Gary F. Bengier talks to me about his latest novel and how he came to define his writing style.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing futuristic novels?
I think that a writer must count his ‘reader attention coins’ carefully, rewarding the reader enough to keep turning pages, while expending the coins in measured amounts to pursue objectives beyond entertainment. My overarching objective with Unfettered Journey is to pass on a particular view, a philosophy of life that might offer a path to purposeful existence to some. But few readers want straight-up philosophy, so only there did I spend reader attention coins. To balance that need, I eschewed other contemporary literary flourishes and techniques (non-chronological storytelling; unreliable narrators; flights of literary prose about scenery, etc.) that might slow the story pace, and otherwise tried to tell a story filled with rich characters you might love, with a tight, action-packed plot.
The themes of Unfettered Journey are universal, dealing with the human condition. The futuristic setting avoids many details about our existence that might age the story. This future is a hard-science view, with details that I hope will stand up to the reality, though none of us can know the nonlinear future.
Please tell me about your career background and how you draw on it in your writing.
Prior to taking up writing, I had a successful career in Silicon Valley. When I retired from that, I had the freedom to pursue passion projects; further education (astrophysics, mathematics, and philosophy) and writing were two. My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write. I had the chance to participate in a broad spectrum of exciting technologies—computer peripherals (hard drives, printers, computer screens), chip design software, bioscience, scientific equipment design, streaming video over the Internet, and the Internet as a marketplace. These gave a respect for the hard work to build technology. It makes me somewhat jaded by grandiose promises by many futurists. But it does not cause me to give up trying to realistically guess our future worlds.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
Let me focus my answer of just this book, Unfettered Journey. The philosophical ideas behind the novel had been percolating in my head for thirty years, and the novel story and characters for over a decade. That is the inspiration’s long gestation.
The hard work of writing the novel took only three years. That process was a blend of free association thinking and planning. I like to plan, so I outlined the novel—only a skeleton at first, then with more detail as the story became clearer to me. Then I roughed out the scenes. Along the way, my characters began to wake me up at night, to whisper in my ear (“No, I won’t do that…”). That’s when the writing truly became a lot of fun. The interaction of characters and story, in a roughly planned structure, then allowed me to dive deep into my experiences, dredging up gems of ideas that fit the scenes perfectly. That experience is one joy of writing fiction. I think the extended creative process left me blissfully free of any writer’s block.
What books do you read yourself and how do they influence your writing?
I read across a broad set of topics, virtually everything, from nonfiction science, physics, philosophy, history, economics, and politics; to fiction both classic and contemporary. My favourite fiction writer is William Faulkner, because of the universal themes that he explored through his books set in the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. In the process of writing Unfettered Journey, I read many writing craft books, attempting to improve my style, and often read craft suggestions followed by writing some scenes, then repeating the process to burnish the language. Now I am happy to set those aside and return to the stacks of ‘to be read’ books waiting on my credenza.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
My focus this year is on the international launch of my novel. The French translation recently launched, and the Italian translation will be released next month. Then the German and Spanish editions are not far behind. I’ve had a blast working with my translators, and have learned much about the challenges of making a ‘transcreation,’ which is a literary translation that captures the nuance of the language and culture while reflecting the essence of the novel.
Who is the audience for Unfettered Journey?
The question raises a challenge for my novel, because it does not neatly fit into any genre category; it is truly a cross-genre book unlike others. While the novel is speculative fiction, sometimes grouped into sci-fi, this is a very different sort of novel, outside the usual boxes. Both men and women have found the novel thrilling. Everyone loves my powerful female characters. These are real people, people that you can relate to, people that you can like. It is for the intellectual reader, someone who is comfortable thinking about deep questions. But Unfettered Journey is simultaneously an adventure novel, as the characters confront social injustice, and the difficulties of living with and without modern technology. The story traces a long arc, and I hope will leave my readers thinking about these questions long after they have closed the cover.
Huge thanks to Gary for answering my questions: it’s been fascinating to find out more about your work and future plans.