In my day job I am a cubicled, calculator-wielding, Excel-tweaking engineer. I work for Harris Group. I was recently asked if I would do an interview about my writing for the company newsletter, and I said, sure, but do you mind if I post the text of the interview on my blog? No problem, they said.

This monkey is writing, but in his day job he is an engineer.

So! Interview:

  • When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved to read novels and stories, since I was little. And if for anyone who reads a lot, it’s natural to think about what you would do if you were creating your own stories. The question is whether or not you take the next step and actually try to put those ideas down on paper. Me, I was bored one summer in high school, so I sat down and wrote out a couple of stories. Never looked back.

  • How long does it take you to write a novel? Short story? (Do you outline?)

When I’m writing, my concern is with getting it right – the sentences, the characters, the plot, and everything else. It’s my opportunity to be a total control freak. I don’t worry too much about speed or quantity, and as a result it takes a long time. I have a novel, The Reconstructionist, coming out next March, and I spent about six years writing it. My previous novel, Articles of War, took about three years. A short story might take two or three months to get to a point where I think it’s halfway decent, but then over the next few years I will pull it out again to tweak it or rewrite it. I recently published a short story in a literary magazine, and it’s a story I worked on now and again over the last six or seven years. (The story is called “Location,” and it’s about Denver real estate, which is my wife’s field. It’s in a magazine named The Normal School.)

I don’t outline, because when I tried it in the past, but I didn’t find it very helpful. I needed to know where the story was going in my head, and it didn’t seem to make much of a difference whether or not I wrote it down on a piece of paper. But I may try it again the next time I start a novel, because even by my own standards The Reconstructionist seemed to take an awfully long time to write, and I wrote an awful lot of pages for it that didn’t end up in the book. It’d be nice to be a tad more efficient.

  • Where do you get your ideas and inspiration for your stories?

Here and there, this and that – things I’ve read, conversations, stories people tell me. Life.

Often I start with an unusual situation that seems interesting to me, and I wonder about how people could have gotten themselves into that situation. From there I begin adding things on, trying different styles and voices, characters and settings and events, until it all starts to groove.

  • When/where were you first published? How did that feel?

In 1999, I published a short story in a literary journal published by the University of Alabama, The Black Warrior Review. It felt fantastic. I still have it on my shelf, if you want to read it.

It’s still that way. I mean, I’m rarely asked to write anything on commission, so I just write things, and then I start sending the stuff around, hoping that someone will like it enough to publish it. There’s always a lot of suspense and doubt. (I mean, a lot of doubt. Like, I’m not sure if it’s any good. I’m not sure if anyone will like it. I feel bad for even asking anyone to read it since it’s probably such a ridiculous piece of garbage…) So it’s always a thrill when it works out, and always a thrill to see my name in print.

  • Are you a reader? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Favorite titles/authors?

I read a lot, mostly fiction. Let me recommend a couple of engineers who turned to writing fiction: Stewart O’Nan, a former aerospace engineer who has written a stack of excellent novels on all sorts of themes; and George Saunders, who studied at the Colorado School of Mines and is now possibly the most interesting and funniest writer of short fiction in America.

  • Why did you choose mechanical engineering?

When I started college, I was on a knife’s edge between choosing an engineering or an English major. But eventually I realized that only the reason I was interested in English was that I wanted to write fiction, and I didn’t need a degree to do that. On the other hand, I was also very interested in engineering, but to pursue that I did need the degree. At that point, the choice became easy.

As a writer, by the way, I’m very glad to have a foot in engineering, because it gives me material and a perspective that are relatively unusual.

  • Unusual (I think) for an engineer to excel in writing. You must be “whole-brained” as opposed to dominant right- or left-brained? (Thoughts?)

I’m asked about this often, and I don’t have much insight. It just feels natural to me. I tend to think that there are more parallels between the two types of work than most people realize. I think engineers get sold short creatively; to be a really good engineer requires a lot of lateral thinking and even metaphorical thinking. And to write a novel and make all the pieces of it mesh and flow across hundreds of pages requires tremendous attention to detail, analytical thinking, and problem solving.

  • How would you describe your fiction genre?

I’ve written historical stuff and contemporary stories and fantastical stories and in the back of my mind now is a sci fi novel. Basically, I write about whatever is interesting to me, and, as I said, I try hard to make the writing as good as I possibly can.

  • Your new novel, The Reconstructionist, will be released in 2012. What’s it about?

In a previous job I worked in forensic engineering, reconstructing car accidents. The Reconstructionist is about a young man who stumbles into doing that kind of work, and it’s about the limits of analysis to explain matters of the heart, the gravitational pull of past events and their meaning to our present day decisions and relationships, and how in an instant car accidents irrevocably change lives, including those on the periphery. It also involves an illicit love affair, Legos, a zombie pig, and a lot of car crashes.

You can preorder now!

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