Bruce Berls and Jim Rowson are the authors of UNCOMMON SCENTS, a cautionary frolic with more humor and 80% less dystopia than the average near-future thriller. The authors are reclusive introverts rarely seen in public, so having them with us is thrilling.

Bruce: Thank you for coming today.

Jim: What are you on about? I’m in my living room, the same as you.

Bruce: I’ve known you since we were wee lads in high school.

Jim: We were both six feet tall when we met, so “wee lads” isn’t quite the right image. I think we bonded in high school because everybody else thought we were weird.

Bruce: We became fast friends right away – in tune with each other’s senses of humor, sharing a love of science fiction during its glory days in the 70s, and being there for each other as decades went by – roommates, best man, bad influences, someone to laugh at each other’s jokes and provide comfort in hard times. In 2021, I had been writing snarky articles about Microsoft for Bruceb News for twenty years, but it was slowing down. You were finishing your career at YouTube and would soon have free time for the first time in your life. The drab landscape of retirement stretched before us until you said casually, “Have you ever thought about writing a novel?” Technically, everything that has happened since then has been your fault. What in the world was in your head?

Jim: I’m completely astonished that I’m writing novels now. My background is in programming, where fictional stories are not an asset. I actually can’t remember ever taking a creative writing course while at school, though I would be delighted to boor you with details of the 20,000 lines of BCPL code I wrote in 1976. As an avid sci-fi reader, I’ve loved world building. My favorite books are those that have a new idea on every page, exploring how new ideas and tech impact society. Our collaboration started with building a world around technology that enables everyone to experience augmented reality without special equipment.

Bruce: I’m convinced that augmented reality will have an even larger impact on the world than computers and the internet. Instead of doing research, we invented injectable nanobots over lunch at an Italian restaurant. Then, we came up with a plausible explanation of how a large company would convince everyone to adopt them. The word “plausible” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

Jim: Some near-future science fiction is heavily researched. It winds up being dystopian because whatever current trend you research – AI, climate change, bio-warfare, gene editing, drones – leads inevitably to the conclusion that we’re all doomed. We didn’t want to write that kind of story, so we just made stuff up.

Bruce: We’re plotters, not pantsers. UNCOMMON SCENTS has an Oceans 11-style plot involving corporate secrets and mixed-up MacGuffin envelopes moving from place to place. Collaboration was fun as we figured out how to get characters where they needed to be.

Jim: I’m pretty sure that the personalities of a few of your characters are drawn from me and our wives. Two questions: (1) How could you? Those things are private, and you’re well aware no one pressed charges. (2) Where did the characters come from? Is there any significance to the names?

Bruce: Obviously, you’re the inspiration for Spiro, our uber-nerd programmer who works at Arrgle and invents a way to augment people’s sense of smell. Congratulations! Cabalynne came out of thin air, a slightly pudgy young woman who spends her big scene in an ill-fitting ninja suit. As a leader of an online army of conspiracy believers, it’s appropriate that her name starts with “cabal.” She plays a minor role in UNCOMMON SCENTS, but she was a natural to become the protagonist in my second novel VEILPIERCER.

Jim: One of my favorite characters is Sanger Manjoo, a garrulous reporter whose voice was inspired by the Peter Falk character in the movie The In-Laws. I’d quote him, but we don’t have space, as Manjoo would want to buy you a cookie and learn in great detail how your day has gone.

Bruce: He pretends to be a New York Times reporter, so I drew his name from two real NYTimes reporters, David Sanger and Farhad Manjoo. The character’s name was originally intended to be an online pseudonym, but the two of us fell in love with him as we wrote the book, and now it’s impossible to imagine him with any other name. After finishing the book, we had to figure out how to publish it.

Jim: Yeah, we tried the traditional route. We sent off query letters to a bunch of agents that specialize in science fiction. Sadly, our impatience and their indifference got the best of us.

Bruce: I find it strangely thrilling to say that Uncommon Scents was rejected by some of the top agents in the business.

Jim: We ended up self-publishing through Amazon, partly because we couldn’t wait to get our hands on a printed copy. Now, we’re working on marketing, trying to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Bruce: Our website at https://arrgle.com provides hours of riveting entertainment – articles in plain English about augmented reality, ChatGPT, and modern tech, along with sample chapters from our novels. Sign up for the weekly newsletter, which is far more than the usual marketing fluff.

Jim: You can also follow us at @ArrgleBooks on both YouTube and TikTok, where we pique our followers’ interests with quotes from famous authors, sci-fi book reviews, snippets from our work, and even my Mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Bruce: We’re working on two more novels. Both are set in the same world as UNCOMMON SCENTS, but neither is a sequel. I’m revising the sixth draft of VEILPIERCER, the story of a young woman who assembles an unlikely team for an assault on the most powerful computer on earth, seeking to expose the secrets of the wealthy. It has the same snarky tone as UNCOMMON SCENTS because it is literally impossible for me to write any other way.

Jim: And I’m working on a serious noir detective story called THE AVATAR MURDERS, also in the Arrgle universe. My detective, Kurt Hardash, solves mysteries using his eyes that, due to a mishap when young, can see both augmented and actual reality. He sees more than others, allowing him to solve a serial murder case and track down who killed his wife—less snark, more violence, including altercations with forks and kitchen appliances.

Bruce: Thank you, Jim. You’re my favorite collaborator.

Jim: If I was going to say lovely things about you, I think you know this is where they would appear.

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