Interview With Gary Bengier

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I had a successful career in Silicon Valley, were I was fortunate to work in companies in many of the leading technologies, including bioscience, chip design, computer peripherals, and the Internet. The experience informs my hard-science view of the future. I was Chief Financial Officer at eBay and took the company public. I am proud that before I retired from the company, we had created a million jobs for people making a living out of their own living rooms.

After a career in Silicon Valley I turned to passion projects. I went back to school for nearly a decade, studying physics and philosophy. My philosophy master’s thesis led me deep into the philosophy of mind, to try to understand human consciousness, and what our minds actually are. After nearly another decade of thinking about these questions, I’ve written both a rigorous philosophical book—Unfettered Journey Appendices—and the more accessible novel, Unfettered Journey. There is deep philosophy underpinning the book.

Where do your ideas come from?

Remember “42” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? That is the answer to the question about the so-called Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (posed by aliens who created a supercomputer, that churned for 10 million years). Yes, it is a cornball joke. But I’ve been fascinated by the big questions, and trying to find those answers inspired me to write Unfettered Journey—to share that journey with others. That is why after a full career focused on daily living, I went back to earn a master’s in philosophy. (Spoiler alert—that may be why my main character, Joe, is a “Level 42.”) We want to answer those big questions, to find meaning and purpose in our lives.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Unfettered Journey follows an AI scientist—Joe—who seeks to create robot consciousness. The story, set in a richly envisioned future world, in the year 2161, takes Joe to a small college to progress his quest. The book is told exclusively from Joe’s point of view. The reader might almost reside inside Joe’s head, and we can all be Joe.

This book is a profound, many-layered journey. It is a love story and an adventure. It traces struggle and resilience in an imperfect world. It is a deep philosophical exploration, as Joe asks about the nature of his own mind, and whether he has free will.

One element that is special is that this is a story of humankind, of our individual and collective struggle, living in this world. The two protagonists of Unfettered Journey are all of us.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

You are not a writer until you actually write. Like exercise, writing is often more enjoyable in the abstract. The secret really is “butt in the seat.” As an old financial guy, I know that “what gets measured gets managed,” and each writer should find a comfortable method to measure their writing progress. I like to plan, so I outlined the novel—only a skeleton at first, then with more detail as the story became clearer to me. Then I roughed out the scenes. Then I set weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals for scene writing. The progress against those concrete numbers was motivating. I liked to watch my number of words grow and the number of unwritten scenes diminish. Along the way, my characters began to wake me up at night, to whisper in my ear (“No, I won’t do that…”). That’s when the writing truly became a lot of fun.

Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?

One bit of advice for aspiring writers is to build your author social media platform. When covid-19 hit in March, to help calm the anxiety, I began recording a series of videos about one of my hobbies, beekeeping, under the title “Bee Zen.” (You can still find those, which are a beekeeping 101 course, here – https://garyfbengier.com/bee-zen-videos/.) That was fun, and I thought helpful, based on feedback from a few people who excitedly encouraged me to continue. Then I added metrics to measure webpage engagement. (Every author should do this. Find someone technical if you are not comfortable doing it yourself, but do measure!) It was then that I discovered the woefully tiny audience who had ever watched my bees. Well, I’m zen about it.

What is your favourite positive saying?

One might discern from the long section in Unfettered Journey in the wilderness, that I enjoy the clarity and independence that nature can bring. So I continue to find wisdom in Thoreau. Here are two favorites from Walden:

Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I don’t believe that the Muse suddenly delivers any masterpiece into your head. But if you work smartly, then perhaps she will bless you with small creative sparks. First, plan your story well, so that it begins with a focused structure. You need to know where you are going to ever get anywhere. Then invest the time to write. Measure your progress. And write. When your first draft is complete, perfect you may believe, then spend five times longer in editing than you imagined. Listen with an open mind to all your editors. But remember that you own it. Don’t let anyone have the final say on your story.

Do you read much and if so who are your favouriteauthors.

I’m still a fan of the classic canon, even with the obvious faults (from our retrospective view) in many of those books—writers like Faulkner, Hemingway, and Flaubert with Madame Bovary. The science fiction classics inspired me from a young age, including everything from Asimov, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Herbert’s Dune. Besides having thought-provoking themes, these books are great stories. Great stories are memorable.

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