Wednesday, October 7, 2020

R. Peter Keith Interview - Wine Dark Deep

Photo Content from R. Peter Keith

R. Peter Keith is the alter-ego of the creative director of a NASA Space Act Agreement partner company that specializes in the design, fabrication and exhibition of museum exhibits and interactive experiences. He's flown the NASA-Langley Lunar Lander Simulator to a landing in front of the Moon McDonalds* and has spent research time inside an original Apollo LM, the SEV (Space Exploration Vehicle: prototype pressurized rover) and the Orion Spacecraft with one of its engineers.

For the past five years, Keith collaborated with NASA to produce a simulation-based exhibition that focused on the basic concepts of spaceflight and their possible application in the colonization of our solar system. On it's premiere, the exhibit broke all attendance records for Space Center Houston, the official NASA Visitor Center for the Johnson Space Center, home of the astronaut program. The many long, thoughtful and technical conversations with NASA experts and advisors from Houston, Langley and JPL that occurred during the creation of this exhibition and its seven simulations and related programs provided the germ of the idea that became the WINE-DARK DEEP series.

He is also a recognized expert on the video game industry and its history having been an on-air and off-air consultant for everyone from the History Channel to the U.S. Post Office.
Keith lives in Vermont with his wife, kids and dogs. He has hung on to an old car for so long it has become cool again and has done the same with a few pairs of pants. He has an unreasonable love for all speculative fiction, having grown up with both classic literary and film works as well as the wonders of Marvel comics, Star Trek and Star Blazers. He's an avid video game fan as well as a voracious reader.
The author wants to stress that although NASA collaborated in the creation of the museum exhibit, they in no way endorse these novels. They are entirely my own creation and any errors or stretching of the laws of physics are my doing alone.

*There really is a McDonalds on the moon in that NASA simulator. He has pics.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I have always loved the act of storytelling. I’m a writer and a classically trained artist (happy to share images if you like) and I’ve been fortunate to be the creative director of a few amazing projects, some with very large budgets, but all of those, necessarily, involved lots of people, complex timelines and the final realization of different aspects by different teams. Whenever you are doing something like that, compromises have to be made, there are creative differences that must be ironed out, budgetary restrictions or changes that affect content, timeline changes that impact what you can or can’t get done. It’s very rewarding to bring something like that to a successful conclusion but very frustrating at the same time. I wanted to do something that was, at the finish, exactly what I wanted it to be. No compromises, no creative differences, no running out of time or money.

That, and the fact that I got to work intimately with NASA for five years and basically spent a lot of those waking hours, essentially, inside spaceships and exploring the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and the asteroids. (I elaborate later, don't worry. I’m not crazy. For the most part.)

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I have a lot of admiration for the classics and the classics of science fiction and clean fast prose. Books that can tell big stories filled with beauty or horror, combining big ideas with action and characters you care for - and do all of that in an economical package - has always impressed me. I remember being blown away that H.G. Wells told the story of The War of the Worlds in just a little over 100 pages, and that book still captures new readers imaginations every year.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I’m just at the beginning of this process, but so far I think it was that first pro review. Wine Dark Deep: Book One received a pretty glowing review and they named it to their Best Reviewed Books of the Month list (August 2020). That was pretty thrilling, because up to that point I only had my own sense (hope?) that it was a good book and the enthusiastic responses from beta readers. Some of those were NASA folks, engineers and scientists and they really dug it - but these were all people I knew personally so to have that validation was really special. The night after I first got word of the review, I think I slept better than I had in a decade.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope that they just enjoy themselves in ways that are not only fun, but fun to think about afterwards.

I hope also that maybe it helps them to be excited for the future of humanity, because I do think we are a wonderful species despite our faults. We are progressing, even though it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. We can, have and will do great things.
An underlying theme of the books is the human desire to understand and to try and find our place in the universe and how contact with the unknown - and the possibility of the unknowable - defines that experience.

In your newest book; THE ODYSSEY: WINE DARK DEEP: BOOK THREE, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
The first three books in the series are all coming at once. They’re triplets! There is an order to them but they are being delivered at the same time. Basically because I think people want to binge so I wanted a big portion of the story to be available day one so that readers could really sink them

Wine Dark Deep: Book One is a fast and fun action-adventure that sets up the characters and the reality of their world, it’s rules and underlines the fact that no matter what happens - the characters can’t cheat those rules.

Book one introduces Calvin “Cal” Scott, the Captain of the interplanetary spaceship Ulysses and its crew who are on the scientific mission of a lifetime. The Ulysses and ships like it are dependent on the launch of refueling tankers, sent into space well in advance, from the Moon or the giant asteroid Ceres. When their promised refueling from Ceres doesn’t arrive, the Ulysses is advised to tuck its tail between his legs and limp home. But that’s not in Cal’s makeup, instead he uses the last of their fuel to put them on course for Ceres and find out what happened. He plans to show up in Ceres’s sky and make trouble.

The second book, Wine Dark Deep: Encounter at Jupiter takes that very grounded world and shakes it. We get to see what these characters, and their vessel, are really made of -- and we get our first taste of not only the unknown but the possibility of the unknowable.

In the third book, WDD: The Odyssey, things really start to get weird. 

And the fourth book, which I’m halfway through right now, well. . . I try and amp each book up over the previous one, so…

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Probably the constant possibility of the collapse of civilization that’s been hanging in the air for the last few months. That and the fact I just really enjoy spending time with the people I love. I am also a car person. I love to experience the world from a vehicle - the more classic and the more open the car the better - so when the weather's nice I do find it tough to stick at the keyboard.

What part of Cal did you enjoy writing the most?
I think what I enjoy most about writing Cal is that he manages to be a decisive and brave guy while at the same time he is just riddled with self-doubt and fears that, given his position, he must keep to himself. I like that he gets into trouble a lot and I think what I most dig about him is that he’s the type of person that will take a moment to enjoy the beauty of life even in the midst of the worst crises. He is someone who understands that life can be wonderful and terrible all in the same moment.

As Captain of one of the first interplanetary spacecraft, he is a representative of a larger entity - but he is very far from home. Because of this he has a freedom of action, an agency, that most of us just don’t experience in our everyday lives. Apart from his crew, he’s isolated from the entirety of the planet Earth by millions and millions of miles. Even light itself takes minutes to travel the vast distances to his ship so a simple radio exchange could take over an hour, thus there’s no one to look over his shoulder, no one to second-guess and no one to criticize. By the same token, there is no one to lend a hand, no one outside his crew to seek advice from, and no one to save him but himself.

I enjoy that he’s very aware of his shortcomings - and afraid of them. His own mind is often his worst enemy. So much so that the possibility of failure actually holds a secret attraction for him. This is because he knows, given his chosen career, that he probably wouldn’t survive it, and therefore he won’t be around after said failure to beat himself over it.

I guess that’s scary but there’s a certain freedom there that I find appealing. There’s a lot I like about Cal.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think I’d introduce the Doc to C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, a character that has been an inspiration to many authors before, and Cal certainly shares traits with him, notably the self-doubt. The Doc spends so much time trying to figure Cal out and support him in order to help him hold the ship’s crew together, that I think she would find old Horatio a fascinating set of contrasts and similarities.

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
I don’t know if it’s the most ridiculous fact that I know but this one has been on my mind lately because it is kinda at the heart of my books. It’s actually more of a little cascade of ridiculous facts. There was a little mystery that I uncovered when I was looking for a title for the books. I love the Homeric stories and have always liked the “wine dark deep” quote from Ulysses where he rages against the gods for the various trials he has been put through and vows that no matter how many times they knock him down, he will get up again. That type of exhausted unwillingness to accept defeat is a major component of Cal but as beautiful as it is, it just doesn't make sense. “Wine dark deep” or “wine dark sea”, depending on how it’s translated is paradoxical. Ulysses is talking about the sea but the sea is not the color of wine. Wine is red. The sea is not

So - the ridiculous fact is that the ancient proto-Greeks had no concept of the color blue. They literally could not see it. Even moreridiculous is that, in fact, most ancient peoples do not have a word for “blue”. They likely perceived blue things as existing somewhere within the spectrum of green.

So this is the most ridiculous fact: Blue isn’t a color - it’s a concept. And it’s a concept that humans had to learn. To me that says something about the nature of human knowledge and perception -- it says something about us and our understanding of modern life. You and I, and everyone else, assume a lot about the world we live in. But we didn’t even know that the color blue wasn’t real. It was something human beings had to learn to perceive.

What might we have to learn to perceive out there?
That’s actually one of the biggest challenges facing the crew of the Ulysses.

What according to you is your most treasured possession?
It’s either this one particular childhood toy, a diecast space battleship toy from Japan, or it’s my Dad’s 1970s sports car which I fought hard to keep and restore all these years. That should give you an idea of how much I like that toy.

Best date you've ever had?
We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and just wandered around all day and talked about what we saw. Afterward we had hot dogs from a street vendor and took the train back out of the city in a thunderstorm. It was pretty low-key and magical at the same time.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I ask myself that question often, but I’d have to figure out the rules of this time travel first. I wouldn’t want to accidentally go back in time and prevent anyone I love from existing or treasured friendships from forming.

That said, I’d take this sports almanac that I have back a few decades and place some bets.

What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I was a caddy at a fancy country club where I would never have been allowed to join (at that time) because of my lineage. I came away with a lot of funny stories - and a bad taste in my mouth.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
The creation and premiere of that space exhibit because of all the cool stuff that went into it, and the fantastic response that it received from both hosts and visitors right from the start - but especially because, just eight hours before the doors were set to open to the 8000 visitors we received that day, nothing worked.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper?
As horrible as this is going to sound, I don’t know if I have ever written a letter to someone on paper. It wasn’t the writing part that I was averse to but rather the act of putting it into an envelope, getting a stamp on it and making sure it gets into a mailbox. I have a strange and completely bewildering aversion to the mail. I thank the universe for online bill paying.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Failing the people I love.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
The moment the first book was finished. That book really wrote itself and some of the things that occurred surprised me as they happened. That’s happened in all three books really. It’s neat when you can put characters together and things happen differently than you’d originally planned because they demanded it. I plan things out but I don’t plan them so rigidly that I won’t allow things to go in directions that I didn’t expect. Those are some of my favorite writing memories.

Where can readers find you?
On Instagram, and Facebook @uphilldownhillpress, Goodreads and through the Uphill Downhill Press website.

These are in no particular order, because I couldn’t put any one of these over the other. They’re all just so great.
  • 1. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
  • 2. The Planiverse, A.K. Dewdney
  • 3. Dune, Frank Herbert
  • 4. House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds
  • 5. Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis
  • 6. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
  • 7. The Stone God Awakens, Philip Jose Farmer
  • 8. Musashi, Eiji Yoshikawa
  • 9. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • 10. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
And then as soon as I see this list in print I will slap myself and say “How could I have forgotten about ______ and ______! And what about ______!?”

The journey to writing Wine Dark Deep began after I had spent five years onboard a NASA co-designed spaceship visiting asteroid bases, landing on the Moon and Mars and exploring miles of their surfaces and, as you might imagine, that inspired me.

It sounds like I’m crazy, but I’m not. I’m the creative director of a museum exhibit company that is also a NASA Space Act Agreement Partner. I spent years collaborating with experts from the space agency and designing a simulation-based exhibit that focused on the basic concepts of spaceflight. The experience actually introduces you to those basic concepts and the technology that helps you implement them - and then it asks you to put that knowledge to use in flying complete space missions. Virtually.

And this was not merely a speculative video game (although we have some good pedigree in that regard, one of my partners in that business is a world-famous video game designer who has received the Interactive Digital Software Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award) we simulated miles of extraterrestrial landscape using laser scans of the surfaces taken by the Lunar and Martian Reconnaissance Orbiters and the Dawn spacecraft. The Ulysses, the hero spacecraft of the is one of the Eureka-classspaceships designed for the exhibition. They’re not exactly on the drawing boards but they were designed with such levels of plausibility that their flight dynamics and consumables volumes were calculated by a member of the team that designed the Entry, Descent and Landing Profile for NASA’s Curiosity Rover. The common control interface for the ships of the exhibit, and by extension those of the books, was consulted upon by members of the NASA teams that are consulting on the various commercial space capsules from companies like SpaceX, Boeing and Lockheed.

But it was also clear that to communicate the basics of spaceflight to a more general audience, a narrative framework was needed. Characters were required who could draw you into their world and act as you crew mates, helping you along the way. I had a grand plan for an interesting overarching storyline but it was just too big for the limited time you have with an audience in a museum exhibit. But it was an idea that fascinated me and I didn’t forget it.

As work on the exhibition progressed, and as the simulations became more and more detailed, these simulated environments became real places to me. I spent the waking hours of months and months inside those craft, warping orbits to cross between worlds, landing and exploring the miles of terrain. It may have been a beautiful summer day outside, or a cold winter one, but it was all the same to me, but I was holed up in the dark 1970s’ rumpus room that I had converted into my “lab”, surrounded by computers and screens, experiencing the sometimes surprising intersection of humanity, technology and celestial mechanics. I was millions of miles away and I could see the challenges that would arise, where the conflicts would bubble up, and how human beings might face those situations so far out there on the edge of forever. I knew that there was a great, thoughtful, science fiction adventure there. More than one. And as to how to frame it all, as to what would be the perfect narrative with which to experience this world, one thought kept popping into my head, the one I had abandoned for the exhibit: What if PBS had done the original Star Trek? 

Say that in some alternate universe Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan and their producers had made a Star Trek type show for PBS rather than Cosmos -- how would they have done it?

I think they would have taken a logical, step by step approach and not have taken anything for granted. The challenges would arise from both human and scientific realities: how do you get from planet to planet? How do you tell what a planet is like from a distance? How would you try and communicate with a being with which you share almost no common points of reference? The producers would have made the actual challenge of spaceflight and scientific discovery a part of the drama in an organic way.

In this alternate universe, such a show would have started with a story that introduced it’s characters and their grounded, realistic world - then taken those characters, and the audience, on a journey step-by-step from the realistic to the fantastic.

Very often real science is more strange than products of the imagination. Book two, Encounter at Jupiter, takes place around, well, Jupiter. Have you ever looked at the latest space probe images of the poles of Jupiter or Saturn to see what’s going on there? Give it a Google. It’s weirder than the last season of Rick and Morty. So the idea is to mix the imagination with reality in a way that earns every twist and leap and turn and justifies the suspension of disbelief through an application of logic and as much real information as possible. That’s what I tried to do with Wine Dark Deep - to make it real. To give the audience a fun adventure, hard sci-fi yet accessible, and a storyline populated with characters who will never make you say “Why would anyone do that?”

I think that my past experience has gifted me a unique set of capabilities to help deliver this type of story.

A hard science-fiction space opera.

Equal parts The Martian, Star Trek, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Expanse.

The First Book in the Epic Odyssey of the Spaceship Ulysses and its Crew!

When the solar system’s key asteroid mine is seized by revolutionaries, it puts the secret mission of the spaceship Ulysses in jeopardy. Without a refueling launch from the asteroid, the survival of the ship and its crew is uncertain. The safest course for the Ulysses? Abandon the mission and limp home.

But Cal Scott, captain of the Ulysses, is an astronaut of the old school and failure is not an option. He has a plan: head straight for the asteroid belt and get their fuel—one way or another.


Wine-Dark Deep Book Two - Encounter at Jupiter
Continue the Epic Voyage of the Spaceship Ulysses and its Crew!

Having narrowly escaped the rebellion on Ceres, the spaceship Ulysses prepares for its historic rendezvous with Jupiter until an unknown object emerges in their wake.

Silent and mysterious, the thing gives chase.
Is it a life form? A machine? Or something even more sinister?

Plummeting towards the largest planet in the solar system, Cal Scott and the crew of the Ulysses must hurry to discover whether the thing is friend or foe as they battle to avoid becoming the greatest space disaster of all time.

The struggle with the incomprehensible plays out over interplanetary distances and fantastic speeds and begs the question-
What else is out there?

Wine-Dark Deep Book Three: The Odyssey
Flung beyond the solar system and adrift around an unknown star, the crew of the spaceship Ulysses must use their wits, skill, and luck to determine their location in the galaxy if they ever hope to find their way home.

A ruined solar system awaits them. A seemingly derelict space station hovers over a green moon, waiting to be explored. A living spacecraft powered by starlight approaches from a planet strewn with ancient ruins. And amidst it all, an inscrutable and menacing presence has awakened.

They know now that they’re not alone.
But to be remembered . . .
. . . they must survive.
You can purchase Wine Dark Deep Series at the following link below:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you R. PETER KEITH for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Wine Dark Deep: Book One by R. Peter Keith.


  1. "Do you believe in extraterrestrials or life on other planets?" There may be advanced life millions / billions / trillions of light-years away, but we'll never know. There are no "aliens" or "extraterrestrials" in the pop-culture sense!

  2. I do believe in life on other planets