Interview with Mark Bertrand

Publisher: When did you first start writing?

My first non-academic writings began in 1992 when I was a junior engineer in the aerospace industry. Business writing is less intricate than writing novels and short stories. In business writing, the technique is structured and more profit-focused, and not entertaining.

Fiction is far more educational, enjoyable, and it gives the reader a chance to relax, unwind, and enjoy the adventure.

Publisher: What’s the story behind your latest book?

Book two is a story about the experiment and the wedding. Where the Cyborgs have once again raised the bar on augmenting human capability. Why pile on? When it comes to implanting hardware into humans, they’re already a few thousand years ahead of any second. Now there’s a new DNA altering serum? The serum removes anger from the human DNA helix. You may want to duck for this one, but they talked 44 people into testing the serum for them. Then the Cyborgs put them on a spaceship and sent the 44 to a planet as an experiment. You know, to see if they would thrive if they can survive.

The planet was purposefully set up with limited technology. Basically, the 44 will be farmers and live similar to conditions in 1930’s Earth. Except there’s no gasoline. They have fusion power and self-driving carts. Who set up the planet? I’ll give you three guesses. And by the way, those 44 people were all scientists. You know, like the leading scientists in physics, botany, pharmaceutical, medical science, mathematics, and such. Yeah!

Push comes to shove, and you have to agree the Cyborgs have a single mission. The first priority. It’s an unwavering quest and Cyborgs will stop at nothing to fulfill the objective.

Most of the story is about the wedding. So it’s sort of the storyline, with the rest of it told around the lovers.

Publisher: Are your books about Artificial Intelligence (AI), or is it more spiritual?

Spiritual awareness starts here in this first series of books. Read for yourself and become knowledgeable and wise without placing your principles on humanity. Experience a future civilization where meditation and spiritual practice produce the objective of nothingness. The story’s aim isn’t to show you how spirituality can make your life more pleasant, happier, and less stressed. After all, Buddhism aims not to find anything.

The notion of advanced robots with human-like intelligence dates back at least to Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon. However, in today’s modern era, most people are less inclined to expect ASI to rise in robot form and more willing to envision a merger of AI and Biology where people and technology become one. As a result, the story is not theoretical or visionary and doesn’t argue a predictive role of ASI in some future sci-fi realism. Instead, the role of ASI is evident but buried in the workings of the city, self-driving vehicles, and fusion-power that hardcore sci-fi diehards might expect.

Publisher: How many books are you planning in the series?

From the first book, where the U.S.A. is thrown into civil war and gets divided into six regions, to the final book where the Cyborgs have to piece together where they went wrong with humanity, I think it’s one novel and four smaller, novellas. I’ve shelved the first novel for a while because I have so much of the next three novellas running around in my head. I’ve got to get most of the story out of my head so that I can go back and revise a lot of the novel (Book One) Starzel. It seems like Book One may be too big and I’ll move some of it into a different book or a novella. I’m not sure. Like I said, right now I need to get a lot of the story out of my head and onto the computer.

Publisher: How did you learn about Buddhism?

I grew up with a Christian mother who was an evangelical Lutheran, and I spent most summers, between school years, living with Catholic grandparents. Those faith-based systems didn’t resonate with me. I’m more of a pragmatist and a scientist, so the myriad of missing facts and lack of evidence of those religions just didn’t cut it for me. Later, when I was in college, the Buddhist Monastery was nearby, and I frequently saw monks everywhere in town and around campus. One question after another to a few of the monks and I became intrigued by their answers. You know, how Buddhist philosophy teaches you to train your brain to think, rather than simply memorizing and placing faith in arbitrary rules.

As part of my dedication to the Buddhist monks who spent countless hours and many years instructing and guiding me on my path, I volunteered to manage the abbey in San Diego for six years. Then, after I moved to Arizona, the same Buddhist foundation purchased a home in downtown Phoenix where I volunteered for six more years as the manager. Through these years, I had the opportunity to meet monks from around the world.

While helping visiting monks on their travels to the United States, I would frequently be called upon to chauffeur them and arrange their meetings with dignitaries, patrons, and donors. Between the day-to-day upkeep of the abbey, managing budgets, arranging events, holding retreats, meeting with state and local charitable foundations, and answering calls night and day from people needing help, advice, or searching for answers to a spiritual quest, there was never enough time to do everything. But, with the help of dozens of local volunteers, we always seemed to get through it with joy. The experience managing the abbeys and over forty years as a practitioner of Buddhism has blessed me in ways words cannot express.

Publisher: Are the books you write fictional Buddhism?

The stories are fiction, and they often unfold in the distant future. Say, some seven thousand or more years into the future. I’m an advocate for advancing humanity to become a multi-planetary species. So I’ve tried to combine artificial intelligence, space exploration, and Buddhism into science fiction adventure stories. This has implications in many religions and philosophies where the principles have been crafted and the fundamentals have been established for people on Earth. You might consider something like, how are the Gods going to find your soul if you move to some distant planet in the Alpha Seantari quadrant?

Seriously though, I think that after many years of working with people who are interested in a spiritual meaning or quest, whatever term you use to refer to the human desire to know more about this existence, for most of us after reading ancient literature, we are more confused than when we started. The multitudes of sutras, or the Bhagavad Gita, etcetera, are texts that can take a lifetime to understand. Perhaps even many lifetimes.

The short answer would be this: For me, I’ve always been able to read a sutra, and later explain it to someone in a more day-to-day, practical, and meaningful way. So that’s how I use my stories. It’s similar to the 1999 movie, The Matrix. I am using action and adventure in a sci-fi world to illustrate actual spiritual practice.

Publisher: What motivated you to become an indie author?

There are a lot of authors who would tell you traditional publishing is archaic and expensive with a high probability of never getting published. But, on the other hand, independent publishing requires an above-average understanding of formatting ePubs, and it takes a lot of time formatting for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of indie-publisher websites. But, the indie author gets rewarded for their efforts. The more time the author spends, editing, formatting, marketing, publishing, etcetera, the less time they have for writing.

Fundamentally, from a more conservative perspective, we humans have a terrible habit of putting labels on things. For example, one day, many thousands of years ago, somebody said, “I’m the King.” Then, people spent (and continue to spend time) the next fourteen thousand years defining what “The King” means. We built rules, and laws, and societies, and education systems, and well, you know it’s just silly how a word takes over and can seem so “real.” When in actual existence, there is only a King when you accept that as the reality. Substitute the word Publisher in place of King and read this once more.

Publisher: How has Smashwords contributed to your success?

Smashwords is one of the most challenging indie author sites to get published. The ePub formatting is not straightforward or understandable. However, after I initially gave up and went to another aggregate publisher where it was far simpler to format and publish the ePub, I used the ePub from there, and it was immediately accepted on Smashwords. Unfortunately, after several weeks of being on Smashwords as a premium author, I have had zero sales and zero followers. Maybe you can ask me this question again in a year?

One of the side benefits of using Smashwords is the many tools and tasks. Such as this interview required me to dig into what motivates me and then relate to the readers what I’m writing about and why. If there weren’t these requirements, I might never have taken the time to express myself. Likewise, writing an Author Biography and writing a summary to explain each book are challenging exercises. But once I’ve worked through them, they are priceless gems.

Publisher: When you’re not writing what do you like to do?

My wife and I love to travel and explore the world. We’ve traveled through most of the United States, many places in Mexico and Canada. Three years ago, we relocated from Arizona to live in the South of Spain. We plan to explore all of Europe once the pandemic efforts provide regions to allow visitors with confidence. So far, we’ve been to Sardina, Rome, Porto, and Madrid.

I can relax while watching sailboats on the Mediterranean Sea from my terrace when I’m not traveling.