A Conversation with… Daniel Peterson

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Following my review of The Playmaker Project (spoilers – it’s very good!), Daniel Peterson and I got together to discuss life, his influences, and of course, his debut fiction novel.

Hi Daniel, great to speak with you! Could you tell my readers a little more about yourself?

John, thank you for the opportunity!

Well, I am relatively new to writing books, especially fiction. For 25 years, I was in health care information technology management, working in hospitals and clinics to introduce those wonderful electronic medical record systems that we all love.

But, more importantly, my wife and I raised three sons who all played sports growing up. As a part-time coach and full-time fan, I was always fascinated with how they were able to learn all of those specific skills and make such quick decisions out on the field. It became a slight obsession for me, as I started reading academic papers and books on the brain, cognitive science and psychology.

After writing over 300 articles on the topic for my blog and for other sports science websites, I decided to write a nonfiction book about what I had learned.

I partnered with Dr. Leonard Zaichkowsky, a professor of sports performance psychology at Boston University for almost 40 years, to write The Playmaker’s Advantage. It was published by Simon & Schuster in 2018 and now we’re writing a follow-up focused just on decision making in sports.

So – The Playmaker Project – I believe that it’s your first venture into fiction writing. How did you find the whole process? What did you learn?

Yes, this is my first novel! I enjoyed the writing process so much with our nonfiction book that I think I got a little too overconfident and jumped into writing fiction. Obviously, I borrowed not only the “Playmaker” tag from the first book but also inserted much of the neurotechnology that I learned into the plot of Eddie Alonso’s first adventure.

I learned that fiction is a whole different animal to write. With nonfiction, I can layout the chapters, each with their own topic, and compartmentalize stories, research and ideas, much like writing 10-12 essays. Overall it needs to flow but it can be broken down into pieces.

With fiction, I had to juggle so many variables in my brain in every chapter. Characters, settings, plot lines, emotions and known facts at any point in time. They all had to be in my working memory at the same time so that there was continuity and a progression of the overall story.

It was kind of like the guy at the circus keeping all of the plates spinning at the same time. It was challenging but I loved it and I feel I have plenty of room for improvement in future books!

Early in the novel, Eddie makes a reference to soccer being one of the ‘minor sports’ (compared to the more popular Basketball/American Football).

This got me thinking – why soccer, specifically, as opposed to much more popular U.S.-based sports? 

That’s a great question!

First, my own boys played multiple sports but soccer was their favorite and two of them played in college. And I am a big fan of MLS and international soccer, so I was familiar with the sport.

I also was hoping the book would appeal to the global audience of soccer (football) fans, as opposed to the mostly U.S.-based fans of baseball and American football.

And, despite its worldwide popularity, soccer is still a minor sport in Eddie’s hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota compared to the American classic sports, especially hockey!

As I mentioned in my review, soccer and neuroscience are a curious combination. What was your thinking behind combining them for a novel?

Whilst this isn’t always the case, sci-fi and soccer fans do tend to be fairly different crowds. Did this raise any challenges when it came to marketing the book?

You’re right, it is a curious combination. Again, my fascination with the brain and how athletes learn and develop cognitively was to blame.

Conceptually, I had this idea of a “sports thriller” genre that included the fast-paced, money-infused world of international sports and the all-out will to win. As we’ve seen with doping scandals, athletes and owners are willing to push the boundaries and even break the rules to chase their dreams of victory.

So, direct brain enhancement, like we see in this book, seemed to be a plausible area that will be a reality in the next few years.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

Yes, the follow-up, nonfiction book on athlete decision-making with Dr. Zaichkowsky will be published this Fall.

I’ve also partnered with another academic leader to write a book on vision that should be out in 2021.

And the next Eddie Alonso adventure should be out early next year, with Eddie and Anna still together and “tackling” a controversial and disturbing development in American football!

Who inspires you? (Writer, or otherwise!)

On the fiction side, I’m a big fan of Daniel Silva. For me, his writing is rich and sophisticated, taking me on journeys into the complicated world of his hero, Gabriel Allon. John LeCarré, Clive Cussler and Michael Crichton are also on my shortlist.

For nonfiction, Bill Bryson, Malcolm Gladwell, and the nonfiction work of Michael Lewis inspire my writing in their own unique ways. I have a long way to go but I try to measure my progress against their high standards.

And finally… If you could only ever read one book again, what would that be?

 Well, for practical life purposes, the Bible.

To find out more about the works of Daniel Peterson, check out his Goodreads profile for a full list of current and upcoming projects.

Massive thank you to Daniel for getting involved!

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