Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Make a Novel Happen: An Interview with Bill Wetterman

Today, fellow author Bill Wetterman answers some questions about how he started writing, how he got his new novel, Room 1515, into print, and how he's going about marketing himself. I hope you'll enjoy his insights! (And check out his book; more information on that below).

Bill, tell everyone a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. After college and a career move in Ohio, I relocated my family to Tulsa, Oklahoma. We’ve lived here 34 years. I’ve been blessed with a great partner in life, Pam, my wife of 47 years. She's an author too, so we edit each others work. We have two sons and two dogs.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve written for fun and for business all my life. I wrote poetry at Ohio University for a college magazine, as well as policies and procedures for my employers. I buried the desire to become an author in my twenties to pursue making a living.

In 2006, I looked toward the future and decided to plan for a different career by pursuing my heart's desire to write. As Pam and I watched television or enjoyed a movie, I’d whisper to her, “Watch and see. Here’s what is going to happen next.” Then I’d say, “I could do better than that.” Doing better takes time, though. I’ve studied the craft since 2006, and I learn more every day.

I can certainly relate to that! What genre do you write?

Let’s cover the novels first. Greed, betrayal, lust, and revenge, all the things that make life fun—I write thrillers. The topics tend toward political, psychological, and international themes and plots. I usually use anti-heroine female protagonists and pit them against the flawed men in their lives.

My short stories are not genre-based. Some are non-fiction. Some are fiction—inspirational, western, humor—you name it. I’ve won or placed in the top three in several major online contests, including Writer’s Digest and Armchair Interviews.

Those are some impressive contests! Tell us about your published works.

I have four short stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. My short story, The Family Tree, was published in the Writer’s Digest 2011 Short Story Anthology. Storyteller Magazine just notified me that a short story called Endurance will be published in its Fourth Quarter Edition. My novel, Room 1515, came out as an eBook in February 2012 and as a paperback in April.

What is Room 1515 about?

It's an international thriller. A female agent named Peacock is sent on a mission to woo and win the heart of the world's most powerful power-broker. Her job is to learn his secrets and foil his plans. Instead, she falls in love. It's a story of the balance of world financial power, betrayal, and romance.

Now, for a question that a lot of writers are asking these days. How do you market your published work and yourself as a brand?

I market more than I want to and less than I should. I’m an excellent face-to-face promoter. I speak to book clubs at libraries and attend book signings at regional bookstores. I utilize Facebook and Goodreads to promote my blog. My publisher, Book Country, a subsidiary of Penguin, set up my distribution network. The rest is up to me. To that end, I’ve hired Stormie Johnson of Lightning Book Promotions to guide me along the way. (Bill did a book trailer, which you can view below.)

How do you research and prepare to write your books?

My research is extensive. Before I write a novel, I go through a step-by-step process to develop the world of the novel.

Step 1, Physical Surroundings:
Creating a novel begins for me by researching the world into which I will drop my characters. This world must be physically correct. In Room 1515, the settings are Washington D.C. and Great Britain, primarily London. The details must be accurate, so readers who live in those places will recognize the locations. Since I place the action a few years in the future, I have the liberty to alter things a bit. I can put a new hotel in a location where there isn’t one today, and that’s all right. I’ve been to Washington and London. That helps. Even if I hadn’t, the Internet provides views and layouts of buildings, inside and outside. I research every building, park, etc., for accuracy before I write about it. I read about where political meetings are held, so I don’t have an event in my book going on in a place where it shouldn’t. I’m sorry, but I love Wikipedia.

Step 2, Tension:
Once I’ve fleshed out the physical world and the mood of that world, I’m ready to create the tension. I do this before I fully create the characters. Sure, I have an idea about who they are. However, I need to have a setting and situation that is tension-packed to drop my characters into. In Room 1515, I take the tension in today’s world and make it worse. The world economy is collapsing. A group of rich financiers is causing the collapse for its own purposes. American sends a seductress to woo the leader of this group and steal his secrets.

At this point, I ask myself a million whys. What would each side’s motivation be? How could they achieve what they desire? Who could best accomplish each major task? In the case of Room 1515, I had to study how the economy in one part of the world affects another. Once I'm done with asking questions and doing research, I give each main character motives and plans. Tension must increase as the story moves along, or readers go to sleep.

Step 3, Uniqueness: 
Ever read novels where the bad guys have no redeeming character while the good guys are Dudley Do-Rights? The real world is not this way. The more conflicted people and events are, the better your novel will be. I mentioned the anti-heroine earlier. To put a true protagonistloyal, honest, loves dogsinto Room 1515 would be sinful. Instead, I want a flawed woman pursing the enemies of her country, until she questions the tactics of her own government. I don’t want an evil antagonist either. Instead of Dr. No, I want my villain to be unique. I want to create a sympathetic character with a noble purpose, who is likable while also being ruthless. Unique, complex characters hold readers interests.

Step 4, Fleshing Out Characters:
Here is where many authors start their novel, but this is the last thing I do. Knowing the world into which I’m dropping them, knowing the tension and conflict they’ll face, I ask myself more questions. What is the character’s worldview? What events shaped their past? What strengths and weaknesses will cause them to succeed or fail? I research where the main characters were born, if it’s important, the history of the area. I describe how each looks and fill out a character profile.

Once the character is solid in my mind, I talk to them. I show them the outline of the book. I set the rules. “I’ll give you some freedom in each scene. Surprise me by showing me something unique. However, do not sin. I am God. I determine the outcome I want. Don’t change my novel. Enjoy yourself within your scenes. Sin, in the world of my novel, is a character attempting to change the outcome I’ve slaved so hard to build.

Once I flesh out my characters, I’m ready to write. A novel takes me two months of planning, two months of writing, and two months of editing to complete.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Yes. I use dialogue and interior monologue as the main tools to convey my story to my readers. When I use descriptions of a places and events, I concentrate on only two or three key features so as not to bore my readers. Have you ever tried to read James Joyce’s Ulysses? 450,000 words written in stream of consciousness will not capture the 21st century reader. I keep the dialogue crisp and the paragraphs short to give a feeling of fast-paced action.

What books have influenced your writing most and why?
Tom Clancy’s novels, particularly Debt of Honor, are examples of well-researched political thrillers. He set the standard for me for attention to detail. Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs stands out as the psychological thriller. I can only hope to achieve his level one day. Finally, Stieg Larrson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features the perfect anti-heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Her character is a model for me to play off.

When did you decide that you were officially a writer?

I knew I was a writer when other writing professionals told me I was. Recognition comes in the form of entering writing competitions and winning. It speaks volumes when you receive an award in a national or regional competition entered by numerous writers and judged by the best. Simply saying “I’m a writerdoesn’t make it so.

Room 1515 is done and in print. Do you  have any other works in progress?

Yes. I have several novels in various stages of development, two that should be released this year. Fury and Fire, the sequel to Room 1515, will be ready to go to the publisher in late July or early August. This is the second book in a trilogy about the struggle for world domination and the establishing of a one-world government. 

The Fifth Step, a psychological thriller about an out-of-control pornography addiction, will be ready for publication toward the end of the year. A prominent preacher’s addiction threatens to destroy his reputation, his ministry, and his wife’s life. The Fifth Step comes from the 12-Step Program, Step 5: Admitted to God, myself, and another human being, the exact nature of my wrongs.

I also have another novel going through the layering process, but that’s for 2013.

Wow, that's impressive, Bill! Best wishes with all your novels, especially Room 1515.

Readers, what do you think? Do you ever find yourself following Bill's approach of plotting first, characters second? For me, I find it's a mix. I get the character in a situation first, then ask what's going on, and create a world in which that situation makes sense, and use that to further character development. Does that make me crazy? Hahaha... Now you can tell me the real truth. So, share below if you dare!

For more information about Bill, please visit his website, visit his Facebook page, or check him out on Goodreads. You can contact him for speaking engagements via emailFor more information on Room 1515, watch the book trailerRoom 1515 can be purchased as an eBook or paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony.

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta and Bill Wetterman. All rights reserved.



6 comments:

  1. What a great interview! Thanks for posting today. ~Stormi, Lightning Book Promotions

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    1. Thanks, Stormi. Glad to have a chance to host Bill. Btw, I love your username. "Lady Storm" might have to become a character in a book of mine, if you'd let me use it. It's cool!

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  2. Great interview! I never thought about my process, but like Bill, I plot first, then work on characterization. I love the steps Bill shares to writing research. I may have to try incorporating some of them in my own process. I have Room 1515 on my Kindle. Now I'm all excited to go read it and find out what happens to Peacock! Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Kristin, and thanks. Truthfully, Bill did all the hard work, and I just went along for the ride. His process is really interesting, isn't it? Stop by and let me know what you think of Room 1515 when you're done with it.

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  3. Michelle, your support has been great. I hoep you got a lot of hits. Some read but don't comment.

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    1. Thanks, Bill. And thanks for stopping by on my blog. Wishing you great sales!

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