Thursday, August 25, 2011

William Dietrich for Authors @ The Teague

I introduced William Dietrich as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but said he was at Velma Teague to discuss his fiction, particularly his latest book, Blood of the Reich. He's a New York Times bestselling author, and his books have been published in 31 languages.

He told the audience he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in the Tacoma area. He wrote all his life. But, he needed to make a living, so he was a newspaper reporter for 35-40 years, much of that for the Seattle Times. In the 80s and 90s, he covered some interesting stories, including the Exxon Valdez, and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Dietrich said his claim to fame was his book, The Final Forest, which was set in Forks, Washington. He wrote the entire book with no vampires in it. (Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books are set in Forks.)

Dietrich wrote nonfiction to make a living, books about the Columbia River, plants. But, he had a hankering to do fiction. He covered science for the Seattle Times, and had been to Antarctica twice under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. He wanted to write about it. The Nazis had sent an expedition to Antarctica before World War II. They wanted to claim a piece of it for Germany. They hoped to get sperm whale oil for fighter engines, because it was the best oil. That was the kernel of Bill's first novel, Ice Reich. It went from Alaska to Germany to Antarctica.

William Dietrich writes both fiction and nonfiction. He's written ten novels, what he calls historical thrillers. They all have some grounding in history. Two are set before World War II. There are four Napoleonic books. One is set in the Australian Outback. Bill said he is interested in geography and science. He likes interesting settings such as Egypt during the Napoleonic period. His next book, coming out in June is set in the Caribbean. He said it's the greatest scam in the U.S., to be able to travel, and write it off on taxes. It's fun. He's curious about science, history, geography. He likes to put something in fiction that is based on history. He told us that he reads boring things so you don't have to, and then he puts the juicy parts in his novels.

Bill's first three novels were published by Warner; then he switched to HarperCollins. Two books were set in the late Roman Empire. Hadrian's Wall was set in Scotland. The follow-up, The Scourge of God, was about Attila the Hun. The main character in that is based on a real-life person, a negotiator for the Romans.

The Roman novels are a little serious. Dietrich lightened up his next series, creating Ethan Gage, a rogue, a wastral, a gambler, a sharpshooter, and a womanizer. The books are set in the Napoleonic era. In Napoleon's Pyramids, Gage's gambling wins him a medallion that is part of the plot. He's caught up in the Egyptian campaign of 1798 in which Napoleon conquered Egypt. He also tried to conquer the Holy Land, which few people seem to know. There are signs in the Holy Land indicating Napoleon's route on that campaign. This book, though, involves the mystery of the Great Pyramid. Men found there way in, but there was only an empty sarcophagus.

In The Rosetta Key, Ethan is embroiled in the search for the Book of Thoth and the Rosetta Stone. Part of the book is set in Jordan at the ruins of Petra.

The Dakota Cipher finds Gage in trouble with Napoleon's married sister, a bit of a rogue herself. The mystery involves the Kensington runestone, a stone that seems to indicate that the Norse were in the middle of Minnesota over one hundred years before Columbus came to the New World.

Photo by Bette Sharpe, Glendale Daily Planet
The most recent book in the series, The Barbary Pirates, takes Ethan back to the European theater, to the Mediterranean. This story involves the legendary mirror of Archimedes, a giant mirror that was supposed to have been able to focus the sun's rays and set opposition ships on fire. It was supposedly used against the Romans in 213 B.C. The story also incorporates the fact that Robert Fulton built a working submarine for the French in 1800. They decided it was impractical, and that was the end of the submarine for decades, until the American Civil War. But, in The Barbary Pirates, Ethan enlists Robert Fulton and other scientists to use the weapons against the Pasha of Tripoli. Bill that this was a timely book, with recent developments in the news with pirates and this area. The next Ethan Gage book is due out June 1, 2012.

Dietrich's latest book, Blood of the Reich, is the most complex in terms of structure. It takes place in Tibet. In 1938, Tibet was the forbidden kingdom, the home of the Dalai Lama, who was three years old at that time. No one was able to get in, except for the British, who bludgeoned their way in. Tibet was a tremendous mystery in 1930. James Hilton used it in his book, Lost Horizon, which came out a few years before 1938. His book was based on the legend of the lost kingdom of Shambhala.

In real life, the Nazis were intrigued by Tibet. There were odd stories of that country, stories of strange flying machines, and Tibetan holy men with strange powers. One legend was of a secret energy source, Vril. If the Germans could find it, and tap it, it would give them a leg up.

As background, Dietrich used a nonfiction book called Himmler's Crusade, about SS Nazis in Tibet in 1938. No one is sure what they were doing there. Were they looking for underground caverns? Were they looking for the truth about the Aryan race? Goebbels sent a message to the German newspapers saying this was a political and military expedition, not a scientific one, and it was not to be covered. When the Nazis returned, war broke out, and no one ever found out what the expedition actually was about.

So, William Dietrich wrote Blood of the Reich, a fiction story, saying that expedition to Tibet was critical to WWII, and critical to today. The story begins in Berlin in 1938, with a meeting between Himmler and the villain, Kurt Raeder. Raeder had been on an expedition to Tibet, financed by American explorer Benjamin Hood. Now, Himmler sends Raeder and an expedition back to Tibet, to search for the truth about the secrets there.

Bill told us Heinreich Himmler was the second most powerful man in German. He was also a mystic, and a romantic. He was a fan of King Arthur, and thought he himself was the reincarnation of a medieval king. There seemed to be a connection between Germany and Tibet because the swastika was based on the Hindu and Buddhist symbol of good luck. In Blood of the Reich, he sends a research team of SS men to Tibet to test his wacky theories.

In the second chapter, Dietrich takes readers to modern day Seattle, and introduces Rominy Pickett, who is shopping at a grocery store when she notices a man in the frozen foods who seems to be following her. Rominy has her own wacky theories of what a future partner should be buying in the store, not frozen food. She prefers the wine section. But as the man follows her, she begins to worry, and hurries out of the grocery store. He tackles her in the parking lot, just as her beloved Mini Cooper explodes. He says, "I just saved your life." Jake Barrow, a journalist with the Seattle Times, tells her a story of her ancestor Benjamin Hood, and her own past, including a story of an inheritance, and that she is not really Rominy Pickett. There are connections to the past, and now Neo-Nazis are hunting her. Rominy and Jake unravel the mystery.

Back to 1938, when the Nazis are going to Shambhala. The American government has dispatched Benjamin Hood to Tibet, to learn what the Nazis are doing. He has the help of a female biplane pilot, dispatched by Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

As a science reporter, Bill is fascinated by physics and particle detectors. He incorporated that in the book. If the Nazis are after Vril, he can imagine such an energy that hasn't been detected yet. Physicists say 96% of the universe is made of stuff we don't know what it is. Physicists infer its presence because of galaxies clumping together, and the way they are flying apart. In real life, there is a Super Collider in Switzerland in which scientists are searching for the fundamental particles of the universe, the "God particle."

Blood of the Reich has a lurid title, but it has action, romance, and love triangles. Dietrich said he was puzzled by the appeal of Nazi leadership. But, many subcultures, including some fundamentalists, find great comfort from identity with a group, and take pride in being told they are special. The Nazis told the German people that they're better than others. They're the Master Race, the Aryan race. They appealed to the German heritage and genealogy and told them they were special. Bill said he plays around with the people and relationships in the book. Who are they really?

When Bill was asked how he dreams up this stuff, he said it's hard to explain to his wife that he's hard at work when he's lying on the couch staring at the ceiling. He gets lots of his ideas from nonfiction. He's also inspired by place. He loves research.

He sets Raeder's meeting with Himmler at Hinnler's castle, Wewelsburg. Himmler modeled a lot of it on the Vatican. He modeled the SS on the Jesuits with their black clothing. He wanted to create his own knighthood. There's an observatory there, and a crypt, although it isn't clear who was to be buried in the crypt. There's a sunwheel in the middle of the castle, and there was to be a round table there, inspired by King Arthur. The twelve chairs around it were designed for the SS, and, after the war, they would rule the world from there.

One man in the audience mentioned the war against the Nazis in Italy, and wanted to know why there wasn't much written about that. Dietrich answered that authors have a problem. Publishers only want stories about what people already know. He was at a conference for historical fiction novelists when they discussed that.

In answer to another question, he said he does do his own research. He can't afford to hire someone to do it, and he likes to control his research. James Michener did have staff members do research. Some authors, such as James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are so successful they don't write their own novels. Bill saw five people on a panel who were writing Clive Cussler's books. Dietrich still writes his books the old-fashioned way.

Fiction or non-fiction? He likes writing fiction better because he can make things up. He has the freedom to invent characters and make things up. He can say anything he wants in fiction.

William Dietrich then closed out the program with the book signing for Blood of the Reich.

William Dietrich's website is

Blood of the Reich by William Dietrich. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061989186 (hardcover), 432p.

William Dietrich and Lesa Holstine (photo by Bette Sharpe, Glendale Daily Planet)


Liz V. said...

Interesting author with what looks to be fascinating books.

Lesa said...

True, Liz. Great combination for the program.

Karen C said...

An amazing recap of the event and his books.

I just really need to win the lottery so I can afford to buy all these wonderful books. Oh, wait. I need to buy the tickets. :-)

Thanks, Lesa

Lesa said...

Public library, Karen, public library. I don't know if you have one near you or not. Try that!