Entrepreneur, Thrillist

photo of John Butziger

How an international engineering career morphed into a three-book series.

By Nicole Maranhas

Three years ago, civil and environmental engineer John Butziger ’91 had already traveled all over the world as a former partner of an innovative advertising technology company and the current chief operating officer of a medical device start-up. But unfinished business nagged at him. “I had always wanted to write,” says the East Greenwich, R.I. resident. “I started to feel that if I didn’t start now, I would never realize that dream.”

He began mapping out a plan for a three-book series, spending mornings and rare free hours (he is also a married father of three) researching and working on the page-turning first book, The Second Tree, a mystical thriller set partly in Uganda, that combines three of his passions—exotic locations, food, and supernatural phenomena—and draws heavily from his own travels and technical expertise.

Encouraged by his wife and friends, the first-time novelist relied on the discipline and problem-solving skills he first began honing as an engineering student at URI. “I’m not a fast writer,” he says. “You can’t get overwhelmed. You have to take it in chunks and move at your own pace.”

book cover photo of Eden's RevelationHe recently published the second book in his The Order series, Eden’s Revelation, and is working with the Uganda chapter of the African Film and Writer’s Society to develop The Second Tree as a film, all while plotting the third and final book of the trilogy and taking advantage of the booming self-publishing industry to release an audiobook version of the series. “It’s a lot of work to balance everything, but it’s a dream,” says Butziger. His advice for other aspiring writers: “Some people would hesitate because they don’t feel like the most fantastic idea has hit them, but once I started writing, other pieces of the story began folding in,” he says. “Don’t downplay the ideas you have now—they will lead into places you’d never imagine.”

Book cover photo of The Second Tree



Butziger shared the
following excerpt from
The Second Tree, after
main character Andrew
has been at work in his
greenhouse, where he is
growing an unusual fruit
brought back from his
travels in Uganda.

Andrew slowly opened his eyes, the muscles of his face resisting the crust that glued his lids together. His head was foggy as he awoke from unconsciousness. The shadows had lengthened and several hours must have passed since he fell from the ladder and onto the hard, packed earth of the greenhouse floor.

His glasses lay near his face and he reached for them, reflexively putting them on his face while he sat up. The nyoka trees and greenhouse blurred through the lenses of his glasses and he squinted hard. The lenses were just too powerful and hurt his eyes. He lifted them up above his eyes and saw clearly again. He switched back and forth a few times and removed them from his face. He must have a concussion—he wasn’t seeing clearly with his glasses at all.

His arm! He swiveled his head and clasped the pierced bicep with his good hand. Expecting a sharp pain, he felt nothing but his fingers gripping his upper arm. Had it been a dream, a hallucination? He removed his hand and studied the bloodied slit in his shirt sleeve. He opened the fabric with his fingers. Again blood stains, this time on his skin, but no cut. Not even a scar. Something glinted in the dying sunlight and caught his eye. Lying on the floor next to his leg, the blood-stained shears smiled menacingly up at him. It was no dream, no hallucination.