Fasten your seat belts and prepare to travel down the bumpy roads of life. In his second collection of short stories, New Zealand author Brian WIlson entertains adults and adolescents with 35 humorous and thought-provoking vignettes based on his extensive globetrekking and observations of human behavior.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us about your personal journey as a writer. Was it bumpy or smooth?
A: Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories, is my second book, the first being Moments in Time -A Collection of Short Stories. As a second book I would consider that this has been a smooth ride. Writing is creative, albeit an art. I write when I am in the mood and when the ideas are flowing. It is quite different from when I wrote a thesis for a Master’s Degree with time restraints. Writing, though, is only a small part of the journey. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being mothered by a traditional publisher, there is a lot of time spent after the stories have been written in cover design, organising the internal layout, formatting and organising the editing. All of these are required before the book goes to print. Then about 66% of one’s time is spent on marketing. The books you mostly hear about or see in a bookshop have been published through traditional publishers, because they have the financial resources and connections for marketing. Yet many of the best written books especially today are self-published. Even in earlier times exceptional writers found getting traditional publishers difficult. There are good examples of famous self-published authors such as Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter.
Q: Did you have mentors along the way to guide you?
A: No. I see writing as a natural process. We all have different ways of writing; this is our signature and we shouldn’t change these simply because another person doesn’t like our style. Though, I guess in going through the school and university process there is some degree of mentoring. In Bumpy Roads my daughter Rachel wrote five stories and, as the reader will see, her style is very different to mine and some may consider it better. Rachel has an award in English from high school, and Bachelor of Art and Education degrees. She has also been one of the people editing my stories and I knew that she had the ability to write good stories.
Apart from helping her with surprise twists and suggesting rearrangement of several sentences, I restrained myself from trying to change her way of writing.
Q: Who are some of the authors you read for leisure and how have they influenced your own approach to storytelling and creative expression?
A: Recently I have been reading a number of short stories by famous writers. I left this reading until after I wrote my first two books as I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ styles and ideas. The stories read were by C.S. Forester, Liam O’Flaherty, E.C. Bentley, Katherine Mansfield, Norah Burke, H.E Bates, Somerset Mangham, I.A. Williams, John Buchan, H.H. Munro, John Golsworthy, O.Henry and H.G. Wells.
Q: How did your academic background and professional experience prepare you for the challenges of putting pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keyboard!) and sticking to a writing schedule?
A: My approach to short stories is that I don’t write for the sake of writing; there has to be a good story or theme for the reader. Therefore, there is no writing schedule as such. My writing is as the mood takes me. Writing a thesis is different requiring a writing schedule, as one does not have the luxury of time or as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot says, “for the little grey cells to start working”. I was disappointed in reading ‘The Conga Eel’, by Liam O’Flaherty, as the whole story was simply that the eel gets netted and escapes. Simple plots are not unusual for short stories, but there has got to be something more there for the reader. It seemed to me this story was written for the sake of writing. In my book Bumpy Roads, the story “The Journey,” can also be summed up in 7 words, but the story extends well beyond the simple story line and in fact encompasses the theme for the whole book.
Q: What’s your primary wellspring of ideas for your stories and poems?
A: I base the majority of stories on experiences. I build on these stories to create a fiction work. Stories will vary from being close to 100% true to maybe only 5%. By using experiences, I know my facts and descriptions are true and accurate. In Bumpy Roads I have stories in eight countries. They are all countries I have at some time visited and can provide accurate descriptions of.
Poetry is very much creative and lines may come in the course of having a shower or in the middle of the night. I sometimes get ideas for stories the same way.
Q: How do you go about deciding the particular style a story will embrace?
A: I don’t restrict myself to a style. It may be first or third person or narrative or dialogue. Some stories pose a greater challenge to me in the way they are written. In Bumpy Roads, the story “Three Granddads” is actually two stories being told at the same time which merge into the last sentence. This sentence also sums up the theme. Some of my stories include characters from the first book and the stories are more meaningful if you read this book first.
Q: Are your characters based on real people – including yourself – or do they materialize for you from thin air?
A: I try to create round characters and in doing so I have taken and used different parts of myself in various characters as well as parts of other people I know. It is a tricky area and I guess this is a reason why some writers use pen names.
Q: Tell us about Moments in Time. What’s that one about?
A: On the 22nd February 2011, Christchurch City, New Zealand was struck by a killer earthquake. Across the road from where I was working, a six-storey building collapsed entombing the 113 occupants. On that day 186 lives were lost, businesses collapsed, homes were destroyed and our lives were changed forever. This event marked a moment in our lives and the beginning of my short story writing. Some of my stories in Moments in Time recorded the events on that day. Others reflect overseas experiences. The stories are about times in life and are inspirational, many with humour and surprise twists.
Q: Which do you personally feel is a bigger challenge – to compose a short story or to write a full-length novel?
A: I have asked myself the same question. Novels and short stories I believe require different skill-sets. The novel requires perseverance, maintaining the reader’s attention, consistency in characters and a lot more editing. Short stories in comparison, because they are short, require more creativity and attention to detail, and give the writer little room to develop characters. I think that the writer of short stories is put more under the reader’s microscope.
Q: Should authors don the hat of “Editor” for their own work or should they hire someone to do this for them?
A: Definitely not. In my second book I have used five editors because we all miss mistakes. We see with our brains and not our eyes, and our brain fills in the gap. Two of these people are exceptionally good at editing. A quality product is paramount.
Q: Tell us about your cover art and the input you had on its design.
A: I initiated the title Bumpy Roads as this is how you could describe post-earthquake Christchurch as well as the difficult times in our lives.
I would not in any way consider myself artistic in drawing, but I designed the cover and drew the cartoon. Trafford Publishing was happy with both my cover and title. They only modified my drawing to include the rectangular sign with the author names. Previously I had our names at the bottom of the cover.
Q: How much research went into your decision to find a publisher?
A: Probably not a great deal. I checked out various sites and was also very interested in an Australian self-publishing firm, but in the end it came down to costs and services provided.
Q: With so many publishing venues available today for indie authors, what influenced your decision to go with one that charges high-end prices?
A: I have found Trafford produces a quality product but I am open to better deals for future books. For both books published by Trafford, the publishing package I secured was discounted heavily to about half the advertised rate.
Q: Tell us about your marketing platform for your books and what you’re doing to build a readership.
A: When I published my first book I had no involvement in social media. Following my first book I got involved in Linkedin and later Pinterest. These are now well established. Over the last two months I have now set up Facebook and Twitter sites as well as Goodreads, Amazon, WordPress, Google and Blogger.dot com I have been featured on many Guest Author spots and currently I am looking at putting out several trailers and doing a guest podcast. My first book had a very good review by a top USA reviewer: http://www.theusreview.com/reviews/Moments-Wilson.html
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I worked as an investigator for about 28 years
Q: So what’s next on your plate?
A: I am currently writing my third book of short stories. Completion is about a year away.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thanks for the interview
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?