Ask Author Bill DeSmedt

Today we’re pleased to announce a weeklong realtime interview with science fiction author Bill DeSmedt. Bill’s first novel, Singularity, has been reviewed here on Sciscoop and should lead to some interesting speculations on the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis (that the Tunguska event was not just a once every 1,000 years meteor, but a microscopic black hole), which is so obscure that a Google search on it yeilds mainly references to DeSmedt’s yet-to-be released book! Bill lives in Pennsylvania and is working on his second book, a sequel to be called Dualism.

Here at SciScoop, YOU ask the questions! Submit your questions for Bill DeSmedt as comments to this story, and he’ll be stopping by through Wednesday, November 10 to respond. (Thursday he’s flying out to Houston to participate in an event at Johnson Space Center with the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis folks!) To kick-start your questioning, take a look at the author’s Q & A (PDF) at the publisher’s website. Now, let the conversation begin!

30 thoughts on “Ask Author Bill DeSmedt”

  1. Hi Bill, thanks for dropping by! I guess I just HAVE to ask, since I was all over it in my review: had you read The Da Vinci Code when you wrote Singularity? If so, did you feel it had any influence on you? What books and authors do you consider are your primary influences? And finally, what did you think of Brin’s Earth?

  2. IANAP (I am not a Pilot) but I always tune my headphones to Channel 9 (“From the Cockpit”) when flying United, so one of my favorite bits in the book was the exchanges between Marianna and the ground controller when she took control of the lear jet. In your Acknowledgements you thank “Larry Finch (or is that Finley Laurence?) who piloted our heroes safely out of JFK.” What precisely was Larry Finch’s contribution, and was he the inspiration for Finley Laurence in more than just name?

  3. Hi, Sweetwind —

    Thanks for the terrific review! You really nailed what I was trying to do with Marianna Bonaventure, in particular. (When I first started out, I had this crazy idea of writing a technothriller that wouldn’t just be a guy thing, not exclusively anyway.)

    As to any conscious attempt to follow in the footsteps of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code — well, I’d have needed the time-warping capabilities of Antipode Station to have done that. That’s because Singularity was basically in the can as of January 2001.

    (All the time between then and now — and I suspect this is an all-too-common experience for writers just starting out — was spent (a) finding an agent, (b) finding a publisher, and (c) counting the months and the minutes between the ink drying on the contract and the book actually rolling off the presses.)

  4. Larry Finch is a longtime friend and former coworker and, not incidentally, the realife model for Finley “Mycroft” Laurence. Just as bright, but, I hasten to add, nowhere near as quirky.

    As far as I know, Larry’s never piloted any vehicle capable of more altitude than a hydroplaning Lexis, but he is an avid Microsoft Flight Simulator aficionado. And, as with everything he turns his hand to, an expert at it. He knew just what to say to Air Traffic Control. :)

  5. When I read your “Author Q&A” and the interviewer brought up Tom Clancy, I had a “huh?” moment. As you saw in my review I compared your work to several things, but to compare it to Tom Clancy would never have crossed my mind. Upon reflection, I think the reason is the strong female characters and the real male/female relationship that develops. I have enjoyed reading Tom Clancy but his work seems, well, “neuter” is the word that springs to mind but probably not exactly the word I want. Anyway, in comparison your writing strikes me brighter, like the sun-drenched deck of a luxury yacht cruising the Atlantic.

    Heh, I noticed in a Singularity review by a male, the reviewer liked the kissy stuff the least – literally rolling his eyes! Ah well, vive la difference! And thanks for persuing your “crazy idea” – technothrillers shouldn’t be just for boys!

  6. Y’know, someone once asked Tom Clancy why there was never any sex in his novels, and he responded “What would I know about sex? I’m a married man!”

    Well, that’s definitely one way to approach it.

    Not mine. No, (and my wife would shoot me if she read this), I modeled that whole aspect of the novel on our own relationship. Going on 38 years now, and it still keeps surprising me.

    More generally, from that perspective, the book’s sort of an exploration of whether, to what extent, and how, couplehood is still possible nowadays. That’s one of the reasons, I’m excited about the next one, Dualism. I really want to see what happens.

    And, yes, as with the first one, the pun is intentional.

  7. Hi Bill – wow, real live interview responses – thanks!

    You mentioned in another comment the long delay between writing the book and getting it published – (a) finding an agent, (b) finding a publisher, and (c) counting the months after that. Can you describe the process a bit more, for those of us who have never written a book but might be tempted? How did you find your agent, and publisher? Was the book already in final form, or did you have a lot still to write during that time? Any significant changes from yourself or editors, after that first draft?

  8. Well, I can tell you what the process was like for me, but I kind of doubt my experience with Singularity is going to translate well into anyone else’s. For the simple reason that — out of sheer cussedness, I guess — I somehow decided being a new guy trying to break into a field I knew next to nothing about wasn’t hard enough. So I had to go and make things harder on myself by writing a book that doesn’t fit handily into any of the prefabricated publishing categories.

    That’s because I wanted to write a story that would otherwise be science fiction, except you believed it. All of it. The characters, the action, most especially the science. I guess I succeeded. At least I did have one editor tell me that Singularity wasn’t slow and plodding enough to be science fiction. :)

    It was lots of fun to write (and, I hope, as much fun to read), but when it came to getting it published — well, do the words “degree of difficulty: 9.7” convey anything to you? :(

    So there I was in the spring of 2001 with this chimera of a novel in hand, and no clue what to do next. Note the “novel in hand” part: if there’s one aspect of my idiosyncratic authorial experience that is, far as I can tell, generalizable, it’s that you must have that thing finished. No agent, no editor, no publisher is going to take you out to lunch, much less take on your book, on the strength of three finished chapters and a plot outline. So finish first.*

    As for the rest of it, well, they say these days it’s easier to get a publisher than to get an agent. In my experience, both are about equally impossible. In my own roundabout case, I wound up networking my way to where I found an editor interested enough to read my work. That scintilla of editorial interest, in turn, was enough to persuade an agent to take Singularity on.

    BTW, you’ll also hear that it’s utterly fruitless to send an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher — that nowadays, editors would no more paw through the so-called “slush pile” than they would picnic in a toxic-waste dump. And that’s right, it is fruitless, just not utterly. Case in point: a junior editor at a well-known science-fiction imprint actually did pull Singularity out of the slush, and while he ultimately passed on publishing it (not quite science-fictional enough), he also asked to be kept in mind should I turn my hand to anything a little more genre-specific.

    You ask about “significant changes” after a work’s been accepted. To which I’d reply: No – before and after! One rule of writing that’s probably been around since the Egyptians started pounding on papyrus reeds with rocks is that “real books aren’t written, they’re re-written.” By my count, Singularity‘s gone through about ten major, and countless minor, revisions. How major is major? How does clipping 30,000 words sound? While adding whole new characters, chapters, subplots? And that’s before you see what your editor has in mind… In the end, Singularity became less a text than a palimpsest.

    Well, I could go on and on — but not with an audience.

    Maybe the only really general lesson that can be extracted from my Singular experience is a reconfirmation of another rule that doubtless dates back to days of the Pharaohs — namely, that the difference between a writer and a published writer is persistence!

    * That’s as regards fiction. The rules for non-fiction are different. A good idea, a competently crafted chapter or two, and a well-developed proposal for the rest can (or so I understand) go the distance there. But for fiction, it’s all in the execution. Consequently, you’ve got to show them you can execute.

  9. Bill’s memory may have faded a bit. Actually, I AM a licensed small plane pilot (ASEL), and have talked to ATC frequently, although never ground control at JFK (the landing fees are too high for me; they are intentionally high to discourage small planes).

    As I’m sure you realize, the conversation in Singularity deviates quite substantially from routine ground and air communications, and violates a number of FAA regs. Of course, there is one FAA reg that could override the the other violations: “The pilot is responsible for the safety of the flight.”

  10. Hi Bill, thanks for taking time here on SciScoop to give us a peek behind the scenes of producing your first novel.  I know this had to be a monumental effort on your part, congrats on actually FINISHING, which is a major accomplishment in itself.  You’ll be happy to know that with my recent convertible upgrade this week (from a 200K mile ’93 Chevy Cav with cassette to a 100K mile ’98 Chevy Cav with CD!) that I’ve finally begun on the audio version of your book at last and I am REALLY enjoying it.  It’s going to be donated soon to the local public library here in Huntsville, and in this aerospace-oriented town, I’m sure many more will be enjoying it, too.  

    I was very impressed by your opening overview of the Tunguska event, in particular your detailing of the scientific observations made at the time.  How much of your total time during your Singularity effort was spent on Tunguska research and related black-hole items?  How much of this was source material that has been catalogued on the web, and how much is from good-old-fashioned library research of books and papers?  What have you found are the best sources of historical record for this important scientific event, which exists independently of your rippin’ good yarn?  Any estimate of how much good source material probably remains untranslated into English?

    Also, bottom line, do you really truly believe yourself the Jackson-Ryan black-hole hypothesis caused Tunguska?  I guess my own belief is that is was a loosly compacted / low density / gravel pile meteorite to explain the lack of a ground zero blast crater.  If you don’t think that’s the cause, what is the main evidence against it?

  11. Ouch! Is my face red. Sorry, Larry, I knew it when I wrote that chapter. I guess my memory lapse is just one more thing to lay at the door of that long time-lag between writing and publishing. :)

  12. Hi, Ricky,

    Thanks for having me!

    Sorry for the delay in replying — I had a couple real-time interviews to get through first. And this is a multipart question, after all. But let me see if, unlike some folks, I can keep the parts straight.

    1. Audiobook. Glad you’re enjoying the audiobook version. Kathrin, supportive and faithful wife that she is, thinks it’s hilarious (all those “funny accents,” you know). And, sure, by all means hand it on to the Huntsville library. If it weren’t for librarians, I’d have had a much tougher time with the research for Singularity, the topic of your second question.

    2. Research. Thanks for the kind words on the Tunguska Event reconstruction — a labor of love if ever there was one.

    Total research time is hard to estimate, though, because black holes have always been a consuming interest of mine, all the way back to John Taylor’s 1973 Black Holes: The End of the Universe?. A lot of my published sources have been catalogued in the “Further Reading” section of Singularity itself, as well on as the “media” page of the Vurdalak Conjecture website, Jack Adler’s own one-stop shopping site for the science behind Singularity. As regards web research, I can’t recommend highly enough. These days, just about anything that’s happening in theoretical physics happens there first.

    As to the Tunguska Event itself, the most complete collection of eyewitness accounts I’ve found to date is N. V. Vasil’yev, et al., Pokzanaiya ochevidtsev Tungusskogo Padeniya [“Testimony of the Eyewitnesses to the Tunguska Impact”], Tomsk 1981. Russian only, though. I’ve translated maybe five percent of it for the vurdalak website, and would do more, only I’m kind of busy right now. I’ve got this book coming out, you see… :)

    3. The Bottom Line. Let me say right up front that one thing I do believe is that Albert A. Jackson IV and Michael P. Ryan Jr. (both of whom I’ll be meeting for the first time next week, at the Johnson Space Center to help launch the book — think I’m not psyched?) were unjustly pilloried as nave or worse for having proposed their hypothesis. Sure, it’s an outlandish theory, but no more outlandish than the whole idea of black holes. And then there’s always that J. B. S. Haldane quote about the universe being not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose. In that respect, I’ve always liked Jack Burns, George Greenstein, and Kenneth Verosub’s take on Jackson-Ryan (Mon. Not. R. astr. Soc. 1976, 175, p. 355):

    “The apparent uniqueness of this event [i.e., the Tunguska impact] requires that all possible explanations must be seriously considered and that no explanation can be discarded merely because it has a low probability of occurring.”

    So, from a certain perspective, you could read Singularity simply as a defense of Al and Mike against the charge of naivete — a brief, if you will, showing that their hypothesis isn’t more implausible than most, and downright credible compared to some.

    That isn’t what you asked, though. You asked the “bottom-line” question. The one every interviewer is honor-bound to ask, and no author in his right mind should ever answer. Namely, do I, personally, believe in the premise on which my whole book is based?

    Right mind or not, I’ll try to answer it. Or, rather I’ll try to answer it the way you asked it: What’s my evidence against the admittedly far more mundane explanation of a flying gravel pile?

    It comes to the same thing in the end. Because the best evidence against a carbonaceous chondritic or other super-frangible meteorite is, perhaps not coincidentally, also some of the best evidence for the revised Jackson-Ryan hypothesis (a.k.a. the “Vurdalak Conjecture”). That evidence consists in the various magnetic anomalies reported in and around the Tunguska Event itself.

    There are, as it turns out, some fairly solid pieces of evidence that — whatever it was that fell in the Tunguska hinterlands that summer day in 1908 — it was putting out one hell of a magnetic field. I’m talking about the geomagnetic storm that raged for four or five hours on the morning of the Event, and the compass deviations that were recorded over the three nights preceding it.

    That geomagnetic storm had been tracked at the time by instruments at the Irkutsk Observatory, but it took another half-century before somebody tied it in with Tunguska. It wasn’t until 1958 that Tunguska researchers G.F. Plekhanov and N. V. Vasil’yev began canvassing a number of local observatories, looking for records dating back to 1908. And in February 1960 they got word back from Irkutsk Observatory geophysicist K. G. Ivanov, as to how he’d discovered two unusual magnetograms dated 30 June 1908. Both had almost certainly recorded the Tunguska disturbance. Subsequent analysis by geophysicist A. F. Kovalevsky and other researchers at Tomsk University led to the conclusion that the magnetic effects of the Tunguska explosion, far from resembling the disturbances usually caused by meteorites, were more analogous to regional geomagnetic storms.

    This, in turn, tied in with observations of “a slight, but plainly marked disturbance of the magnets on Tuesday night” reported by one Professor Fowler of South Kensington (see the Times of London article on “The Recent Nocturnal Glows,” Saturday, July 4, 1908).

    Well, okay — but couldn’t a meteorite be magnetic?

    Sure. Only then you’re probably talking about a ferrous meteorite, basically just a big hunk of iron. And that lands you right back in the middle of the no-crater, no-fragments problem. Because it’s hard to see how that much iron could vaporize completely, with nary a wisp left behind.

    On the other hand, a stony meteorite, such as you’re suggesting (a carbonaceous chondrite is a current favorite), could totally self-destruct. Only stone’s not magnetic.

    That’s not to say a meteorite couldn’t have generated an electromagnetic plasma as it interacted with the atmosphere on its way down. A stretch, maybe, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

    But there’s no atmosphere to interact with in hard vacuum. So, what do you make of the claims by Professor L. Weber of Kiel University — namely, that he tracked a powerful magnetic source over the three evenings prior to the Event, at a time when the Tunguska impactor would have been far out in space? Here’s my translation of the note he wrote for the July 11th 1908 issue of Astronomische Nachrichten [Astronomical News] (cited in “On the lightshow in the night sky at the beginning of July,” vol. 178, No. 4262, pp. 239-40).”

    “In the course of the last 14 days, the photographically recorded curves of magnetic declination showed no disturbance of the sort that usually accompanies the Northern Lights. But it should be noted that several times, and indeed all the time over several hours, there were observed small, regular, uninterrupted vibrations [of the magnetic-declination curves] of about a 2′ amplitude and a 3m [=minute?] period, which could not be traced back to known causes (e.g., streetcar vibration). These as-yet unexplained disturbances took place:

    * June 27-28 – 6:00 pm to 1:30 am

    * June 28-29 – the same

    * June 29-30 – 8:30 pm to 1:30 am”*

    It begins to look, in other words, as if the “Tunguska Cosmic Body,” whatever it was, was carrying a powerful, intrinsic magnetic charge. To me, that doesn’t sound much like a stony meteorite. It does, however, begin to sound suspiciously like a magnetically-charged black hole — a “black monopole.”

    And that’s Singularity‘s bottom line.

    * Kiel is six time zones to the west of the Tunguska epicenter, so Weber is saying that his magnetic anomaly cut off just about the time of the Tunguska Event itself: June 30, 7:14 a.m. local time.

  13. While reading the book I wondered about the strange properties of the primordial black hole’s orbit inside the Earth. Jack Adler’s equipment senses its close approach to the epicenter one day, reaching the apogee of one of those ellipses pictured fancifully on the cover art. Then his equipment picks it up again the next day at the exact same time, to the second!

    My first thoughts were that it was a coincidence almost past the boundary of my ability to suspend disbelief that the object’s orbit around Earth’s center of mass was meshing so nicely with Earth’s revolution. But then I thought about the magnetic monopole aspect of the object. Your book has a great description of monopoles by the way – how the magnetic field lines stick out like a koosh-ball! Anyway, so I realized that the object’s orbit would also be influenced by the Earth’s magnetic field. I’m not sure what the influence would be. Do the Earth’s magnetic field lines revolve with it around the axis? If so, that might explain why the object seems to follow along with the earth’s surface.

    And that got me to thinking, gee whiz, maybe that’s why the Tunguska object hit the ground in Siberia. If it was a magnetic object, might it have done like all the charged particles do when they approach the Earth? That is, charged particles’ paths curve along the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field, get channeled to either the South Pole or the North Pole, and they end up as a pretty aurora show. Could this be the reason that the Earth was struck way up there at 62 degrees latitude and not someplace closer to the equator?

    I kinda read over the website and I take it that “Dr. Jack Adler”‘s “Vurdalak Conjecture” is that the Tunguska object was a primordial-black-hole-magnetic-monopole. Question 1: Is this “Dr. Jack” a real person? (Do you think you could get him to stop by SciScoop?) Did you get the primordial-black-hole-magnetic-monopole idea from him?

    Question 2: do you recall from your research exactly how the exit point of the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis was determined? Is there physical evidence that the object came at the angle that would take it straight through to the mid-Atlantic, or is this based on eyewitness accounts of the angle of the sky trail, or what? Wouldn’t the exit wound be in a different place if the object was magnetic? (Due to the Earth’s magnetic field influencing its path through the Earth?) Possibly near the South Pole even, where the population is sparser than Siberia’s? (Or, as you say, what if it never came out at all!)

  14. At what point to you consider your story “finished” and send it to a publisher – knowing that they’re going to ask for changes anyway?

    There’s a strong temptation to make it perfect, which often tends to make the writer offended to varying degrees when the publisher suggests changes. (don’t you dare change my perfect, polished prose!)

    What writer doesn’t want to write something that’ll be published as-written? But when do you just say “ok, this is good enough” and get out of the cycle of re-re-re-writing? I know more than a few writers who polish endlessly and never submit.

  15. Yesterday’s pre-launch book party kept me from responding to your post sooner, but not from thinking about it.

    Figuring out when you’re story is “finished” may be one of the hardest things a writer has to do. I’m minded of the “Three Rules of Writing” laid down by Robert Heinlein (who knew whereof he spoke, if anybody did). They are:

    * You’ve got to write

    * You’ve got to finish what you’re writing

    * You’ve got to find someone to publish what you’ve written

    It’s the middle Rule that concerns us here, and it’s something of a deliberate double-entendre. On the one hand, it says that you can’t quit when you’re halfway through, on the other, that you must quit when you’re all the way through.

    But how to tell just when that is? Ay, there’s the rub.

    I can’t pretend to any great insights here, especially not on a question that’s so intimately bound up with each writer’s individual creative act. I can, however, tell you what worked for me.

    Which was to enlist (or maybe “build” is a better word) a community of first readers around my project. I’m not talking after the first draft. No, I began foisting my work off on other folks for comment after the first draft of the first chapter! If you think it can be hell being a writer, try being the friend of one! :)

    Now, the downside of that is, it leaves you vulnerable. To write, you’ve got to tap into some pretty personal stuff, so it can be hard not to take it personally when your readers offer even the most constructive criticism. You’ve got to get past that, because, if you succeed — if you soldier on through to the point of fulfilling Heinlein’s third Rule — you’re going to see a lot more of it (criticism, that is). Your first readers can help you there too, by inoculating you against what’s coming.

    Back when I was earning my living as what Jonathan Knox would call a “code jock,” we had a practice called “egoless programming.” It meant you should actively seek out criticism, and try to learn from it — that, as good as your C++ code was, an honest critique could only make it better. That experience mapped pretty well to what I needed to do to write Singularity. I can’t begin to tell you how many perils and pitfalls my first readers gently steered me away from.

    So, how does having a first-reader community help you to finish? Simple: they won’t let you not finish! By the time I hit Part III of Singularity I had people tearing through each fresh chapter, demanding I write faster, so they could find out how the story ended.

    You’re not writing for yourself, after all. You’re writing for a readership. The sooner you begin building that readership, the less likely you are to fall into the endless cycle of re-re-rewriting.

    Hope that helps,


  16. One of the reasons I’ve been fairly reluctant so far to get other people to read my fiction is that I find it far too easy to get into re-writing before I finish the first draft. Have you ever wanted to rewrite an early chapter before you’ve finished the first draft? How do you keep that under control such that you can take your readers’ comments into account but not distract yourself from actually finishing the first draft?

    I have a novel which I’ve been working on for years, and I’ve been having exactly that problem. The first few chapters have been rewritten quite a few times but I haven’t gotten to the end yet. Last year I did NaNoWriMo just to force myself to finish something without going back and editing the early parts, and it worked pretty well for me – so now I’m trying to just push through with my long-term novel. Which means, for me, not asking for feedback – because if I get feedback I’ll want to spend time on that before I finish the first draft.

  17. Sweetwind —

    Apologies for the tardiness of this reply (pre-book-launch party yesterday!). And thanks very much for your thoughtful questions. Let me address them in order:

    Question 1: Is this “Dr. Jack” a real person? (Do you think you could get him to stop by SciScoop?) Did you get the primordial-black-hole-magnetic-monopole idea from him?

    Yes, Virginia, there is a real-live person behind the mask of “Doctor Jack Adler.” And, though he’s not actually the originator of the primordial-black-hole-magnetic-monopole idea (that was yours truly), he’s nonetheless been of enormous help in keeping Singularity on the scientific straight-and-narrow, as well as in co-authoring the “Soapbox Seminars” that appear under his name on

    As to whether he’ll drop by the SciScoop forum in person, I certainly encouraged him to do so at the pre-launch book bash last night. He says he’s still mulling it over, but meanwhile, he’s asked me to pass along his thoughts on the second half of your question #2 (see below).

    Question 2: Do you recall from your research exactly how the exit point of the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis was determined?

    Yes, and it’s a pretty funny story, at that. It’s recounted on the Vurdalak Conjecture website, in Doctor Jack’s third “Soapbox Seminar” entitled Two Guys name of Jackson and Ryan.

    Question 2 (continued): Wouldn’t the exit wound be in a different place if the object was magnetic? (Due to the Earth’s magnetic field influencing its path through the Earth?) Possibly near the South Pole even, where the population is sparser than Siberia’s? (Or, as you say, what if it never came out at all!)

    And, here, I’ll yield the floor to “Doctor Jack,” to comment both on this, and on a couple of the points you made at the beginning of your post:


    The Earth’s magnetism certainly had some effect on Vurdalak’s trajectory – but probably not enough to notice. It’s finally trapped and held, you’ll recall, in a staggering magnetic field, between superconducting toroids. It takes an awfully dense flux to suspend it against gravity. That gives you an idea of the relative magnitude of the forces.

    In addition, I don’t know of any reason bodies should preferentially impact near the equator. “Ordinary” matter rains down pretty much at random. Look at the huge crater remnants on the Canadian Shield or the large number of meteorites recovered from Antarctica. (That almost sounds like there’s a preference for high latitudes, but it’s just that these things are easier to find without distracting dirt and plants.)

    As for the exact periodicity of Vurdalak’s orbit, yes, that was affected by magnetism, but not the Earth’s. The orbital period is comparable to that of a satellite in LEO – there are multiple apogees every day, and the rotation of the Earth wraps them around the globe. Vurdalak’s “ground track” (position projected onto the surface of the Earth) is a complex basket-weave. If you remember the control-room plots from Project Mercury, you have a close resemblance.

    The pattern almost repeats itself over the course of several days but, you’re right, it would be too much to expect perfect synchronization to occur naturally. Grishin and his associates “nudged” Vurdalak whenever it came within their range and gradually “trued up” the orbit to maximize their chances of success. That took several years. But if Singularity‘d had to cover all the details, it’d have been twice as many pages long and the readers would have fallen asleep long before Armageddon.

    — “Doctor Jack”

  18. I can understand where you’re coming from. I’ve only done this the once, so I can only tell you what worked for me. It sounds like you’d rather get all the way through once before doubling back, and I can’t fault that if it works for you. Writing is such an intensely personal process that it’s amazing there are any generalities that apply across the board.

    But with respect to your specific question — namely, “How do you keep that under control such that you can take your readers’ comments into account but not distract yourself from actually finishing the first draft?” — that one I can answer (though again, it may be an answer that only worked for me).

    For me, it wasn’t a question of control so much as trying to see if the comment resonated with me somehow. If the reader was telling me that something wasn’t working, that it just didn’t ring true, then (after I’d set aside my knee-jerk “But that actually happened!” reaction) the real question was: did I agree with that assessment? If so, I’d look to make some changes, if not, I’d set the comment aside and wait to see if other readers had the same problem before doing any revising.

    It’s hard to open yourself up like this, and hard to know where to draw the line, especially when it’s definitely not the case that the reader is always right. But the payoff comes in those instances where somebody points out something so obvious that you wonder why you hadn’t realized it before (something I’ve come to know as the “Oh, [expletive deleted]!” experience.)

    It’s at that point (and maybe only at that point) that you do want to rewrite an earlier chapter before the first draft’s done.

    Hope that helps,

  19. Very good answer to a babbling, incoherent set of questions :-)

    What I was trying to get at with my “closer to the equator” remark was just that, looking at a globe, the proportion of the Earth’s surface that’s above 60 degrees north or south is maybe about 20% of the total surface. (Hmm, I remember learning how to find the surface area of a part of a sphere in college, but darned if I can recall how now!) So any given meteoroid has only a 1 in 5 or so chance of landing at such a high latitude. Of course, it’s pretty useless to talk about probabilities with a single event. It had to land somewhere, and boy, did it ever!

  20. OK, I finished reading “Dr. Jack”‘s latest soapbox post, The Vurdalak Conjecture. It’s a very compelling argument, but is it testable? What should we look for to say yay or nay? How could we possibly detect a subsurface primordial black hole cum magnetic monopole orbiting deep in the earth? Can the conjecture make any novel predictions concerning what to look for at the impact site?

  21. I should know better than to ask for the “right way” of writing – especially since I keep telling people that there are as many “right ways” as there are writers…

    I guess I was just trying to find some tips on how to get feedback but not act on it immediately (unless, as you say, it’s a major flaw). I like things to be as good as I can make them, so if I get a suggestion that is relatively small that I think will make my story better, I will still go back and rewrite…

    Also, thanks for agreeing to do this interview :-)

  22. Hi, Sweetwind —

    I’ve got an answer to this (hint: SciScoop ran a related story over a year ago), but I’d rather run it past “Doctor Jack” first — and maybe even get him to post himself.

    If Jack hasn’t taken up the cudgels by tonight, I’ll take a stab at it myself.


  23. In terms of tips on accepting feedback without rewriting, one thing that may work for you is to use the “Comments” capability in MS Word or other word processor. If you place the “Comment” right at the passage in question, you won’t have to worry about misplacing the feedback, while at the same time, you won’t have to grapple with it immediately.

    I hope what little I could offer was of some help. And I wish you every success in your own writing.


  24. Though Jack and I have batted this back and forth a few times over the past 24 hours, it doesn’t look as if he’s going to weigh in directly, so let me take the aforementioned stab at it.

    So, how could we possibly detect a subsurface primordial black hole cum magnetic monopole orbiting deep in the earth? Well, we might do worse than to look up.

    Back at the end of June last year, SciScoop ran an article on the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment mission – GRACE for short. As rickyjames describes therein, GRACE is a collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, which has already produced startlingly accurate new maps of Earth’s gravitational field by measuring the minute fluctuations it induces in the orbits of a pair of satellites.

    Would GRACE be able to detect Vurdalak as it orbits round and round beneath the skin of the planet? Well, it might require some retooling first. As Doctor Jack comments:

    GRACE is undoubtedly the most sensitive tool available but it might not work in this case. The computer programs probably assume an unchanging mass distribution over short periods. The mascons [mass concentrations] GRACE was built to track don’t usually zip along at a speed of kilometers per second, after all. This strikes me as similar to the problems of gravitational astronomy and SETI. You have to be looking for transients or they’ll simply be filtered out as “noise”. On the other hand, you don’t want to record every hiccup.

    [Back to Bill again:] So, yes, I’d say the Vurdalak Conjecture is not only testable, but there’s an experiment running right now that might actually be able to test it. What’s more, reengineering GRACE to scout for the presence of a fast-moving, five billion tonne point-source hurtling along inside the mantle might not involve anything more than rewriting the code used to interpret GRACE’s data. Meaning we wouldn’t have to launch any new hardware into space (expensive) to launch our Vurdalak hunt.

    First, though, somebody’s got to take the Conjecture seriously enough to start hacking. Who knows? Maybe Singularity will provide the needed nudge.

  25. I’m sure there’ll be a hacker or two out there who’ll be happy to create “Vurdalak@home” :-)

    Congratulations, by the way, Bill – I see that Singularity is now #41 on the Science Fiction & Fantasy
    Early Adopters List. Pretty darn good!

  26. Thanks again, Sweetwind —

    …Both for your terrific review and your insightful questions.

    Inicdentally, I don’t know if any of SciScoop’s readers are in the Houston TX area, but if so I’ll be speaking Friday Nov 12th at 7:30 pm at the meeting of the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society (open to the public; details on the JSCAS website. And, joining me on stage — reunited after 30 years — will be Drs. Albert A. Jackson IV and Michael P. Ryan Jr., to talk about the theory that gave birth to Singularity!

  27. I don’t really have a question; I just wanted to wish you luck. It’s inspiring to see a new writer make it. Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions in such detail. I for one have enjoyed reading this interview.

    I had the opportunity to read Singularity and loved it. I think Sweetwind really captured it with the comparison to The Da Vinci Code, though the premise still falls in the “outlandish” category for me, even though it is plausible (and fascinating) … but I think that’s just fine for a science thriller.

    I really hope your novel does well … It’s so rare to find fiction that is at once entertaining, intelligent and laugh-out-loud witty. I encourage everyone to buy a copy to read and one to give away as a gift. We need to support good, smart writing and writers IMO. I’ve checked and they’re marking it down 32%.

  28. Dear Unknown Life Form —

    Thanks a bunch for all your kind words and good wishes. I’m really glad if Singularity spoke to you. Also glad you enjoyed the interview — Sweetwind, rickyjames, and janra all helped to make it a fun experience!


    PS: Talking about outlandish — this afternoon I docked the Space Shuttle with the Space Station here at the Johnson Space Center (all in simulation of course). Words can’t convey the thrill!

  29. Bill-My sister, Alison Kocan, told me that your book has a character based on her ex-husband, Mick Kocan. Is this true and what character is it? Thanks..Al H.

  30. Al —

    First off, let me apologize for the unconscionably long lag in responding. Truth be told, I’d thought the interview was over back in mid-November. I only happened on your December-vintage question when I returned to the scene of the crime to snag some text for my permanent records.

    In any case, as to your question — namely, is there a character in Singularity modeled on Steve “Mickey-D’s” Kocan? — the answer is (as so many answers seem to be) yes and no. The character Alison is referring to would be Jonathan Knox, and while Jon is certainly drawn from my experiences as a consultant (which included, as a substantial fringe benefit, the occasional opportunity to observe Steve in action), he is at bottom a figment of my own imagination.

    On the more general question of how characters get created in the first place, I’m about to start up a blog entitled “The Accidental Author” at my own website <; which will address many of these same issues. I hope you’ll drop by and check it out.


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