moore’s Law” was neither imposed nor discovered – but instead represents a remarkable concatenation of a series of natural flukes that compounded into a juggernaut. Written for the non-specialist, the untold story of “Moore’s Law” is told here with fresh depth and proper historical insight.


Majedah is gifted with good looks, an elite journalism degree, and uncanny reporter senses that tingle when news is about to break. Plucky and ambitious, she’s determined to climb to the top of the broadcast world and land a job at global media giant News 24/7. From selectively editing footage of injustices to dressing in her finest vaginery at the historic Million Muff March, there’s nothing Majedah won’t do to get her story!

At last, a story with a flawless narrative catapults Majedah to national prominence–and a position as a pool reporter at News 24/7’s swanky Manhattan headquarters. With one eye on the coveted primetime feminist anchor slot and the other on a past love she can’t quite forget, Majedah uses her impeccable social justice credentials to keep climbing. When she’s pigeonholed as the media expert on an unlikely presidential candidate, will Majedah break the biggest scoop of the century? Or will the scoop break her?


FROM WILLIAM ALAN WEBB: Standing the Final Watch (The Last Brigade Book 1)

America might be dead, but Nick Angriff will kick your ass to resurrect her.

Lt. General Nick Angriff has spent his adult life protecting family and country from a world of terrorism spinning out of control. On the battlefield, off the grid, in clandestine special task forces and outright black ops, Angriff never wavers from duty. But when a terror attack on Lake Tahoe kills his family, he’s left with only the corrosive acid of revenge… that is, until a hated superior officer reveals the deepest of all secret operations. Against the day of national collapse, a heavily-armed military unit rests in cryogenic storage, to be awakened when needed, and Angriff is named its commander.

Fifty years later he wakes to find the USA destroyed and predatory warlords roaming the ruins. Stalked by assassins bent on seizing his command for their own purposes, Angriff has to prepare for war while avoiding murder. Because the only wall still shielding survivors from slavery and death are the men and women of The Last Brigade.