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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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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