Interview With Roger Duncan, Co-Author of The Future of Buildings, Transportation, and Power by Roger Duncan and Michael. E. Webber

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? How did you and your co-author first connect? 

I was the general manager of Austin Energy, the municipal utility for Austin, Texas 2008-2010 and deputy general manager before that. Michael was on the Electric Utility Commission, the city public advisory board to the utility. We immediately realized that we shared a vision for a sustainable energy future and when I retired in 2010, Michael asked me to come over to the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, where we worked on the book together.

What inspired you both to write The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power? I think I read in your intro this germ of an idea took years become a reality. Why did it take so long?

I have always been interested in future technology and looking at the trends in technology. My degree from UT is in philosophy, with an emphasis on philosophy of technology. Michael’s career has been in energy engineering, and he also had a great interest in future energy technology. When you look at energy conversions, it is really all about buildings, transportation and power production.

The book took so long to write for a couple of reasons. First, Michael had a very busy schedule and it was sometimes difficult to find the time to devote to new drafts. Also, the research was quite extensive, and took much longer than I anticipated. Finally, writing a book on future technology in rapidly changing areas take continuous research, rewrites, and changes of direction. We were not researching a historical event where the topic is stable.

Book Review HERE!
Having more than one author must change the writing dynamic. What are the benefits and the challenges of co-authoring a book? 

One challenge in having two authors is the time lag in sending and reviewing drafts with each other. And since the topics were changing, one of us would discover something that needed updates while the other was still reviewing the last rewrite. 

However, the benefits are the experience and points of view of two authors. Whenever I would feel completely drained after a draft, I knew that I would get a manuscript back that would be improved, new ideas would appear, and mistakes I overlooked would be found by fresh eyes.

When it came to the process of putting words to paper, how did the two of your work together? Did you each write some of the material? Or did you discuss all the content, but only one put the actual words to paper?

I would put together an outline and ideas for a chapter and then we would spend time brainstorming it and making a more detailed outline, agreeing on all the main elements of a chapter. Then I would write the first draft, send to him for comments while I worked on the next chapter, etc. After we arrived at a complete first draft, we would bounce the manuscript back and forth with each of us doing a complete edit and rewrite before sending it back. 

Sometimes this would take many months, which accounted for the long time to finish the book. We also changed the organization of the book a couple of times. The final book is version 7 of our rewrites. Of course, I would have to update all the references and endnotes each time.

What did you enjoy most (or came easiest for you) during the writing/publishing process? What was hardest for you, or felt most like a chore?

I enjoyed the technology research and finding out new things about what our world was going to look and feel like. Every day I had a routine of scanning newspapers, magazines – both popular and technical - and doing internet research on anything that caught my attention and needed a deeper dive. It was great fun piecing together a future scenario from all the trends I was seeing every day.

I did not like the writing part. I am a very slow writer and it is a real effort to take a whiteboard outline of ideas and put it into sentences and paragraphs that are relatively easy to read yet still technically correct. And the references and endnotes of a book like this were a real chore.

This books seems to fall in the middle - not a textbook, but not an easy read either because of the content and references. Who do you feel your reader is and what do you hope they will take away from reading this title?

This book is intended for people who are interested in future technology, regardless of background. Although not a textbook, we’re still aiming at educated readers who wanted a deeper dive into the technology trends shaping our future than you would get in a newspaper story or magazine article. We also wanted to show people why technology is changing the way it is. I hope that readers will feel the same sense of amazement and wonder about the future - both advances and challenges - that we felt in writing it.

How did the COVID pandemic affect your publishing this book and the predictions you share?

COVID definitely affected our predictions, and the pandemic hit just as we were publishing. But as we noted at the front of the book, it is mainly the timing of technology changes that are affected, and we think the underlying trends still hold. Some planned advances are definitely slowed, but other trends – like work from home and the reduction in oil consumption – were definitely accelerated.

What's next for you? Will you write more books?

I have no plans to write another book. It was a greater effort than I had imagined.

connect with the authors: website