1. From reading your blogs, it’s obvious you led a wild and crazy life back in the 70s. Sex, drugs, parties—and four wives. It’s fascinating reading, but why did you choose to share such intimacy with your readers?
Having decided to write a personal blog, I knew I needed help recalling events, so I asked all my kids and past wives to write down some of the screwball things I’d done. But what they recalled would not be particularly interesting to readers. On the other hand, who doesn’t like reading about sex, drugs, and wild parties? Of those, I had excellent recall.
2. How does that life affect the life you live now?
I have no interest in taking drugs. Been there, done that. No fantasies about having sex with multiple women at the same time. Been there, done that, too. But what I’ve taken away from those times, aside from fond memories, is the notion, the ideal, if you will, that it’s good to try to be open, to be genuine, to be real. To me, it makes life a hell of a lot more interesting—and fun.
3. How did you begin your writing career? And what inspired you to write THE DEVIL ORDERS TAKEOUT?
Having been a C student in high school, and then spending four years as a combat cameraman in the Air Force, I felt that a college English-One class was over my head, so I signed up for what they called dumb-dumb English. The first day of class students were told to write an essay on whatever they wanted. Mine was a satirical take on a current event. Pirates had hijacked a US naval boat, and I blamed the “bumbling” American captain. The teacher read my paper and booted me from class, saying, “You belong in an English-One class.” I protested, “But I don’t know where to put commas and semicolons.” And darn it, I haven’t learned yet!
Years later, I began my second writing endeavor. I received an email from a Nigerian saying he needed help getting a million dollars out of the country, and if I’d help him, I could keep half. Of course, it was a scam to get my money, but I went along with him being totally outrageous and intending to eventually turn the tables. My friends enjoyed reading the humorous ongoing exchanges I called Scamming the Scammer. The entire series will rerun on my website’s blog, the Brier Patch.
My writing career may have ended with Scamming the Scammer, had it not been for a writer friend. I told him I had an idea for a story about a boy and his talking dog. The boy would play golf, and the dog would tell him how far to the hole, what club to use. Things like that. I was prepared to abandon the idea as being dumb, had my friend cast a skeptical eye. But his eyes flashed, and he said, “Bill, that’s a wonderful idea. Go for it!” And with that, I was off in full stride with my first thriller, The Devil Orders Takeout. Of course, the talking dog had to go, and I suspect my friend knew that.
4. How much is THE DEVIL ORDERS TAKEOUT autobiographical?
Nothing in the book is autobiographical, but I can identify with the low-ranking mob character, Kamal. At heart he’s a decent guy with good ethics, but he has the naïve opinion that his actions don’t represent the real him. He thinks that once he’s financially secure, he’ll walk away from The Outfit and be the citizen he believes himself to be.
I understand Kamal’s disconnected feelings. There was a brief time in Junior high when I hung out with guys who stole cars. Therefore, I stole cars. But doing that didn’t feel like the real me. I felt sorry for the owners, and I worried that if we damaged a car (we dented one or two), my mother would have to pay. The last car I stole was a ’58 Impala. The two guys I was with wanted to tool up to Mulholland Drive and squeal around curves. It was crazy. I got out, walked five miles home, and gave up swiping cars.
5. What is it you want your readers to take away from THE DEVIL ORDERS TAKEOUT?
It’s easy for us to see characters as either good or bad. We identify with the good ones, and not so much with the bad ones. But even the bad ones have something good about them, even if it’s only loyalty to other bad ones—or to their mothers. My hope is that readers will think of the characters as interesting people—even old friends—whom they’d like to go back and visit.
6. What authors do you read, and with whom would you compare yourself?
Being a history buff, I enjoy anything by David McCullough, Robert Caro, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Since reading A Time to Kill, I’ve been hooked on John Grisham, with his easy to read style. I won’t compare myself to the great Harlan Coben, but he taught me the value of giving readers a powerful and unexpected closing twist. Or two. Or three.
7. What do you wish your readers knew about you?
That I intend to write more books, and I hope they’ll read every one of them.
8. What are three things your readers don’t know about you?
—I won a date on The Dating Game.
—I filmed a US president who is now dead.
—I was in an airplane prepared to invade a foreign country.
—I was in a famous Hollywood movie.
Oops, that’s four. Those and other wacky facts are on my blog, the Brier Patch.
9. What was your life like as a child? Did you come from a traditional family?
I came from a traditionally divorced family with a touch of dysfunctionality. As a boy, my father came to see me only on my birthday and Christmas. I always cried when he left. While in grad school where I studied (and went through my own) psychotherapy, I confronted my dad. Asked him why he hadn’t come around more. He said it hurt him to see me cry when he left. I told him, clearly and tearfully, I was still hurt and angry that he did that. We hugged and became closer. I think good therapy is a wonderful thing.
10. Where did you grow up? Do you have siblings? What relationship do you have with them now?
I grew up in Hollywood, California. Had two older sisters that are now gone. While in high school, I learned I had two younger half brothers and a half sister. My dad had remarried, which I knew, but now I was let in on the big secret. Secrets. For me, family secrets translate to confusion and loss of closeness.
11. You’re on wife number four. How long have you been married? What have you learned from the first three marriages that impact your current marriage?
I’ve been with my current wife fourteen years—but in spirit only. The lack of a certificate is not because of me. Joann has the engagement rings to prove it. Having been down the aisle before, she’s either afraid of jinxes, misaligned planets, or maybe she’s holding out for bigger rings. She answers my proposals with a smile and “Not yet.” See for yourself.
12. What are your goals with your writing career? Do you want to be famous? Rich? Rich and famous? Or something else?
I rarely write a sentence—and never a paragraph—without countless revisions. My greatest satisfaction is finally getting it right on the screen. Whatever degree of commercial success should come my way, will be like that second bowl of ice cream. It’s good, but the first bowl is what you remember most.
13. Where and when do you write? Are you a disciplined writer, with a page goal for each day, or?
I’m at my desk, off and on, everyday from around 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Of course, I duck out now and then to do chores, run errands, and see friends and family. But writing is essentially my life, and I love it. I go to sleep when I’m tired, and get up when I feel like it. That probably makes me pretty undisciplined. I rarely do things I don’t like to do or go places I don’t like to go. I write because it gives me something to do and I enjoy the hell out of it. It’s sometimes hard. Damn hard. But I stick with it. What else am I going to do?
As for the writing itself, I don’t outline, and I don’t jump from chapter to chapter. I start at the beginning and stop at the end. It’s like (and I’m not the first to use this analogy … but wish I were) driving across America at night, and all you see is what’s in your headlights. I’m a slow writer, partly because I rewrite as I go along. That’s fun, but not efficient, because sometimes what I’ve written no longer fits with what comes up later. But I tell myself the extra effort was good practice. Then take a nap.
14. Do you set out to send a message to readers when you write a book, or do you write for pure entertainment?
It’s usually English teachers, not novelists that talk about messages, themes, symbolisms and such. We novelist simply want to tell a good story well.
15. What do you do in your spare time?
I don’t have spare time. I’m always doing something, even if it’s only thinking or sleeping. I play golf, occasionally, and drive around in my racecar. Sometimes on the track. Sometimes along California’s scenic and—hold on tight—twisting roads.
16. Looking back on the life and times of your early years, how does that impact your view of what’s happening in the US today?
Everything important boils down to one thing. People. I’ve known oddballs, eccentrics, geniuses, and dullards. I’ve traveled to many countries and met lots of people. The fact is we’re all the same. In Israel, for example, our Jewish guide drove us around, and occasionally we’d come across and Arab, say, a taxi driver. Our driver and the other man greeted each other, laughed, and shared a wonderful moment to watch. Our nation is becoming divided. It’s happened in the past, but I’m confident that our stable form of government—with its flaws—will endure, and this too will pass.
17. What advice would you give to beginning writers today?
The same advice Glen Frey, of the rock band, Eagles, gave to himself. He was just starting out as an artist and living in a cheap apartment above Jackson Browne. Every morning he’d hear Browne’s teapot go off. Then a few notes on his piano. Over and over and over. Each time, just a little different. Then a second verse, and the same thing, again, and again, and again. It would be quiet for a while, then once more, the teapot. Then that first verse on the piano, and it would start all over again. Ah, ha, Frey thought. So that’s how it’s done. Not through inspiration, not by waiting for great ideas to float into your head. Elbow grease . . . time . . . thought . . . persistence.