You published a book, Specific Impulse in 2010. Can you tell us a little about it?
CJ: Specific Impulse is a science-based thriller about a man and a woman – Carin and Jake – that are brought together when they experience an explosion. Soon they find the aftereffects have changed them both in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they can see better than before the explosion, sometimes they can smell more precisely, they move in ways that are clearly impossible but these and other changes come with a price. To make matters worse, everyone else caught in the explosion is now dead.
It becomes evident that they are infected by something from the explosion. Worse, it is slowly killing them. In short order, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention would like to lock them up in a lab to study them, the FBI wants them for questioning, and a mysterious party would be happy if they would just hurry up and make themselves dead.
A solution to their dilemma must be found quickly, but the more Carin and Jake look for an answer, the more they are convinced that they have run across something never before experienced by humankind.
JS: You are a retired NASA research pilot. Can you tell us briefly what your job consisted of?
CJ: Put simply, the job of a NASA research pilot is to fly the research aircraft. Research aircraft have either been modified from their original design to such an extent or their mission has been changed sufficiently from the designer’s original intent (or both) that special knowledge and skills have to be employed by the flight crews to maintain the strict margins of safety required by NASA. If you tell an airline pilot that you routinely take a four-engine airliner that’s twice as big as what they fly, accelerate to within a knot of the maximum design speed, pitch the nose up to near vertical at the maximum design load factor, and then push the nose over to maintain zero gravity for twenty seconds, there is invariably a sharp intake of breath and a saucer-eyed stare. If you further tell them that we don’t do it just once, but instead do it back-to-back forty times without stopping, the head shakes begin. You get the same thing if you tell them you’ve flown a highly modified Korean War era bomber to altitudes twice as high as they’ll ever fly or describe what it’s like to carry the Space Shuttle on the back of the 747. To really get the stares, I just have to describe in detail the mission of the Shuttle Training Aircraft. You go to full reverse thrust while you’re flying? At 35,000 feet? Really?
JS: What made you decide to write a book?
CJ: I come from a very geek-centric family. At one family gathering my sibs and I were lamenting that we had not read a good sci-fi book in a while. The tide of books had seemed turned towards the dystopian or shoot-‘em-ups. We began to brainstorm the contents for what we would want to see in a new book. At the end of the evening, I said I really wanted to read that book. One of my brothers suggested that I write it. So I did.
JS: Have you always dreamt of being an author?
CJ: I have always been a written communicator. Whenever I saw a vision that I felt others didn’t see or saw differently, I would write my beliefs. These written thoughts have turned into quite a few NASA documents over the years that are still used. Sci-fi was just another line on the same grid.
JS: How many query letters did you send before you found your agent?
CJ: Many more than one. Tenacity and a healthy invulnerability to rejection are a requirement to success in any endeavor. Writing is no different.
JS: Even with an agent you decided to go with self-publishing. Why is that?
CJ: Basically for two reasons: time and paradigm shift. To be a successful author through a publishing house requires an enormous chunk of time that is not devoted to the actual writing. I found this horribly counter-productive. I then further considered that, here I was, some self-proclaimed forward-thinker that was stuck using the methods and processes locked in stone many centuries ago. The absurdity of the situation failed to leave me alone. Finally, I decided to put on my big-boy pants and leap into the cold waters of the twenty-first century. So far it has been a refreshing swim.
JS: What are you working on now?
CJ: I have completed Mass Fraction, the sequel to Specific Impulse. It is in the infinite loop we refer to as the edit cycle. When not answering editors, I am nudging the third book in the trilogy, Sense Ability along.
JS: Your book got optioned for a movie and Kevin Van Hook is writing the screenplay. Congratulations. What are most excited about? Nervous?
CJ: Thank you very much. As you can imagine, I am very excited to see the book come to life on the big screen. I also realize that once I sign the movie rights over to someone else, I lose all editorial control of my work. It becomes their vision of my vision which can either be revealing or unrecognizable. I have offered my services to the producers, so we’ll see where it goes from here.
JS: Do you think that having a scientific background makes it easier or harder to write science fiction?
CJ: For me, the reason to write sci-fi is to put the characters into a situation that highlights a cultural truth about us as Version 1.0 Humans. However, the science has to be right. As a scientist-physicist-engineer, it gets my teeth grinding to read a book of purported sci-fi where they get the science all wrong. It further sets me on edge when you hear well-educated folks make sweeping absolutist statements about issues in physics that are still being debated. Certain beliefs in physics have attained the standard of gospel even though the universe clearly violates this belief; a fact that would be evident if the purported physicist would bother to look out the window of their ivory tower. The fact is that there is a ton of stuff we flat don’t know. If you don’t think so, just say “time” or “gravity” in a gathering of physicists and back away quickly. For me, I like to point out these gray areas every chance I get. It gets some folks really riled, but if they get too rambunctious, I just throw them in the box with Schrodinger’s cat.
JS: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be an author?
CJ: You’ve got to write every day. You can’t stop writing. It is completely unlike riding a bicycle and everything like playing a musical instrument. Writing requires constant practice to keep up your proficiency and to produce a quality product.
Chocolate or vanilla? Definitely chocolate. The darker the better.Beach or mountains? I prefer both at the same time. Acapulco, Mazatlan, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Peniche, Algarve, Kimberly, Negril, Dubrovnik … yeah, that’s for me. Life’s too short for self-imposed limitations.
Coffee or tea? I’m a first generation Cuban-American. I prefer Cuban coffee – dark , strong, and sweet.
Last book read? Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. It was an incredible book with excellent research. The funny thing was that the characters were so flawed, it read like a work of fiction.
Favorite author? It’s impossible to whittle it down to one author.
How about “Mentally scariest opening page”: it’s a tie between Anthem and War of the Worlds. Both are so brilliantly executed that I am jealous.
Best Series: The Robot/Foundation/Gaia Series.
Biggest leap in philosophy by one author from one book to the next: Heinlein going from Starship Troopers (Hugo in 1960) to Stranger in a Strange Land (Hugo in 1962). I got mental whiplash (brainlash?) reading these back-to-back.
Favorite author that can swing between hard science fiction, fantasy, and humor – sometimes in the same sentence: Larry Niven
Favorite author I’ve met: tie between Asimov and Heinlein
Most accurate hard sci-fi: Clarke. Period.
Most wonderfully refreshing sci-fi book I’ve read in the last ten years: Old Man’s War
The list goes on …
Most played song on your iPod? Isn’t it amazing that the iPod is already yesterday? The Pace! I usually listen to whatever I need to “put me in the right place” for my writing. Right now on high rotation I’ve got: Noah Plan and Major Tom (Peter Schilling), In the Name of Love (U2), Livin’ on the Edge (Aerosmith), Tub Thumping (Chumba Wumba), and Take Me With You When You Go (Jack White). I wonder what that says about the upcoming book.Favorite movie? I love some of the classic and neo-classic Sci-Fi: When Worlds Collide, Day the Earth Stood Still (the original), Powder, Blade Runner, Phenomenon, and Forbidden Planet. More recently, I’ve enjoyed The Matrix, but V for Vendetta and Man From Earth blew me away.
Favorite food? Whatever is in front of me ready to be eaten. Evolution turned us into omnivores for a reason. I’m just true to my nature.
Outliner or panster? A little of both. I always start with an outline, but I find myself getting into the heads of the characters when deep in the bowels of the action and plot. I find myself thinking, There’s no way she’s going into the dark room and see what the scratching sound is behind the spooky door. Especially after her fiancé just got chainsawed in the last chapter. Then the panster in me comes out and before long I find myself chasing down the hallway behind Madame Heroine thinking, Where’s she going? What’s she gonna do? She’ll never get out of this one! Sometimes it throws the wheels right off the outline. It really gets fun right around that point.
Favorite thing to fly? The next thing I get to fly is always my favorite.
Charles Justiz is a pilot, corporate aviation safety consultant and the author of Specific Impulse.
A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a former officer of the United States Air Force, Justiz spent tours of duty as an instructor pilot at Webb Air Force Base as well as doing flight tests at Eglin Air Force Base. Retired from NASA as of June 1, 2010, he was rated as both an instructor pilot and an examiner pilot in the Astronaut T-38, the Shuttle Training Aircraft (with more than 25 years of experience and 15,000+ Shuttle approaches), the C-9 and in the 747 Shuttle Carrier.
A first generation Cuban-American, Justiz holds a doctorate degree from the University of Houston for his research in Thermo Physics and Plasma Dynamics and is a NASA Doctoral Fellow. He lives in Seabrook, Texas with his wife, author Dayna Steele, and their three sons. He is currently working on his next thriller, Mass Fraction, and advising on the film version of his first novel Specific Impulse.
Have you read this book? Adding it to your must read list? If you would like to be a part of my author interviews please send me an e-mail.