Interview with Bill Gaius, Author of “Ancestors of Star”

Bill has been a good friend and adviser for three years now.  I have come to admire the man and the author of a number of fascinating novels and wanted to interview him for a while.  Recently I put together a few questions to do this interview.  Bill’s answers were better extensions of my original questions and the go to  a depth  I believe will be interesting to most writers who read this blog.

Bill also produced my first book, “A Seasoning of Lust”, published by Lulu.com and will be doing the same for my upcoming book, “The Zar Tales”, also to be published by Lulu.com.

Bill has been a generous and insightful writing mentor for me since we  met and I think what he has to say about self-publishing and traditional publishing needs to be heard.  This interview only taps the surface of many subjects.

Lady Nyo

I know you are a biochemist, Bill, a research scientist.  When did you start writing fiction and did your work fit in your writing or was it something that was very separate from it?

When I was very young, we lived on a busy street where I had no playmates. When I was four, I found a chemistry book my father picked up on the street and, with my mother’s help, learned to read. From the age of seven or so, I read reams of fiction until I became a teenager and girls subsumed everything but science fiction and James Bond.

I tried my hand at writing fiction as a teenager, producing a few very bad short stories. In grad school, using my aging portable typewriter, I spent my evenings writing a novel based on my Canadian Navy experience. I still have a copy of it. It’s not very good.

From then until I was 53, I had little interest in fiction, reading or writing, until a strange encounter in the desert kicked off the writing of ‘The Sisters of Kali’, my first attempt at a novel. More about that below.

Notice that I’ve said nothing about my scientific career. My writing has had nothing to do with my professional career until this year, when I began working on ‘Mortal Turpitude’. I think this division of interests is a manifestation of a mild case of attention deficit disorder, since I have trouble remaining intensely interested in any subject for long.

You have written a number of novels now, (Sisters of Kali, Ancestors of Star, Anne the Healer, Unattended Deaths, Mortal Turpitude)  Do you consider yourself to write mainstream fiction or is this mostly erotica?

I’ve written both, but I can’t call myself a writer of either. My most mainstream story was ‘Anne the Healer’, which contains exactly one understated sex scene at the very end. ‘The Ancestors of Star’, on the other hand, is based on the growth of a young man’s sexual obsession with his female Native boss, with numerous explicit scenes. There are loads of non-erotic adventures in the story, too, which keep it from being repetitive, wall-to-wall sex for 326 pages.

I’ve tried thrillers twice now, slowly coming to the conclusion that it may not be my natural turf. The first attempt, ‘Unattended Deaths’, bogged down and was never finished, and the second, ‘Mortal Turpitude’, has ground nearly to a halt, even though I’m determined to beat it into submission and finish it. I’m probably going to give up on plot-driven novels and return to character-based stories, where I feel more at home.

Do you write for a specific market?  Has that changed over the course of your writing career?

I write strictly for myself and the Warrior Queen. I also post some of it on writing forums and on a website, www.williamgaius.com So I suppose I have to admit that I had no market in mind, with the possible exception of my attempts to write thrillers.

What do you feel is going on with publishing and do you feel that things are radically changing?  Is self publishing a viable alternative?

Few significant changes seem to be happening in – or rather, to – traditional publishing, which is allowing itself to sink like the ‘Titanic’ without meaningful attempts to rescue itself. Meanwhile, all around, self-publishers, bloggers, tweeters, and fanfic writers are breaking new ground and putting technology to work, developing a new paradigm for writing.

For most of us, self-publishing is the only realistic alternative. There were 400,000 new books published last year, more than half of them fiction. Beating those odds is akin to winning the lottery, and is not something I aspire to. A few hours leafing through some of the 12000 hopeful novels on www.authonomy.com (Harper-Collins’ ‘electronic slush pile’) were enough to convince me that the competition out there is very, very good.

If I were to write a sure-thing best seller today, and it was picked up by a major publisher, it could be as long as five years before it hit the shelves, and then it would only get its 60 or 90 days before being recycled into disposable plates and toilet paper. I like the control of self-publishing, but it would be nice to have the distribution horsepower that you can only get from the traditional megacorporate publishing houses. The jury is not back on the future of publishing in general.

“Sisters of Kali” is a huge book.  I know you are considering a revival and rewrite of it.  I also know that this book in particular helped you develop your own ideas of religion and spirituality.  Anything that can do that must have a powerful message in there.  Please talk a little about that journey for yourself.

After a scientific career with little interest in fiction, the writing bug struck again, literally from the sky. We were vacationing in Sedona, Arizona, inquiring into the mystical qualities of the area. One afternoon, I sat on a rock high above the valley until, after several hours, a story began forming in my head. Later, I called it my ‘cosmic download’. When I returned to my hotel, I began frantically making notes. Seven years later, I completed the first draft of ‘The Sisters of Kali’.

‘Sisters’, 215000 words long and seriously in need of condensing and rewriting, records the adventures of a small group of women who believe they have been commissioned by God (who appears in female form) to prevent a worldwide war fifty years in the future. The premise of ‘Sisters’ is condensed in one short passage:

Isanna was the first to speak. “Are we expected to stop this war? The Goddess seriously expects five women living in a shack to change the course of history?”

Sandra said, “Isanna, little causes have larger effects, and these effects become causes of still larger effects. Most great events begin with a few individuals, but at the time, no one can connect the tiny beginnings with the great consequences. They are sometimes beyond the ability of Kali Herself to predict.

“You have heard the truth that the beating of the wings of butterflies in Sumatra can ultimately cause a hurricane in the Caribbean.”

She startled us by clapping her hands on her knees and crying, “But it is equally true that the same butterflies can stop the hurricane! And we will be those butterflies!”

Writing “Sisters” was more than a feeble first attempt at fiction. Thinking through the story and the assumptions behind it helped me clarify some of my own religious beliefs. For example, the experience led to a believable rationale – for me – of God’s interest in puny humans within the context of the greater Universe. It’s only necessary to imagine that God is not perfect and finished, but constantly driven to grow. The experiences of human beings (and possible other life forms elsewhere) are the sustenance from which God is constantly recreating Herself.

‘Mortal Turpitude’ is quite the scientific thriller.  I can see more how you wrote ‘from your experience’ in medical research, etc.  Why did you pick this particular issue to write on?  Do you think of topicality when you format an idea for a book?  This one certainly has the interest of readers in part because of swine flu and all the international news….a world wide issue.

The latter years of my scientific career were spent developing sensors for detecting bacteria and viruses of the sort that terrorists might distribute among us, so I’d been in contact with some of the Government and academic people working in this area. I know how serious the threat can be.

I am also interested in contrasting the culture of academic scientific investigation with the political and pragmatic society that surrounds it. Long before ‘Mortal Turpitude’, I spent some years working in the high-pressure environment of an academic molecular biology laboratory. In this competitive world, it’s considered a sin to take a day off, or an hour with the family in an evening. Newspapers and happenings outside the laboratory were simply not relevant. I’ve tried to recreate this insular environment with its atmosphere of unrelenting obligation in ‘Mortal Turpitude’.

“Ancestors of Star”, now published by lulu.com, is set within the Native American culture.  Living in Arizona as you do, is it the environment and cultures that inspired this particular book?

I’ve been fascinated by Native American cultures since moving to Arizona, particularly those like the Navajo, who’ve retained much of their ancient culture and language. At the same time, they’ve adapted to the modern world with its frozen foods, cell phones and satellite television. I created the Lagalero tribe for two reasons. The Navajo, after whom they are roughly patterned, have religious beliefs and taboos that were incompatible with the plan for the novel. Also, many Natives resent outsiders pretending to portray their culture. Mostly, life as a Native in modern America is gritty, poor, and often violent, and it is only the strength of the family and their culture that keep them together. Bu their social systems are far too intricate to be comprehended by someone who doesn’t live in them full time.

Finally, because the story includes many erotic interludes, I also wanted to avoid offending Natives who might read it, and avoid misleading non-Natives who might believe it. Sexual mores vary greatly among Southwest tribes, and are tightly governed by a system of customs and taboos that are partly observed and partly ignored.

In general, what inspires you to write?  Is writing a political or a personal statement, or both?

I make few political statements in my writing. I write because I can. I write well enough to convince myself that there are others out there willing to read it.

I like writing erotic material because it embodies some of my own fantasies and experience. I also like writing stories that involve a little bit of magic. ‘Anne the Healer’ had her mysterious and unwelcome ability to heal the sick, ‘The Sisters of Kali’ has direct communication with God, and ‘The Ancestors of Star’ has the ancestor spirits, who encourage and guide Tim, the young hero, in forming a loving and mature relationship with the older Elaine Yellow Star.

NOTE: ‘The Ancestors of Star’ is available for sale as trade paper ($14.95) or download ($4.95) at Lulu:

http://www.lulu.com/content/2196691

Bill Gaius’ current work in progress is on view at

http://www.williamgaius.com/

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2 Responses to “Interview with Bill Gaius, Author of “Ancestors of Star””

  1. Berowne Says:

    Regarding ‘distribution horsepower that you can only get from the traditional megacorporate publishing houses’, I wonder if the Web and its infrastructure are not at least potentially leveling the playing field. Think of the distribution horsepower the Encyclopedia Britannica had before Wikipedia came along, and how much good that does EB today. I don’t claim to know anything about the economic business of publishing from the author’s perspective, but I see small merchants piggybacking on Yahoo or Amazon to market their wares, and writing lends itself to direct electronic distribution (think Kindle). The big houses still have publicity departments that others can only dream of; but if the marketing nut can be cracked, I’d guess that distribution is less of an obstacle for small fry than it’s ever been.

    Like

  2. Dangerous Bill Says:

    It’s far easier to put your book in front of the public than it was, say, 10 years ago, but we’re still a long way from being on an even footing with traditionals.

    A self-published book is considered a success if it sells 500 copies. A moderately successful traditional book sells 20,000 or 50,000 copies. The difference is distribution and the natural advantage that comes from a brand. Even considering the difference in royalties, you’re going to reach more readers and make more money with the traditional. That situation may not last forever, but it’s the fact now.

    I predict that in five or ten years, every bookstore will have a POD printer in the back. If you order up a book, they’ll make it for you while you have a cup of coffee. Bookshelves will be mostly replaced with terminals where you can browse books before buying. That will further level the field, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    BG

    Like

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