I first met Vince Rospond in Nottingham many, many moons ago. He was then North American Sales Manager for Black Library. This, the fact that he was a very affable chap and that he was from New Jersey were the things that stuck in my mind during that first meeting. We went out for dinner with some friends. At the time I had been watching a lot of the Sopranos, and they were on my mind. As you know the mob family also hails from New Jersey and something misfired within my brain. During the course of the evening I kept introducing Vince to people as Tony. I don’t know why– he does not bear a startling resemblance to the Mafia capo. Anyway, he took it very well and the leg-breakers he sent the next day were comparatively gentle.
Over the coming years I never made this mistake again. We’ve caught up with each other since then in such glamorous jet-setting locations as Los Angeles, Prague (for the now infamous Games Workshop booze cruise) and Nottingham. Vince has always been knowledgeable and passionate about what he was doing. He is now putting his experience as a New Jersey mob boss (wait a minute, I think I am getting confused again!) to good use in an industry to which it is ideally suited, publishing, in particular its historical variant and I thought it might be interesting to have him talk about it here. Now, without further ado here is Vince…
When Bill King asked me if I wanted to do a guest blog on his site my first question was, “Really, are you sure that is safe?” Bill has known me for about twelve years, but chances are few of you do. I’m not sure I really know me, and I’ve known me all my life. As it says in the title, my name is Vincent Rospond. Currently, I am publisher and occasional author of history at my own imprint Winged Hussar Publishing, Osprey Publishing, and the occasion article for Warlord Games. Prior to that, I was a long-time sales manager for the Black Library and a voracious reader. Like many gamers, my interests run all over the place (oh, look a squirrel!), and while I try to focus on a couple of areas, my interests run the gamut.
First, why history and why are you bringing that into this magical realm? For me, history serves as a foundation for many outward points. As a wargamer it serves as a basis for learning tactics, planning, and setting up games. My goal is to publish books on military history on Eastern Europe in general and Poland in particular because it is an area I know quite a bit about, many people really don’t have an understanding of this history, and if they think they do most of it is wrong. To understand this however, I wanted to show people the classics that people of that era would use as a starting point, so some of my early publications are part of a military foundation – Caesar, Frederick and Marshal Saxe. As, I move forward and as I get submissions this will expand to cover more eras and personalities.
Most fiction has its basis in historical context, because we as readers need to know the story is plausible. It might be heavily cloaked in a different veneer, but there is usually some basis in reality that we can comprehend. But Mr. Rospond, you might ask, “what about mythology and legends?” Well, there is the old saying that all legends are based in fact, but more importantly they were a form of history people used to explain their past. I’m not saying they were very accurate histories, but in their pure sense they were histories. I would argue that even science fiction has its basis in history. If you look at a story such as War of the Worlds by HG Wells, you may say, “Aliens invade, outer space, death rays – what is this bollocks?” But put it in context of an allegory of the Mongol Invasion or the Red Scare – but with ray guns – and you have the stuff that keeps English majors writing papers for years.
I’m not saying that you MUST use an historical context for any writing, but understanding history can help you craft your writing. I know of an author who leaned heavily on, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Society, as background to write an SF and a fantasy book. When I first met Bill he recommended the book, Legend, by David Gemmell to me. It’s a great book where the hero dies – early, but his influence is felt throughout the story. The point is that it hits a cord in the human understanding – it is the Trojan War, Thermopylae, The Alamo – anything where people stand against the odds. Sometimes they win and it is heroic; sometimes they lose, but in such a way as to become legendary. This is not always the case in fact, some live and die horribly, but we make them better or worse in our mind depending on the story we want to tell.
Characters and characterization takes on a different tack. At a certain level we can accept worlds that are different from our own, but as readers we are less accepting of bland characters, even though bland characters make up most of the people around us. This is not to say that people are boring (well maybe some people), but that in order to make a character enjoyable they have to rise above the norm, sink lower in our behavioral sense or fluctuate between the two. Those in between are the “red shirts” of history or literature. Occasionally they appear with a small part but are quickly killed or forgotten. It is the faults that make characters memorable or “heroic”. What makes bad history or literature is a person who never fails – that “superman” who wins over any odds. What make a person truly heroic is to fail in order to succeed. Many want their heroes without warts, but it is those warts that allow us to associate with a character or person. A case in point would be Caesar.
I edited and published an edition of The Gallic Wars because I felt this was a great book that is often badly translated. Many people regard The Gallic Wars as a historical narrative, but it is half history and half fiction; maybe fiction is a strong word. Perhaps it is best to say that in some cases, Caesar stretches the truth rather than out-and-out lies. When you read the text, Caesar is the center of the action and he rarely makes a mistake. He visits exotic lands and discovers new animals. While his subordinates contribute to most problems, he does admit some small defeats, because that makes him human. But let’s consider this – the only reference we have for this story is Caesar and this story has come down to us through different editions. We know Rome conquered Gaul, but what if it actually did in a different way than we have been led to believe? It is the story that is important and in its pure form that is what makes well written history enjoyable. A well written story then becomes a chronicle as well; this is why literature and history are intertwined in its most basic form.
Anyway, thanks for your time.
Feel free to let me know what you think about this and if you like, visit Winged Hussar Publishing at www.wingedhussarpublishing.com and look around as we grow our title list.We’ll probably be publishing some SF & F at some point as well.