The Writers Connection - E. C. Murray, Publisher          Wendy Hinman, Editor

Interview with Boyd Morrison
By Wendy Hinman

  Before becoming a successful thriller author, Boyd Morrison has had an interesting and varied career, with success in diverse venues. He worked in the aeronautical field with NASA. During those years he got to play with big toys like the Space Shuttle and Space Station mock ups, the robot arm and the Vomit Comet. Then he completed a PhD in industrial engineering. While working on his dissertation, he drafted his first novel. But before he could pursue his dream of becoming a published author, as primary breadwinner he worked his wife through medical school, designing at RCA and earning 16 U.S. patents during his time there. A move to Seattle for his wife’s medical residency gave him a chance to “test” games for Microsoft’s Xbox--a young boy’s dream job.  Once his wife took over as key breadwinner, he turned to writing novels full time, with a little acting on the side in films and plays.  He is the author of multiple best-selling thrillers, with four books in the Tyler Locke series along with several standalone thrillers.  His book the Ark has been translated into 22 languages. Most recently, he has worked with blockbuster author Clive Cussler on the Oregon Files series. 
Boyd, welcome to the Writers Connection.
1. How did you first develop your skills as a writer? What did you find most helpful as you were learning your craft?

I've always been a big reader of thrillers. I doubt there's any working writer who hasn't read hundreds or thousands of books by the time they've started their careers. You tend to internalize the techniques that top writers use and learn what doesn't work in books you didn't like. I've also read many books on the craft of writing, and I've learned a lot from going to seminars at conferences and hearing about personal experiences from authors. 
2. What techniques do you use to keep a reader on edge?
My favorite technique is to write cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter. It doesn't necessarily have to be a gun leveled at someone's head--though that usually works great--but it has to be a new question for readers that they just have to know the answer to. That's why I never have a character go to sleep at the end of the chapter. I don't want to make it that easy for my readers to turn off their own bedside lamps. 
3. Tell us about your first big break. 
You started by self-publishing your first books but under the guidance of an agent. Tell us how that transformed into a traditional publishing contract.
When we couldn't sell my three completed books to a publisher in 2009 (twenty-six houses turned it down), I noticed that Amazon had started a program that let author's self-publish their books and receive a cut of the revenue. I didn't have anything to lose at that point, so I gave it a shot. Within three months, all three of my books were in the top 100 bestsellers in Amazon, and my agent resubmitted my books to Simon and Schuster's Touchstone imprint. S&S loved the books and signed me to a four-book deal. Because of that contract, my books got attention from foreign publishers, and I now have books in twenty-two languages. It was a pretty whirlwind turn of events to go from having no publisher to having more than a dozen around the world in the span of a few weeks. 
4. How would you describe the differences between your self-publishing experience and your traditional publishing experience? What do you wish you’d known earlier?
In self-publishing you're responsible for every aspect of publication--from proof-reading and formatting to cover art, writing jacket copy, and coming up with a marketing plan. It's a lot of work, but it does give you more personal control.    Because I started out in self-publishing, I didn't realize everything that went into the traditional publishing process. I wish I had had a little guide telling me what I would be responsible for in prepping for the publication of my previous book while I wrote the next book. The publisher does handle a lot, but you have to be available all along the way. I also wish I had known how long it would take to get the book out. One of the advantages of self-pubbing is that you can get to market much more quickly, but the downside is that you haven't built up any anticipation for the release. 
5. Your many life experiences before coming to writing has surely provided much material to draw upon for stories. Have you used some juicy tidbit from your work life in a novel?
When I worked at NASA, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to fly on the Vomit Comet, which is the plane used to train astronauts for zero gravity. It was such a fun and unusual experience that I thought it would make a great action scene someday. I finally got to write it in The Roswell Conspiracy when I put my hero in a zero-gravity fight to the death aboard a spaceplane.    
6. What kind of research do you undertake to make sure your plots seem believable?
Google has really revolutionized the kind of information I use in my research. I can see photos of exotic locations from around the world, read first-person accounts of people's experiences, and map out action scenes with extreme precision. That said, I also like to do some of my research in real life. I've felt what it's like to shoot a machine gun on full auto, I've planned out a heist while walking around an Athens museum, and I've driven 150 miles per hour on the autobahn so I could craft a high-speed car chase. 
7. I know that you act in plays.  How does that inform your storytelling? Have you been tempted to write plays?
Performing in plays has helped me with character-building. As an actor I know that I want a meaty role, so I try to create characters I think actors would link to sink their teeth into. But books are frustrating enough for me to get the story the way I want it. I don’t think I could go through the process of writing a play and putting it into production.
8. Most recently you’ve worked with the famous author Clive Cussler.  How did that come about? 
Clive was looking for a new co-author on the Oregon series and read a couple of my books. He loved them and gave me a call to ask me to collaborate with him. Two weeks later, I was amazed to be sitting in his office coming up with ideas for the book that would become Piranha. Hard to believe, but it really was that simple. 
9. When working with another author as you’ve done, how have you balanced the workload? Is it hard to play second fiddle after being a solo author?
When we get together at the beginning of a new story, we brainstorm together and settle on a high-level plot. Then I come back home to Seattle, write a hundred pages, and send them to him. Clive revises that section and sends it back to me, and we keep going like that until the book is done. Clive is a master of the adventure genre. I’ve been reading his books for as long as I’ve been reading, so it’s an honor to work with him. Think about a new musician getting a call to come cut a record with Bruce Springsteen. Who wouldn’t do that?

10. You’ve mentioned that you’ve learned so much from working with Clive Cussler.  Please tell a little about what you’ve learned.
 He knows how to pare down a story to its essentials—cutting out extraneous information and removing useless dialogue while still creating a compelling image in the reader’s mind. I’ve learned a lot about streamlining a plot so that readers barely have time to breathe while they’re racing through the book.
11. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer? Is there anything we didn’t ask about that you might like to add?
Don’t give up. There are many ups and downs in the business, and it’s easy to chuck it all if things don’t go your way. What separates writers who have one book in them from those that build a career in the field is persistence. I've been rejected many times, a few times even after I was published, but that only made me want to work harder. If rejection happens to you, take some time to scream, cry, curse, and commiserate with those closest to you. Then when you're done with that, start writing the next book.

Thank you so much, Boyd. Readers, please check out Boyd’s Web site and Facebook page.  www.boydmorrison.com


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