Dr. Boyd Morrison, Renaissance man and author of science-themed thrillers Rogue Wave, The Ark, The Vault, and The Catalyst, generously agreed to answer a few questions about his science-y background, ideas, and the transition to an artist’s life.
ScienceThrillers: In your novel Rogue Wave, a mega-tsunami hits Hawaii. You describe in detail the tsunami monitoring system, and the civil defense response. Did you ever live in Hawaii? How did you research all that stuff?
Boyd Morrison: I’ve never lived in Hawaii, but I’ve been there many times on vacation. I love the time I spend there (I just got back from Maui in March), so I almost felt bad for what I did to the islands in Rogue Wave. On another vacation to Maui, my wife and I took a one-day research trip to Oahu, where we spent the morning touring the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, about four miles west of downtown Honolulu. The director, Chip McCreery, was nice enough to show us around the facility, which really is just a hundred yards from the beach (perhaps not the best location for a tsunami warning center). Because this was before the Southeast Asia tsunami, Dr. McCreery was able to spend three hours with us explaining their operations and equipment. I also outlined the plot of Rogue Wave for him, and he agreed that the story was plausible. After we were finished there, we toured around the Waikiki area and took a ton of photos so that I could map out the main action sequences. The layout of the area is as accurate as I could make it, but I did invent a few of the buildings I feature in the book. After all, it’s fiction.
ScienceThrillers: You wrote this book before the real-life disaster in Japan, which makes Rogue Wave look prescient. Other than the obvious shock and horror we all shared, how did you react to the news? Did readers contact you after the Japan quake/tsunami?
Boyd Morrison: When I got the idea for Rogue Wave, there had been only one major tsunami in the previous thirty years (1998 in Papua New Guinea), so my story seemed like complete fiction when I was plotting it out. Then the tragic Southeast Asia tsunami struck in 2004, which was when I was about to start writing Rogue Wave. I thought it was an event we wouldn’t see again in my lifetime, so I went ahead with the story, knowing it would take years before it would make it to print. But since then it seems that we hear about tsunamis yearly, and the terrible tsunami in Japan is just the latest. Many of my readers have noted the eeriness of the timing, but I actually finished writing Rogue Wave in 2006. It was mere coincidence that the book came out in December 2010, just months before the Japan tsunami. Because of the extensive research I did for the novel, I had a newfound understanding for what the tsunami victims in Japan faced. It was especially terrifying to see the video of the waves in virtually real-time, which has rarely happened before with tsunamis. I was in Maui a week after the disaster, and I was happy to hear that the residents and tourists took the tsunami evacuation warnings seriously, even if the waves didn’t amount to much in Hawaii.
ScienceThrillers: You have a PhD in an engineering field. How does your technical background influence your writing? Do all your novels (written so far) feature scientific themes?
Boyd Morrison: I think my background tends to make me try to get the technical details as accurate as possible. I usually have one big idea in the premise that requires suspension of disbelief, but even that I give enough scientific rationale to make it seem at least plausible. If you play fast and loose with the plausibility on the rest of the story, it’s harder for a reader to go along for the ride, so I do quite a bit of research into the details of setting, history, technology, vehicles, and weaponry. In fact I feature a Behind The Scenes page on my website where readers can see some of the real technology and settings I include in my novels. I’m trying to do my bit to make engineers and scientists seem cool (hey, Indiana Jones did it for archaeologists), and so far all my books feature a protagonist who has a science or engineering background. Rogue Wave‘s hero is a geophysicist, The Ark and The Vault have a hero who’s not only a PhD in mechanical engineering but also a former Army combat engineer, and The Catalyst features a chemistry graduate student on the run from assassins.
ScienceThrillers: What do your former tech colleagues have to say about the new literary Dr. Morrison?
Boyd Morrison: They all think it’s great. Remember that we nerds are suckers for adventure stories like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, so science thrillers are right up their alley. There’s a reason Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler are two of the most popular authors on the planet, and getting their science and technical details right is certainly a big part of it.
ScienceThrillers: The bio at your website says at various times in your life you’ve been paid to work on mock-ups of the space station, to fly in zero-G, to compete (and win) on the game show Jeopardy!, to play video games, and to act on stage and in film. And now you’re a published author, getting paid to make up stories. Is your real name Dr. Faustus, or can you share a less diabolical explanation for living the dream of every man-child in America?
Boyd Morrison: The contract I signed had a lot of legalese in it, so I’m not sure what it says, but “Faustian bargain” seemed to crop up a lot. So far the other party has kept up his end of the deal. I have to admit I’ve been lucky, but it also involved a lot of hard work (earning a PhD was difficult, but not as difficult as writing a full-length novel). I think the main point is to do what you love. All of those jobs and activities are fascinating to me, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be paid while doing some of them. Crafting thrillers is a dream job for me, and as long as readers are entertained by my novels, I’ll keep writing.