Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Lynn Byk, author of Mister B: Living with a 98 Year-Old Rocket Scientist.
Norm: Good day Lynn and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Lynn: In the late 80s I had just returned from traveling with an interracial band in the heart of Apartheid, in South Africa. Although I had earned my A.A. in music, another year of education claimed and regenerated my culture shocked brain cells. I earned a B.A. in Contemporary Composition feeling completely out of place in America.
Really, I was grieving a lost love, and looking for a new focus in life. I tried my hand at co-publishing a music zine called The Front Window in Colorado, where I and my team members captured interviews with national musicians coming through Denver, and I networked with local bands getting them places to play, and publishing reviews of their concerts. This real-time interview style I learned during the 80s was what transferred into my journal interview with Mister B.
Norm: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Lynn: I wrote poetry from third grade on. My first piece was about a mama guppy eating her babies. It seemed, at the time, like an applicable metaphor to my life after my parents’ divorce. In college, some of my prose was published in The Inklings and a variety of young people’s magazines.
During my second year of marriage while hosting a writer’s group in my home, I gained confidence. I sent off more pieces for publishing and managed a Bookstore. One day when I was cuddling with my husband in front of the television, a call from the hottest Christian author, Philip Yancey, came in.
I was stupefied that he would call me at first, thinking someone was ranking me. He’d called to say that the manuscript of ironies I had sent him to review was the best devotional material he’d read in a long time, but that it would never get published because it was too real. I was sadly disappointed, but the weirdness of that exchange made me believe I had the writing stuff.
Norm: Can you share a little of Mister B: Living with a 98 Year-Old Rocket Scientist with us?
Lynn: Okay, here is a journal entry from Mister B.
January 3, 2014
It’s the doghouse days of frigid January. Ding˗dong humor rings in offbeat strokes. Restless people try to reassess their lives and lifestyles, and there’s that coming down from all the heights of glitter and lights… down, down to the basement storage.
“Mr. B?” I hand off to him a small slab of barbecued ribs, a favorite dinner of his. He licks his lips and grins. “You look an awful lot like Jester right now.” Jester, hearing his name, lifts his head from the carpet, looking from one to the other expectantly.
“He can wait for the bones,” Joe says with emphasis. “It’s my birthday!”
“Tomorrow is your big day, Chief!” This Paul mentions looking over his own larger slab of ruminating pork. “We made your favorites for dinner, and we have a surprise for you tomorrow. That’s why I brought up your old belt from the University of Alabama to wear.”
“Oh yeah? Look at that! It’s been awhile!” He turns it over and polishes it with his napkin. “It’s gonna snow tomorrow. This is too much already!” He’s looking very seriously at his knife and fork stuck into his four˗rib dinner. “Too much,” he mutters.
“Joe, do you realize how many times you could have lost your life?” I ask. “You were fortunate, especially because you were exempted from the war, but even training in the heat and muck in Alabama’s ROTC; swimming in snake-infested ponds... ”
“No. Gar-infested ponds!” Joe corrects me. “Those gar were like sharks! They were huge, but they’d get stuck in pools after the Black Warrior River flooded, and then the pools would evaporate.”
“Well, you evaded the Alabama sharks then, and how poor and cold you were living in that attic in Woonsocket?”
“Oh, we thought we had it bad with the heat and humidity in Woonsocket. I could almost see the humidity hanging in the air, because you know, Rhode Island is a long state with all those islands of the coast on the east side. But when I spent my first summer in Tuscaloosa, I thought I would suffocate. I just couldn’t breathe in that humidity!” Mr. B seems alarmed even now to remember it.
“Okay, and all the illnesses that don’t seem to harm you?”
“In the ROTC, they would sometimes put the guys in jumpsuits with helmets and stick them inside cabins for training exercises, and it was torture, actual torture in that heat.” The sadness creeps into Joe’s tone now.
“You know about land grant colleges? Under the Morrill Act, Alabama started up one of the first land grant colleges, which is how poor students like me got offered an education.” He shrugs. “My high school counselor suggested it, because I needed to make up for my math deficiency if I wanted to become an aerospace engineer. It meant that I could get the education I wanted, and in return, I owed them my time in military service, so that’s why I was in the ROTC, sweating’ it out in the thick, wet Alabama woods.”
“Your long life is amazing! I thank God for giving you to us and to me.”
Paul pipes in. “Yeah, Dad. Remember all the times you told us, ‘When I kick the bucket, you should know how this tax situation works,’ or ‘When I kick the bucket, these things in the house will already be divided so there won’t be any bickering,’ or ‘When I kick the bucket, you’ll want to know this…’” — we’re all chuckling now — “but here you are, turning 98, and healthy as an ox.”
“Okay, okay, but ox is our family’s namesake. We all live a long time. Eddy was drafted, you know, but when he got his physical, they said he had flat feet. We were all so relieved because they had conscripted him to be a flame thrower and the life expectancy of flame throwers was,” he holds up two fingers, “two minutes.” Mr. B nods his head once to confirm the ridiculousness of a life in that occupation. “Yeah. He got an F˗4 notice; that meant Eddy had flunked out of his military death sentence. Our friends were mostly cannon fodder. That’s what we would say. My brother’s friend, also named Eddy, Eddy Schwartz, entered the army in the same unit as his older brother. They specifically asked not to be separated.
They wanted to look out for each other, I guess. Anyway, his brother was hiding behind a tank, because their tank and the German tank were volleying cannon fire at each other. He looked up to see what was happening to the other side when another bomb exploded and the shrapnel got him. Then, Schwartz was also hit with shrapnel in his chest. They thought he was a goner, so they left him there and took the other wounded. But then someone cleared out a place on another ship and they got him on it. He survived!” Joe pulls off a scaly barnacle from the side of his face, wincing.
“Yeah, but when he came home with his mended ribs and that horrible scar over his heart, the newspaper did everything they could to keep him from getting his old job back. Imagine that! A wounded vet, and they treated him like that. But Schwartz survived the lawsuit, won it, and as far as I know, and he had a decent life in Woonsocket.”
I am trying to emphasize that God has preserved him, and ask him to consider the purpose of this blessing, but I can’t articulate these thoughts well. “Have you ever considered why you’ve had such a long life, Mr. B?”
Joe rubs the side of his face with a napkin and looks at the dot of blood as he puts it on the table next to his placemat. “Well, when I was in college, I dated a girl who was interested in becoming a fortune teller. She took one look at my hand and said I had a long lifeline.”
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
Lynn: My husband, Paul, and I built a hospitality house for missionaries and seminary students. But, our neighbors decided they didn’t like what we were doing with our home. They petitioned the city council to create laws against our use in our zone.
The animosity and fighting of the lawsuits became so devastating that we decided to sell at all costs, even in the bear market, and look for a place in the neighborhood of Paul’s 97-year-old father.
Quickly, it became apparent that living nearby would not be enough to save him. He was losing ground too quickly, so we decided that for a transitional period we could move in with Mister B. He agreed, only because he admitted the loneliness had become debilitating. He soon began telling me stories over breakfast.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, how well do you feel you achieved them and whom do you believe will benefit from your book and why? Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
Lynn: Initially, I wrote because I wanted to share Mister B’s captivating humor. I didn’t know if I could explain his mathematical thoughts, but I wanted to try. Then, I began to convey the hope coming alive in me. Relatives of older people need to consider the upside of living together, that there may be a good reason that families exist.
I learned that slowing down to care and listen to each other is a sacrifice worth making. Upwardly mobile careers can create catastrophes of would-be relationships. I wanted family caregivers to be encouraged to try the option. Many cultures honor their parents by living together rather than hiring a stranger, and now I believe it is the best way to live if it’s at all possible. Mister B and I created a third purpose together, by leaning on each other, asking questions and listening to each others stories.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Lynn: I started writing about five months into our first year together. I was writing another book at the time, but when I started reading my journal entries at writers group, the conviction in the praise I received convinced me to focus on Mister B. It took me two years to get it edited and published.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Lynn: The most difficult part besides telling the truth? Because the truth can be exceedingly awkward to face and record and then to read. Other than that, I’m a terrible copy editor. I’ve had to hire several editors, and I am still finding issues with punctuation and phrasing that I wish I would have caught prior to publishing.
The most fun I’ve had is crafting comedy from boredom. Oh, and also winning an award in the first month Mister B was published.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Lynn: Yes, I wanted to make Mister B take the character arc, but it was my character who had to arc. It was a profound time of doing a fearless moral inventory and reconciling what I really was, and also realigning myself to become someone different that I had ever considered.
Norm: Can you tell us how you found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
Lynn: My writers group decided to form a publishing company co-op. I was tired of trying to catch an open agent in their moment of zen, wasting my efforts on perfecting book proposals and pitching them into the fog of tradition’s exploding particles. I’d never made any money publishing prose in the past, so I had nothing to lose by trying publishing out for myself.
Another author in our writer’s group was sorely disappointed with her experiences with two different publishers, and a third writer wanted me to help her self-publish.
I thought about everything for four months before making a move. We had two great copy editors, one marketing agent and formatter, I was a content editor, and we had access to shared information that quickly multiplied. So, our “Small but Mighty Publishing Group,” Capture Books was born. It’s been a breathtaking birth.
Norm: Any unique ways you'll be marketing your book that is different from how others authors market their books?
Lynn: There is so much going on out there that I’m just trying to focus on a few options at a time and then take on new opportunities as they emerge. Then, repeat. It’s hard to keep track. I’m a natural networker and global thinker, so I just follow the rabbits. I often work way late into the night.
Norm: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Lynn: Today this came via e-mail. “I just got back from my neighbor Cathy's house, for her son's graduation party. Her mother-in-law was talking about how much she enjoyed reading your book, and that she read the technical parts to her husband, who enjoyed it too. :). I gave my copy away to my sister in law who was visiting, so I have to buy another.”
There’s the dabbling science that people comment on. They take in bits of information and consider life as a rocket scientist themselves. Mostly, people are touched by the relationship, and are delighted by Mister B. By the end, they believe they know us personally. Several women have begged to meet Mister B, and a Lockheed Martin engineer wrote to tell me he was enjoying his read. Every comment makes me beam.
Norm: Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
Lynn: That’s an interesting question, Norm. Maybe writers don’t owe anything to readers, but certainly authors do! Who would become our second generation readers if our book failed to stalk the first generation’s imagination?
It is definitely an ever present interchange for me. I am always wondering how to craft the story better so that the reader’s thoughts light up with good will. Comedy helped me write the surprise of this book so that people came away saying they loved it and learned from it. I like that.
Norm: Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
Lynn: I’m taking notes for a sequel, does that count? I want to memorize the rule-book for next time around, though. Mister B is turning 100 in January. I’ve continued to journal his perspectives and the comedy of our lives.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Mister B: Living with a 98 Year-Old Rocket Scientist?
Lynn: www.CaptureMeBooks.com has a media room for me. I’m on AuthorCentral, Pinterest, Biblioboard, Self-e, Writers.me, BookDaily, Goodreads and Twitter, but my main source of communication is Facebook. I share things of interest to
Mister B and me, and sometimes stories. It’s not really a blog, it’s just good fun.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Lynn: What significant part did your writers group play in publishing your book?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Lynn: Norm, thank you. I have winnowed all kinds of author publisher and marketing tidbits from Bookpleasures, a feast. Thanks for being a great resource.