By Mike Stewart
This Seattle-based author, actor, and engineer started his career at Johnson Space Center, where he got the opportunity to fly on NASA’s Vomit Comet, the same plane used to train astronauts for zero gravity. He went on to earn a PhD from Virginia Tech, then used his training to develop eleven US patents at RCA and manage a video game testing group at Microsoft before becoming a full-time writer. His debut thriller, THE ARK, was sold in twenty foreign markets and became an international bestseller.
“I mean, Who is Boyd Morrison…ah, crap…that always gets me.”
Today my interviewee is bestselling author Boyd Morrison. Boyd, among many other things, also happens to be a Jeopardy! Champion. His first novel, THE ARK, was a bestseller, and this December he releases his second novel ROGUE WAVE.
Here’s the cover copy:
A minor seismic disturbance in a remote section of the Pacific causes barely a ripple of concern for Kai Tanaka, acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu. But when an airliner en route from L.A. to Sydney vanishes in the same location, Kai is the first to realize that a mysterious explosion has unleashed a series of massive waves destined to obliterate Hawaii. In just one hour, Kai will lose all he has ever known—including his wife and daughter— unless he can save them from nature’s most destructive force.
Am I ever glad I live inland. I can sleep at night. And that’s the relief I feel having only read the first three chapters of ROGUE WAVE, two death dealing chapters sandwiching the idyllic calm of Boyd’s protagonist Kai Tanaka. By the sound of these blurbs, the rest of the book is just as compelling:
Douglas Preston, New York Times bestselling author of RELIC and IMPACT – “ROGUE WAVE opens with a bang–literally–and then takes the reader on a watery thrill ride of terror. This is top-notch suspense, with crisp plotting, believable characters, and well-researched science. A classic disaster novel, up there with the very best. A piece of advice to the reader: don’t take this one to the beach…”
Chris Kuzneski, New York Times bestselling author of THE PROPHECY – “ROGUE WAVE is the best thriller I’ve read this year.”
James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of THE LAST ORACLE and THE JUDAS STRAIN – “Boyd Morrison’s ROGUE WAVE is a disaster novel stripped straight out of today’s headlines. As a mega-tsunami sweeps for Hawaii, readers will be caught in the riptide as Kai Tanaka fights for his family’s survival. Not to be missed!”
Pat Cooper at RT Book Reviews gave the book a stellar review saying, “Morrison’s got the magic touch with science-grounded action adventure. He delves deep into disaster fiction, as well as the hearts of his characters, with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. If readers can only grab one book this year–make it this one.”
So, wow, I bet we’re going to be hearing a lot of water puns this holiday season! I’ll try to keep mine to a minimum. Without further ado, coming from a fittingly sodden Seattle, please welcome, Boyd Morrison!
Hi Boyd, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. James Rollins called ROGUE WAVE ‘stripped straight out of today’s headlines.’ Was the Christmas Tsunami a factor in the novel’s premise?
I finished Rogue Wave in 2006, but the idea for this book didn’t come from the Southeast Asian tsunami that devastated Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia in 2004. The story originated with the heroic deeds of the firefighters at the World Trade Center collapse. As I watched in horror, one thought that popped into my head was whether any of the firefighters had family members in the Twin Towers. If I were a firefighter, would I do my duty and trust someone else to save my children, or would I leave my post to save them myself? It’s a powerful dilemma and serves as Kai’s main conflict as the mega-tsunamis bear down on Honolulu.
Can you tell us a bit more about Kai Tanaka and why he makes an interesting protagonist? From where did you draw his character?
Because Kai is new to his job, the tsunami plunges him into a crisis where he’s in over his head (See, I can do the water puns, too). He’s not an action hero, just a smart guy who has to make snap decisions under enormous time pressure with millions of lives in the balance. I’ve always loved stories about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, but I also wanted create someone who’d be believable in the position. I’ve known many scientists in my career, so I made Kai an amalgam of them.
Your reviewers rave about the research you pepper your novels with; what sort of research did you do for ROGUE WAVE? It must have been rough having to go to Hawaii! Did you learn anything interesting about tsunamis themselves?
In researching the scientific background for this story, I was given a tour of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center located just four miles from Honolulu. The tour was in March, 2003, almost two years before the Southeast Asian tsunami hit, and I worked it into a vacation we’d already arranged. The weird part was that I was planning to leave my job in January 2005 to write full-time, and I had already plotted out Rogue Wave as the first novel to work on. Then right before I quit, the terrible tsunami struck, and I wasn’t sure whether to go forward with the book or not. In the end I decided that by the time the book came out, we’d have some distance from the disaster.
I had always assumed that a tsunami was one big wave that crashed onto shore like the breakers we see in surfing videos. Instead, they act more like a fast-rising tide, and they often come as a series of waves that get progressively larger with each one. That makes them even more dangerous than they already are because people see that the water has gone back out and think the threat is over. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, and if people understood tsunamis better, more lives would be saved when the next one strikes.
Your first novel, THE ARK, is the first in the Tyler Locke series. Are we going to see more of Kai Tanaka too?
Rogue Wave and The Catalyst (coming in December 2011) are both standalone thrillers. For now I have no plans to turn them into series. Kai’s had a pretty traumatic experience, so I may let him live out the rest of his life in peace. Tyler Locke, on the other hand, is not going to be so lucky.
What are the key differences between writing a series versus a standalone thriller?
They both have their challenges. With a series, you’ve already got most of the main characters and the world they live in, which saves a lot of time in the story planning. But you want to keep what made the first so appealing to readers while changing the situation enough so they don’t get bored. It’s fun to see the repeating characters grow, but I also need to make sure I don’t contradict what I’ve already established in their backgrounds.
With a standalone, you have no restrictions on the situation or the characters, but you’re also starting from scratch. Standalones can also be more unpredictable and surprising because you don’t know who is going to make it to the end.
If THE ARK was a cross between Indiana Jones and MacGyver, then what would you call ROGUE WAVE? Will readers of THE ARK be the target market for ROGUE WAVE as well?
I would say Rogue Wave is in the tradition of old disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure. The novel takes place over the course of four hours, so it has the real-time pacing of 24.
Rogue Wave doesn’t have the archaeological intrigue that The Ark does, but I love lots of different types of thrillers, and I hope readers will feel the same way. The way I characterize my books in general is that they’re all fast-paced action thrillers about world-changing events.
Writer, actor, engineer, multiple personality disorder or all components of a single renaissance man? Which skin are you most comfortable in? Please feel free to have one or each of your personalities respond.
I think it’s just taken a while for me to find my true calling as a novelist. My writer personality loves creating stories and putting my fake worlds into some kind of order, especially when the real world might be messier than I want it to be. My actor personality loves to perform and be silly enough to get laughs on stage, but that gets exhausting after a while because I’m an introvert by nature, so I enjoy getting back to the stillness of my office. My engineer personality loves to solve problems and puzzles, which definitely helps when I’m plotting a story. They’ve all learned to coexist, but it can be a battle for supremacy at times.
The story of how you finally achieved publication is something of an urban legend for writers. Do you mind recounting it here?
My wife and I had been married for a couple of years when she was looking for a career change and decided that she wanted to go to med school. I thought it was a great idea, but because she had been an English major in college, she had never taken a college-level science class. Including the pre-med courses she would need to take, it would be nine years before she would be a practicing physician.
Around that time I wrote my first thriller novel, The Adamas Blueprint (soon to be renamed The Catalyst). I didn’t have success finding an agent for it, but I knew I wanted to take a crack at writing more novels. So my wife and I made a deal. I would put writing aside and work full-time to support her dream of becoming a doctor, and then when she was finished with her training, I would get to quit my job and try writing full-time with the goal of getting published in nine years. I’m happy to say I did it in five years.
I quit my job at Microsoft right on time in 2005 when my wife became an internist, and I wrote my second book, The Palmyra Impact, now called Rogue Wave. I submitted it to 50+ agents, but no one wanted it, so I moved on and in 2007 completed my third book, then called The Noah Covenant and now called The Ark in the US and The Noah’s Ark Quest in the UK (my titles don’t seem to stick). This time, I found an agent right away, Irene Goodman, and she began sending The Ark around to publishers in 2008.
We got what I call “rave rejections.” Editors loved the premise, plot, and characters, but they didn’t see how it would stand out in a crowded thriller market. So with Irene’s blessing, in 2009 I put all three books onto the Kindle store. I really had nothing to lose. This was just as the Kindle 2 was coming out, and Amazon started letting unpublished authors self-publish their books electronically on the Kindle.
I did no advertising or promotion, but readers on various web discussion forums picked up on the books and started recommending them. Within a month, The Ark was the number one technothriller on the Kindle, and all three books were in the top five in multiple genres. Within three months, I sold 7,500 copies of my books, and by that time they were selling at the rate of 4,000 books per month.
That sales rate got Simon and Schuster’s attention. Their Touchstone imprint offered a two-book hardcover deal for The Ark and its sequel, and Pocket Book snapped up the mass market paperback rights to The Adamas Blueprint and The Palmyra Impact. In addition, my foreign rights agent, Danny Baror, was able to sell The Ark into 20 foreign markets.
It’s been quite a ride since last year, and I’m holding on for dear life.
So what’s next for Boyd Morrison? Can you tell us more about the second Tyler Locke novel?
The next Tyler Locke adventure is called The Vault. Tyler and a linguistics expert get blackmailed into searching for the lost treasure of King Midas using ancient clues left by antiquity’s greatest engineer, Archimedes. It will be released in July, 2011, and a teaser with the prologue of The Vault will be included in the paperback release of The Ark.
Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to discuss ROGUE WAVE. For what it’s worth, Boyd, I read on your publisher’s author page your answer to the question – What’s your fantasy profession? – and I still think there’s time for you to become a fighter pilot too.
Boyd Morrison writes, acts, and juggles his patents all while thinking about things PhDs think about from his home in Seattle. To find out more about Boyd, visit his website at www.boydmorrison.com.