Today we are chatting with Bill Powers the author of The Torch Is Passed: A Harding Family Story
Tell us something unexpected about yourself!
I have a Ph.D. in Toxicology, and worked in pharmaceutical research and development for twenty-six years. When I retired from my adult job, I closed that door, locked it and threw away the key, then opened the door to my secret garden of being a thriller author. I live in my happy-place now.
I went skydiving when I was about 50 (my 20 year old daughter went with me). It’s not something I have a hankering to do on a routine basis, but it was a blast!
And I have what I consider to be one harmless obsession – cats. I love them. Big ones, little ones, house cats, jungle cats – I love them all. Several years ago I went to South Africa to visit a lion preserve where I could play with lion cubs. They were about 40 – 50 pounds and like giant kittens. I currently live with two regular size ones – see harmless.
What novels affected you the most growing up?
Wow, there were so many. The main ones that first come to mind are the Sherlock Holmes stories – I read them all. One of my all time favorite books, even now – Charlotte’s Web. The Godfather, both book and movies, have greatly influenced me as a storyteller and author. Ludlum got me addicted to thrillers. I’m partial to his pre-Borne work. The Chancellor Manuscript may be my all time favorite thriller and is a textbook example of how to write in this genre. Also, The Holcroft Covenant, The Osterman Weekend, The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Rhinemann Exchange and the list goes on.
Other novels that influenced me growing up include The Andromeda Strain by Crichton, Advise and Consent by Drury, and Shogun by Clavell. I also read a lot of Civil War history and came to appreciate history as a story.
I read science fiction when I was younger, but for some reason gravitated towards thrillers and found my home there. It’s a happy-place for me.
Where did the idea for your current book come from?
My current book, The Torch is Passed, is second in a suspense/thriller series – The Harding Family Stories (The Pharm House was first). My novels are about regular people and family and to what extremes regular people may be driven in order to protect the ones they love. In The Torch is Passed, young Andrea Harding is about to start her life in law school when her father and uncle are brutally attacked and lay near death. Someone is trying to wipe the Harding family off the face of the earth. It falls to Andrea to find out who and why and to protect her family. What is Andrea willing to do to protect the ones that she loves?
Do you think there’s any way you could ever run out of ideas for books?
Never. I’m one of those people who constantly has little vignettes running in their head. I have list of potential storylines. I’ll read something in the paper or see something in the news or read something historical and an idea about how this can be incorporated into a thriller will come to mind. I guess that’s one advantage of always being off in your own little world…
What is your routine for writing and has this method changed over the span of your career?
For my first book, The Pharm House, I did not outline. I knew where the story started and where it ended. I just started writing. I kept the storylines in my head. And admittedly I got lost and stuck a few times. I will not do it that way again.
For my second book, The Torch is Passed, I used a more formal process. I built a story arc into three segments and wrote a brief, maybe one or two paragraph outline for each chapter. So I had a map. It still allowed me a lot of flexibility, but I knew where I was going. I found this much more efficient and this is the method that I now follow.
I do create a character outline of a few pages for my major characters, but once I create that, I rarely have to go back. My characters become my intimate friends and associates that I play with even when I’m not writing.
I write longhand in a 300 page bound notebook. For whatever reason, this is what works for me. I edit as I write and write notes to myself in the margins.
Once I have my key plots and storylines, I can see them in my mind and focus on all of them—I usually have no more than three subplots (one major and two minor).
I try to write in the morning for three or four hours with a target of 1000 to 1500 words. In the afternoon I do all the other “stuff” that independent authors have to do – the grunt work.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
Talk about a learning curve! Marketing and publicizing your book is a whole new world for most authors. Marketing is critical and social media is a part of that. Honestly, I think the jury is still out on the value of social media for Independent Authors. Like most, I’m learning as I go, but here are a few what I think are key take-aways
o Start early. You should start your PR and marketing activities three to six months before your book comes out.
o Make a detailed list of your planned activities pre-publication, at publication and post-publication. Here are just a few:
o Send out emails and blogs posts
o Social media posts to announce book
o Write and send out press release
o Make book trailer
o Setup a blog tour
o Solicit reviews
o Update book information on Amazon, Goodreads and other related sites
o Enter contests, contact local libraries and bookstores
What advice would you have for other writers?
I think you have to listen to your own inner voice. There are always going to be those around you, most of them who know nothing of the writing world, telling you what you should or should not do. One of my pet peeves is when someone tells me, “You should write about ‘fill in the blank.’” I have tons of ideas and the last thing I need is someone telling me what I should write about. I usually politely tell them maybe they should write about it themselves.
Get advice from experienced authors if you can. I have gone to several talks given by Steve Berry, who in addition to being tops as a thriller author also teaches about the art and craft of thriller writing. I have learned a lot from listening to him. I also attend a first-rate thriller writer’s conference each year, ThrillerFest (CraftFest Session). It’s held in New York each July and some of the top thriller authors teach sessions on the art, craft and business of writing thrillers. I suggest that budding authors find something similar for their genres.
Learn the craft of writing. It takes time and practice, just like learning anything else. Just keep writing.
Also learn the business side of writing. If your book reads, looks and feels like you did it on your laptop in your spare time, chances are that’s not going to cut it. The writing world today is like a vast ocean and we’re each little fish trying to get noticed.
If you’re self-published, make your book look, read and feel like it came out of a major publishing house as much as possible. Obviously, you should have a budget and stick to it. But if you can afford it, hire a professional to edit your book, prepare your book cover and setup and run a professional publicity campaign.
Most importantly—do it for yourself. Don’t waste your time trying to please others. Writing is not a team sport. It’s a very solitary activity. Most of your motivation and inspiration will have to come from within.
What are you reading now?
I read maybe 80 books a year and I’m ticked off that I don’t have time to read more! I’m usually reading at least two books at a time – one fiction and one non-fiction. Currently I’m reading On Writing by Stephen King – I highly recommend it for all authors. My current fiction read is The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. In my “On-Deck Circle”, I have What If – Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (for several historical scenarios) by Robert Cowley and The Black Widow by Daniel Silva.
What’s your next step?
I’m currently working on the third installation of The Harding Family trilogy with a working title of The Lost Codicil. The first story focused on Nicholas and the second on Andrea. Both Nicholas and Andrea are featured in The Lost Codicil and have to face their demons—some of their own making. I intend to wrap up the trilogy there, at least for now. After The Lost Codicil, I intend to spin off a character that I introduced in The Torch is Passed—Deirdre Southington. Deirdre is an eccentric southern heiress with a Ph.D. in forensic psychology from Oxford University and an on again, off again working relationship with the National Security Agency. Her favorite mode of transportation is The Liburnia—her private rail car.
I want to continue to write and get better in my craft. Like I said, I’m in my happy place now – my Secret Garden!
The Torch Is Passed: A Harding Family Story by Bill Powers is available on Amazon here
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