What was the hardest part about writing Along the Watchtower?
I struggled to find the balance between Freddie’s waking world and the fantasy world of his dreams. Ultimately, this is a real world, wounded warrior’s story. The fantasy world is an alter consciousness, a place where Freddie can go to confront the demons he’s unable to face in reality. I was always tempted when in Azeroth to write a classic fantasy. But there’s no classic ending that’s appropriate to Freddie’s story. His war trauma never ends. His triumph is finding a way to accept what happened and move on with his life.
How long have you been writing?
Seven years and all my adult life, with lots of time off in between.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began?
I had a great playwriting professor in College, John Matthews. He was the first one to emphasize that writing was more craft than art. He beat into me that drama is conflict with something at stake, the bigger the stakes, the higher the drama.
Who designed the cover?
My publisher designed the cover for There Comes a prophet based on my suggestion. The scene between Nathaniel and Orah in the observatory has always been one of my favorites, the moment when they make their fateful decision. It also seemed like the most visual.
I worked with a wonderful artist for Along the Watchtower (Ida Jansen of AmygdalaDesign - http://www.amygdaladesign.net/). I wanted a split cover that reflected Freddie’s dual worlds. The artists came up with the surreal castle right away. It took a few iterations to get the wounded warrior just right. We finally ended up with the rumpled fatigues, with the medals and a crutch under one arm but with no face showing.
Who is your publisher?
Double Dragon Publishing.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
I write speculative fiction, which gives me a lot of leeway in terms of genre. Why speculative fiction?
I’ve always been suspicious about reality. Is what we believe merely a reflection of how we’ve been raised and what we’ve been taught? Anyone who has traveled knows other cultures see the world differently. And anyone who has spent extended time in a hospital or war zone has learned the hard way that one’s sense of reality can be easily fragmented. We conveniently construct a world view that suits us—at least until something challenges it.
Our sense of reality in many ways defines how we live, but it’s constantly evolving. That’s the writer’s job—to challenge our view of reality and enable the potential for change. I try to invent new worlds and show how characters cope within them. By telling what they saw and how they felt, I hope to change the readers perception of reality and therefore how they perceive themselves. Ultimately, that has the potential to change how we behave.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I believe the purpose of a novel is to tell the character’s story, not deliver a message. If anything, my job is to raise questions, not to answer them. However, I hope Along the Watchtower will help highlight a very real problem in our society—the plight of veterans recovering from both the physical and mental trauma of war.
How much of the book is realistic?
Along the Watchtower is about a wounded veteran’s recovery from the trauma of war. About sixty percent takes place in and around the realistic setting of a VA hospital. But much of his recovery takes place in the fantasy, World-of-Warcraft-like dream world of his subconscious. Is that also realistic? I’ll let the reader decide.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot?
People advise writers to write what you know. I think it’s more like write what you’ve felt. Along the Watchtower is about the recovery of an Iraq war veteran from a tragic family background who has been wounded in an IED attack. I was in the army, but I was never in a war nor was I wounded in combat. But I have lost family members, and struggled with recovery from serious injury. And, like Lt. Freddie Williams, I’ve played video games as an escape.
Fiction should be more intense than reality. But to make the characters come alive, the author needs to have a sense of what they’re going through. This can be accomplished through a combination of personal experiences and research.
How important do you think villains are in a story?
The protagonist needs to have some opposing person or force preventing him from reaching his goal. Otherwise, there’d be no struggle or conflict. But if there is a specific villain, they need to be three dimensional (not Snidely Whiplash). I was always taught that the villain should be the hero of his own story.
Are you reading any interesting books at the moment?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I somehow missed in my youth. It’s loosely plotted by today’s standards, but the characters are so compelling, I find myself constantly rooting for them.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out?
There are dozens of good books on writing available today. One of the best is a book called Story by Robert McGee. I like it because he preaches that plot and character are inseparable. Others include Sol Stein’s On Writing and Stephen King’s book by the same name.
As far as online resources, I don’t know how you can write at a computer without having Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com and Wikipedia open all the time.
Do you have any advice for writers?
Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” The process of producing a novel is a lot more about hard work than inspiration.
If you love it, keep writing and never give up. It won’t be easy, but it will be fulfilling. If you don’t love it, find something easier to do.
Are there any new authors that have sparked your interest and why?
I recently discovered Neil Gaiman. Though he’s not very new, he’s new to me. I think he’s one of the most original authors writing today. American Gods was brilliant.
Then there’s the wonderful debut novel by Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus, which I loved. It defied genre and was so beautifully written.
WINNER: Readers' Favorite Book 2013 Bronze Award Winner, Drama Category -Fiction
A Tragic Warrior Lost in Two Worlds...
The war in Iraq ended for Lieutenant Freddie Williams when an IED explosion left his mind and body shattered. Once he was a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare. Now he's a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he's inhabiting two separate realities. The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse--and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.
In his dreams he is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his embattled kingdom from the monstrous Horde. His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the gentle words of the beautiful gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a strangely similar and equally perilous mission--a journey along a dark road haunted by demons of guilt and memory--and letting patient, loving Becky into his damaged and shuttered heart may be his only way back from Hell.
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy
Rating – PG
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