Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Dr. Wesley Britton. Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books, Spy Television (2003), Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film (2005), Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage (2006), and The Encyclopedia of TV Spies (2009) and he has recently published a book of fiction, The Blind Alien.
For sites like BlogCritics.org and BookPleasures.com, Britton has written over 500 music, book, an movie reviews. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio's Dave White Presents for which he contributed celebrity interviews with musicians, authors, actors, and entertainment insiders. The Blind Alien is his first novel, the first of a four-book series.
Dr. Britton earned his doctorate in American Literature at the University of North Texas in 1990. He currently teaches English at Harrisburg Area Community College. He serves on the Board of Directors for Vision Resources of Central Pennsylvania. He lives with his one and only wife, Betty, in Harrisburg, PA.
Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Dr. Britton: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, which accounts for my being an English major and earning my Ph.D. in American literature. I didn’t really get going with published work until grad school when I began pumping out scholarly articles, book reviews, and encyclopedia articles for a ton of publications. For a spell, I got some good responses for my poetry. Seems I keep changing directions in my writing life—a Mark Twain scholar, poet, spy expert, music and book reviewer, and now sci fi novelist.
What keeps me going? What doesn’t? I guess the simple answer is one word—ideas. There are so many things to write about and I seem to have a knack for various types of writing. I must add getting published so often and getting positive feedback keeps the fire burning.
Norm: Why have you been drawn to writing non-fiction about spies and espionage and where and how did you get your sources for the books?
Dr. Britton: Well, Spy Television (2003) was born when I realized there were many books on specific TV series but nothing that covered the entire genre. I thought it was a book that should be written. I already had a shelf-full of TV spy books, but quickly expanded to read up on shows before and after the ‘60s, the heart of the book. My favorite part of the research was connecting with so many experts and aficionados of various programs and made many lifelong friends while drawing on their expertise. Research volumes, the net, and magazines of the past were also helpful, not to mention hunting many hard-to-find DVDs. Such hunts are a huge part of the fun.
Norm: As a follow up, what purpose do you believe these non-fiction books serve and what matters to you about these books?
Dr. Britton: Demonstrating how the trends changed over the years showed not only what authors, producers, and broadcast companies were interested in, but how the public felt about espionage. Early radio shows reflected the deep mistrust people had about spies. Early TV programs showed just how fearful we were of both true and non-existent Communist threats. The ‘60s was the Bond-inspired spy renaissance where we got a lot of “spy-fi” and tongue-in-cheek adventures. The ‘70s were very fanciful and the ‘80s were much more gritty and down-to-earth. These cycles continue to the present day with more cynicism and hard-edged stories most popular now.
This is a rather skimpy summary of four books. Two of them, of course, dealt with books and films. Whether or not they matter to anyone beyond historians and a niche market is for others to say. To be honest, what mattered to me was the sheer pleasure of doing all that research and discovering so many books, films, and shows I knew nothing about.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
Dr. Britton: That’s easy. To quote my wife, I’m “the man known by many, paid by few.” I take pride in what I’ve written, am grateful for any reputation I’ve earned, but suspect I’ll always rely on my day-job to pay the bills.
Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Dr. Britton: Whew, if there’s anything I try to avoid, it’s giving advice to other writers. We can get all the advice we can absorb from all sorts of avenues. But I suspect it all depends on what other writers want to accomplish. Build a reputation for writing short magazine pieces? Publish that one novel many authors feel they need to get out? Actually become a professional writer of either non-fiction or fiction? It all revolves around your goals. As everyone knows, perseverance and patience are essential. I guess I’d add, get off social media and turn the TV off! You can either call yourself a writer while doing other things or write.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Dr. Britton: In non-fiction, I try to avoid any tinkering with what actually happened. For me, it was more a matter of not getting bogged down in details that might be interesting to me but don’t contribute to what you’re trying to cover. I suppose that was grad school training; be objective and use supporting evidence to build your case. If you’re reading a “thesis biography” where an author has an agenda, be very careful.
I don’t know how to answer that question in terms of fiction. Of course, all my fiction takes place on another planet . . .
Norm: You have recently published a work of fiction, The Blind Alien, which I believe is Book 1 of your Beta-Earth Chronicles. Could you tell our readers a little about the series and book 1? How did you decide to author the series and what inspired you to write the series?
Dr. Britton: The Beta-earth Chronicles opens when an unhappy history teacher, Dr. Malcolm Renbourn, is captured by a device that drags him to an alternate earth. Blinded in the capture, Malcolm has no idea what has happened to him and cannot comprehend what is going on around him.
As the story progresses, Malcolm has to first learn about being state property in a slave-holding country before escaping to a free land. He learns about the ancient Plague-With-No-Name that kills three out of four male babies their first year. Thus polygamy is the norm and the basis for Betan tribal structure. In addition, Malcolm finds himself the center of scientific interest in whether or not his genetics might contain the cure to the plague.
But that’s just part of the story, to put it mildly. As the series expands, Malcolm’s tribe grows with very strong wives from different cultures forced to endure a number of pressures and battles with powerful political, scientific, and religious forces.
The series began when I asked the question: how would a blind man fare in a world he cannot understand, where people speak a language he doesn’t comprehend, and where customs are completely different from what he knows? I don’t know of any other book that considered these issues or employed some of the narrative techniques I used.
I’ll add one reason I went in this direction is that I’ve spent so long writing about the works of others, or interviewed other creative folks on the radio show, that I wanted to create something that was me. Before, it was all presenting history in one form or another. Now, I’m putting Wesley Britton on the line.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your stories serve and what matters to you about the stories?
Dr. Britton: Without question, my first purpose was to entertain readers. I worked very hard to make the stories fast-moving with surprises on every page. I’m delighted some readers are seeing allegories and insights regarding race, sex, and gender in the first book. It’s a book for intelligent readers.
What matters to me most will be the reactions to the characters. For me, most of them just came to me, creating themselves. Their back-stories and the relationships they share are the heart of everything that assaults the family. If you don’t fall in love with the women in these books, then I’ve failed miserably.
Norm: When writing your Beta-Earth Chronicles, did you have a set plan or is it improvisational?
Dr. Britton: I must admit, I had the full arc of the four books in my mind, the characters formed, and I knew most of the plots and sub-plots before I began setting them down. At first, I thought I was just entertaining myself thinking Beta-earth was just too strange to be written about. Then, I decided to go for it and set out on a decade or so long adventure in writing to try to put form to what was in my head. Develop this, cut this, revise, revise, revise.
As it happens, I have a full fifth book in my head that might get written, depending on how well the first four fare. I have the beginnings of a sixth book if the saga gets that far.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Dr. Britton: While there’s stuff about the books at various websites, the best is my Beta-earth Chronicles website:
Norm: What is next for Dr. Wesley Britton?
Dr. Britton: If the publisher follows the planned time-table, book two, The Blood of Balnakin, will come out around December. Three months later, book three, When War Returns. Three months after that, book four, The United States of America. As all of these books are already written and in the publisher’s hands, I guess I could take time to write other things while trying to promote the living daylights out of the Beta-earth Chronicles. And, of course, more book reviews as I’m a ridiculously voracious reader.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Dr. Britton: I guess it would be, who are these books going to appeal to?
To answer that, please let me plug in a comment from author Raymond Benson: “The Blind Alien is a story with a highly original concept, fascinating characters, and not-too-subtle but truthful allegories. Don’t let the sci-fi label or alternate Earth setting fool you--this is a compelling and contemporarily relevant story about race, sex, and social classes.”
I wanted to get that note in as many folks are telling me my series should appeal to readers who don’t ordinarily read science fiction. There are few strange gizmos, no lazar guns, no space ships, very little violence at all. One reader told me there’s more sociology and cultural anthropology in the stories than what you often find in sci fi. An alternate earth is mainly the setting for the stories, but what drives them are the hopefully relatable characters. With luck, I’ll be hearing things like, “I don’t usually read science fiction but . . .”
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Follow Here To Purchase The Blind Alien. The Beta Earth Chronicles, Book One