PW: War of the Rats focused on Stalingrad, while The End of War focused on the fall of Berlin. What made you choose to write about the battle for Kursk in Last Citadel, and how do you decide on the subject matter for each new book?

David L. Robbins: What I look for in historical novels is, first of all, an unexplored epoch. What I mean by that is, if I walk up to any educated person and ask what they know about Stalingrad, they'll probably say something like, "Oh, that was vicious," but they won't necessarily know more than that. Likewise with the fall of Berlin, they might understand the underlying rubric, but not know the actual story. For Kursk, they'd say it was a big tank battle. So I invent the idea along the lines of something people may have a nascent interest in, but hasn't always been brought to light. I thought Kursk fit that perfectly.

PW: How did you research this novel?

DLR: It's a personal ethic that if I cite a location in my books, I've seen it. I don't make up locales. For each location in my last three books, I've stood there. I spent most of a month in and around the Kursk area, looking at these battlefields. I spent eight weeks in Volgograd [the renamed Stalingrad] and Siberia, where Zaitsev was from. Occasionally, you find survivors of these battles, which is extremely valuable.

PW: Did your novel War of the Rats contribute to the film Enemy at the Gates?

DLR: That borders on being controversial. Suffice it to say that it was the position of the French producers that they didn't have to involve me. Their position was that since it was a true story, you cannot copyright history, so they didn't feel the need to get me and my agency [William Morris] involved. I didn't agree, but I left it alone. My view was that I could've made a stink about it, and I had lawyers telling me so, but for me to do it would have cost me a book at least, because of the time and aggravation involved. My compensation for not getting involved legally about War of the Rats and Enemy at the Gates was Last Citadel. I thought, War of the Rats was a bestseller; the best thing I could do for my career was to try to write another one. I think the trade was the right one.

PW: Considering this novel and its two predecessors have involved the U.S.S.R., how have your books fared in Russia? Or Germany?

DLR: For Russia, you'd have to ask my agency, William Morris, because right now we don't have a Russian-language publisher. That certainly is a market I'm dying to get into, and I think as soon as WM can find an appropriate publisher for my stuff there, they will. In Germany, I'm told, I do very well.

PW: Historical fiction seems to enjoy its own ebb and flow in the book market. What are your thoughts on the genre, and whom do you see as best exemplifying it today?

DLR: I think I've been given an opportunity to write literature [about a particular period] that will be read for substantial fractions of a century. If you go across the panoply of books that tend to be timeless, a great many of them are historical novels. I'm thrilled by the thought that 50 years from now, if someone wants to read about Stalingrad, they may reach for War of the Rats, the way others might reach for All Quiet on the Western Front [if they're interested in Germany in WWI]. I hope I'm writing books that have timeless qualities not only in the writing but in the subject matter. I think there's always going to be a market. Certainly you've got to talk about people like Caleb Carr, and I'm personally a huge fan of George Macdonald Fraser, Joseph Kanon and Stephen Pressfield.