I’ve always been a reader, so it should be no surprise that the third installment of my “50 Objects” series is a book. Only this time I didn’t merely read it; I wrote it. And doing so changed my life.
I had grown bored with my life while serving out a three-year stint in Brussels. Don’t get me wrong; Brussels was great. I still liked parts of what I did for a living, and moving to Europe was part of my plan. But being there also released a previously unknown pent-up desire to experience more of the world. When I returned to the United States and the more mundane aspects of my job I began to feel it was time to broaden my horizons. After getting settled, I put a few cracks in my otherwise introverted shell.
One crack was to do something I never thought I had the guts to do. I took a train to New York City to attend a writer’s conference. The expensive hotel and registration on top of Amtrak pushed the cost to about $1400, a fortune to my fiscal conservatism. I pitched a book during the pitch slam (speed dating for agents). All were interested, but one picked up on the fact that I was a scientist and – long story, short – a few weeks later I had a contract to write a book about Nikola Tesla.
I’ve been a lot of things during my scientific career – marine biologist, aquatic toxicologist, regulatory scientist, environmental scientist, consultant, and more – but definitely not an electrical engineer or physicist. Yet here I was writing about a once-famed, since-obscured “electrician” who just happened to invent a way for alternating current (AC) to become the basis of our modern day electrical grid.
A career of scientific consulting – where becoming an expert overnight was often needed to bring in new clients and address novel issues – had made me a quick study. Diving into the existing literature and Tesla’s own writings and patents, I rapidly got a feel for the man. The fact that I was not an electrical engineer turned out to be perfect for what the publisher and I had in mind – a book full of graphics that appealed to a broad general public. This fit nicely; one of my concerns with my job was that the general public didn’t have a good understanding of the science behind what we did. This was a chance to bring an obscure scientist from history back to life.
And it did. The book was a huge seller. Now into its 8th printing and translated into several languages (like its successors, my books on Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln), I’ve succeeded in reaching a huge number of people that would have otherwise never read a science biography.
Not long after Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity came out I decided to quit my consulting job. This was a risk. Only a handful of writers ever make a killing as authors (which is why the New York Times bestseller list always seems to list only the same few authors). I was giving up a dependable salary for a great deal of financial uncertainty. Oddly, by the time I left it was an easy decision. It’s been nearly five years and I haven’t regretted it for a nanosecond.
About that book I had pitched. Despite being pushed aside as I wrote the other three books (and two e-books), I’ve continued to do the necessary research. It’s now my main focus. My plan is to get it finished during the next year and in stores soon after. When that is done I’ll move on to the next book I already have planned.
Because I’m a writer.
Who knew that a book could be such a life changer?
David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.