When did you decide to become a writer?
Isn’t the answer supposed to be something like, “Well, I guess I always wanted to be a writer?” But, really, I always wanted to be a writer. As a kid, maybe around the fifth grade, I wrote and sold a weekly newspaper, selling copies door-to-door.
That was before computers, right?
Yeah, that was the late 1960s. A very kind secretary at the elementary school typed up my scribbled notes and then made mimeograph copies I would sell door-to-door.
Did everyone subscribe?
Yes. Well, nearly everyone. I seem to remember one rather nasty guy who didn’t support the paper. I think he was awarded special recognition around Halloween, but my memory is a little vague on that. And, anyway, the statute of limitations has run on those juvenile pranks.
Were you a writer in high school?
Yes. I took every English class my high school offered. During the summers, it was baseball and books — in that order. I love languages so I have been on a lifetime journey with German, Russian, and Spanish.
How’s that going?
Let’s just say it was a lot easier learning languages when I was a kid.
What about in college?
I majored in journalism, part of the post-Watergate journalist bubble of the 1970s. I was the science beat reporter for the Ohio State newspaper, the Lantern. I also worked at the college radio station, writing and doing newscasts.
So, you were into writing all along?
Yes, but in a different way than writing fiction. Working as a broadcast journalist taught me to avoid long sentences. Broadcast news is about brevity — short sentences and the fewest words possible.
Is that the way you write your novels?
Pretty much. But there is probably still room for editing.
You also went to law school?
That’s all you want to say on the subject?
Well, it does opens the door to lawyer jokes, but what the hell. Yes, I went to law school at night and worked full-time.
That must have been tough?
Imagine that you work all day. You’re exhausted. Now, you have to sit in a law school class for three hours. And that’s three or four nights a week, year-round, for four straight years. Law school is hard, but working and going to law school at night is surreal. But, I survived.
But you don’t practice law?
I passed the bar exams in Ohio and Arizona and did practice for a while. I wrote lots of will and trusts.
But you don’t now?
No, not anymore. Writing is a lot more fun.
Your first book, Plains of Gold, involves a Martian coming to Earth over a radio signal from a NASA lander. How did you come up with that idea?
The idea for transporting a living being as a stream of energy goes back to Star Trek, which I watched as a kid, growing up in the 1960s. (Incidentally, I still watch Star Trek in re-runs.) But about a decade ago, I thought about the possibility of an advanced culture using one of our exploration vehicles as a means of reaching Earth.
It sounds far-fetched.
Oh, yeah. But you have to ask — could an intelligent being ride along a radio signal from one of our exploration vehicles and come to Earth? That’s the premise of the book.
Yes, but we’re talking from Mars to Earth.
That’s right. And that’s the risk that Kai takes coming to Earth. What he plans to do has never been done before. But his people were running out of options.
So, Kai arrives on Earth and then what happens?
In 1976, we weren’t ready for someone like Kai. A digital file sent from Mars? What is digital? It took forty years before Mike and Maggie could unlock Kai’s files on that recording from the Viking 1 lander.
Now, it’s present day and Kai needs help?
Yes. He needs help. But first, he’s got to figure out where he is and how long he has been asleep.
And, he has to let the humans know he is here.
A dicey situation, to be sure. How would you do it? I mean, a lot of people believe in UFOs, but everyone expects aliens will arrive in massive galactic doom-freighters, hell-bent on microwaving the planet. But in Plains of Gold, there’s just this one brainy guy who hitches a ride to Earth and is now stuck here, with no way to phone home.
You took on some current political events in Plains of Gold. Why?
Because Kai came from a utopian planet — well, at least, it was once a Utopia. When he woke up on Earth, he was surprised by how much hate and fighting there was among humans.
So, Kai decides to become a superhero?
No, but he does have to show the world that he has some moves. That’s why he bitch-slaps the North Korean leader and takes all of the money ISIL stole and gives it back to the people of Syria and Iraq.
But he doesn’t hurt anyone?
Nope. That’s against his own Prime Directive. But he needs our help and if he can get the president’s attention by solving a few problems, maybe it can help him get back to Mars.
Have you had any push-back from readers about the Martian philosophy of Ka-Atona?
No. Martians, in Plains of Gold, followed a way of life that required proof of any grand claim in order to be considered the truth — and that included claims of a Deity. The Danish philosopher Marcello Truzzi said, “…the burden of proof falls upon the claimant. The more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded.” This view was picked up by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and many others. I think it is a very good way to live — with a healthy skepticism about anyone claiming they have the absolute truth.
So the book doesn’t have an anti-religious theme?
No, it does not. But the Martian society I imagined was a place where people are free to believe what they want. The only limitation on that freedom was no one could claim an absolute truth unless they had absolute proof. That’s a reasonable requirement, don’t you think? I think most humans could get behind a philosophy like that. Ka-Atona on Earth would go a long way to ending the religious extremism that requires people to believe in a certain way and punishes those who think differently.
What is your next writing project?
I’m working on a sequel to Plains of Gold. It should be out in early Fall, 2016.
Can you tell us what the book is about?
It’s a sequel, so the story of Kai continues.
Well, will we recognize any other characters from the first book?
A number of characters will return in the second book — Mike and Maggie, President Collins, and others.
What about Sasha?
I have to write about Sasha. Under an obscure Arizona statute, a golden retriever is required as a character when writing a book in this jurisdiction.
You have a real Sasha at home?
Yes. My wife Lory and I have always had golden retrievers. Sasha is our newest arrival.
And after the sequel?
There will be a third book in the Plains of Gold series. Kai goes back to Mars. And, there will be a prequel or two about Mars before Koya destroyed the surface.
What is your writing day like?
I write about eight hours a day, half of it in the wee hours of the morning. Then, I pick it up again in the early afternoon.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read a lot of periodicals and blogs. Mostly science, technology, military and international affairs. I am also a pilot.
What are your favorite publications?
In no particular order, they are Science, Nature, Scientific American, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, Der Spiegel, Известия, The Atlantic, and Ars Technica.
What software do you use to write your books?
For the writing part, I use a great program called Ulysses®. When the book is finished, I send the file to a program called Vellum® that makes it a snap to export the e-book to Amazon and other online distributors. And, for the print version, I use and Adobe InDesign®.