By Mark McNease
I was on Goodreads one day a couple months ago and saw a posting from author D.L. Williams. He mentioned his book, Pennies from Hell, and I was immediately taken with the title. I soon read the book (see a synopsis after the questions), and found his writing as crisp, colorful, engaging and humorous as his gift for naming. Here are six questions he was kind enough to answer.
MM: We’re the same age. You describe yourself on your Amazon page as a late starter. Is writing something you had always done or wanted to do but put it off? Why a late start?
DLW: I say I’m a late starter, but I actually wrote my first book when I was 4. I remember writing the story, drawing the pictures, and then stapling it together. I didn’t write again until my early 30’s. I love to read, and I remember describing to a friend, a wonderful story line and how I was fascinated that the author was able to create such magic. My friend suggested that I write my own book. Truly, I assumed (such a terrible word) that a person had to be born to it (creating my first book at 4 should have been a clue). I gave it a try and realized how happy I was when I was writing. This writing phase ended when I showed my writing to people whose opinion I valued, they shook their heads and said they didn’t understand it, so I stopped again. I didn’t pick it up again until I was in my late 40’s, and even then it was a little here, a little there. I finally had to give myself a kick in the pants; either write or don’t write, but DO NOT keep telling people that you want to be a writer if you won’t commit and actually finish something. Less than a year later, I had Pennies from Hell.
MM: You lived for many years in New England. What prompted your move from the area? Can you tell our readers where you went and why?
DLW: I am actually a California boy, born in San Diego and raised in Borrego Springs. When I was half way through my senior year of High School, my parents decided to move back to Vermont (we’ve been Vermonters since the late 1700’s). It was quite a change for a desert rat. We moved in December, it was 85 degrees when we left Borrego, and minus 20 when we reached Vermont (my first blizzard). My parents told me there would be snow, but to a California boy, snow means sunny and at least 55 degrees.
After graduating, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up going into the computer field, which became my career. I worked for a bank for many years and then a grocery wholesale business. After 24 years of being on call 24×7, and freezing in the New England cold, I decided I needed less stress in my life. My mother was living in Naples Florida and she was hoping one of her children would come that way. I made a list of pros and cons—the only con was leaving my friends—and ended up deciding to move south. Everything worked in my favor so I loaded my Jeep Grand Cherokee—packed to the ceiling except for the driver’s seat—and headed south. In hindsight, it is very peculiar to be sitting at my writing desk, looking out the window at the bright-sunny-day, thermometer showing 85, and a warm breeze is blowing in my open window, when my friends are telling me it’s minus-20 degrees back home.
MM: I read Pennies from Hell, a very fun story with an amazingly quirky and colorful cast of characters. What inspired you to write this story, and do you actually know people you based these characters on?
DLW: I read Confederacy of Dunces in my early twenties, and absolutely loved the story. Decades later, when I finally got down to writing, the character of Robert popped into my head and refused to leave. Soon enough his mother came along and their relationship seemed similar to ‘Confederacy’, but unlike John Kennedy Toole’s wonderful intelligent character, my Robert was just lazy and boring.
My story was taken over by the mother, Maya, and her BFF Gladys. Both were religious, and when they started praying, Maya asked for the winning lottery numbers and that was how the book started out. As far as knowing people with similar character traits to the characters in the book, for legal reasons I’ll have to say ABSOLUTELY NOT.
MM: A question about Goodreads – I still haven’t figured it out, how to make use of it, how to connect with people on it. What’s your take and experience?
DLW: I actually like Goodreads very much. It’s like finding a club where anyone that reads can join. As an author, I put my book in one of their giveaways, and 984 people said they wanted to read it. Of course, 984 people didn’t BUY the book, but for me, just starting out, it was quite exciting to have that many hits. I gave away ten books, but only received two reviews. Now that Amazon.com has taken over Goodreads, I hope they will tie the two together somehow so reviews from one can be used on the other, because we all know reviews sell books. I find that I use Goodreads to send a message to Authors. When I find a book I like, I send a message to the author letting him/her know I was touched by their words.
MM: What advice or direction would you give to other writers, late starters or not, who might feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the sea of writing out there?
DLW: I don’t think I am in a position to give advice yet, but sage advice says if writing makes you happy, do it. You have to just put blinders on, forget that there are a million books competing with yours. Everybody has a unique story to tell. You have to believe in yourself before anybody else will. I think every book I read makes me a better writer.
MM: What’s next? You mention both a children’s book and a mystery. And where do you get your titles! I love your titles.
DLW: I love titles, and I love book covers. I have bought books simply because I was taken in by the cover. Pennies from Hell was going to be Pennies from Heaven but there were already five books with that title, so I went the other way and adjusted the book to reflect both, asking inside, will they find Pennies from Heaven, or Pennies from Hell?
I often worry about writing something that has already been done; a good example is my first children’s book, The Almost True Adventures of Whyboy. It started out as Whyboy—because he always asks why—and then it became The Adventures of Whyboy. In the book, Whyboy has to imagine twelve adventures, so I changed it to The Almost True Adventures of Whyboy, without checking online for similar titles. After I had the book published, I was scanning Amazon.com for the title and I found several books that had almost the same title. I couldn’t believe it, I was sure that nobody else could have been as clever with a title as the one I came up with. It turned into a good writing lesson for me.
I am currently writing a mystery, The Sisters Peabody and the Case of the Anatomically Correct Dolls, plus I have my second children’s book, The Christmas Monkey Caper.
Maya Marston is on a mission. She is absolutely positive (almost) that some heavenly intervention will send the winning lottery numbers her way, she’s just not quite sure how. Enter 5 year old Casey, daughter of Maya’s new tenant Summer Dey, who has a love of numbers and might just be the answer to Maya’s prayers. Maya is sure Casey will come up with the winning numbers so she enlists her sidekick Gladys, a mousy little woman who knows where every 7-eleven store in San Diego is located and Maya’s virgin son Robert, who is jobless and has plenty of time to help out. When their adventures and misadventures require the need for travel, Robert enlists his best friend JoJo, a drag queen with a pink Cadillac and a lead foot. Maya has spent the last two months distracted by the quest for the winning numbers and now realizes that she has forgotten to pay the mortgage. Could the mysterious man in black who they have been avoiding be trying to kick them out of their house as Maya believes? How can they keep hiding from him if he has started a romance with Summer Dey? What about the ever handsome Brock Donovan? Will he steal Maya’s heart or just her money? Maya has been hoping for Pennies from Heaven but she now realizes they could be Pennies from Hell.