THE AUTHOR BEHIND THE WORDS SERIES: MEET WILLIAM HOWARD
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William Howard introduces himself as a semi-retired early childhood teacher who is currently working as a teacher with autistic children as well as students with behavioral challenges.
“Growing up, I always never quite had my feet on the ground with my mind constantly imagining amazing people and far away places. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to fulfill some of my realistic dreams, such as working at a dinosaur museum, being a historical research and becoming a published author”, he tells us.
In this series of interviews, Zaftyg will share with you the stories and the people behind the words of talented artists.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve a few projects in the works, including a novel about the Garden of Eden reemerging in downtown Philadelphia and a book about what would happen if the Earth one day stopped revolving. My central project is a sequel to my 2017 the Eye of Hermes, which takes place in a galaxy that is in the grips of a 500-year-old war and two insect-like races are the dominant species.
What’s your career’s highlight until now?
It is not so much a highlight of my career as it is an unforeseen benefit of being a writer that I’ve had the opportunity to talk to and befriend so many gifted writers since becoming a published author. My aspiration is to – one day – see one of my books, possible more than one, on the New York Times Bestsellers list.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I am definitely, a foodie so my wife and I enjoy checking out new restaurants in Philadelphia. We also enjoy traveling. Several years ago, we drove about fifteen miles from Philadelphia to Savannah, Georgia to Louisville, Kentucky and back home to Philly. I also enjoy visiting museums and getting to see unique artifacts from history and the natural world.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I am not exactly sure. My father would often take me a Book Warehouse as a child and, at some point, maybe before my tenth birthday, I made up my wind that I could tell a story just like the writers of my favorite novels. When I was twelve years old, my father purchased an electric typewriter for my mother, who had recently begun working as a secretary. Recognizing my interest in writing, my mother gifted her old manual corona typewriter to me, so I could write my stories.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Technically, I wrote my first book when I was eight. The book, A Guide to Star Wars, was ten pages and described each of the main characters from Star Wars, what I thought might happen to them in the next film, and my favorite characteristic about each of them. In reality, I was forty-seven years old when I completed my first full-length novel in 2017.
Where do you get your ideas?
I sometimes I think that my ideas come from events that may have occurred in a past life, or who knows, maybe happened in a life that is yet to come. However, my ideas mainly come from listening to what other people have to say and then asking myself, “what if what happened to that person wound up taking place in another place and time?” or “what if something fantastical occurred to someone who was living an ordinary life.”
What is your writing process like?
I am definitely a ‘pantser’ when I write. I put my characters into the worst situation of their lives in my books without any visible means of getting out of their predicament. Once I’ve dug this figurative hole for myself and the character, I go about working out how to resolve the situation. There are also, a number of revisions that occur during my process. It took me four years to get the story in Marigold just so before I was willing to publish.
What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
A very large cup of coffee, but also a notebook so that I can keep track of the action within the story since I don’t plan the entire story out ahead of time.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends. When I am going back in the manuscript to remember what rank I gave a certain military character or technical device that will get a character into or out of a mess then it is exhausting. However, when I see my story that I have been carrying around in my head for who knows how long, printed on the page then I feel overwhelmed with emotion like someone experience an adrenaline rush after jumping out of an airplane.
What is your kryptonite as a writer?
Trying to avoid listening to people who tell me that my work sounds ‘interesting’ but that is not their ‘thing.’ I just always feel like they are telling in the most polite manner possible that maybe I should be writing a story that everyone can enjoy.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Brevity. I have always been told that I communicate a thought or an action using ten or more words when I could have just used four. I have come to the conclusion that if I am taking years out of my life to story then I want to tell that story on a grand scale.
What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
I always put my characters, first, because I believe that their traits and quirks are more interesting to the reader because they are getting the opportunity to interact with people that they might not normally meet in their everyday lives. I do think that if I focused on plot more I’d be able to write a shorter book.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
My method for developing plot and characters comes from making a decision who will be the main character of the book. Once I’ve established their backgrround and their motivation in the book, I then create other characters who will either help or hinder the main charcter’s attempts to achieve their final goal.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I come up with names for my characters that would not normally occur in everyday life — a practice which drives my editor to distraction — but that will be memorable to the reader. I also borrow names from other cultures and add or subtract letters frorm the name to make them unique.
Are there therapeutic benefits to modeling a character after someone you know?
I honestly believe that putting a real person into the context of your story is probably the quickest way to end a friendship, marriage, etc. The only time that I did not follow this rule is when I was writing my story about the Garden of Eden in Philadelphia, which is tentatively named the Blasphemy Bakery. I included the names of two police officers who my father, Frank, worked with, but have since passed away as a tribute to my father. He had always aspired to write a novel but passed away before he was able to complete it. I often feel that I am honoring my father’s unrealized dream by being an author.
How did you come up with the title for your first book?
My editor actually pointed out to me that the ancient weapon in the book was driving a lot of the action so that I should name the book after the device, which was “The Eye of Hermes.” The name of the series came from the fact that most of the action took place on a high security prison asteroid known as Minerva.
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Vanity publishers who take your money up front and give you a substandard product in return.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Being promised the moon by a publishing house and then finding out that they want a lot of money upfront to publish your book. These houses then try to coerce you into giving them more money by telling you that your book won’t match up to industry standards.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My closest circle of friends are amazing authors who you’ve probably never heard of, but you should definitely be reading. They included Julie Greenbaum, Tom Minder, Larry I. Deibert, Cassandra Ulrich, Marie Gilbert and Patti O’Brien. We support each other when the words are not coming, or we’ve attended an event and only sold two or three books.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
The first time that I heard the Kennedy inauguration speech. Millions of people stood up for civil rights, worked for equality for minorities and the poor, gave freely of themselves to build housing and educate citizens at home and abroad as well as protesting an unjust war based on Kennedy’s words, “Ask not what your country can do, but what you can do for your country.” Those words also inspired a young child from Philadelphia to go into teaching and that child was me.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
There will be a time, not to long from now, that you will be able to see one of your fantastical visions of another world in print. I’d also tell him to store your short stories in a more central location.
If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
To the heroes, I admire your intelligence, your ingenuity and resolve in the face of immeasurable odds. To the villains, I would ask them, “how could you be that evil?”
How do you want to help moving humanity forward?
I would hope that people would see reflections of people from diverse species, backgrounds and races working together in my novels and use that as inspiration to bring them closer together and collaborate to create a better world.
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