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Virginia DeMarce
conducted by Toni Weisskopf
March 2006

Virginia DeMarce, after early work experiences as peculiar as counting raisins for the California Department of Agriculture, received her Ph.D. in Early Modern European History from Stanford University in 1967, with a dissertation in German administrative history during the time of the 1525 Peasant War. Her interest in social history and demographic history has included tracing small group migrations and, as a hobby, genealogy. She has published a book on German military settlers in Canada after the American Revolution and in 1988-1989 she served as president of the National Genealogical Society. She taught at the college level for fifteen years, at Northwest Missouri State University and at George Mason University. After a detour by way of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, she retired in 2004 from the Office of Federal Acknowledgment, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. Her previous stories in the Ring of Fire universe include a story in the Ring of Fire anthology and stories in the Grantville Gazettes, #1, #3, #4, #5, and, forthcoming, #6. She says that she loves footnotes, lists, and handwritten primary sources. She has three grown children and five grandchildren, and lives in Arlington, VA, with her husband of 43 years, who is Director of Coal Mine Workers Compensation Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor. Her path to active science fiction writer was not a typical one….

"My very specific influence in getting started in fiction was definitely Eric Flint. I found Baen's Bar online and put up a post congratulating Eric on the general accuracy of the research and background for 1632. He responded and our dialogue began with that. I met him in person at the first 1632 mini-con held in Mannington, West Virginia.

"Eric outright told me to write a story about Grandma Richter for the Ring of Fire anthology. Although I protested that I had neither interest in nor talent for creative writing, he and the other denizens of the 1632 Tech Manual on Baen's Bar dragged me, kicking and digging in my heels all the way, into the process of producing the story ‘Biting Time.'

"I submitted it as ‘Considerations upon the Nature of Historical Causation: The Impact of a Shortage of StoveTop Stuffing Mix(tm) on the Development of Early Childhood Education in the United States.' Some Barflies still like that title better.

"Eric bought it. Since then, he's come close to buying everything I've written and gotten contracts with Jim Baen for us to co-write two novels in addition to 1634: The Ram Rebellion."

For Virginia, being an SF writer spices up her life. "It definitely makes retirement more interesting than it would be otherwise. I've been to my first ‘real' con in addition to a couple of the 1632 mini-cons and I've met quite a few interesting people, both in person and on-line.

"Without Baen's Bar, I would still be producing nonfiction on abstruse and academic topics, I presume."

Though Virginia came to writing late, she's been an SF reader for a long time. "For the first story I read, as in short story, it was certainly Theodore Sturgeon's ‘The Hurkle is a Happy Beast.' That came out in 1949 and I suspect the librarian in Columbia, Missouri, pointed me to it as soon as it arrived."

"The first sf I remember reading is C. L. Moore's ‘Jirel of Joiry.' I must have been about ten years old--old enough to be left at the public library by myself. However, it was certainly the same summer that I encountered L. Sprague DeCamp's Rogue Queen."

Virginia's reading outside of SF, as you might expect from her work history, is eclectic. "For early modern European history, Robert Scribner, certainly. Also R. Po-chia Hsia. Just reading for fun? I am very attached to the products of Janice Kay Johnson, who writes in the SuperRomance series for Harlequin.

To be honest, I have trouble taking fiction as Seriously as my literature teachers expected me to back in high school and college. I rarely managed to see as many Levels of Meaning as required to get an A, and Symbolic Significance puts me to sleep.

It's not often civil servants are anyone's favorites, but among her characters, they are Virginia's. "I like my civil servants, both fictional and the very real seventeenth-century ones I've imported into the series. I was one for years, and as Andrew Dennis once commented, ‘sometimes it just shines through.' But if I had to pick a particular favorite, it's the very conscientious (and very real) history student from the University of Strassburg, Johann Heinrich Boecler, whom I have assigned as Duke Ernst's secretary and biographer."

"I'm not sure that I have a series hero. If we can define this as ‘the favorite male character I've invented all by myself,' that would be Leopold Cavriani, the Calvinist merchant from Geneva. He's fiftyish, thin, brunette, comes equipped with a wife and five children, and ‘keeps his hand in Neapolitan politics just for the fun of it.' In my mind, he looks rather like the famous portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli, if other people would like to nominate appropriate candidates for a casting call.

When asked about her writing habits, Virginia reports a familiar pattern: "Before I retired, during the first couple of things I was writing in the 1632-verse, I tended to write late into the night, or wake up with characters rattling around in my head at three o'clock in the morning and have to get up and record their actions until they were temporarily pacified. Since I retired, I usually drop my granddaughters off at school, get back about eight o'clock a.m., and write until I have to pick them up again at three-thirty in the afternoon.

"To be honest, the actual writing doesn't take me very long. By the time I start at the keyboard, the story is close to complete in my mind. I thought about ‘The Rudolstadt Colloquy,' in the first Grantville Gazette, for eighteen months before I wrote it. Then I wrote it in less than a week."

Virginia looks to biology when asked about the development in science she'd most like to see. "The scientific development I have most enjoyed following over the years has been the decoding of the double helix and the functioning of DNA. I would most like to see that understanding advance until it would be possible to treat such serious genetic problems as Huntington's Disease."

As for the period in history she'd most like to visit: "You're asking a specialist in early modern Europe. It would have to be the nailing-up of the Ninety-Five Theses, I think."

For more information on the 1632 universe go to:
http://www.baen.com and under the Baen Community menu bar click on "Baen's Bar". From there go to the 1632 Tech Manual or, if interested in what's going on in the story world, 1632 Slush. If you're interested in literary criticism, you can proceed from there to 1632 Slush Comments.