Monday, December 15, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Brian Burt


Usually (and unfortunately), when it comes to blog tours, I don't get the opportunity to speak to the authors.  I do, however, have my email address on my interview questions and they are more than welcome to contact me if they choose to.
            Brian contacted me a couple of weeks ago to give me the answers to my questions and asked me if there was anything else that I needed.  I took this opportunity to tell him I wanted a fun picture of him, if this was okay with him - my blog is anything but serious and boring, which is what most author pictures are, so when he sent me this, I was glad I had spoken to him.  Not only did I love his book and his answers, but this picture shows that his family are my kind of people.  (Check out the youngest in the front.  LOVE the hair).


The Gal in the Blue Mask: Hi, Brian.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little about yourself.

Brian Burt: For most of my adult life, I've been a software engineer to pay the bills, but for the past few years I've worked in information security; one of those guys who tries to stop the cyber-crooks from breaking through a company's digital barriers and telling whatever they can grab.  I have a wife and three sons who are absolutely wonderful, supportive, and patient when I go into hermit mode, confining myself in my office to feverishly work at finishing a story.

The Gal: What are 5 things about you that most people don't know? 

Brian: 1) I used to be a competitive swimmer and spent countless hours in my youth splashing back and forth while my eyes burned and I choked on chlorine fumes.  (Not a glamor sport!)

2) One of my swimming teammates won 2 gold medals in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.  (He was one of the "sharks" when I was still a minnow, and I idolized him.)

3) I spent 18 months working in Dublin, Ireland, and got completely addicted to Guinness Stout.

4) I grew up as a rabid fan of the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs.  (Pity me!)

5) As a kid, I actually owned the complete, detailed blueprints of the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise.  (Confessions of a closet Trekkie...)

The Gal: What is the first book you remember reading?

Brian: I loved Dr. Seuss as a youngster - read them all, but I especially remember reading (and adoring) "The Lorax."  (I still love that book and used each of my boys as a convenient excuse to keep reading it until they outgrew it.  I haven't outgrown it!)

The Gal: What made you decide to begin writing?

Brian: I had always loved reading, especially fiction.  To me, nothing was more magical than those people who could create imaginary worlds.  As a kid, I loved to make up stories for my friends but I didn't seriously pursue writing when I hit high school and college; everybody said it "wasn't practical."  It was actually during the time I spent working on a programming assignment in Ireland that I finally decided to take a shot at writing an actual short story.  Ireland was a beautiful, mysterious land steeped in legends and celebrated for its rich literary tradition.  It inspired me to stop thinking about writing and actually do it.
            On one of my flights back home from Ireland to the States, I happened to pick up a paperback copy of Writers of the Future in an airport bookstore.  The contest sounded extremely cool, and I wanted to be one of those gifted amateurs whose short fiction appeared in the Writers of the Future anthologies.  I started entering stories in the quarterly contest, and eventually the dream came true: I won the Gold award (grand prize) in the Writers of the Future contest and had my short story, "The Last Indian War," featured in Volume VIII.

The Gal: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Brian: I'm a shameless "revise as you go" writer.  When I start a writing session, I inevitably begin by re-reading the last section I wrote and ruthlessly editing/refining it before I dive into the next section. I'm not sure that's a best practice for writing productivity, but it helps get the creative juices flowing on those days when I'm struggling to find inspiration and the blank space at the bottom of the computer screen seems to be silently mocking me.

The Gal: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Brian: I have a home office that is my "dream writing space."  Behind my desk are a large set of built-in bookshelves jammed with my and my wife's books.  I'm actually a big fan of ebooks these days, but something about the look, the scent, the weight of those "hardcopy" volumes behind me on the shelves seems to lend me encouragement.

The Gal: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Brian: Ha - yes, getting started and maintaining momentum.  With a family including three boys from eight to eighteen, and a pretty demanding day job, I sometimes struggle mightily to carve out decent chunks of time to make progress on the latest novel.  For most of my writing career, I wrote only short fiction, and that was much easier; the writing equivalent of fast food, I guess, almost instant gratification.  Novels are wonderful, challenging, and potentially more richly woven, but the investment of time and energy still intimidates me.

The Gal: What do you think makes a good story?

Brian: As a huge fan of speculative fiction, I love stories with big ideas, with a unique slant on the world or a perspective I've never seen before.  I always treasure stories populated by fully fleshed, recognizably flawed characters who make me care about what happens to them.  Those writers who can combine a rich imaginary world with memorable characters are absolute miracle workers, and I'll read them every chance I get!

The Gal: What book(s) have most influenced you?

Brian: Wow - that's always a brutal question, because there are so many great books out there, and I know I've only scratched the surface with my personal reading choices.  Stephen King's The Stand leaps to mind immediately; it's an epic tale of good versus evil, with characters so well defined and realistic that you believe all of the unbelievable circumstances into which they are thrust.  Frank Herbert's Dune series inspired me with its incredibly detailed world (universe?) building and complex interweaving of ecological, political, and metaphysical themes.  I loved the scientific brilliance of Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Robot series, and Arthur C. Clarke's Rama novels.  Orson Scott Card's original Ender series amazed me.  Dan Simmons's Hyperion novels are so beautifully written that they're as much poetry as prose.  More recently, my whole family has gotten hooked on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels, which are clever, quirky, full of pulse-pounding action and unforgettable characters.  I'll stop now, before I break my laptop keyboard!

The Gal: What inspires you most?

Brian: Whenever I start reading a new novel and it completely swallows me up in its fictional world, sends me into a future state where the "real" world seems to dim until I reach the final page, my desire to be a writer is renewed.  I close that cover (or exit out of that ebook), take a deep breath, and think "I want to do that for readers!"  I know I'm still a rookie in the realm of novelists.  I have a lot to learn.  But I want to inspire and entertain people, to transport them to undiscovered places, and the quest to accomplish that goal is its own reward!

The Gal: Where do the ideas for your book come from?

Brian: For me, the book ideas come from pretty random places.  I think speculative fiction in general thrives on the weird juxtaposition of unrelated ideas in unexpected ways.  For my debut novel, Aquarius Rising: In the Tears of God, I'd been worrying about the future my boys would face if we don't develop t he societal courage to confront the grim reality of climate change.  I'd also read a few articles about genetic engineering trends that fascinated me, as well as some cool stuff about the mysteries of Earth's oceans, about vast parts of which we know less than we do about the surface of the moon.  Those things cross-pollinated, and suddenly the story idea took root in my (twisted) brain. What if we humans tried to reverse global warming and that attempt went terribly wrong?  What if the oceans became a refuge from he baking, hostile land, and we tweaked our genes to create a species that was part human and part dolphin?  What if those coastal cities were swallowed by the rising sea, transformed into thriving reef-cities for a different kind of humanoid?  And what if some of the humans clinging to the parched, arid land masses resented the "sea-monkeys" who had inherited the bounty of Mother Ocean?  Aquarius was born.

The Gal: Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

Brian: I think the dirty secret (or not so secret?) is that writers infuse bits of themselves into all of their characters, including the villains.  In the Aquarius Rising trilogy, though, I'd have to admit that I identify most closely with the protagonist, Ocypode.  He's the Aquarian equivalent of a "computer nerd": a lorekeeper charged with maintaining the Archives that preserve the history of his race.  He doesn't quite fit in, feels trapped in limbo between the humans and Aquarians who dominate his world (and I definitely felt that "misfit" vibe when I was younger, especially in my teens).  But (per the standard writer and actor disclaimer), Ocypode is not me.  He's just somebody I got to know, a fictional friend with whom I have some things in common.

The Gal: What have you learned creating this book?

Brian: For decades, I wrote only short fiction.  I felt comfortable with that format but always struggled to get my short stories "cut down" to meet the maximum word-length restrictions of the short fiction markets.  So - with my wife's encouragement - I finally bit the bullet and plunged into writing a novel.  I learned that this is every bit as daunting as it seemed, the short-fiction writer's version of an assault on Mount Everest.  You have to maintain perspective when you attempt this kind of climb: keep attainable milestones in view and don't let yourself be reduced to despair when you consider how high that summit really is.
            On the positive side, Book 2 was much less intimidating than Book 1.  I relaxed more, didn't obsess over compiling detailed backstories for every character, concocting elaborate sub-plots upfront, outlining every anticipated twist and turn ahead of time.  I just let the journey unfold, feeling like the overall terrain of a novel was not so alien.  The process was less stressful and more fun the second time around.

The Gal: What do you t think your readers will take away from this book?

Brian: I'm not an activist, and I don't mean to get overly political.  But I do hope the novel makes readers think: are we truly betting the future of our planet on a roll of the climate dice, praying that the scientific consensus is wrong and that the bones won't come up snake-eyes?  Is this kind of world something we would bequeath to our grandchildren?  Can we trust ourselves as a species to "play god" to some extent and manipulate our own genetics?  If we try to "geo-engineer" a fix to global problems, will we be better or worse off in the long run?  These aren't easy questions, and I certainly don't know the answers.  But if readers end up contemplating them, I'll feel satisfied that the novel had some values.
            It was reassuring to learn that my debut novel won the 2014 EPIC eBook Award for Science Fiction.  We all need validation once in a while, and this renewed my determination to keep working and striving to become a better storyteller.

The Gal: What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?

Brian: I've been told by readers that the underwater world inhabited by the Aquarians is fairly unique.  People especially responded positively to the Electric Forest, a magical realm of electrified "lightning-kelp" where incredible mutant monsters prowl, a place of bioluminescent fireworks that has its own savage beauty.  This book has been described as an example of an emerging sub-genre of science fiction called "climate fiction" or "cli-fi."  I don't know how to categorize it, myself, but I'm ecstatic when readers tell me that Aquarius is a world they've never seen before!

The Gal: What can we expect from you in the future?

Brian: Book 2 of the Aquarius Rising series, Blood Tide, will be released by Double Dragon Publishing in 2015.  I'm working hard on Book 3, The Price of Eden, which will conclude the trilogy. After that, I'm working forward to trying something completely different, although it will likely still draw on environment themes since these evoke passion in me as a writer and as a citizen of this beleaguered planet.

The Gal: Thanks for stopping by, Brian.  And please, come back when Book 2 comes out - I would love to have you here. :) 
            One more thing before you go: Where can we find you?

Brian: My personal website contains a sampling of previously published short fiction, as well as my author blog, which is featured on Goodreads.  I also maintain a Facebook presence.  Feel free to visit anytime!  If you're interested in learning more about my novels, please visit the Double Dragon eBooks.  This site contains links to buy the ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, or a paperback copy from Lulu.com.


About the author:
"I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana (a proud Hoosier!), and started making up stories at an early age to try to get myself out of trouble.  After college, I worked as a software engineer and got to travel as a consultant for a while, even landing a 16-month gig in Dublin, Ireland, which was fantastic!
            I finally got tired of airports and decided to settle down back in the Midwest, in Southwestern Michigan.  I couldn't fight the writing bug and started submitting short fiction: science fiction, fantasy and horror.  (I loved them all and wasn't very decisive.)  In 1992 I got my big break as a writer, winning the Gold Award (grand prize) in the Writers of the Future Contest for "The Last Indian War."
            I met my wife of almost 20 years (who became my best friend and my main editor as well).  We have three boys who tell wonderful, imaginative stories of their own whenever they're in hot water.  (Where did they learn that?)  I've recently made the (scary) leap from short fiction to book-length fiction: my first novel, "Aquarius Rising: In the Tears of God," was released from Double Dragon Publishing.  This is Book 1 of a trilogy, so I have my work cut out for me.  (Do you know how hard it is to write a novel on an iPad at an AYSO soccer game or a middle school band recital? ;-) )"

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