Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Q&A with Ronald J. Walters

Ronald J. Walters is the author of the new novel The Lusitania Conspiracy, which focuses on the sinking in 1915 of the RMS Lusitania during World War I. He lives in Traverse City, Michigan.

Q: Why did you decide to write a novel about the Lusitania rather than a work of nonfiction?

A: There’s a very thin margin of error when it’s nonfiction. Everything has to be succinctly researched and put. When you have something [like the Lusitania] with a lot of conspiracy theories…you have to be so fact-based to make a story of something with uncertainties; you can’t have conjectures. With the Lusitania, there’s so much that’s unknown, I thought it would be a more interesting story [as fiction].

Q: Why did you include historical figures like Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla?

A: With Tesla, I took it from the point of view, let’s assume there was a secret weapon aboard. That has been a conspiracy theory for years. The only person I felt in 1914-15 who had the expertise, the inventive genius’s viewpoint on things…would have been Tesla.

Tesla’s probably best friend was Mark Twain. That made for a really interesting dynamic, because he died in 1910 and this was in 1915.

I went with the thought process that Twain represented his conscience. Tesla did work for the Department of War in real life [but didn’t like it]. Twain was skeptical of governments. I thought, what better person to use as his quasi-subconscious, to use Twain as his conscience, his rudder, the one person who steered him.

Q: The book includes both history and fiction. What do you see as the right blend?

A: The blend in this book is probably 75-80 percent factual, and the fiction portion may or may not be fiction. If there was a weapon aboard, it probably was invented by Tesla. To do historical fiction properly, you need at least 70-75 percent fact…it makes it more believable.

Q: What surprised you most in the course of your research on the Lusitania?

A: Without question, Churchill and the British government’s involvement. Probably the single element was not in the book or the screenplay—the HMS Juno, a British naval vessel, was moored off the coast of Ireland, and received an SOS from the Lusitania.

They set sail for the Lusitania’s coordinates, and when they were in visual range, they were ordered by the British admiralty to turn around and not aid the ship…That’s probably the single most eye-opening fact.

Q: What are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about the Lusitania 100 years after its sinking?

A: few people know about the Lusitania, there are not a lot of perceptions or misconceptions. So few people know how important the event was, or that it occurred. Ninety percent of people worldwide know about the Titanic. I would guess 1-2 percent know about the Lusitania.

What we learned in school was one mention on one day that the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, and that the Germans wanted to kill American people. Truly, they were put in a position where they didn’t have a choice. If there’s a villain in the group, it’s the British government and Churchill.

Q: Can you say more about why you see them as the villain?

A: If you believe in a conspiracy, then the British Admiralty and more specifically Churchill, have to be at the center of that conspiracy. No one else could call off the escort, no one else could recall the H.M.S. Juno from helping the Lusitania and its passengers.  

Q: You mentioned your screenplay about the Lusitania. Is it going to become a movie?

A: I certainly hope so. It’s looking very good. I have met with different studios…I hope within 60 days to have some announcements about the film. 

Q: Are you working on another book now, or are you mostly focused on the film? 

A: I’m about 95 percent focused on the film. I’ve started two other projects, but every time I start to write, something comes up with the movie project…

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The film was praised by an executive as one of the studios [who said] I can’t believe I’ve never heard the story of the Lusitania. It’s the greatest story never told…This is a very well established combination of Titanic, The Hunt for Red October, and Indiana Jones—that gives a feel of what the movie would be like: high action, a lot of intrigue, mysterious settings, and a love story.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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