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Doug Beason: Physicist, novelist and 'exquisite' collaborator

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By Kelly LeVan

“There’s no perfect time to write – you just gotta do it.”Sometimes the most obvious and yet most challenging lessons about the creative process come from seemingly unlikely sources, in this case the associate director of threat reduction at the laboratory.Doug Beason is well known throughout the scientific community. Not only is he responsible for the defense, intelligence, homeland security and nonproliferation programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory tasked with reducing the global threat from weapons of mass destruction, he also served in the White House on the staff of the president’s science advisor under Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.He has written more than 50 scholarly papers in his field, as well as a textbook titled “Science and Technology Policy for the post-Cold War: A Case for Long-Term Research,” but that’s not what he plans to talk about Thursday evening when he presents as part of Mesa Public Library’s Authors Speak Series.Instead, he’ll discuss his dozen or so science fiction novels, and, perhaps more significantly, how he found the time to write them.It’s a matter of how you spend whatever free moments you have.“If you have the time,” Beason said, “you can use it in one of many ways.”One of those is, of course, for your writing. It sounds easy, but what if you come home from work and you just don’t feel like it?Beason said that’s where scheduling comes in – the practical edge to creativity.“If you set aside time each day,” he said, “you generate pages.”It’s that simple. Sort of.Since he moved up to associate director three years ago, Beason said he’s found it very challenging to maintain his writing habits while remaining fully dedicated to both his family and his job.“I had a choice between ignoring my wife and not writing,” he said.Consequently, “the only writing I do now is on airplanes to and from Washington, D.C.,” he said.At the Authors Speak event, Beason also plans to read a “lost chapter” from one of his novels, possibly from “Ill Wind,” he said. “Ill Wind,” originally published by Forge in 1995, was recently re-released. It is one of several books he collaborated on with full-time writer Kevin J. Anderson.How exactly do authors collaborate?In Beason and Anderson’s case, “exquisitely,” Beason said.Nevertheless, just because there are two writers doesn’t mean he only does half the work of an author working on his own.“Collaborating isn’t 50-50,” he said. “It’s more like 200-200.”Beason said he and Anderson have their system down.They begin with an idea, then a plotline and a full outline of what will happen in the book. Then, they divide the chapters up into writing assignments.Once the first drafts of the chapters are complete, “one person goes through, rewriting with a carte blanche,” Beason said. “Then the other person goes through. We go back and forth seven or eight times to get one, consistent voice.”Of the many forms of writing Beason has worked in over the years, he said writing fiction “gives me the greatest joy.”He elaborated, “The creative process is tougher, but you don’t have to look things up to verify them,” he said, “or worry about getting sued.”He said he also enjoys creating situations on the page that people can “buy into it,” as he put it. Tapping into readers’ emotions and really moving people is “the most enjoyable part.”In addition to “Ill Wind,” Beason and Anderson’s books include “Lethal Exposure” (Ace, 1998), “Fallout” (Ace, 1997), “Ignition” Forge, 1997 – also released by Hodder & Stoughton in England, 1996), “Virtual Destruction” (Ace, 1996), “Assemblers of Infinity” (Bantam, 1994), “The Trinity Paradox” (Bantam Spectra, 1991) and “Lifeline” (Bantam Spectra, 1990).“The Trinity Paradox” was the first work of fiction to ever be nominated for the American Physical Society’s Forum and first to be reviewed in Physics Today.Beason has also published “Strike Eagle” (Signet, 1991), “Assault on Alpha Base” (Pocket Books, 1990) and “Return to Honor” (Pocket Books, 1989).He is currently working on “Wild Blue U,” a pair of historical novels about the United States Air Force.Beason graduated from the USAF Academy in 1977 with degrees in physics and mathematics. He earned master’s degrees in physics and national resource strategy from the University of New Mexico (UNM) and the National Defense University, respectively, and his Ph.D. in physics from UNM.He also taught physics and served as director of faculty research at the Air Force Academy, as well working as deputy director for directed energy at the Air Force Research Library.The Authors Speak Series will present Doug Beason at 7 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs rotunda at Mesa Public Library. The free event and refreshments are sponsored by the Friends of the Mesa Public Library.