Interview with Douglas E. Richards author of Wired

I have never told anyone but I keep a list of famous people that one day I would love to have a beer with and just listen to them talk. To me these people are so interesting that all I could do is listen and ask the occasional question, as in reality there would be almost nothing I could add to the conversation. My list includes Stephen Hawking, Jill Tarter, Micho Kaku, Chad Kultgen, Sir Alex Furguson, and my newest edition Douglas E. Richards. He was nice enough to answer a few questions for me, and his answers are certainly interesting and thought provoking. So much so that he made my extremely, very exclusive list. To be honest if were to somehow be responsible for getting these remarkable individuals were to gather in one room, there is a very real possibility that I would not be allowed to join them. Enough of me rambling take it away…

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (Where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start writing?)

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I really didn’t start writing until my mid-twenties. I always loved to read, which is of paramount importance to anyone wanting to try their hand at writing, and I did write some lengthy adventure stories in grade school, but I focused on a career in biotechnology. While working in the field, a great idea for a biotechnology thriller popped into my head, so I decided to write it. I was able to finish this novel, and land an agent, but this was never published.

 

IMG_2585I read your bio and it is very very impressive, what made you want to leave the academic and research world to become a writer?

I loved working in biotechnology, but when WIRED hit the New York Times bestseller list and I realized I was earning enough to support myself, this was like winning the lottery, and I couldn’t turn my back on the opportunity to become a full-time writer, something I am passionate about.

 

If you have not read it you may enjoy the book Long for this World by Jonathan Weiner, it discusses the possibilities of extreme life extension. The science behind this idea is very interesting. Do you think that we will ever crack the code of aging, or do you think this is something that will forever be beyond our technology and capability? By crack it I mean do you think that there is a child alive right now that will live to 150 years old or greater?

The answer is yes, I do believe we will eventually crack this code, as long as we don’t self-destruct. For my last four or five novels, I’ve begun to provide notes at the end, with some personal anecdotes and an analysis of what is real, and what isn’t, in my novels (with respect to science and technology).  I have pasted a small section from the notes to my latest novel, GAME CHANGER, below, which provides my thinking regarding breakthrough science and technology (i.e.  why I believe we will eventually learn how to extend the lifespan, and why I would never rule out any scientific advance).

The pace of technological advance: About thirty years ago I was a grad student in a PhD program in molecular biology, although I finally decided to write a master’s thesis and leave, since I didn’t have the patience for lab work.

As part of my research project, I mutated viruses, looking for interesting mutant phenotypes (observable manifestations), and then sequenced these viruses to learn what exact changes had taken place at the DNA level.

Sequencing even two hundred bases back then was quite an ordeal, took days, and required working with potentially dangerous levels of radiation. I really didn’t enjoy it.

The fact that it is now possible to sequence billions of bases in the time it took me to do two hundred continues to blow my mind. How can this be? If you had asked me back then if this would be possible in 2016, my answer would have been an emphatic NO!

I would have said it would never be possible. Not in 2016, not in 22,016.

We are truly living in an amazing age. Every time I write one of these novels, I always come to a point at which I hesitate to push the possibilities of a technology any further. No, this is going too far, I think. My readers will revolt, thinking the technology I present is too far-fetched, too impossible, even for five or ten years in the future.

But then I always come back to DNA sequencing. And cell phones. And computers. And I realize that I’m not being too far-fetched—because a decade or two ago, I would never have had the audacity to suggest we could perfect technological miracles that I now take for granted every day.

 

Along those same lines do you think that cracking our genetic code is in our future, or will bionics and or robotics be the future of humanity, will that be the way that we will achieve extreme life extension? What I mean is do you think it will be easier to manipulate genes and cells, or simply replace them with robotics and or machine parts?

This is a tough call. In the end, replacing ourselves with more durable parts would make the most sense, if we can overcome any psychological hesitancy to do so. Many futurists believe that we will end up as a hybrid between man and machine, a journey we’ve been on since the advent of eyeglasses. What I find fascinating is that we watch Star Trek and are horrified at the prospect of becoming a Borg, a mindless drone, a single cog in the collective, of losing our individuality. But it could be we aren’t seeing the big picture. If you could ask a single cell organism, “How do you feel about losing your individuality and teaming up with trillions of other cells to form something called a human being?” I’m sure the cell would be equally horrified, yet each of us is very happy that nature evolved beyond single celled organisms.

 

I love philosophy and in my opinion Wired has everything. It is full of suspense, action and mystery, also you touch on so many deep and thought provoking ideas throughout the story. Was this your intention or did these different ideas seem to just come about while you were writing the story? Basically you saw an opening where you could throw them in so you did. Because to me it seems like it would have been very difficult to set out to write an action thriller that also discusses the meaning of life, many different philosophies, Nietzsche, along with absurdism sprinkled in for good measure.  (Check out my review of Wired here.)

Thanks for the kind words. Actually, these are all elements I include in each of my novels. When I’m in between novels I read extensively on cosmology, physics, biotech, nanotech, ethics, philosophy, and religion. I even took a college course on human behavior, which was absolutely fascinating, and which I incorporated into one of my novels. But yes, the plot and action always come first, but when I see an opportunity to include something I hope readers will find fascinating and thought provoking, I put it in.

 

Do you think that eventually science will to some extent disprove religion, meaning that almost everything in our universe will be easily explainable due to science?

I have actually touched upon religion in several novels, and I have pasted another section from the notes to GAME CHANGER that I believe answers this question. The short answer is that science’s explanation for the universe is just as impossible for me to believe as religion’s explanation, so it’s a toss-up right now. And now, for the longer answer . . .

Those of you who have read other novels, and other notes, I’ve written, may know that when I began writing novels I was leaning toward atheism. But the more physics and cosmology I’ve learned, the more open-minded I’ve become (which is the opposite of what I thought would happen). This has occurred because, while I find the idea of a omnipotent Creator preposterous, the answers proposed by physicists and cosmologists to explain the origin of the universe are at least as preposterous. The universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for life (Google “The fine-tuned universe” if you’re interested in learning more). Scientific theories to explain the impossibly perfect balance of forces that allow life to exist typically involve infinite universes, which sounds cool, but which isn’t any easier to wrap one’s mind around than the concept of God.

In the final analysis, all that I am sure of is that something amazing is going on, something impossible, and something far beyond my ability to understand, whether this something is God or physics.

 

During the story you interweave a meaning of life that Kira, one of the main characters, realizes while she is enhanced to superhuman like intelligence. In my own thinking, scary I know, I have come to the conclusion that the purpose of life is to reproduce, but in truth I am not satisfied with that definition in the least. The conclusion Kira comes to is so much more interesting. How did you come up with this and is this something that you believe, or that you just threw in for the story? Either way I think that it certainly deserves some more thought.

I came up with this just by pondering the nature of existence for several days. I found that writing a passage containing the musings of someone a thousand times more intelligent than me was profoundly challenging (to say the least), and whether readers agree or disagree with these musings, I was proud of this section.

 

I have seen you have written quite a few other novels. Was Wired your first attempt at writing, and if so that is very impressive that your first book was not only a NYT Bestseller but also a USA Today Bestseller.

No, I had written a few novels much earlier that were never published, and had published several middle grade novels that were winning great critical acclaim, but achieving only limited commercial success.

 

I could be wrong but it seems that Wired is the only story that you have written that is a series or had a sequel. Why did you want to write this story in two parts? Also, from a writing perspective I have always found it difficult to extend a story, making it longer in my opinion is hard. What tricks do you use while writing to extend a story while still keeping it exciting?

 

Actually, the Nick Hall novels, MIND’S EYE and BRAIN WEB, are a series as well. WIRED was written to be a stand-alone novel, but when it became a bestseller, my agent encouraged me to write a sequel. Given that I had not set it up for a continuation, this was very challenging, but many readers believe that the sequel, AMPED, is as good or even better than WIRED, so I am quite pleased with how it turned out.

 

You have has quite a few articles published in some very impressive publications. When it comes to your academic career and your writing career, which are you more proud of and why?

My writing career, and more specifically, my novels. I find writing a novel to be monumentally difficult. Trying to fill hundreds of pages with an engaging plot, engaging characters, non-stop action, and plenty of food for thought can be brutally challenging. I spend week after week on each novel pulling out my hair while trying to come up with complex plots and cool twists and turns that don’t cheat the reader, each time convinced that it is hopeless, and I won’t be able to do it. Each time so far, I’ve been able to–finally–come to a eureka moment, but not before spending endless hours staring off into space while sweat pours out of my brain. By the way, my research has indicated why this is. The unconscious mind can be far more powerful than the conscious mind, and it works on a problem tirelessly behind the scenes. So even when I think I’m not making any progress on a plot, my unconscious is getting ever closer to a solution . . .

 

Can you talk about any new projects you are working on? What does 2016 hold for Douglas E. Richards?

I just published my latest, GAME CHANGER, and at some point soon I plan to begin my next novel, although I have no idea what this will be.

 

As an aspiring writer, can you offer any advice to me or anyone else out there? What do you attribute your success or perhaps failures to along your journey? What has helped you the most to become successful?

With respect to plotting and writing, I would say that practice makes perfect. I’d also recommend choosing several authors you admire and studying some of their works. What about their writing appeals to you, and why? How do they handle description? Pacing? Dialog? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Also, all writers are plagued by self doubt, but second guessing your writing is the worst thing a writer can do. In fact, perfection is the enemy of good writing in my opinion–at least in the first run-through. It is easy to let yourself agonize over ever word, spending hours on every paragraph, lovingly crafting literary perfection.  The problem is that this is slow, and invites endless demons. Once you have a handle on a section, I recommend pouring words out onto the page as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about grammar, or sentence structure, or word choice, or typos, just let it explode out of you as rapidly as possible with no second guessing. I’ve written my best prose this way. Naturally, you have to go back and clean it up, and then agonize over grammar and word choice, but by letting yourself go, your writing is more creative and more out of the box, and also flows better.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I encourage readers to friend me on Facebook at Douglas E. Richards Author and/or to write to me at doug@san.rr.com

 

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