Bob Boan has been a member of the space community for more than 25 years, developing systems for communications and sensing satellites. He has multiple patents and publications in his field. Previously, he served in academia. He earned a BS from Campbell University, a master’s from the University of Mississippi and a doctorate from Florida Institute of Technology. He’s with us today to talk about his latest novel, Bobby Becomes Bob, published by Twilight Times Books.
Visit the author’s website to find out more about his work.
Thanks for being my guest today, Bob. From space scientist to literary author… will you share with my readers how this came about?
Mayra, I first flirted with the idea of being a literary author as a young teenager. I wondered if I could tell tales as well as some of my favorite authors. Being the confident optimist that I have always been, I’m sure that it was more like “I’ll bet I can write a story every bit as well as they can.” Nonetheless, I put that thought aside for more traditional teenage activities. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I revisited the concept of becoming a writer. I made several unremarkable attempts at writing over the next dozen or so years. Frankly, looking back, what I wrote wasn’t very good. I found I needed concentrated blocks of time that were unavailable to me in order to write partially because I am severely typing challenged. If I were going to be a successful writer, I was going to have to overcome my time constraints. I flunked retirement several times, continuing to delay the fulfillment of my desire to be an author. I finally got retirement about right, I think.
You were a voracious reader as a child. Were you also a young writer or did writing come later?
As I think back to my youth, I wouldn’t say I was so much a writer as a verbose user of words much of the time. When I wasn’t being unnecessarily wordy, I was blunt and brief. Neither of those is a highly desirable trait for an author. Good thing I didn’t have to rely upon income from writing to live during my youth, though it probably would not have afforded a much more Spartan existence.
Your enthusiasm for literature was somewhat blunted when you took high school and literary courses. Can you tell us why?
As I mentioned before Mayra, I never lacked confidence. I have been told that I successfully demand to be different. Perhaps there were those who needed the teacher to tell them what a passage or a story meant. That was not me! Maybe I was being a brat but I wanted to get from my reading that which I wanted to get. I wanted to be the one to fill in the bandwidth as opposed to some instructor telling me that when I read the snow was accumulating in deep drifts really meant that the author was in a dark mood. I didn’t see and didn’t want to see the instructor’s interpretation. I pretty much shut down and left the printed word behind except for required reading.
Interesting. I’m sure many students can identify with that. Let’s move on to your latest novel. Bobby Becomes Bob is a coming-of-age literary story set in a rural town. What was your inspiration for it and what themes do you explore in the novel?
More than once, I had heard the advice, “write about something you know.” That sounded reasonable to me so I chose to follow that advice. I grew up in a rural North Carolina town quite similar to St. Umblers during the time frame of the story — the 50s through the 70s. Bobby Becomes Bob is a story of real-life. When I started planning the book, Bobby was going to approximate a superhero. It was only after one of my daughters asked me to tell her about my life growing up that I decided to change the tone of the story partially to answer the questions she didn’t know how to ask. I found Bobby more likable after I made him invulnerable. He was certainly much more realistic. I made Bobby an Everyman. The hero could have been almost anyone from a large number of rural towns across the country. I focused on the ups and downs of life to which any one of us might have been exposed during that period of history.
You’ve also penned two other books, An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion (Brown Walker 2006) and Williams Lake Was Once The Center of The Universe (Verbal Pictures Press 2008). How was your background helpful in writing these books?
My science background was extremely instrumental in being able to co-author An Introduction to Planetary Defense as it is a science text. It was necessary to do significant research in a variety of technical disciplines to compile the data to complete that book. Williams Lake Was Once The Center of The Universe is a novel. Once again, I had to do research, albeit a different variety. This time I sought out stories associated with Williams Lake and other similar venues from the second half of the 60s. I called upon some of my memories as attenuated by 40 years or so as well as those of several friends. It was also necessary to do research for the historical content in the second part of the book.
Bobby Becomes Bob, however, is quite different from these two, and doesn’t have anything to do with space and science. What compelled you to take this new direction?
My desire to write was always genre-free. When I was thinking of writing I actually never thought about fitting into a genre such as fiction or science. I consider myself more versatile than that.
Has the writing of this novel transformed you as a writer?
I’ve learned several lessons as a writer from the experience of going through the process of getting this book published. One of the things that I learned is that I used the word “that” far too frequently. I had to reduce the number of repetitions of the word “that” by at least an order of magnitude. I also found that I had a tendency to oversell a point by repeating it using different terminology. I thought that I was helping the reader understand the point of emphasis; however, in truth I was probably losing the reader. Another major transformation which took place during the publishing process was to understand the importance of maintaining a consistent point of view. Failure to do so can be confusing and frustrating to the reader.
How do you combine your left-brained scientist self with your right-brained creative self when you sit down to write? Does your ‘logical’ side get in the way at times? By this I mean, do you edit methodically as you write, or do you allow your creative side to take control and just ‘write down the bones’?
When I sit down to write I trust my creative side and allow it significant freedoms; however, I have to come back with the logical side and test timelines, accomplishments and the like to make sure that they are within the realm of the possible. While there are exceptions, as a rule I write the entire story before beginning to edit unless my logical nature tells me that there is a problem. If that happens, I stop and edit the sections involved.
Are you a disciplined writer? I read somewhere that you’re able to write 7,000 words in an eight-hour working day!
Being a task-oriented person, I think of myself as a highly disciplined writer. When I write, it becomes my job; I dedicate myself to it day in and day out according to a schedule.
Mayra, I’d like to routinely write 7,000 words in an eight-hour day. But, that 7,000 words per day was a calculated theoretical upper limit for my output as a metric to help me understand how much time I had to set aside to write a book. Hitting that mark would enable me to write a typical novel in approximately 15 days. The truth is I was falling far short of that level of output. In practice, I was taking more like 60 days eight-hour days. Speech recognition technology was partially responsible for achieving my level of production. In the last couple of years, the technology has improved enough to allow me to approach that 7,000 word day on occasion.
I admire your productivity! Sixty days is still quite impressive in finishing a book!
I understand that, as a writer, you were deeply affected by Mark Twain and Jane Austen. Can you tell us what about them you’ve found most influencing?
On the surface, they appear quite different. In practice, they are very similar. They reached their endpoints from opposite directions. Mark Twain used folksy humor to tell his stories while Ms. Austen used the elegant language of the upper crust. Despite their difference in delivery, they both had the ability to relay life in simple, entertaining terms.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
My website, is up and running while undergoing reconstruction. I hope to have the improved version operational by mid-August. I don’t have a blog at the moment; that’s something that I have been considering. Mayra, your readers and others can find me on Facebook which is as close to a blog as I have.
What’s next for Bob Boan?
I am working on a couple of mystery novels. The first of those, Don’t Tell Brenda, is forthcoming from Twilight Times Books, within the next few months. The other is a collaborative effort with Travis S. Taylor. The first draft is currently titled The Defense Affair. It is somewhere in the range of 60% finished. We hope to have it in bookstores early next year. We will begin the search for a publisher by September. Any help finding one would be greatly appreciated.