For the final interview of this year we’re off to New England to talk with sci-fi and fantasy writer William D. Richards.
Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?
I am William D. Richards, a powerful being who has command over multiple universes! At least that’s what my characters think. Otherwise, I’m just an average guy with a strange vocation who mows the lawn every once in a while and enjoys a dram of fine scotch.
I’ve lived in New England all my life, living in various parts of it at one time or another.
I write whatever strikes me as interesting. Mostly fiction, on occasion I dust off my old journalistic credentials and write something non-fiction and informative.
Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.
I just released my newest book, Aggadeh Chronicles Book 2: Dragon, two months ago.
The first book, Nobody, introduced us to the protagonist, Nem Aster. Nem is a person who finds himself way over his head in the events going on in the Aggadeh Empire and the world around it.
The reader doesn’t get a really good feel for who Nem is. I did this on purpose. The reader gets to know Nem at the same time the other characters in the story get to know Nem. Like getting to know a new friend, you only get a little bit here and there. Over time, you start to collect enough of these pieces to put together a more complete picture of who this person really is.
Since that’s the plan with Nem, how much does the narrative of the series revolve around unlocking his character?
The narrative of the series is focused on the story that is happening, of which Nem is at the center. Unlocking just who this nobody is, is just a part of that story. But it does help drive the plot. As other characters begin to discover the truth about Nem, the story begins to drive to the conclusion.
In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?
Mainly science fiction and fantasy. It was science fiction that got me interested in reading and that’s what I grew up with. I preferred it because it really pushed my imagination beyond the envelope.
From the moment I discovered writing, my stories focused on life with the elements of the fantastic. Exploring other worlds, meeting beings that were different than we are, having adventures that went beyond the mundane.
Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.
‘Briefly’? You realize you are asking this of a writer?
When I get an idea, it is usually a scene of some sort connected to a bigger story. I write out this scene. Often this scene is dialogue between a couple of characters. It might be just one quote from a character. Or it could be something far more complex like an entire chapter. One thing in particular is that there is a specific emotion that the character is feeling.
The idea is a small thing, like a singularity. The story simply explodes out of it. When I’m ready to write it out as a story. I try to figure out what happened to get to that scene and then what happens after the scene. That becomes the story.
If I’m feeling really strong about the story, then I’ll just start writing it. The narrative, dialogue, and plot just come out as I start writing. This is the seat-of-the-pants style of writing. However, as I write, I will add notes about the various characters I create on the fly so I have those references.
If I don’t have a strong feeling for the story, I’ll describe it to myself. I’ll just tell myself what this scene is, what happens here, what is driving the characters. It’s so passive it’s pathetic. But this is more like writing notes and outline than actually writing the story. The manuscript for Music on the Wind is written like this. It’s all descriptive and filled with tangents and dead ends. When I’m ready to write it, I’ll read through these notes and then choose the best parts and start writing them as active narrative.
For Aggadeh Chronicles, I actually wrote articles about the various locations of the world of Aggadeh and the various people. It reads more like a social studies book than anything. I even wrote out one of two books that appear within the series. One, Tales of the South Seas, is one of the books that Ophelia steals during the course of the story. Tales of the South Seas as a book about the sexual practices of the Islanders of the Southern Archipelago in Aggadeh. It turns out that Ophelia has a habit for stealing x-rated books from the various libraries when she goes on state visits. Each character has a story. The notes are over 100,000 words long. All that before I even began to write the story in earnest.
Where do those initial idea scenes tend to wind up in the final story? Beginning? Ending? Some major turning point?
Those scenes appear where they need to be in the story. Oddly, the very scene that I imagined when I first came up with the idea of the story might not ever appear in the story because I can’t see where it would fit. It doesn’t mean that I’ve completely thrown it away, but that the story has evolved from the initial concept enough that the original scene lost its place in the narrative.
Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?
Nem is the second oldest character I have in my repertoire. I first created him when I was in junior high as part of a much darker story that eventually evolved into Aggadeh Chronicles. There are a number of images from that original idea that are still in Aggadeh Chronicles. I may write that story as a bonus when I’m finished with Aggadeh Chronicles, just so fans of the series can see what its origin looked like.
Nem is an outsider. His name literally means “nobody.” Nem is short for nemo, which is the Latin word for nobody. He doesn’t really fit in or belong, a feeling a lot of creative people deal with in their lives. And it is a feeling that a lot of teenagers struggle with as they try to figure out who they are and how to fit in with the society around them. The fact he’s lasted this long in my imagination should be a pretty good indicator.
Ophelia is another favorite of mine. She is a lady just waiting for the opportunity to break out and be herself.
I initially created her just to be a romantic interest for Nem in Aggadeh Chronicles, but as I wrote out my notes about her—writing her backstory—she became a much more interesting character.
For one thing, she has a cache of dirty books that she has stolen from various private libraries she has visited. Someone of her social standing steals dirty books! The moment that came out, she went from being a side story to a main part of the story.
We get glimpses of Ophelia here and there in Nobody and Dragon. But we finally get to meet her for real in the third book of the Aggadeh Chronicles series, Oracle.
How long had Nem hung around in your head before you began writing a book about him? In that time how had your conception of his character change?
Nem has been bouncing around in my mind as a character since I was in my early teens. I only really started writing him into a story six years ago, so that’s a lot of time.
Nem as a person hasn’t changed too much. But his circumstances have. Originally Gahvel Nem, he was a street rat turning to thievery to survive. The street children in Balon are a homage to Nem’s original character. The Nem Aster that appears in Aggadeh Chronicles had an easier early life with a loving family and a home. But both are outcasts from society for various reasons. Gahvel because he was a thief, Nem because of his interactions with dragons. Both are the key to the survival of their worlds.
What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?
There are so many, I don’t know where to begin! I’ve had to research so many oddball, weird, unsettling, creepy, and illegal things, I am sure the FBI has an extensive file on me. One that sticks out in my mind: codpieces.
Yes, the humble codpiece. The willy wallet, peter pouch, schamkapsul, etc. No, I do not have one nor do I ever intend to try one on, thank you. But it does make for a humorous scene…
What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?
I already knew how the industry worked when I decided to step up and write full time. My first career out of school was as a journalist. Because I always daydreamed about writing a book, I kept researching different publishers and the industry in general. So I was all over the publishing industry from one end to the other. I knew how things worked and what to expect.
My big mistake? I didn’t actually write that story.
I saw how the industry worked and how difficult it was to get something published. I also knew how long it would take me to write something. The investment in time was just something I couldn’t do. I had to write articles, find work, and try and earn money so I could just survive. There was no time for creative writing.
I struggled, getting nowhere, until I finally left the writing industry. Only then, unhappy in the last job I landed, did I actually start writing again.
It felt SOOOOOO good to finally open my mind and let all this stuff come flowing out! Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. Story after story began to dump out as I wrote everything down. At lunch on my Palm Pilot, on the train using my laptop, I just wrote and wrote. What amazed me was how little spare time I dedicated to writing and just how much I actually wrote! The notes for roughly five different stories totaling over 400,000 words.
At this point, I knew I was going to write a book.
The issue again became, “When?”
I left my last job and then spent all my time looking for a new job—there were none to be had. A friend popped up with a business opportunity and I jumped at it. There was no time for writing. We got off to a good start, but the economy pulled the rug out from under our feet.
As it came crashing down around me, I had no prospects for the future. It was only then that I came to the realization that the only thing I had left was to actually sit down and do what I had always dreamed about doing: actually write a book.
My advice to others:
Set aside some time for yourself for each day so you can just sit down and write a story without feeling guilty about not doing other things. Write because you enjoy writing the story, not because you have to. Don’t set a deadline by which you have to finish writing. That kind of pressure can kill off your creative urge. Instead, treat the writing sessions as a reward for getting other things done during the day. Enjoy the sensation of your fingers dancing on the keyboard as you watch the words appear on the screen.
Don’t worry if your writing is good or not. Just enjoy the story that is coming out of you and follow it to the end. You can fix the rough parts and the passive parts after you have finished the story. (It’s called editing!)
If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?
It would affect my writing life immensely: I would build a house that is optimized for writing. I have a number of ideas for that, including outdoor writing places. Little nooks and crannies where you can have quiet conversations, share some tea or fine scotch with friends. Space enough to entertain friends and family for the holidays.
Whatever is left over I would invest in a dividend producing portfolio to generate income to pay the bills between books. (This is a whole other subject for new writers, delving into the business of being a writer, especially if you are self-published.)
What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?
This question would have been a lot easier had you asked what was my favorite book or what books influenced my own writing.
At the moment, I am reading Hunt’s Elements of the Mind and I am quite enjoying it. I really liked Hunt’s Dark Wing series and I am looking forward to the next installment in that series that he is working on right now. Hunt is a historian and his attention to the connections and details really weaves his stories together.
I am also reading Donna L. Armillei’s Shock of Fate. It’s her first book and that is always the toughest for a writer, especially when that first book is the first book in a series. Readers just don’t want to touch it until the whole story is complete. Donna has a great story idea aimed at the Young Adult audience, but I think readers of any age will enjoy it. You want to discover a new author? Buy Donna’s book and discover her for yourself!
What do you think you’re next project will be?
Oh, I don’t have to guess at the next project. I know what my next projects are.
At the moment, my primary focus is on the Aggadeh Chronicles series. I am now working on Oracle, the third book in the series and I’m pretty far along with the manuscript now. With the arrival of a new computer, I am aiming to have the manuscript finished by spring so we can finish the editing for a summer release. Much, much faster than the four-year wait readers had between books 1 and 2. (The delay the result of my earlier computer being destroyed in an accident. I had to borrow time on someone else’s computer to finish the manuscript. Four years! UGH!)
Another project I have is a science fiction under the working title of Privateer. The protagonist, shipwrecked in space by pirates, comes across a derelict ship in an uncharted star system in the far reaches of space. While the derelict has enough supplies that he could live out his lifespan, that is not what he intends to do. Can he repair the ship enough to get it moving again?
Another project I have is a fantasy titled The Science of Magic. It looks at magic in the modern age as a young man unexpectedly finds himself in the profession of magic.
Learn more about William on his web site.