Brian Dorsey is a retired Naval Officer, part-time history instructor, part-time writer, and full-time Nuclear Test Engineer for a Naval Shipyard. Growing up in southern West Virginia, he was drawn to the study of History. He was particularly interested in the clash of cultures and societies in the US throughout its history. His service and personal pursuits resulted in a wide variety of academic pursuits including B.S. degrees in History and Radiation Physics from Oregon State University, a Master of Social Science from Syracuse University, and post-graduate coursework in Emergency Management from the American Military University and US and Native American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney. He has three adult children and lives near Seattle with his wife and three very unruly small dogs. In his spare time he loves to barbeque.
Find interviews like this one on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast.
Justin Sloan: I am pleased to include your interview, for the many years that you served, and because you are a Zharmae author, the company that I recently signed my first book contract with. Before getting into publishing and writing, please tell us more about your military service. What did you do, and what do you feel were your biggest life-lessons from your time in the military?
Brian Dorsey: I spent most of my time in the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion field, working on the reactors that power the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. I spent half of my 23 year career as an enlisted Machinist’s Mate and was fortunate enough to be selected for a commissioning program, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander in 2013. In terms of life lessons, I think I learned a bunch but I’ll limit it to three. First, rank doesn’t make you a leader and the best leaders understand they still make mistakes and can learn from not only their superiors, but peers and subordinates as well. That being said, you can’t be afraid to make a decision, otherwise you’ll fail or someone else will end up doing your job on top of their own. Second, you have to care about doing a good job, regardless of how complex, menial, or just plain crappy it is, to be effective. At the same time, you also do not want to become the job; keep family and friends in mind at all times. Finally, I have the upmost respect and admiration for the guys and gals that worked for me. They busted their asses every day (well, almost every day) to get the job done, even when they were tired and sometimes didn’t fully understand why they were doing the things asked of them (sometimes I didn’t either but I had to sell it if I argued against it and lost).
JS: Were you writing while you were in the military, or at what point did you decide to give it a try?
BD: The idea of writing probably first came to me in my early teens but I didn’t do anything about it. I wrote a short story that was published in the local newspaper but that was it. The idea for Gateway was actually in my head for over 15 years before I started putting it to paper. My first real forays into writing were in the academic realm. I have written two non-fiction history books as well as several journal articles. It wasn’t until I was in this one assignment that kept me on the ship a lot (I mean A LOT) that I decided to actually write Gateway.
JS: Why do you write?
BD: I think it’s a mixture of enjoyment and need. I’ve always had a bunch of random stories (or parts of stories) in my head and when I starting putting them on paper, I found out I enjoyed it. I do need to qualify that, however. I enjoy it a lot less when I’m in the trenches of editing and rewrites, but it really is a great feeling to see your thoughts materialize into a real-life book. It’s a great sense of accomplishment.
JS: Reading the first book in your Gateway series, it seems clear that your military time affects your writing. Did you find this was enough, or did you have to research military terms and combat above what you already knew? If so, how did you go about this research?
BD: I drew a lot from my own experience but as ground combat is a significant element in the storyline, I also had to do some research. My education included undergraduate and graduate work in history, which helped streamline the research. I was also lucky enough to have some Marine and Army contacts that supplemented my own research.
JS: I am sure you had to research for the science fiction part of your novel as well (as evidenced by your website). How did you go about this research?
BD: Most of my research was actually focused on the cultures I was creating. The cultures in Gateway were created using some historical cultures as foundations. Although they differ significantly from their historical models, I used my previous (and some new) research into the antebellum South, the late Roman Republic, ancient Greece, and Native American cultures as starting points for the major cultures/worlds in the Gateway universe. In terms of my website, I tried to think of information that I would want to know about the universe that might not fit tightly into the book and created the wiki as a supplement. Several military Sci-Fi authors do spend a lot of time just dumping tons of specs and technical info into the storyline (not naming names) but I really wanted to focus the characters and the culture, even within a clearly military Sci-Fi setting. With that in mind, if you want to know crew capacity, weapons systems, and other specs on some of the ships and equipment in the universe, the wiki on my website has that. It also has other elements such as more detailed government information, the main character’s family lineage, and personnel files on major characters.
JS: Turning to the writing craft, how did you go about learning the craft? Did you read any books on writing, take any classes, or jump right in?
BD: My academic writing aside, I kind of just jumped right in… like a bee handler learns his trade by sticking his hands in a bee’s nest. The transition from academic to fiction writing required a significant shift in the way I thought about writing and it took a few stings to get it to where it is today. That being said, I think writing is a continuous learning process and I still have a long way to go… I hope.
JS: What is your writing process? Do you have any routines that keep you going?
BD: My process is all over the place. The only thing that is the same is the initial stage. I create an outline for the entire storyline. I do this to help create the scenes and hopefully make sure the timelines and spatial elements of the story work out. After that, since I have a full-time job (and a part-time teaching job), I try to find windows to write. Having said that, there are times when I have nothing to do and set at my computer for hours and write half a page. There are other times when I am ridiculously busy but the words just have to get out and I end up writing 40 pages in a notebook in a day because I take every free second to jot the story down.
JS: When you finished writing, what was the next step? How did you find your publisher?
BD: I actually shopped the story around for a bit. This is the learning process I spoke of earlier. I took the rejections as an opportunity to go back and see what was wrong with the story and revise it. I think the most important point of my writing ‘career’ was a rejection letter I received. Although the publisher passed on the story, they also provided feedback. The most important element of this feedback was the manner in which the characters spoke with one another. My academic history was causing me to write in a manner that was ‘too formal’ which made the conversations, and therefore the characters, rigid and stale. I took a long, hard look at Gateway in terms of showing the characters as real people, including how they spoke. The next publisher I sent Gateway too following that revision was Zharmae, and they accepted it.
JS: What was the process like, going from submission to the moment that your book was published?
BD: It like having a kid… seriously. And it takes about that long. There are good days and bad days. You have to work through revisions, editing, cover art development, filling out author profiles and information sheets, then editing and revisions, then review of galleys… did I mention editing. And then your baby is released on the world but unlike babies, people aren’t necessarily afraid to tell you that your literary baby is ugly.
JS: Now that you are a published author, what advice do you have for the early days of promoting your book? Have you seen book signings to be useful? How about your online presence?
BD: Focus on building an audience on social media. Before Gateway was accepted for publication, social media to me was my Facebook page. Now I have an author FB page, twitter, a website, Tumblr, Google+, and so on…..Find groups that like the same things you do and join them. I paid for some additional concept art and it seemed to be very well received. I have done two signings and they have both been successful and I really enjoyed them. I particularly enjoyed the Jet City Comic Show. I will have a booth at the upcoming Galacticon 4 in Seattle this summer (July 31-Aug 2) and can’t wait. In reality, these cons aren’t so much about making your money back or selling a ton at each specific event but about getting your name and your work out there to a community that loves the genre, is highly involved in social media, and generally very accepted (generally).
JS: Thank you again for the interview, Brian. Before we sign off, do you have any last piece of advice to leave us with?
BD: I think in terms of writing advice, I would say don’t give up, focus on the constructive part of constructive criticism (ignore just plain old criticism), and keep in mind the writing gig is a marathon and not a race, a fact I have to remind myself of daily. Also, welcome to TZPP.
These interviews will appear in an upcoming book on military members and veterans in the world of entertainment. As you wait, please read my book Creative Writing Career, on Amazon.
To follow Justin Sloan: http://eepurl.com/bbpNjv