It’s release week. Friday, Trouble in the Wind blows right into the Amazon store of your choice. Here’s another author from that anthology, Bill Webb.
Interview: Bill Webb
What is your quest?
Let’s start with influences. In Science Fiction it all starts, like it does for so many others, with Robert A. Heinlein. By the mid 1960s he had created more classics than most people do in a lifetime, and to this day I’m stunned nobody has ever made a movie out of Tunnel in the Sky. Heinlein knew how to tell a story in the most direct way possible, although as time passed that, too, ebbed. The last book I truly loved was Time Enough For Love. But that about the time, the mid 70s, when I discovered Roger Zelazny, so to me there no dropoff in the quality of what I read, particularly with the Amber series and my all-time favorite, A Night in the Lonesome October, although one could argue those were all fantasies. But hey, even RAH wrote a fantasy novel, Glory Road. (I’ve heard from Rufo!)
But there were also many, many more in addition to those two giants, including Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Jack Williamson, David Weber, David Drake and especially John Ringo.
Fantasy influences are very clear in my mind. The godfather of them all is Robert E. Howard, of course. I write sword and sorcery and he invented the genre. Also high on the list are Michael Moorcock, Kar6 Edward Wagner and especially Fritz Leiber. As much as I love Tolkien, I’ve read LOTR at least 35 times, I consciously try NOT to emulate his writing style. Ursula K. Leguin advised against trying to out-Tolkien Tolkien, because it can’t be done.
What is your favorite color?
Blue. All shades of blue.
I am the last person to explain why my writing style works, or how it evolved, because I have no idea. But I’ve always remembered some advice given by Zelazny, that he never mentions more than two attributes of a person. One thing I rarely do is to write a description of a room, ship, character or locale. Many authors do so, and do it well, but I don’t.
What works for me, and that I might pass on to others, is to use an accurate term to describe something and then pick out one or two details that make it unique. For example, and making something up just for this interview…”The throne room was smaller than he’d imagined it would be, and oval. A simple chair of heavy and highly polished wood served as the king’s throne. Afternoon light poured through a leaded glass window.”
That style evolved over nearly 50 years of writing. Majoring in creative writing taught me how to construct sentences and how to think of scenes, but it had little relation to building a genre story. Literary fiction generally doesn’t lend itself well to a genre setting, so there was quite a bit to unlearn.
The only exception to the two-descriptors rule is when something complex needs an extensive blueprint for the reader to understand. The composition of a Roman legion, for instance, or a suit of powered armor, might require a more complete description. But even then I make it as short as possible. And it’s not because I write short books, either. The last three books I’ve had published are 133k, 137k and 300k words. But they read fast because I don’t get bogged down in details, and I am consistently told how readers can visualize everything in their minds. That’s because I let them fill in the big picture on their own.
What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?
I was held back for many years trying to remember all the rules I’d been taught about writing. Instead of just sitting down and telling a story, I thought and thought about the next sentence trying to keep all of my lessons in mind. Show don’t tell, don’t use adverbs, don’t overuse ‘that’, don’t do, don’t do, don’t do…the truth is, what writers need to do is to write. That’s the only way you can learn.
Now, I write a story or novel as I think it should be written, clean it up with a rewrite and/or edit, then send it to the editor.
What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?
When I write in 3rd person it’s always 3rd person limited. That helps cut down on telling instead of showing, and it also allows for shorter scenes told through multiple points of view. It’s a way to speed up the action and keep things interesting. When you’re inside the mind of the antagonist, for example, 3rd person limited let’s you show the reader how he or she views things, and a really good villain is someone the reader can identify with, at least to some degree.
If I’m writing first person there has to be a good reason. My original series Hit World, for example, is first person in a noir style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett. The protagonist has the world-weary, jaded voice of an old-school private eye who’s seen it all, except he’s an assassin. Understanding him would be much harder in 3rd person limited. So if you’re going to write 1st person, make sure you have a reason for doing it, and that the character has a unique voice.
- Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggie.
- Best Thing From the 80s? My kids.
- Your Wrestler Name? The Sluggish Lion.
- And Signature Wrestling Move? The plop.
- Favorite Weird Color? Coral.
- How Will You Conquer the World? From a beach chair.
- What Cartoon Character Are You? Snoopy.
- Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A chess table when I was 13.
- What Do You Secretly Plot? To live on a beach in the Caribbean.
- Brought to you by the letter ___? Z.
- Favorite Sports Team? University of Memphis Tigers.
- Lime or Lemon? Lime.
- Favorite Chip Dip? Cheese.
- Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Status Quo.
- Whisky or Whiskey? Beer.
- Favorite Superhero? Iron Man.
- Steak Temperature? Medium well.
- Favorite 1970s TV show? Soap.
- Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer, all year round.
- Favorite Pet? All of them.
- Best Game Ever? Diplomacy.
- Coffee or Tea? Coffee.
- Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Both.
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
What’s the best answer you’ve gotten to a question?
Rob’s Answer: Oh, man, I don’t know that I can answer that correctly. There’ve been a bunch of great answers. So, I’m going to be a mealy-mouthed answerer and pick my favorite answer from your interview.
Yeah, I’m lazy.
But part of the reason is that many of the answers have blurred together as part of the melange that has become my own writing philosophy. I don’t entirely know at this point what I started with and what the answers that all these interviews have taught me. What I can say is that doing these interviews have taught and improved my own writing. I started it as a fun exercise that would help get us all a little publicity. What happened is that it gave me great insights into other people’s processes, many of which I’ve incorporated as I try to get better.
But your best answer? Your answer about limiting yourself to two descriptive words most of the time is a good one. It’s a rule I follow as well. I am too easily seduced by the great descriptive skills of Raymond Chandler, so I consciously try to avoid his long and brilliant style because I know I’m not as brilliant.
Still, my favorite answer of yours is from the Lightning Round. Yeah, I can see “The Plop” dominating WWE for years to come!!!!
Tell me again where we can find your stuff?
And where can we find you?
- I’m tempted to say ‘at a bar’, except that wouldn’t be true. So maybe my website is a better bet: http://thelastbrigade.com/
Do you have a creator biography?
Oh, you want it here?
Born, raised and warped in West Tennessee, Bill Webb wrote his first stories in grade school, scaring his parents, teachers and friends. And that was before he found comic books and science ficition. The release in 2016 of his Last Brigade series changed his career path by actually giving him a career path. The Time Wars and Sharp Steel and High Adventure soon followed.
By age 25 he’d read all of the classics…Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Harold Lamb, Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny. Indulging himself in a double concentration at the University of Memphis of Creative Writing and History, college felt more like a long party than school.
With multiple awards and nominations to his credit, and active membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America, he reached into a long-sealed bag of literary tricks for the nascent idea for the new Hit World series. No telling what else dwells at the bottom of that bag.
Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?
You should have asked me what one story/novel of mine should someone read to understand me as a writer? In my case, it would be the Darrell Award winning novella A Night at the Quay.
Rob’s Note: This is a great question, and I might very well add it to my interview. I’m not sure how I’d answer that myself. Each has been a good view into the state of my soul at the time. Of them all, probably A Lake Most Deep is the most soul-baring because at the time I was in a bad place. Writing it kept me going and let me become something stronger.
Thanks to Bill for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.
Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.
Have a great day.
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels
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