Three Questions with Author Jack McDevitt

I asked Nebula award-winning science fiction author Jack McDevitt to answer three questions about reading and writing, and this is what he had to say...

1.  What advice would you offer young readers?

Become a regular at your local library. Look for books that deal with subjects that interest you. Baseball, astronomy, what the technology will look like when you’re a grandparent. Or fiction that turns you on. I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes stories during my early years. And I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery. The Father Brown mysteries turned out to be even more gripping that Holmes and Watson. I also developed an early passion for science fiction, which grew from the Flash Gordon serials, which I saw when I was about four years old. And I’ve always enjoyed military novels, probably a result of growing up during World War II. Find the right books and they can be far more exciting and interesting than TV. 

2.  What advice would you offer young writers?

The secret to becoming a successful writer is not, as many people think, simply telling a good story. Even a good story can be boring. A writer’s primary task is to create an experience for the reader. Ideally, the reader should feel the emotional impact of events that occur during a piece of fiction. When the young woman with whom our hero is in love stands with him on that rainswept cliff looking out over the ocean and says goodbye, she’s sorry but their relationship is just not working anymore, we want the reader to be standing up there with him, hearing the roar of the surf, feeling the rain and the heartbreak. That’s what fiction is about. Anything the writer does that spoils the illusion, like awkward dialogue, or using a word that sends the reader to a dictionary, or getting the science wrong, works against that effect.

3.  What are you reading and writing now?

I’ve been working on The Long Sunset. It’s the latest in a series of novels about Priscilla Hutchins. She is a starship pilot, living in an age when people have gotten very nervous about sending out interstellars because we never know what they might bring back. (See Stephen Hawking’s comments and those of numerous other current scientists.) Priscilla is piloting what is supposed to be the last flight to the stars before it all gets shut down. No one else will be allowed to leave the solar system. But Priscilla and her team discover a world populated by friendly aliens who save their lives when their lander crashes. But unfortunately, though the aliens do not know it, they are in the path of a black hole. They desperately need help. Which means Priscilla has to find a way to win over the politicians and scientists at home, and then deliver the assistance.

I just finished Gregory Benford’s The Berlin Project, an alternate history that looks at how World War II might have ended differently had we developed the atomic bomb a year earlier, which could easily have happened. I’m currently reading Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept, an account of the Pearl Harbor attack; Brian Clegg’s Before the Big Bang; an Agatha Christie collection of Hercule Poirot mysteries; and the Library of America James Thurber collection. Thurber, when he’s on, is the funniest writer I’ve ever encountered.  

Many thanks to this fine author for crafting such wonderful responses!  Visit Jack McDevitt at and see his Amazon page at

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