GJ: For those people who are not familiar with your writing, can you give us an introduction?
WO: I write post apocalyptic thrillers that are filled with thrills and feels. I say thrills because there is always lots of cinematic action and feels because I also bring in a lot of the human element and relationships and the inner world of characters. I get bored with stories that have cardboard characters moving through a series of car chases and explosions and so have no desire to write them.
I like the PA setting as a story device because it throws people into obviously extreme circumstances and you get to see how people respond. Do they crumble? Do they get stronger? Does their core character evolve or devolve? That kind of thing. It’s also straight up cool to describe an entire city burning to the ground. Does that make me a sick person? Probably.
I also write stories geared for my daughters. At this age, that means middle grade thriller-lite stories about a strong female character trying to make the world a better place. As my daughters get older, I’ll continue to spend part of my time writing stories aimed at their maturity level.
GJ: One of my best friends, Sarah, is a devourer of books about the end of the world and post-apocalypse. She’s who inspired me to write my post-apocalyptic novel, In The End. Can you tell me where the inspiration came from for your novels?
WO: Oh yes! Where it all began. Hehe. I lived in Los Angeles for 15 years and loved 12 of them. That span began in my late 20’s when it was just my girlfriend, a dog, and myself. That level of responsibility was conducive to more carefree fun than you can shake a margarita at! It went on like that for about a decade and then… we had our first daughter. And then a year and a half later, we had our second daughter. Both ornery angels, by the way!
Starting a family began to change my point of view. It wasn’t just about me and today anymore. It was about two beings that were my responsibility to protect and nurture. Our first daughter was born around the time of The Great Recession of 2008. You remember, it was when Hank Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) handed congress a one sheet that basically said give me as much money as I want or this country’s going up in flames. I remember thinking that this was crazy. How could the smartest, most knowledgeable, most powerful people in the country be claiming they had no idea the subprime mortgage mess was coming.
My subsequent research me led to discover that plenty of people saw it coming and yelled their lungs out to warn others. It was just that nobody in a position of power did anything about it because the gravy train was rolling and everybody was filling their bowls. Between that insanity and bringing children into the world, my whole perspective shifted. I started to question the dominant narrative of endless growth and prosperity.
What if things went south? What would happen to a place like Los Angeles? The short answer is that it would become a hellhole. A huge city is not the best place to be if the doggie doo hits the wind whirler. And that got me into post apocalyptic fiction and ended up being the basis for my first book, The Last Day. What would happen to a family living in west Los Angeles when the end of the world arrived? And I’ve been reading and writing PA fiction ever since.
GJ: Can you tell me about your journey from writing the first novel through to publication?
WO: It was a long ordeal involving headwinds and misdirection and trials and tribulations the likes of which would’ve made Odysseus beg to trade places. At least it felt like that. I’ve always enjoyed writing my entire life, but had never written anything more than an infrequent short story. When I decided to “become a writer”, I wrote 40 or so short stories. That gave me wonderful practice in scene writing, but next to no practice or understanding in how to structure a novel. I did that first one panster style with no idea where the story was going. I wrote it in six months, all while dealing with so much fear and anxiety it’s a miracle it ever got finished.
I then reviewed the story and realised there were HUGE problems. It had a terrible structure. A beginning that went to 50% of the book. A middle that barely happened. An ending that had nothing to do with the opening. All big structural problems that I think are very difficult to understand until you’ve finished your first book. That’s why I recommend to beginning writers that they JUST GET IT DONE! There are angles you’ll never see if you keep trying to perfect a story and never actually finish it.
In any case, I ended up going back to it again and again over the following year while working on other books. Every pass back through was more reworking, more tweaking, more improving as my understanding of story grew. At this point, I see flaws in it, but it’s a good story and I’m not interested in improving it any further. At some point, you have to set a story aside and get to the next one. That and I’m always excited to finish the current project and get to the shiny bauble that is the next project.
The publishing was a whole other ordeal. Suffice to say that it was just as much a learning process as writing the novel. From cover design to formatting to keywords to blurbs to booking advertisements to publication. You quickly learn that writing a great story is only half the battle. Probably less.
GJ: How do you fit in all the work it takes to release so many novels?
WO: Yep, full time writer and daddy in charge at home. Time management is always a challenge. Relentless engagement of processes that lead to progress is key. Mindset is huge.
GJ: What do you do when you’re not writing?
WO: I get up at 5am every weekday and do 2 hours of personal development work. It helps me get my mind and body in the right place to do everything that needs done. Other than that, spending time with family in various ways is my goal. That includes going for local hikes, visiting wineries in Sonoma County where I live, snuggling up on the couch to watch a good (and age appropriate) movie. I’d watch more soccer games if I had time. I LOVE getting lost in a fantastic book.
GJ: What genres do you typically read?
WO: I love PA and SciFi above all else. I can get hooked into a Fantasy tale if the story is sublime (The Name of the Wind!). I’ve read most other genres for research purposes and enjoy a good story told well. For example, I’ve read a number of Nora Roberts’ romance books and enjoyed them because she knows how to spin a yarn. So, I’ll try most anything if it comes with an exemplary recommendation from a trusted friend. But if I’m just looking to pick up something, PA and SciFi are the first places I look.
GJ: Do you have any writing rituals?
WO: Not really. I’m training myself to tackle the thing that feels the hardest first. I find on the days when I do that, whatever is left of the day afterwards feels like bonus time and I feel great about my output. And being a writer is such a mental game. The mental game is HUGE.
GJ: What writing software do you use?
WO: Scrivener for writing. I love the way it helps organize thoughts and structure. It’s a combo left and right brain experience.
GJ: Which is your favourite bit, writing, editing, all the other stuff?
WO: I love coming up with the story. I’m a plotter at this point in my career. I hated all the massive revisions that the first book required. After, I became a strict plotter partly to help me really hone in on story structure and partly so I wouldn’t have to cut and throw out so much work. I’m actually writing a panster story right now with the help of a FB group as an experiment in collaborative storytelling. Do you remember those Choose Your Own Path books from decades ago? I loved them as a kid and came up with an idea of doing something similar. I have a FB group of readers who get to decide where this story goes. Each week, I write a story segment that ends in a story fork. They choose which direction the story goes. I then write another story segment based on that choice and end on another story fork. It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I enjoy not knowing exactly how things will turn out, but am also terrified that I won’t be able to tie it all together into a cohesive story. It’s called The Dark Descent. We’re around halfway through the story right now. Here’s the link to the group if you want to check it out…https://www.facebook.com/groups/theodayway/
GJ: Who is your first reader?
WO: My wife used to be my first reader, but she’s gotten so busy with work that I couldn’t wait for her to have time to review. I now skip a traditional first reader and go straight to a team of beta readers. That’s usually 10 super fans that I’ve been in contact with for a while now. They are amazing people who love my style and also are comfortable telling me what’s wrong or confusing about a story. Their comments are seriously invaluable. It varies with every story, but I can say that their comments will generally take a story up another grade level (using old school elementary style grading). So, their comments can turn an 88 story into a 96 story. That kind of thing.
GJ: How long have you been writing for?
WO: I’ve been writing full time for 4 years now. Unfortunately, too much of that time was spent filled with doubt and anxiety and subsequently diminished productivity. Like I said, mindset is so important. And it’s something I’m only really figuring out relatively recently. Let me tell you, I wish I had my mindset now over that entire 4 years. I’d be JK Rowling by now! Hehe.
GJ: Do you have any advice for new writers?
WO: Don’t give up. Finish that first story. Afterwards, you’ll understand things you never would’ve understood without finishing it. Fix the problems if you want to. But don’t let any one project devour you. Getting better at writing stories requires you to write and finish story after story after story. It’s like any other creative profession. Painters don’t become masters by becoming phenomenal at sketching scenes and roughing in colours. They have to go through the entire process. Learn something new with each finished work.
GJ: Thank you William for taking the time to talk with me today and I wish you continued success with your career. William’s books are all available to buy now from Amazon and you can keep in touch with William through his website, Twitter or Facebook.
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