For the first quarter of 2020, my Wednesday interviews will be with authors who are part of When Valor Must Hold, the upcoming anthology of fantasy stories published by Chris Kennedy Publishing.
This week’s interview is with Bill Webb, whose story “Island of Bones” is good old-fashioned pulp fantasy. Heroes, ancient evils, horrifying monsters. All the good stuff.
Interview: Bill Webb
Why are you here?
- What are your influences? I’m heavily influenced by history, even in my fiction. At the end of the day stories are about characters, and most of my characters are humans. Since human nature is unchanging, and it is, the fun part becomes using those personality types in a new setting.For example, at its heart my series The Last Brigade is about the power of the individual to affect great events. This theme carries through in other stories like The Sting of Fate and The Moles of Vienna.
- Who are some favorite other creators? That’s a very long list. Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, Karl Edward Wagner, all writers in the Four Horsemen Universe, John Babb, Fritz Leiber, Michael Connelly, Randy Wayne White…the list is nearly endless.
- What made you a creator in the first place? It was probably the desire to emulate what I liked. I still have a ‘comic book’ that I started one day during High School Spanish class. I had colored pencils and everything, and drew it on ruled paper. My earliest known fiction story grew as a direct result of reading Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’ tales.But the actual compulsion to create came from somewhere out in the ether. I’m probably the worst person to guess what that means, because I have no idea why I first felt the need to share stories. Maybe I’m an insecure showoff who needs the validation of others to feel good about myself, or maybe I just like the idea of creating something new. If either one of those is true, I’m not the one to tell you which it is, because I don’t know.
- Why did you choose to create what you create? I’ve always thought the things I create chose me, but I guess there are lots of my creations jumping around and waving for my attention like children. And by writing a particular story, I’m choosing which one to pay attention to…okay then.It’s all very random. As a diehard pantser I always only start with a vague idea, and it’s always whatever seems appropriate at the moment. Oddly enough I do plan out which books I’m going to write when, so in that regard planning is important to me. But the actual creative process is about as haphazard as it gets.My rewrites almost always add substantial words to my first draft, so the choice of what to include and what not to lasts far beyond the point it does for most writers. In my experience, most writers pare down their first draft instead of expanding it.
- What would you like to create someday? An alternate WW2 history series is one thing I want to create, which is actually coming later this year. I also would love to create an alternate Civil War series, Punic War series…and a space novel that I would really like to fit into the Four Horsemen Universe, but so far haven’t been able to make that work.
Describe your great Lab of Creation?
- Where do you work? Home? Coffee Shop? Home. I can work elsewhere, but I’m usually not as good at producing things. My office is a disaster, there’s paper everywhere, books, the usual detritus of a writer, and my desk has coffee stains everywhere. One limiting factor for me is that laptop keywords are too small for my hands, so I keep hitting the wrong keys.
- Do you listen to music? Yes, 99% of the time it’s hard rock, and 95% of that time it’s my favorite band, Status Quo, or bands that grew out of Status Quo’s example, such as Piledriver or Predatür.
- What other things exist in your productive environment? A TV. When not listening to music, the TV is on. I get some of my best dialogue from Jerry Springer. (Truth)
- What things have you tried that haven’t worked? Outlining. If it works for other writers, God bless ‘em, but it sure doesn’t work for me.
What are your superpowers?
- What kinds of things do you like in your creations? Everything I write has some element of the power of the individual to affect events far beyond the scope of what one person can generally be thought to influence. I also love to play around with the role that Fate plays in great historical events. The Sting of Fate, for example, posits the difference that one wasp could have played on the history of the world, had it used its stinger at a critical moment.
- What are specific techniques you do well? Some would argue, there are none. But I think I do a good job of putting my readers into the moment. I am often told by readers they can picture what I’m describing perfectly, despite the fact that I live by Roger Zelazny’s dictum of never using more than two descriptors. I’ve also become pretty adept at tell a scene, battles in particular, from various POVs.
- What are some favorite successes you’ve achieved, especially things you had to struggle to overcome? The way I was taught to write was my biggest obstacle, the one that took decades to purge. Being more or less a Creative Writing major in college, I learned how to write literary fiction. My teachers wanted me to emulate Faulkner, or James Joyce, and the word ‘genre’ might earn you an ‘F.’ I did learn to write beautiful sentences, but they went nowhere because the prose was the point, not the story. Out of sheer frustration I quit writing fiction in 1996 and didn’t try it again until 2014. By then I had gotten out of the habit of ignoring story and was able to write prose that people actually enjoyed.
What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?
- What are some of the challenges you have faced that frustrated you? Trying to get an agent. The whole process is backward and ridiculous. Fortunately, I figured out that the whole concept of an agent is no longer important to me, or any writer that’s paying attention.
- Do you have any creative failures which taught you something? What were those lessons? Boy do I. Whole filing cabinets full of them. I have one novel in which I combined hard SF with sword and sorcery. The concept isn’t impossible to pull off, some have done so, but it’s hard. I took this novel to a small press, this was in the 1980s, and they agreed to publish it, even naming an amount for an advance. But editor wanted me to expand a 70k word book to 120k. Keep in mind, this was before computers, so everything was written on a typewriter.I did it. It took two years, but I did it. However, I had not insisted on a contract, and when I finished the editor told me they weren’t publishing fiction anymore. He couldn’t pick up an phone and call me, even though we lived in the same city, he let me work for two years first.Needless to say, the bloated book read like a bloated book. I have since reused parts of it, but there are literally thousands of edited pages of that book still in my possession.
- How do you overcome normal slow points like writer’s block?I have two methods. First, I don’t believe in writer’s block, I think that’s an excuse. It is for me, anyway. So if I get stuck at point, I either write another sentence no matter how bad it might be, and keep writing until the story starts flowing again, or I jump to a different scene and write that.If neither one of those works, I go to something different. It’s not unusual for me to work on 3 or 4 different projects in the same day.
- Which mistake would you try to keep other creators from making? Wasting time trying to get an agent so you can publish traditionally. The whole thing has become a farce. There are agents who actually charge for you to pitch to them at a conference. That’s indefensible.
- If you could go back and tell yourself anything about writing, what would it be? Listen to your own instincts. Attend writing classes, conferences, conventions and seminars, but write the way you like to read.
- Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggy.
- Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Status Quo.
- Favorite Superhero? Ben Grimm.
- Favorite 1970s TV show? The first season of MASH. Marcia Strassman was hot.
- Favorite Weird Color? Teal.
- Favorite Sports Team? Memphis Tigers.
- Best Game Ever? Chess.
- Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer.
- Best Present You’ve Ever Received? It’s X-rated.
- What Cartoon Character Are You? Johnny Quest.
- Your Wrestler Name? Wham-wham William.
- Your Signature Wrestling Move? Pulling a Colt 1911.
- What Do You Secretly Plot? To buy Jamaica.
- How Will You Conquer the World? In my dreams.
- Best Thing From the 80s? My kids.
- Favorite Historical Period? World War Two.
- Most Interesting Person In History? Winston Churchill.
- Steak Temperature? Medium well.
- Favorite Chip Dip? French onion.
- Favorite Cereal? Raisin Bran.
- What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Bacon cheeseburger with fries and chocolate shake.
- Beverage(s) of Choice? Unleaded: Diet Pepsi. Leaded: mojito.
- Do You Have Pets? Yes, seven dogs.
- What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? If we was younger, Donald Sutherland. I once got a free meal by pretending to be his brother.
- What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? What book have you re-read the most?
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
What’s the best answer you’ve gotten to one of these interview questions?
Rob’s Answer: Probably Quincy Allen’s “Don’t let the naysayers win.” This isn’t an easy job, especially since it tests one’s confidence daily and we all deal with imposter syndrome. That’s the serious answer, but I’ll admit there’s been some fantastic Lightning Round answers. Those are often my favorites in a given interview.
Tell me again where we can find your stuff?
- Currently on sale for .99, the Darrell-Award winning Sharp Steel. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0785PKZDF/
And also in audiobook, read by the great Simon Vance.
- Standing In Righteious Rage, The Last Brigade Book 5, is scheduled for release in early May. High Mountain Hunters, a planned book in the 4HU, should be delivered by mid-May. Also, I have agreed to a World War Two alternate history trilogy with Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, titled A World Afire. It’s a great year for me to be stoked!
And where can we find you?
- I’m a Special Guest at Tupelocon, the first weekend in March
- Midsouthcon March 20-22
- Libertycon in June
- I’m also doing a signing at Fort Knox in July.
Do you have a creator biography?
Born and raised by a family of nomadic badgers in West Tennessee, Bill Webb wrote his first stories in grade school, terrifying all who knew him, and that was before he found comic books and science fiction. (He is still angry at having a copy of X-Men #53 ripped out of his hands during 11th grade Spanish class.)
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 series’ soon followed.
By age 25 he’d read all of the classics…Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Robert Heinlein, Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny. Later influences include Larry Niven, Jerry Pournell and Larry Corriea. 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.
After multiple careers in various industries, he much prefers writing books and stories to any sort of actual work. His idea of punching a clock these days is a coffee maker that finishes brewing its magic five minutes before he gets up in the morning.
Snippet from Bill’s new fantasy story, titled Beyond the Dead River.
The crocodile wanted to submerge, but she pulled back on the reins and kept the tired reptile swimming. The thrusts of its powerful tail had slowed, as had its paddling feet, but her stance astride its back allowed direct use of the spurs on her bootheels to keep it moving forward. At last it reached the river’s far shore and hauled the entire enormity of its bulk onto the mud flat. Rolling out the tethering chain, she looped it around the bole of a giant tree and scanned both ways for potential predators.
The dense jungle didn’t intimidate her. Vines with thorns and thick, oval leaves hung from trees taller than a castle’s keep, while a nearby stream emptied into the muddy river. Despite her knowledge of the rain forest, the dense undergrowth and deepening twilight left her dreading the need to travel in darkness deeper than the perpetual shadows of the rain forest. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed a light breeze for the scent of any nearby predators, and one eye twitched at a musky smell she knew belonged to a python. She would have to be very careful.
She had the lean, muscular physique of a warrior. Her limbs didn’t have the soft curves of a city born woman, but instead had muscles that appeared roughly cut from stone. Yet no one could mistake her for being a man. She had chosen her raiment specifically for travel through in the jungle. She had tucked loose trousers of well-worked animal leather into calf-high boots of snake-skin, with a leather shirt stretched tight across her chest. Two longs knives hung from a simple belt around her waist. Thick, curly black hair fell past her shoulders, held in place by a rawhide thong. A stained, short-brimmed hat protected her head from the countless overhead threats that inhabited the country through which she had to pass to achieve her mission.
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: https://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