Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Glenn Bever and I wrote a book entitled “Russian Encounters.” I worked over 40 years as a NASA engineer and this book is largely about my experiences working on one very unusual program: Over a 5-year period I traveled to Moscow, Russia 19 times to shepherd the resurrection of a Russian Tu-144 supersonic transport aircraft for the purpose of collecting data on its supersonic operation. In the process, I experienced a very alien and previously walled-off environment that was Russia at the end of the Cold War and in the book I share many stories about Russians, their culture, and how we forged a relationship from the ground up—moving past mutual distrust and into successful collaboration. This book is a memoir about my travels and my experiences there—emphasizing the human element of the activity.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was looking for ways to support the fragile government and industry in Russia to maintain stability in the region. At the same time, the U.S. aerospace industry was looking to develop a supersonic transport, and the Russians had the only available aircraft that could collect data in this aircraft class. NASA contracted with Russian industry through U.S. industry and I was sent to Russia to be the principal liaison between the two sides. Given that this sort of collaboration had never been done between aircraft developers from the two countries, I had to sort of make it up as I went along. This put me in a position to observe and participate close up in a culture that I knew little about. I was the first American that many there had ever met, and none of my Russian colleagues spoke English. What could go wrong?
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
Choosing a title and cover is one of the most important things you can do to generate interest in your book. Some authors might consider these things to be afterthoughts, but think about what catches your eye on a bookshelf or website when you have a large assortment of books to choose from. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but unless the cover or title catches your eye, you won’t open the book to see what it’s about. However, you also don’t want the cover or title to be misleading. For example, while you may like both ice cream and mashed potatoes, if you take a bite of mashed potatoes when you are expecting ice cream you will be disappointed and likely put off.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
You might have ten great reviews and one bad one—and that is the one you tend to focus on. It is human nature. I remind myself that bad reviews can be driven by all sorts of things—many of which are out of my control. Some may think I have provided too much detail, whereas others wanted more. You can’t please everyone, so at the end of the day, you have to write the book for yourself and invite others to go along for the ride. Validating your work based on reviews is a fool’s errand. Reviews are often useful to potential readers to give them a sense of whether it’s something they may want to read—if they feel they can match the reviewer’s likes and dislikes to their own, but they are not useful to the author as a validation tool. So I will read the reviews with an eye to determining if I accomplished what I set out to do—not with an expectation that I will please everyone. Sometimes I am surprised by what people take away from their read—which goes to show that once you finish writing the book, you no longer own the message.
How has your creation process improved over time?
When I was in college, an English instructor, after reading an essay of mine, said “for an engineer you have an unusual flair for description.” That backhanded comment tickled me, and reminded me that people have this idea that engineers are not creative. While it is true that engineers must bow to physics in order to create things that actually work and are safe to use, they are nonetheless creating. Innovation is at its heart a creative process. Engineers, however, often don’t make the connection either. Their bias tends to be that creations must be practical, and that “artistic” folks don’t have a practical bone in their body. The world is not so neatly divided. Well rounded people incorporate all sorts of elements into their lives: dancing, hiking, traveling, painting, designing, raising families, reading, … and writing. As I have aged, my horizons have expanded due to my life experiences—like traveling to over 25 countries—and I realize that there are many paths to creating—regardless of what it is you are creating. I am much more likely now to let ideas percolate in the back of my mind while I am doing other things—rather that sit down and focus on creating from the outset. I can’t force the square peg into the round hole, but I can let the square peg float until it finds an appropriate hole. It may take longer, but the results are more pleasing.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
What surprised me the most was my total lack of thought about marketing the book. I focused on writing and producing it and not until it was published did I give any thought as to how I was going to bring it to the attention of potential readers. This was a bit of a shock to me, because normally I overthink all aspects of a project. But in this endeavor, I just focused on the process of writing and producing the book without considering what would happen next. The worst part for me was the editing process. I spent a great deal of time reorganizing and winnowing material. I must have done it pretty well, though, as my editors made very few organizational comments. The best part was the sense of accomplishment I felt when I had captured my experiences in the finished book.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
Early on in my writing of this book, I was advised to mix what the reader wants to know with what they need to know. You need to keep their interest, but you also have things that you feel are important for them to know or learn—and the two have to be interwoven in a manner that sustains interest. Actually writing the book was far easier than reorganizing and editing it. So the book is a mixture of personal satisfaction (telling people what I feel they need to know) with reader satisfaction (telling them what they want to know). I confess that I wrote the book for the satisfaction of writing it. I had a story to tell and had been thinking about writing it for years. But I always tried to keep in mind that if someone is going to devote the time to reading it, they need to feel that time was well spent—either for the enjoyment of reading the stories or for the enlightenment of learning something they didn’t know.
What are your plans for future books?
I am planning to write a mystery/thriller about an engineer who gets embroiled in corporate corruption while trying to manage his personal life. I also have a sort of an irreverent “wisdom” book in the works that takes fractured sayings and makes sense of them. I am also beginning to write some children’s books featuring yard animals. I may yet write some more about my time spent at NASA—probably focusing on the people there, which are NASA’s greatest resource.
Folks can keep up with my work at GlennBever.BeverLabs.com or by following me on Twitter @WD6ASL.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I started martial arts training at the age of 60. I have been slowly progressing though belt levels in the same class as my son—who is nearly 50 years younger than I am. I am simultaneously amazed when I am keeping up with the teenagers in the class and chagrined when I am not. I still feel like I am a young man. Delusion is a great thing—except for the soreness the morning after.