Joe Poyer Interview

Many thanks to Mr Poyer for taking the time to do the following email interview.

1. You started writing science fiction short stories, then moved to contemporary thrillers and then historical novels. Was that a conscious move?

In a word, yes. I had read all three voraciously while growing up and a historical novel about Alfred the Great was my senior project in college. It was inspired by G.K. Chestertonís Ballad of the White Horse. My first two novels, Operation Malacca and North Cape combined both the science fiction and adventure forms. The third novel, The Balkan Assignment, which was strictly adventure, seemed like a natural progression. What interested me more than the genre was the story to be told.

2. Did you consider writing a pure science fiction novel?

Well, I thought I had with my first two novels. North Cape was written as a novelette, "Mission Red Clash" for Analog several months before the SR-71 spy plane was announced. The aircraft used in that novelette, and the novel that followed, had capabilities even beyond those of the SR-71. The pilot became a part of the aircraft through drugs that were infused to increase his reaction times and mental sharpness. In Operation Malacca, one of the leading characters was a dolphin which could communicate in English (through a computerized translation device) with his handler in English. Pretty advanced stuff for the mid-1960s, I thought.

3. Why did you stop writing fiction?

By the mid-1980s, publishers were being bought out by conglomerates at an amazing rate, mostly for their tax advantages. I had a contract to deliver four books as part of an extended novel on World War II. Between the time the contract was signed and I delivered the first book, the publisher had been sold, the staff changed, and they did not know what to do with the book. It was published only in paperback with no pre-publication publicity. They did not even send out the usual review copies. The book was taken off thirty days later. By the time the second book was delivered, the publisher had been sold again, the staff changed again ó they now published text books. They staff was not even aware of the contract with me.

About this time, a friend asked me to write an article on a military subject, and that proved to be more fun, although not as rewarding as novels.

4. Is there a chance we might see a new novel?

I am not sure. At the moment, I am too busy with my publishing company and the books I write for it. But I have several ideas that I play around with on occasion. Perhaps someday, the urge will strike again.

5. What authors have you enjoyed reading? Was there any particular author that prompted you to start writing.

My tastes in fiction ó and nonfiction ó have always been a bit eclectic. I read everything from science fiction to the classics, mysteries to biography. My lineup of favorite authors is just as scrambled and ranges from Alastair McLean to Robert Heinlein, John Sanford to Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway to Hervey Allen, and on and on.

As far as which author or authors inspired me to try writing, thatís easy. Robert Heinlein and Alastair McLean. Both, especially early in their careers, had ability to tell sharply focused, well-plotted stories. That is all I ever wanted to do.

6. What was it like having Alastair Maclean praise your book.

I was flabbergasted the day I opened the letter from my editor at Victor Gollancz, Giles Gordon. He included a copy of MacLeanís letter. My wife framed it the next day and all these years later, it still hangs in my office.

7. You canít judge a book by its cover, but is there any cover that you were particularly happy with?

One of the problems I suspect most authors find highly annoying is their lack of input into the cover design process. Publishers tend to leave the cover design to professional artists who may even read a few pages of the book. Doing so eliminates long drawn out arguments between the author and publisher. Now that I am also a publisher, I understand the rationale.

Of all of the covers for my books, I most like the Sphere paperback cover for the first paperback edition of North Cape. It does what I think a cover should do and that is introduce a potential reader to the story with an exciting and interesting graphic. I try to do that with the books I publish.

8. Was there ever an interest in making a movie based on one of your books?

Yes, Devoted Friends came close. North Cape was under option three times.

9. How well did the books do outside the USA, e.g. UK, Germany, etc.

I have to say that my books did better in the rest of the world than in the U.S. Particularly so throughout the British Commonwealth. In fact, I considered Victor Gollancz and later Michael Joseph and Sphere, my major publishers., with the American houses of Doubleday and Atheneum in a secondary role. My books were published legally in ten countries: USA, UK, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Iíve seen or been told of pirated editions in other countries.

10. Vengeance 10 seems very authentic. Did you do a lot of research?. Why did you choose a British protagonist?

Research was my specialty, I like to think. I often spent more time researching than writing. For instance, for the background to Tunnel War I not only studied the various methods used to dig many of the tunnels constructed between 1890 and 1914, but I read every single page of every issue of both the Times of London and the New York Times for the year 1911, the period in which the story takes place.

For years I collected Baedeckers Guides and used them for local color when the book had a historical setting.

Most of story for Vengeance 10 takes place at Peenemunde in Northern Germany, the German rocket development facilities in the 1930s and early 1940s. That area was in the purview of British intelligence agencies, both military and civilian. It only made sense for the main character to be British.