My latest interview is with author John Brewer who lives in Huntsville, Alabama where Dr. Werner von Braun designed and built the Saturn V rockets that carried men to the moon. He worked there as a rocket scientist and physicist but he is not originally from Alabama. His father was a naval aviator and he moved around a lot growing up, going from one naval air station to the next. It was fun and John lived in some cool places but it left him with no roots so he was ready to settle down. Huntsville is a nice town and he has raised three sons here, two are in high school and one is in college. His wife makes sure all four of her boys stay in line.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
John C. Brewer: Interesting question. Why yes! I do remember it. It was The Silla Project. It took me six years of research, writing, and revision.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
John C. Brewer: Very much so. It was in late 1998 and I was doing a lot of secret work in closed, government facilities. I still can't talk about what I was doing, though the reality of that isn't as exciting as it sounds, trust me. At any rate, the nation was shocked at some of the things that were happening during the Clinton Presidency. The Waco Massacre. The Ruby Ridge killing. Vince Foster's 'suicide.' I was wondering where my country was headed. Wondering if it was still America. And I asked myself what I would do if the government came and did terrible things to my family and then imprisoned me. If a foreign power then offered to bust me out in exchange for information, would I do it? Somehow that transformed into an idea that rapidly grew into a passion and I realized I LOVED writing and was good at it.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about the book “Multiplayer” which I believe is part of a saga.
John C. Brewer: Multiplayer is a lot of things. I've read some books lately and they are mostly just one thing. Multiplayer has a lot more depth than you get from an ordinary book. On one level, on the simple level, it's the story of some teenagers who are playing a massively multiplayer online game and stumble on terrorists using the virtual world to plan and train for their next attack. It's an action adventure story.
On a deeper, more meaningful level, it is the story of a young man who is struggling with the death of his father in Iraq. His father was in the army and was killed by insurgents. As a result, Hector is bitter and angry and blames all Muslims, lumping anyone from the Middle East into the same, stereotypical terrorist category. And it just so happens his next door neighbors are from Iran and they have a son, Sanjar, who is Hector's age. Hector doesn't react very well at first, and neither does Sanjar. Ultimately they have to learn to trust one another.
Going deeper yet again - human interaction has never been subjected to such rapid change. We can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world whether we want to or not. This is changing the way we interact faster than we are developing the ethics to manage these new abilities. At the same time, the virtual world is becoming more real every day. The 'Saga' aspect of Multiplayer delves more deeply with each book into this blurring of difference between real and virtual that is happening. The second book is called Non-Player Character or NPC, and the third, Uploaded Intelligence or UI.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the main character Hector West and can you tell us something about him?
John C. Brewer: Well the name came from my youngest son who is a magnificent storyteller and artist and actually did the cover for the book. His name is Daniel, but when I was just beginning the book he was mesmerized with the names Hector and Isaac. I don't know why or where he got them. But I chose the names for him. The character grew organically from the story as I developed the plot and came up with necessary motivations for the main character. As a military brat myself, he was also someone that I related to easily. Of course, as the father of three boys, there are bits and pieces of all my sons lurking there in Hector. And then, there's this national psychosis we have about Middle Easterners. I know some and they are... well, no different than anyone else I know. So it's a dumb stereotype that I wanted to deal with.
Books & Writing: Is your book inspired by the Netforce Explorers from Tom Clancy?
John C. Brewer: This is a little embarrassing but I'd never heard of that book until you asked me this question. To be honest, all three of my boys are a total of about 30 months apart. I didn't read much of anything from 1994 until 2008 so I guess I missed it. Between potty training, not sleeping, writing, working, and coaching three soccer teams there wasn't time. So I'll have to say "no" it wasn't inspired by that book!
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the idea for the book?
John C. Brewer: Two ways here. I used to play a lot of HALO with my sons. HALO the XBox video game. I still play sometimes. We got our start on HALO I, or HALO Combat Evolved - the original. It had multiplayer maps but you couldn't play over the internet. HALO 2 came out with XBox Live and suddenly we were battling people all over the world and you could hear them talking. We were hearing British accents, German, Australian, Japanese, you name it. It was astonishing! And there were times when I would meet friends online and we'd stand around and talk between battles. Using this kind of interface for bad guys to get together to not only talk, but to train together, was a no-brainer. And it isn't being tracked by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, or any other three-letter agency.
The second motivation is a peeve of mine. I like the idea of mixing real and virtual. And it's been done a number of times. TRON and Ready Player One are recent attempts at this. But it's always bugged me that the plots are so contrived. People don't and can't get sucked into computers line in TRON. There isn't coming a time when everyone plays video games all the time like in ReadyPlayerOne. These stories are fun but are, to me, fatally flawed. I wanted to build a story where real and virtual mixed in a way that made sense. In a way that could happen today. As far as I know, Multiplayer is still the only story that does this and has real stakes.
Books & Writing: I understand you also wrote a techno thriller called “The Silla Project” which will come out in April I believe. Can you share a bit about the book.
John C. Brewer: As I said earlier, Silla is my first book. As such it will always be special to me. The Silla Project is the story of Mitch Weatherby, a nuclear bomb scientist at the top of his game, living in Los Alamos with a hot wife and a cool car. Life is perfect. Until the Feds show up and raid his house. His wife gets killed in the raid and the Feds convict Mitch for building a nuclear bomb in his basement. Of course, he wasn't doing that and doesn't understand why any of this is happening to him. The only thing he knows is that guys like him don't do well in prison, but that's where he's headed for a life sentence behind bars. That's when the North Koreans show up and bust him out. They take him to North Korea and ask him to help them finish their bomb. And at the beginning, Mitch is pretty angry and about half crazy about the way things have gone. The story is about his journey back and the struggles he faces.
I researched the book for three years before writing it and when you're done reading it you'll understand why we think North Koreans are crazy but they actually aren't, why they keep having leaders who really are crazy, and you'll know how to build a nuclear bomb. It's a fun read. And like Multiplayer, there is nothing out there like it. Nothing. Which I find astonishing.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for that book?
John C. Brewer: As I mentioned above, it started with thoughts about the political situation facing my country. I'm a rocket scientist and, since I've done work for the government, didn't want to write any missile fiction. Nuclear weapons made sense, and being a physicist I already understood how they worked. I initially thought of setting it in Iran or Iraq but there were so many books already set there. In hindsight it was probably a mistake not to put it there as it would no doubt have been a lot easier to sell. Regardless, I started looking at the rogue states and North Korea jumped out right away. And as I started to study the situation there, it was far more interesting than anything going on in the Middle East. It is a very fascinating place with wonderful people. I hoped, and still hope, that The Silla Project might popularize the plight of the North Korean people - probably the most oppressed population on Earth. I'm not sure why the Korean situation tends to get forgotten so quickly but the West should be ashamed that they've not worked harder to keep the plight of these oppressed people more in the public eye.
Books & Writing: Where do you see yourself in a couple of years in relation to writing?
John C. Brewer: LOL! Boy, you ask tough questions! When I was done with Silla I passed it around to people who read it and said I was going to be the next Tom Clancy. So, if you'd have asked me that question then, I'd have said, "I'm going to be the next Tom Clancy!" Turns out I missed it by a few years. And I'm not writing the kind of books Tom Clancy wrote anyway, so I can't be the next Tom. For good or ill, my books are deeper than his, and my characters more flawed. And my physics is accurate, I guarantee it. But if sales continue to track my predictions as well as they have up to now, I suspect I'll be spending more time writing than running missile simulations as well as doing a lot of speaking at conferences.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
John C. Brewer: Grow a thick skin and find yourself a partner or group who isn't afraid to tell you what is crap and what is not. Your friends and family will always smile and say, "I love it!" While that might make you feel good, it doesn't do you any real good. You need someone you can trust to be honest with you about your work. And don't expect to get picked up by an agent or editor. Expect to be in this for the long haul.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
John C. Brewer: This may sound trite but, J.R.R. Tolkien. And not because of the movies. They were visually stunning but that is all. No, I respect Tolkien for the way he lovingly crafted not only his stories, but his backstories. And he met with but little monetary success during his lifetime. He wasn't in it for the money. Yet imagine how the world would have been lessened had we never known of Hobbits, Orcs, or Middle Earth. I'm glad he kept at it and the fact that he did inspires me.
Books & Writing: What is the last book you read?
John C. Brewer: Ready Player One. Read the review on my website.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
John C. Brewer: The easiest place is Amazon where they can click on the cover and read the first four chapters for free, though I'm adding the first four chapters to my website as well. They can buy a Kindle version on Amazon or a paperback. It's also available for the Nook and from iTunes. By the end of February it will also be available through Barnes & Noble and while some stores will undoubtedly carry it, any of them can order it. In fact, you'll be able to order it from any bookstore anywhere.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
John C. Brewer: My website is www.JohnCBrewer.com where I blog, review books, and make posts about rocket science and other fun stuff. You can also follow me on twitter: @JohnCBrewer, and on facebook: www.facebook.com/authorJohnCBrewer, or feel free to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Books & Writing: Is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
John C. Brewer: Don't accept junk. There is an incredible amount of junk out there hiding behind hardcovers, colorful dust jackets, and premium labels. But as the great Sufi quote goes, a donkey with a load of holy books is still a donkey. You already know that if you want to listen to great music, look at the indie bands. If you want to watch great movies, go to the indie directors. So, where do you find great books? lndie publishers, of course. Get yourself a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, and load it up with indie fiction. You won't be disappointed
Below is an excerpt from his book "Multiplayer"!
The line inched forward slower than an amusement park queue and Hector began to sweat. His mother got really mad when he pushed his gaming. She already thought he took it all to seriously, but he knew perfectly well it was just a game. The only real danger, he laughed to himself, was his mother. But it had been more than five minutes already and was getting close to her second warning. He wasn’t quite inside yet.
“Hector…” she called a second time.
His heart jumped. If he logged off, Izaak would collapse on the floor as if he’d passed out. He felt beads of sweat break out across his forehead. “Almost done. One more minute. Trying to get my character put away.”
Finally, Izaak made it to the doorway. Then inside. The dome arched high above a polished stone floor ringed with columns and Islamic icons. At the head of the chamber, apart from the line, several characters clustered around one who looked like a priest or at least someone in charge. The tall man with a dark beard was dressed in a white turban and a long white robe, and there was a dagger thrust through the belt around his waist. Like one of those terrorists on TV. Izaak froze. Standing next to the man was Mal-X. And on his back hung a huge rifle with a long, sinister, black barrel.
“Vera!” Hector hissed.
“Hector Franklin West,” said his mother with a darker note in her voice, “don’t make me come up there.”
“Just a second,” he called back, captivated by the image on the screen. “This is important.”
He watched as another character strode to the middle of the Mosque and promptly vanished with the same flash as a slipgate. Hector was glad his real jaw wasn’t tied to his character because he sat there with it hanging slack. A slipgate? With no arch? He glanced around but there was no slipgate hardware anywhere. No arch. No dissipaters. Nothing!
“Hector!” It was a bark this time, and he knew it was his final warning. He was now, officially, in trouble whether Izaak survived or not.
Mal-X turned and scanned the room casually and Izaak suddenly realized Mal-X knew what he looked like. He slipped behind the character in front of him to breathlessly watch as another approached a small box with a handle. The top hung open, exposing a set of controls that looked like a standard slipgate interface. A portable slipgate? He’d never heard of such thing! Then it hit him – that was how Mal-X had cheated!