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Ryan Johnson, Published May 18 2014

Making a Scene: Exploring other dimensions

FARGO – By day, Clark Jackson is a mild-mannered accountant in Des Moines, Iowa.

By night, he’s a universe-traveling adventurer, encountering alien species and solving out-of-this-world problems after discovering a portal to other planets and dimensions.

Jackson is the star of two science-fiction novels available through Amazon.com: “Upsetting the Tides,” released in 2011, and last year’s “Unseasonal War.” Jackson will come back with new exploits in a third book, “Camouflaged Encounters,” later this year.

But the premise that gave birth to this modern-day explorer was little more than a stress-relieving thought that crossed the mind of author David Englund a couple decades ago.

“I had this idea, just kind of a fantasy, of what if there was this other dimension where you’d go in this room and no time would pass on Earth?” he said. “You could just go in there and you could take a nap, or you could get some work done, but you’d just have extra hours in your day.”

The 47-year-old Minnesota native, who has taught economics at North Dakota State University for the past year, eventually shared that idea with students – and found a new way to explore this fantasy.

“This student says to me, ‘Where is this other dimension? Are there aliens there, or is this on another world?’ ” he said. “All of a sudden, my mind just exploded with all these ideas, and I started writing on a notepad.”

Englund didn’t realize it at the time, but he was a few chapters into his first book. He completed a first draft a few months later and has since continued to find new ways for Jackson to seek out adventure.

He has no training in this field, and had never written fiction before, but he learned along the way and self-published his work.

Englund’s says he’s not trying to write perfect prose. He simply wants to inspire imagination for his readers.

“I’m about creativity and imagination,” he said. “It’s not that I think I’m this brilliant person, ‘Here, read my story because I’ve got it all figured out.’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a story. I think this is a good story, and if you read it, it will let you escape and your own imagination will hopefully take over.’ ”

When you came up with Jackson, you decided he should be in his 40s because you’d know how to write that. Are you imagining yourself in these situations?

Sometimes I do. It’s easy to.

People will say that I have a heck of an imagination and “How can you think up all these things?” I think anybody could, really, if they just do what I do – close my eyes and picture where he is, what’s going on, and then I can see the scene develop.

One of the reasons I got into this, too, was that I was tired of especially TV shows. They’ll have a great premise; they’ll have a great concept. They even might have a great buildup and then a horrible ending. Or other ones will have a great premise, but they don’t do anything with it. Movies, shows, books, whatever.

I wanted to do a story the way I think a story should be told and make it realistic. The main character isn’t a guy that never misses with a gun and always wins and the usual things that we always see in the stories.

What’s surprised you about self-publishing?

There are probably a lot of surprises because I didn’t know anything about it.

I’ve had a lot of comments like, “Wow, good job. You wrote a book,” and people think that’s this wonderful thing. But I think that’s the easy part. Promoting it is really tough, especially if it’s self-published.

When I go to Wal-Mart or somewhere, and I walk by and there’s all these books on the shelf, I think, “How easy.” A person just has to walk up and look at it and know that this book is out. They can take it up to the cash register.

Nobody knows that I have a book unless they’re looking for it directly. I don’t have that same opportunity for people to stumble onto the book.

Has your economics background helped with your writing?

My first reaction to that would be no, because I don’t think that has anything to do with the other.

I kid that I use one side of my brain all day, and then I go home and use the other side.

In economics, to me, it’s all about deductive logic. That has to have shown up in the writing, because he’s always trying to figure things out. He’s always trying to use logic.

But not in the sense that people might think about dollars and cents or buyers and sellers – just the use of logic and problem solving because he’s got some whoppers of problems.

If your books were made into a movie, who would play Jackson?

He’d have to be a regular guy, not some handsome movie star. I would think maybe a younger Harrison Ford, where he’s supposed to represent just a normal, average guy, if Harrison Ford could put on a white shirt and tie and do accounting all day.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587