Click here to see the full list of Bjorn’s books.

I don’t remember where the idea for Neustatter’s European Security Service came from.

I remember going to the library—the New Carrollton branch of the Prince Georges County, Maryland library system—looking for Timothy Zahn‘s Star Wars trilogy.  I read the first two, but The Last Command was never on the shelf.  A couple shelves up or down, though, was a set of eight matching books that were clearly a science fiction series.  About the third time the Zahn book wasn’t there, I grabbed David Weber’s first Honor Harrington book, On Basilisk Station.  Then I came back got the next two, and the next two, until I’d read up to Echoes of Honor, which was the most recent one on the shelf.  (Ashes of Victory wasn’t staying on the shelf any more than The Last Command was.)

And then I was out of things to read again.  I walked down the aisle, and I saw this book whose cover has three guys in a pickup facing off against a couple guys in armor.  It had the same rocket ship publisher logo the Honor Harrington books had.  I figured it would be a fun read.

1632 turned out to be awesome.

This was sometime between when 1632 was published (February, 2000) and when I moved (December, 2003).  At that time, lots of people had websites dedicated to their favorite series, organized into “webrings.”  They drove traffic to each other.  At some point (it took a while), I found Baen’s Bar1632 had three chat boards:  Slush, Slush Comments, and Tech.  They weren’t just talking about the book; they were working on actual stories in the 1632 universe—that were going to count.  And anybody could play.  I think by then 1633 had come out, and if Ring of Fire wasn’t out yet, it was certainly a done deal.  So it was probably 2004 or 2005 by this point.

I read the boards and looked forward to new books as they came out.  Every so often, a Grantville Gazette would come out.  They were telling everyone who’d listen, “You can write a story, too.”  I slushed my first attempt in 2007.  It was called “Suspension of Belief,” and it was about a fight that led to the formation of the Bibelgesellschaft.  It had problems.

This wasn’t my first writing attempt.  A teacher of mine arranged for me to borrow a school Apple II computer the summer after seventh grade, and I tried writing stories.  I had a whole fictional universe that I wrote in up through grad school . . . and no idea what I was doing.

My first attempt hadn’t worked, so I tried another.  This was “Neustatter’s European Security Services,” and I really don’t remember much about how it came together.  I slushed version 1 in 2007 and version 2 in 2008.  I made all the mistakes again, including discussing far too much of what else was going on in the series.  It also didn’t have much of an ending, so it got shelved.  I had other ideas by this point, and I started numbering the files.  Story idea #3 and #4 didn’t work out, and #7 got passed up the line to Eric Flint, who killed it on the grounds that there just weren’t enough ATVs in the Ring of Fire to make a “cavalry” unit of them. 

But story idea #5 just picked up with what “Suspension of Belief” had set up, and this new “Bibelgesellschaft” was going to enlist help from the University of Jena.  With Catholics and Anabaptists along, they needed some sort of protection—the riot at the Rudolstadt Colloquy was fresh in my mind.  I thought, this is what NESS does.  So I wrote NESS into the Bibelgesellschaft‘s story, and they’ve been working together ever since.  I had the core characters already from my previous two attempts.  Plus the “tech” at the center of the story is New Testament textual criticism, and I was reasonably sure no one else on the board was going to want to debate it in detail.  The question did come up as to whether pastors in Grantville actually had Greek New Testaments, and the editorial board checked with their pastors.  Three of them came back with the same answer:  pastors keep them, even if they don’t use them.  That made an impression on me:  The editorial board was willing to help newbies, and they were going to keep the series as realistic as they possibly could.

I posted this one, and it got generally favorable reactions.  Then editor Paula Goodlett bought “Bibelgesellschaft.”  It was published in Grantville Gazette 32.

Now came the hard part:  a second publishable story.  I’m serious.  If you have a story idea, are willing to learn, and have the determination to push through, you can get a story published in the Grantville Gazette.  Many of our authors have one story.  It’s going through that whole process again, knowing what’s coming, that makes the second one hard.

My second one was “Blood in Erfurt.”  I still had no idea what I was doing, so I waited almost a year.   But I started with the same character set and simply moved on to “let’s get the next university on board.”  I wasn’t outlining.  My method was to list items that my characters cared about enough to comment on, plus goals that the main characters had.   Beyond that, I was discovery writing, or “pantsing.”  For the early Bibelgesellschaft stories, I had a list that might be 15-20 items long.  I could work in about half of them, and whatever was left became the nucleus of the list for the next story.  Somewhere along the way, “Blood in Erfurt” took a turn toward crime scene investigation.  (Three guesses what I was watching on television at the time.)  This also got published.

* * *

Neustatter’s European Security Services started out with Edgar Neustatter and a handful of other men who’d been unwilling mercenaries.  Cousins Ditmar Schaub and Hjalmar Schaub led the two teams.  Ditmar had Stefan and Lukas, who were rougher around the edges, while the more easygoing Hjalmar had the “invisible man” Otto and the blacksmith’s apprentice Karl.  Wolfram the medic and Neustatter balanced out the teams.  And Hjalmar’s sister Astrid was the secretary.  They’ve all been there from the beginning.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Neustatter would hire more agents along the way.  There’s a class of ’34, and in book 4, you’ll see the class of ’35.

The Bibelgesellschaft had a lot of characters, too, including up-timer Al Green, historical down-timer Athanasius Kircher, and historical down-timer Johann Gerhard as the adults/advisors.  But it was invented Catholic down-timer Horst Felke, historical Lutheran down-timer Johannes Musaeus, and invented Anabaptist down-timer Katharina Meisnerin who were the leaders.  I generally try to stick to the textual criticism of one passage and/or focus on one particular manuscript per story.  Over time, most of the girls within the Bibelgesellschaft have gotten their own stories (Kat, Barbara, Alicia, Nona), and there’s one left (Marta).

I wrote some other stories and branched out to a new character group.  Eventually I gained the skill to write some of what I’d been attempting to do early on, and “NESS: The Railroad Missions” acquired an ending and was published in Grantville Gazette 52 in 2014.  Seven years is a long development time for a story.  It’s probably not a Gazette record, though.  So if you’re stuck, don’t give up.  Go work on something else for a while.

* * *

In 2018, the 1632/Ring of Fire con was held at Heliosphere.  Editor Walt Boyes turned to me at one point and asked, “When are you going to write me a book?”

I replied, “About what?”

Walt said, “Neustatter, of course.”

I dabbled with that for a while, and then in late 2019 got serious about it.  Every so often, the timeline in the NESS novels catches up to a NESS story from the Grantville Gazette, and I incorporate it.  A Matter of Security is all new material, Missions of Security is about 71% new material, and Security Threats is about 65% new material.  Most of my Gazette stories were set in June, 1634 through July, 1635, so I anticipate about 85% new material for the next book.

Please check out my stories in the Grantville Gazette as well as the NESS subseries:

Book four coming soon!