Please welcome Author Bill Patterson to THE KATY today!
Hello, Katy, and thanks for inviting me to THE KATY! I’m your average Irish-German mid-50s guy, married forever and with two kids through college and doing their own thing. I grew up in a military family, which meant I moved all over the place. I survived the US Military Academy at West Point, class of 1982, and had a relatively short military career, ending in 1989. Since then, I’ve been working as a civil engineer (through 1995) and as IT infrastructure division from 1996 until now.
I started writing in 2005, submitting to markets in 2010, and have begun to publish independently only recently. About the only momentous thing that happened in my “traditional” publishing life was a nomination for British Science Fiction Association’s Award for Non-Fiction in 2012. I have actually cashed a check, so I guess that makes me an author. In August of 2015, I ran across The Future Chronicles group on Facebook, and thus met Samuel Peralta. He had open calls in three anthologies, and I felt The Paradisi Chronicles was right up my alley. I “Nuking The Noomies”, which was accepted for the anthology, due out this month. I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to write for Alt.History 103, coming out in spring of 2017.
As a way of giving back to the writing community, I volunteer as one of two Municipal Liaisons for the Central NJ Region of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. I also host events for the Princeton Writing Group.
The Wonderful Wife (Barbara) and I live in Central New Jersey.
How did you decide to become an author? Any books, movies, or people that inspired you to pursue your dream?
The initial seed was in English class at West Point. One assignment had a number of thrilling topics, such as “Light and Dark in the Elizabethan Theater.” The instructor then said “Or, you could write a short story.” I thought, “how hard could a story be?” And I totally pantsed a 12.5k story, rough draft=final copy, the night before it was due, on an electric typewriter, and got an A-. But the Army, life, and marriage/children/mortgage got in the way.
One incident stands out, though. One of my beta readers was reviewing a car accident scene where the MC’s wife and toddler son got T-boned by a truck running a red light. They lived through the initial collision, but died when their car caught fire. She came up to me, but basically couldn’t speak for about five minutes, she was crying so hard. It brought home to me, very forcefully, just how writing can move people. Once you taste that, there’s no escape.
Are you a plotter or a panster? Or a planster?
For most of my stories, I plot the basic structure, and pants the rest. For some of the really intricate hard science stories, I must have a plot and the calculations completed to determine if that cool idea is possible or not. I have found that if I try to plot more than a chapter title and a paragraph, I’m wasting my time. The story will veer away at the slightest hint of freedom.
How do you think being an engineer has helped your writing?
It helps with structuring the tale. What is the story question? How will the main character agree to solve the story question? What motivates the antagonist? Engineering is concerned with the art of the possible—taking a design and making it a tangible thing. Knowing the design of the story is key, making it tangible is engineering.
The part about being an engineer that hinders me in writing is impatience with human interactions. In real life, people don’t seem to be able to decide, or to plan, or to visualize the importance of certain things. Making my characters flawed in these ways is something I have to work on more—they are unrealistically good.
Why do you think people are drawn to science fiction?
A lot of today’s everyday gadgets would have been considered magic less than fifty years ago. Fifty years from now, that statement will be just as true. The pace of scientific advance means that the magic in a science fiction story could actually come true in the lifetime of the reader. What was a ‘communicator’ in Star Trek is now a flip-phone. Uhura wears an early model of a Bluetooth earset. Researchers are actually trying to build tricorders. People see this and say “Faster, please!”
Until it gets here, though, people are drawn to the cautionary tales of authors that are thinking about the place of these innovations in our lives. What happens if someone hacks a driverless car? Will electronic medical records lead to a Gattica type world? Are we actually living in the real world, or are we curled up in a fluid-filled pod in The Matrix?
Science fiction stretches the mind in ways that is completely different than any other form of literature.
What scientific advancement do you feel is right around the corner?
Near term? Holographic computer memory. A way for computers to survive hardware failure in their memory without losing the data.
Medium term? Thermal Depolymerization of garbage. Essentially, you put organic waste of all kinds into a massive pressure cooker and out comes methane, biofuel oil, carbon black, and a small amount of waste. Done correctly, it has the potential to turn landfills into the new oilwells. It’s only useful now in niche applications, since oil is so cheap. Darn fracking…
Far term? Thorium fueled Modular Molten Salt Reactors. Fantastic potential for baseload 24/7 electric power with the possibility of burning up current stocks of hi-level nuclear waste. Lots of engineering research is needed first, though. The biggest stumbling block, besides regulatory hurdles, is the fuel/waste separation issue. I see China and India putting these things online in about 20 years. It’s also about the only electrical generator that you can put on the Moon for continuous baseload energy.
Do any of your characters represent you as a whole or someone you know? Or are they qualities you admire in others?
I have lampooned real people in my fiction, but not often. I have put aspects of my parents in stories. Sometimes, I will project The Wonderful Wife onto the female main character, since I think the world of my amazing Barbara. I will admit that my characters are not as well distinguished one from another as I would like. Some, though, I am very fond of, and would love to meet in real life.
If you could live in any book for a week, which one would you choose and why?
Robert A. Heinlein’s Number of the Beast. If only Captain Sharpie would let me ride in Gay Deceiver as they hunt the Black Hats. As for the why—I have always been a fan of RAH’s concept of fully realized men and women working together to solve problems. Who knows, they might fly into the universe holding Friday and bring her back to Tertius. Then there’s the rejuvenation treatments. I’d sign me and TWW up for those immediately.
Are there any genres of literature or movies that you won’t read or watch? What’s your favorite genre to read/watch?
This one threatens to cost me potential readers, doesn’t it? Well, TWW constantly reminds me, attraction is illogical, which means that lack of attraction is equally illogical. I find romance, especially gothic romance, just doesn’t appeal to me. In television/movies, the absurdities of Hollywood (“Take that one pixel and sharpen it. OK, now read me that license plate.”) push me away from most CSI-type police procedurals. TWW and I actually watch very few movies, because we always have some creative project we’re working on.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write. Keep writing. Submit it to traditional markets. Research all markets through the big three (Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, and Absolute Write). Follow Yog’s Law (money flows to the writer). Join and contribute to your local writing group. Find a writer you admire and ask them to critique your work. If you can’t find a local writing group, I would recommend joining Scribophile—I have found excellent people there who have validated me and my work. Never self-publish until you have your work run past a good editor (recommended by the aforementioned admired writer). It is definitely worth the cost.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Wait, people spend time not writing? I spend a lot of non-writing time reading. Dating TWW all over again. The next generation is almost out on their own, so it’s time to renew my relationship with my spouse. However, right now all my free time is consumed with family issues. I lost my younger brother late last year, and my mother is not doing well.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I hope that readers are not disappointed that this author does not have a staggering bibliography. With the help and prodding of the fantastic authors in The Future Chronicles group, I have finally decided to self-publish a lot of my works that made it to the final round of every traditional market I submitted them to, but just didn’t fit in with others.
I hope it inspires other writers to keep faith in themselves, keep writing, and never give up. There is a future in writing, and the only one who can bring it about is yourself.
I will be releasing “God’s Sandbox” within a few days on Amazon. Set in the early days of the Paradisi Chronicles, Jamie Saunders is delighted to be promoted to the highest levels within Thorndike Security. He secures that ultimate perk–a brain upload–ensuring that he will live forever within Thorndike’s computers. Within days he finds himself having strange dreams, setting off a chain reaction that affects every Founding Family’s use of brain uploads for corporate affairs.