Interview with Brooks Rexroat, author of ‘To the Stars’

With Brooks Rexroat we wrap up the interviews of authors from Alt Hist Issue 3. Brooks’ ‘To the Stars’ is set during the Cold War space race and is a very human story of the effect on one family in particular.

Would it have been possible to write ‘To the Stars’ before 1989?

A cheeky answer first: I doubt it. I was doing most of my composition in crayon at that time.

In all seriousness, though, I think someone could have written this story at that point. There are no great tactical secrets here, very little that would’ve been unknown to Westerners and most Russians – and even James Bond – prior to 1989. While the setting is a bit exotic to most of us, the main themes could be placed in lots of locales of time frames and still function nicely – the question of whether the grass really is greener elsewhere, the convoluted battle of individualism versus selflessness, the dream of giving children a gift of opportunity, and so forth.

Cosmonaut or astronaut?

For me? Neither. I’m terrified of heights. How about launch room controller?

‘To the Stars’ is written in the present tense. What were the challenges and benefits of writing in this tense?

I’ll start with the benefits. This story was my first stab at historical fiction, and so one of my chief concerns was to bring something very distant chronologically into a closer proximity for the reader, and even for myself as a writer. There is an immediacy to the present tense, which I hope helps to connect readers to some very contemporary themes, even when the vehicle is a slice of our past. The first draft was, in fact, written in past tense, and it felt very cold and inaccessible. There were some nice things about that aesthetic, but it didn’t strike me as a story many folks would connect with. As I changed it to present tense, it felt much closer, far more energetic, and, more importantly, more real. My biggest challenge in switching it over to present tense was simply to maintain consistency.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been a writer of some sort – I remember making up stories and speaking them into a tape recorder before I had mastered the physical act of writing, and I very much wish I still had those cassettes. I had my angsty-teen-hidden-notebook-of-bad-poems phase. I suppose that, in terms of professional writing, a pair of professors opened that door by simple telling me that writing was viable as a career. High school counselors like to send students into sensible paths. Professors seem to like opening the doors a bit, and I’m glad I encountered two such individuals. I spent some rewarding time as a journalist, and now creative work serves as a good companion to life as a teacher.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m generally lecturing, deigning courses, or grading student essays–that takes up most of my existence. I’m a musician as well, so I play an occasional gig and like to catch live performances whenever I can. I run on occasion, and play a dangerously absurd amount of digital Scrabble.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I’ve got a file of 37 stories in some stage of completion, half a dozen of which are solid in structure and close to being finished. They’re eclectic in topic, but many of my current pieces involve the “Rust Belt” section of the American Midwest – stories of the folks who have long been dealing with the economic struggles that have now reached coastal population centers. This landlocked region is my home, and there are plenty of stories to tell – hence the extensive ‘in progress’ story file on my laptop.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

At this stage of life, I think of myself as a teacher who writes. I’m fortunate to teach writing and talk about the craft with bright university students every day, and so I go home from the office eager to fill some pages, to tell some stories. My ambition is this: to keep writing as long as something’s rattling around in my head – to keep revising and shaping those thoughts until they represent a truth that might be meaningful to others. Alt Hist, incidentally, represents the beginning of my published ambitions – it was the first magazine to accept my work. I’ve had eight additional stories published since receiving that tremendous news that ‘To the Stars’ would be printed. Links to those pieces can be found at

Don’t forget to check out Brooks’ story ‘To the Stars’ in issue 3 of Alt Hist.

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Interview with Jessica Wilson, author of ‘Death in Theatre’

We’re going to be running a series of interviews with the authors from our second issue. First up is Jessica Wilson, author of ‘Death in Theatre’.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s Elementary Education program. I’ve loved writing since the third grade, and I’ve been an aspiring novelist since middle school when my friends and I would exchange writing on the bus. I’m 23, recently engaged, and currently working on what I hope will be my first novel. I write largely fantasy; I’ve actually earned Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest twice.

What attracts you to historical fiction?

“Death in Theatre” was actually a happy accident. I do not typically write historical fiction, and I only rarely read it. When I do read it, my favorite part is being immersed in the world as it was back then. It’s one thing to think about how different life was in historic times, but quite another to view it through the eyes of someone (real or fictional) who lived it.

How did you get the idea for the story?

I wrote “Death in Theatre” for a challenge on my writing website. It was a genre challenge, and that round was Historic Fiction. At first I wanted to go with something closer to my usual comfort range, like something medieval, Roman, or feudal Japanese. But eventually I decided that focusing on an individual would be best, and that a traitor or assassin would be the most intriguing. When I thought of John Wilkes Booth, I was uncertain at first because it’s not my usual fare, but I decided to challenge myself. What kind of man must Booth have been to assassinate President Lincoln?

Union or Confederacy?

Union. My family is actually from the south, but my dad was in the Army when I grew up and I lived all over. When I came back to the family home for my tenth grade year, seeing the Confederate pride down there disturbed me on a number of levels. The Confederacy wasn’t all about slave-holding, of course, though that was one reason I was put off by all the Confederate pride. But the simple fact that the Confederacy wanted to split from the Union makes all that pride seem unpatriotic to me. Maybe they view it differently, but that’s why I found (and still find) it hard to understand.

What are you currently working on?

A young adult fantasy novel. I actually have a lot of ideas floating around, but I’m trying to stick to this one. I have a long history of getting very far in a story and then abandoning it, taking a break for another idea. By the time I get back to the old story, I hate it and want to rewrite. My goal is to get all the way through this one this time, because what’s the use in being a writer if you never finish anything?

Don’t forget to read a free sample of Jessica’s ‘Death in Theatre’ from the second issue of Alt Hist. We think you’ll like it.

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