About Bruce M. Perrin:
After short stints working on a federally funded research project with the Kansas City, MO Police Department and a software engineering job at Kansas State University, I went back to school at K-State for my PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. A 29-year career at the Boeing Company followed, during which I led research and development projects in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to virtual reality. I also had the privilege of supporting or leading proposals for new work, pursuing contracts worldwide. Now retired from Boeing, I live with my wife in St. Louis, MO, and am working down my bucket list, currently enjoying my efforts toward the item ‘become an author’.
What inspires you to write?
You probably know someone like me. When faced with an 8-hour car trip alone, I am the guy who looks forward to it. Moreover, when I go, I never turn on the radio; I never listen to a CD; and I never use my phone as a substitute for companionship. No, I enjoy the time alone with my thoughts. In addition, it is not just driving where I escape; my time for solitary reflection includes hiking, biking, and jogging – lots of hiking.
When I was working, these times alone were opportunities for mentally recharging, to some degree, but mostly for free-flowing, unconstrained, problem-solving. They were the times when I tackled the particularly thorny issues of my job. It is hard for me to say which came first – the sense of accomplishment I feel in solving a difficult problem or the career that required it, but I would guess the former. Because when I retired, I started seeking an outlet for my imaginings. I experimented with several before trying writing. And so far, the fit is perfect.
I have completed my first book, the second is about half-finished, and I have notes on books 3 and 4. I would put each of these works in the techno-thriller category. This genre lets me tap into my background in science, but it also demands I exercise my imagination. I have to ask myself, what in current technology could go wrong; what would it look like if it did; and how would we fix the problem, and in the process, of course, save humanity? The explosion of possibilities in any technological field provides a rich landscape for reflection. Recording it in words then becomes the by-product of that mental exploration.
Tell us about your writing process.
Step 1 for me is finding a general concept for the book. For my first book, the concept came from a misunderstanding. A friend had recommended a book, saying, “You’ll like it. It is about brain plasticity gone wrong”. (If you are not familiar with it, plasticity is the adjustment the brain makes to replace a function, such as the ability to speak, when it is lost due to a head injury.) I read the book, and it was not really about plasticity. However, it started me wondering, what could go wrong with a natural process like brain plasticity? If it did go wrong, how would it happen and what would it be like? That was the kernel for Half A Mind.
Step 2 is to develop a document that is more than an outline but less than a draft. I create what I call a storyboard that lists each chapter and the main activities within them. Much of my research occurs during this step. If I have ideas for specific conversations, I include that as well, but this is unusual. At this point, each chapter is represented by about 4 to 10 phrases (usually, they are not even complete sentences).
Step 3 is to write a first draft. I try to write it as fast as I can. Under ideal circumstances, this draft takes about 3 weeks. I have had ideal circumstances only once, however, so more commonly, this step is about 2-3 months in duration. The writing is far from perfect, even grammatically, because I emphasize plot and main ideas. I do not hold inflexibly to the storyboard. If I come to a point where things are becoming too predictable or too pedestrian, I brainstorm and modify the plot. Hopefully, most of the adjustment affects sections yet to be drafted, but if not, I revise what I have already written. The research base expands and deepens, as I flesh out plot details.
Step 4 is a final draft. Here, I go back, fix the grammar and improve the expressiveness of the dialogue and descriptions. I hope plot changes are unnecessary or at least minimal, but adapt when required. If the alterations are too great, I repeat this step.
Step 5 is an independent review, generally for typos and general plot understandability and flow. On my first book, I used two friends for this step, both of whom have a good eye for detail, and one of whom knows as much about the content area as I. For book 2, I will continue the same approach.
Step 6 is to go to press. I have only done an eBook so far, and the instructions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo are good. Just follow them. I also have a post on my blog about formatting and conversion for eBooks, if you are interested.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I rarely read a book where I do not form a mental picture of the characters. (As evidence, I still wonder how Hollywood thought to cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. I see someone closer to Dwayne Johnson in my mind’s eye, but they did not ask me.) I also believe that this mental picture is even more vivid for characters you create. I have spent months with mine. I know what they think, how they feel, what they would say. Additionally, I know what it is like to write something inconsistent with their personalities. It happens. When it does, I feel the tension and soon, the words are gone. In a sense, I listen to the persona I created. I also imagine conversations among my characters – when Sam stumbles over compliments or Nicole gives him a hard time. These imaginary conversations are often complete, with specific phrases and precise reactions, which later become text. However, to date, I have not personally joined the discourse. I think they would listen, but like your children, you have to let them live their own lives.
What advice would you give other writers?
I’ll go with the classic response of, ‘it depends’. In this case, the classic response fits. My advice depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
My objective on my first book was, quite literally, to write a book. There was no other motive; I wanted to try my hand. If you are in this camp, I advise you to do the same. Come up with a concept. Flesh out a general plot flow. Then, write. If you just want the experience of writing, then that is about all you need. And that is about all I did, initially, in my first foray into writing.
However, if you are thinking about writing as a career or even a serious hobby, do not follow that advice. Rather, as soon as you know that a book is a real possibility, put that enthusiasm aside for a moment and devote some serious thought to marketing. Note I said serious thought, rather than serious money. Because the thought will help with the decision about money, as there are many options between free and an open-the-checkbook-let’s-go-all-out approach.
As I said, I published my first book long before I gave marketing much thought. When I did consider it, I jumped at whatever came along. One of the first things I stumbled across was a free book promotion at Amazon. Why not – sounded interesting. My book achieved a few hundred downloads over 5 days. I thought that was good, until I read about authors getting a 1000+ downloads each day after announcing the event on free websites. Opportunity missed. Basically, I discovered that I did almost everything wrong for a successful marketing campaign.
So, learn from my mistakes. If you are writing for yourself and your two dozen friends, do what I did – write, publish, and let them know when you have a free book day. If you think there might be a few hundred or a couple of thousand readers who would like your brand of suspense, or humor, or romance, or whatever you write, try a no-cost or low-cost planned campaign. Currently, I am exploring some of these options, with the idea of applying them in earnest to my second book. Finally, if you think you are writing the next great American novel and want it discovered before you die…well that is what your checkbook is for.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Truthfully, I never gave it much thought. I understood that getting a book published by a traditional publisher tended to be a long, and potentially, costly proposition, involving agents and editors and deadlines and so on. My career working for others, however, is over. Been there, done that for more than 30 years. I wanted to write and publish on my own, which means one or more of the independent eBook publishing options or various paid options. I had little interest in the latter. So, after reading (somewhere) that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo were the most popular eBook publishers, and having a family who owns several Kindles and several friends with Nooks, the decision was made. I only added Kobo as it is ‘low-hanging fruit’; Nook and Kobo essentially use the same format. I realize now that there are on-demand publishers for paperbacks, such as CreateSpace, and I may try that before too long. I only hesitate because the more of that I do, the less writing I do. And writing is where the fun is.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Good question. I would think in the short term that eBooks would continue to grow in popularity. Let’s face it, there are a few in my generation (and remember, I am retired) who talk about liking the feel and smell of paper. However, everyone else is reading on their eReader, their tablet, their phone, or anything else that has a screen big enough that they do not end up with carpal tunnel syndrome from constant page turning. I cannot see this trend reversing, or even slowing for that matter.
Beyond that, alternative display technologies for electronic content might follow. Perhaps we will see books on Google glasses, or some other wearable technology that does not look quite so sinister. I also understand that devices that use lasers to paint an image on your retina are being developed. I do not keep up with this technology, so perhaps it is passé, or alternatively, it will be at Best Buy next week.
But longer-term, pie-in-the-sky thinking – I believe it is possible we will see electronic information of various types directly imprinted on the brain. In the lab, we have already produced images in the visual cortex of animals using electrical stimulation. In addition, there have already been very simple thoughts, such as flexing a finger, induced in the human brain. Is it that far-fetched to think we could have more complex images, such as words, induced there? Alternatively, do we skip that step entirely and go directly to implanting images, or thoughts and feelings. Sounds like fodder for a good techno-thriller to me.
What do you use?: Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Suspense, mystery, thriller, techno-thriller, science fiction, crime
What formats are your books in?: eBook
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All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit, to allow you, the reader, to hear the author in their own voice.