Exclusive Interview: “Into The Real” Co-Authors John Ringo & Lydia Sherrer


Often when we hear about two people writing a novel together, it’s because they were friends first, or fans of each other’s work. But in the following email interview with co-writers John Ringo and Lydia Sherrer about their military sci-fi gamelit novel Into The Real (hardcover, Kindle), one of them mentions being a big fan of the other, while the other, well, we’ll let him explain the situation.

John Ringo Lydia Sherrer Into The Real TransDimensional Hunters

John Ringo, Lydia Sherrer


To start, what is Into The Real about, and when and where is it set?

Lydia: Into The Real is the story of a socially awkward teen, Lynn Raven, who is as badass in virtual as she is shy in the real. The story is set in the near future of 2040, when augmented and virtual reality have become commonplace and it’s much easier to enjoy “life” from the safety of your home instead of venturing outside. Lynn is perfectly happy making money in secret as a virtual mercenary named Larry Coughlin in one of the top first-person shooter games in the world…at least until the CEO of her favorite gaming company personally asks her to beta test his new augmented reality game. Lynn is very reluctant, considering she hates dealing with people, and the sun, and bugs, and pretty much everything related to being outside. But it’s an opportunity of a life time that could set her up to getting into career gaming, so she accepts and starts on a crazy adventure. She has to deal with divisive teammates, strange hijinks of the game algorithm, dirty plays by a rival team, and her own inner demons. There’s more, so much more, but…well you’ll have to read it to find out.

So what happened first: Did one of you come up with the idea for Into The Real, but realize it would work best if you co-wrote it with the other one, or did you two decide to write something together and this is what you came up with?

Lydia: The first. Hopefully John can pitch in and tell the story from his side, but from what I remember him telling me, John has had this story ideas for years and years. I believe he originally wanted to write it with his daughter because he wanted a younger female to work with to better get into Lynn Raven’s head. When that didn’t work out, he was on the lookout for a female YA author that fit his criteria to work with.

Now, how he approached me / pitched the idea to me is a funny, at least from my perspective. There I was, at 2017 at LibertyCon, a young author taking full advantage of the opportunities of independent publishing to build my own brand, and was set up with my little banners and stacks of books (I had four out at the time). I’ve been reading John Ringo’s books for years and was a bit of a fan (and by “a bit” what I mean is I had to resist jumping up and down and squealing when John walked by). So when he stopped by my table and picked up one of my books, I swear my heart was pounding in my chest. He flipped causally through it, not even pausing long enough to read a few lines, grunted, and walked away (or something like that, maybe he muttered something but I don’t remember what it was). I thought that was the end of it.

Well, unbeknownst to me, earlier at the beginning of the con, when everyone was setting up, my husband (who at the time was my table helper) stopped and pitched my books to John Ringo having no idea who he was. My husband, God bless him, is my biggest fan, and will tell anyone and everyone about my books in great length for as long as they will stand in one place. This is why, later at the end of the con — me still unaware that my husband had had a long conversation with John Ringo about me and my books — John stopped me in the hall, pulled me aside, and asked to speak with me.

Now let me give you some context for my immediate reaction to that request. I went through some military training back in the day, and in the military you praise publicly and chew people out privately (at least once you get out of boot camp). John is former military as well, and he writes a lot of military sci-fi, so I was very aware of his experience in the military. So, when John pulled me aside to speak with me privately, my immediate thought was “Oh shit, I’m about to get chewed out, what did I do this time?” I was fully convinced for about 30 seconds that I’d committed some terrible faux pas that weekend or insulted some author or publisher without realizing it and John had heard about it and was about to take me to task.

He didn’t help dispel that unfounded fear either, because instead of getting to the point and telling me what he wanted right away, he pulled me out to the smoking area outside, lit up a smoke, and started on this long and rambling tale about a story idea he had and wanted to write with his daughter. It wasn’t until 5 minutes in or so when he mentioned his daughter and how she was too busy to write that I finally got an inkling of what he was trying to ask me.

Then it was “oh shit” all over again, but in a much more pleasant way. Unsurprisingly, when he asked me to write a book with him, I said yes. Somehow I managed to say it calmly and at least halfway professionally instead of jumping up and down, waving my arms, and screaming in excitement. I’m pretty sure that would have scared him off. For the next several hours I was in a daze, walking on clouds, resisting the urge to grab random strangers and yell in their face “JOHN RINGO ASKED ME TO WRITE A BOOK WITH HIM!!!”

So, now you know my side of the story, maybe John has an equally humorous take on it from his side.

John: Hers is a better story than mine. I’d been looking for a female co-author for Into The Real, or possibly another story set in a fantasy environment. In both cases they were deliberately set around young female protagonists. I’d originally envisioned my daughters writing them. That didn’t work out. So I needed a female author who could write them from that perspective.

So when I picked up the book I had “flipped through it and grunted,” I was, in fact, reading. I was just reading for a particular “thing.” I’d had previous co-authors who while okay at telling a story couldn’t actually write for beans. So I was checking out her prose and dialogue style. And I found it to be good. But I was busy then, wasn’t later. So later I approached her about the idea. I was unsure how Lydia would respond. Some indie authors want to have nothing to do with traditional publishing. (Even Baen.) Lydia was enthusiastic about the idea. And off we went to the races.

Given how John wanted a female perspective on this story, Lydia, I have to ask: How often did you say to John, “Dude, there is no way a woman, let alone a woman like Lynn, would say something like that”?

Lydia: A few times, for sure. [grins] Not that often, though. And honestly there were just as many times I felt the need to adjust what Lynn’s mom was saying rather than Lynn. Being a mom is a very unique experience, and not one that is easy to put yourself in the shoes of. We definitely disagreed a few times on what Lynn’s mom would say or do, and I wonder if it came from our different perspectives as parents (him having been a father of teen girls vs. me being a mother of still young children, and boys at that).

In the end, though, what matters is whether the characters have internal cohesion and authenticity within the context of their own story, rather than whether they conform to any particular idea that either of the authors have.

So John, where did you get the original idea for this story?

John: I got the idea while playing Pokémon Go (which I used to do frequently.) It was initially an urban fantasy, and I thought about putting it in my Special Circumstances universe. (There are hints of it in the novel Queen Of Wands.) But when I was playing Pokémon Go one day I realized it worked better as a “trans-dimensional invasion story” than an urban fantasy.

I have lots of ideas (ideations) that never make it to paper and never will. This one did.

It sounds like Into The Real is a cyberpunk sci-fi story. Is that how you each describe it?

Lydia: Broadly, from a story perspective, I’d call it sci-fi action adventure. I personally wouldn’t call it cyberpunk because it isn’t far future enough (2040, so 20 years in the future). If I wanted to get more specific, I’d call it gamelit, which is the genre you find things like [Ernest Cline’s] Ready Player One or the Viridian Gate Online series [by James Hunter], or in terms of anime, Sword Art Online. But in the end, it really is a mashup of military sci-fi and gamelit. It’s a hard one to peg, because it isn’t traditional military sci-fi, despite the strong military themes, it isn’t really cyberpunk, and it isn’t a LitRPG, which is the dominate type of story in the Gamelit genre. Most Gamelit stuff deal with virtual reality (players are in the game), not augmented reality (players are in the real world with game overlay).

Sorry if that got a bit technical. [laughs] Maybe John has more insight on how Baen will be labeling and marketing it from a publisher’s perspective.

John: Military sci-fi gamelit. Gamelit is generally a mil-sf influenced genre. So…juvie gamelit with a strong mil-sf feel.

You’ve each written a number of other novels prior to Into The Real. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you each think had an influence on Into The Real but not on anything else you’ve written?

John: I can usually answer this question easily, but in this case other than Pokémon Go, there weren’t any industry influences. Not even Ender’s Game. The biggest influence on the story were people I met playing Pokémon Go. Lynn Is vaguely based upon two ladies I met while playing, both of whom influenced the character or story in their own way. One was an avid online gamer who experienced constant harassment from guys. Thus, Lynn’s creation of the Larry alter-ego. The other was a nurse. It was mostly influenced by casual conversations.

Lydia: While I was expanding on what John gave me to start with, I definitely had a lot of Ender’s Game running through my mind. While the circumstances are very different, both are stories of young people thrust into leadership that they didn’t want or expect simply because they were so good at what they did, and the circumstances (the world, their teammates, whatever) needed them to lead.

John, you already mentioned Pokémon Go, so Lydia, for you, what about non-literary influences; do you think Into The Real was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Lydia: Other than Ender’s Game, I honestly took more inspiration from games than I did from books since the premise of the story revolves around virtual and augmented reality games. While I am not as big a gamer as many, my husband is a huge gamer, and we spent many hours talking about gaming mechanics of various video games so that I could build a logical and sound game system for the TD Hunter game in the book. The biggest game influence on the books is probably Gears Of War followed by certain parts of World Of Warcraft, though in terms of mechanics, not storyline.

Sci-fi novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes part of larger sagas. But it seems like Into The Real is a one and done kind of thing. Or am I wrong about this?

Lydia: Nope, not one and done in the slightest. It is the first in a trilogy, and when John pitched the idea to Toni — our editor for these books and the wonderful top lady at Baen — she wanted a one and done thing too, and we were like “noooooope not gonna happen.” The story that needs to be told takes more than a single book because of the amount of character building and story the main character Lynn Raven needs to go through. She starts off as an awkward, insecure 17-year-old with a crippling fear of being outside around other people. You don’t go from that to a kick-ass heroine leading units of men, slaughtering monsters, and saving the world in just a single book, at least not realistically in my opinion. She needed time and story space to grow, to go through difficulties and experiences that will mold her into the leader she needs to be to save the world. Maybe John could have written the entire story in one book, but not me. I love writing series — I just published book 7 of my 12 book urban fantasy series — I’m not even sure I’m capable of writing a stand-alone novel.

John: Yeah, this was never intended as a one-off. It was always a trilogy in my mind. There’s a possibility for follow-on but I’m mostly thinking trilogy.

So, what is the name of this trilogy, and do you know yet what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?

Lydia: The series’ name is TransDimensional Hunters. We currently only have work in progress titles for the other two books, which are still very much up in the air, though our hope is that one will come out in 2023 and the last in 2024. That’s only tentative of course and it will depend on life circumstances and Baen’s publishing schedule.

Earlier I asked if Into The Real had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interest in adapting Into The Real into a movie, show, or game?

John: Ask me about my fifty other books and the answer remains the same: No.

Lydia: Though it could be a good movie if they did a trilogy. If they tried to squish it into one movie, it wouldn’t work. So it might do better as a TV show.

And if someone did want to make it into a trilogy of movies or a TV series, who would you want them to cast as Lynn and the other characters?

Lydia:  That’s a really hard question because of age, and because I don’t pay much attention to actors or actresses. But in terms of mainstream actresses who I have seen recently in a movie, I think Zendaya [Spiderman: Homecoming] would be a good fit if she was still young enough when the movie was made. But honestly, I’m glad I wouldn’t be in charge of the casting because I have no idea who would be a good fit for the role.

John: I think casting would take a good casting director because it would all be fairly young people and thus more or less unknowns. See: Twilight.

John Ringo Lydia Sherrer Into The Real TransDimensional Hunters

Finally, if someone enjoys Into The Real, John, which of Lydia’s novels would you suggest they read next, and Lydia, same question for you about John oeuvre?

Lydia: Honestly, the main genre and style I write — snarky urban fantasy with a romance subplot — is very different form this book and most of what John writes. General fans of science fiction and fantasy who read widely in multiple genres would probably enjoy the crossover, but diehard fans of the type of book John and I are writing probably wouldn’t be huge fans of my books. I would say Into The Real is a lot more like most of John’s books than it is like any of mine. But hey, that’s just my take on things, maybe John has a different view of it.

As for John’s books, I’d say they should check out his Black Tide Rising series. Though it is a different genre — zombie apocalypse fiction — it isn’t the generic zombie fiction you’d expect. It has a lot of fascinating detail in terms of logistics, disease spread, and societal building (or falling, in this case) that goes along with the action. Plus, it has two young women characters similar in age to Lynn. It isn’t gruesome and dark gore / disaster / apocalypse porn. It is a poignant story of civilization falling into darkness and clawing its way back out into the light.

John: I’d start with Lydia’s first indie novel: Love, Lies And Hocus Pocus: Beginnings.

In my case, I’d suggest either Under A Graveyard Sky, the first in the zombie series Lydia mentioned, Black Tide Rising, or my first novel A Hymn Before Battle, which is heavy mil-sf, or my first collaborative novel March Upcountry, the first book of the mil-sf / space opera series Empire Of Man that I co-write with David Weber.



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