Monday, February 6, 2017

Interview with D.J.Williams

D.J. Williams was born and raised in Hong Kong.  He has traveled around the world, experiencing many cultures including the slums of the Far East, the bush of Africa, and the jungles of the Amazon.  He has worked in both the entertainment industry and the nonprofit sector.  He has used this wide range of experience in his writing.  His stories encompass the whole globe, and it is clear that he has immersed himself in different cultures and social classes and uses this understanding to tell his stories.  His experience with producing and directing have given him artistry which he has used in his writing so that his books read like a movie.  Waking Lazarus (which I have read), the second book of the Guardian Novels is a page turning action packed adventure that has the reader traveling the world.  I am assuming The Disillusioned, the first book of the Guardian Novels, is the same.  What really got my attention and made me want to explore the Guardian Novels was that D. J. Williams worked with a composer, Jene Nicole Johnson, to develop a soundtrack that goes along with Waking Lazarus.  Music arouses our emotions in a very powerful way, even more so than language can.  It makes us feel a movie or television program even more intensely than the images or words in the production.  What could this do to the reading experience?  D.J. Williams describes his writing as "cause driven".  It is his hope that his books will make the reader aware of the human trafficing problem and encourage them to make a difference in the world.  On his website, each month, he features a different organization that is reaching the world.  Part of the proceeds from each of his books sold go to this organization.  I am excited to have D.J. Williams tell us a little about his innovative projects.                                                          

Me: What inspired you to write these novels?

D.J. Williams: From an early age, I've been captured by stories that left me turning the page. The first book I remember reading cover to cover was Treasure Island. At eight years old, those few days I spent in my room lost in a world of adventure, suspense, and mystery left me with the dream of one day becoming a storyteller. At the time I wasn't sure how that would become a reality.

After a decade in the music business, and the rise of iTunes, I found myself transitioning in a new career as I stood on the set of a new TV series as an Executive Producer and Director. I produced hundreds of TV episodes, still searching and dreaming of the perfect story to write.

After a year of writing late at night I sent a draft of my first novel to a friend in the TV industry with the disclaimer, "If it's not any good, the only two people who'll know about it is you and me." Within a few days she called with a thumbs up and that began the search for an agent and a publisher. When The Disillusioned was released it captured what I've now defined as a "cause-driven" novel. Throughout the pages of the story the adventure takes the main characters into the heart of Africa and the trafficking trade. I was fortunate enough to do a 15-city book tour with Barnes and Noble, and realized I was hooked. I needed to write the next story.

In my second novel, Waking Lazarus, I raised the stakes. I couldn't simply follow the template I'd created in The Disillusioned. So, I returned to my roots, to a story I heard from an early age about a controversial evangelist from the 1920's. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with a family friend who was in his nineties as he shared with me how her life shaped the history of Los Angeles. I didn't want to write a biography, so I created a character based off of this real life celebrity figure.

As the story unfolds, readers will find themselves following two mysteries, one from the 1920's and one present day that are on a collision course. What was exciting about the writing process was that I could live in two worlds, and create a storyline that spanned nearly a century. And, for those who read The Disillusioned, they'll find themselves in a parallel timeline between both books but with all different characters and a standalone story. My plan in the third book of the Guardian Novels is for those characters and storylines from the first two books to crossover. I guess you could say it's part of my master plan!

Me: What drives your writing?

D.J.: When I stood on the shores of the Zambezi River a spark for a story pierced my soul. After three weeks of traveling across the country, witnessing the reality of those forgotten by the world, and facing a major change in my career, I knew that one day I'd write about this place. Little did I know that it would be years before I found the courage, but those days on the Zambezi defined my passion as a storyteller.

What I discovered throughout the writing process was that using my experiences traveling to the poorest places in the world fueled my drive to create the Guardian Novels, a series filled with mystery, suspense, and adventure. All of those were aspects of the story, but from the first novel the reality of the fight against human trafficking was an underlying thread throughout. It's one reason why I've defined this series as cause-driven novels. My hope is that readers will be entertained, but will also be inspired to make a difference in the world when they flip that last page.

Writing the second novel, Waking Lazarus, was challenging to continue in the cause-driven storytelling style. To capture this story in a unique way, the novel spans nearly a century as readers are taken back to the 1920's and then return to present day on a global adventure. It also pushes readers further into the worlds of child slavery, poverty, and the darkness of secrets. I'm humbled that the Guardian Novels, and the cause-driven storytelling style, have garnered the attention of Hollywood's elite.

I'm writing my third novel, The Auctioneer, and experimenting with ways to continue in telling stories that raise awareness for causes and issues around the world. It's like writing layers, where the story that draws readers in leads to a deeper place that travels a road between fiction and reality. My hope is that others who are passionate about storytelling will embrace this same approach and will write books that not only entertain, but also challenge readers beyond the last page.

Me: What has been the greatest challenge youve faced in writing the Guardian Novels?

D.J.: When I first began writing the series there was one story, and one set of characters, that were in the world. But as I've continued into the second book, and now into the third, the world has expanded with new characters, plot points, and underlying secrets that are yet to be revealed. Keeping track of who everyone is, where they are in the world, and when or how to unlock the secrets has been challenging.

While there are those authors who outline every chapter, my writing style is more fluid. I know where the book begins and where it ends. However, what happens in between is what I discover during the writing process. Believe me, I'm as surprised by some of the twists and turns as my readers are when they turn the page. I feel that it makes the writing more exciting, energizing, and helps me avoid being locked down to an outline that will most likely change significantly. But that does make writing the series more challenging. There are times when I stare at a blank page with fear that the words won't find their way out of my imagination. Still, I believe the end result is worth the effort!

Me: In Waking Lazarus, the second of the Guardian Novels, the story takes place from the 1920s to the present, and takes readers on an adventure around the world.  What made you decide to encompass so much, rather than to have a small focus?

D.J.: When I first started there was a question of whether or not I could pull it off, but I accepted the challenge. The more the story unfolded, the more I realized that the world my characters were in had to be global and span nearly a century for a deeper, more intense, plot. The stakes had to be continually raised with each chapter. Every choice was a life-changer, not only for the characters but for the eras and cultures those characters were from. And, I knew there were more books in the series that would push the world even further so I needed to establish a global influence from the beginning.

Me: Where did you get the idea to record a soundtrack to accompany Waking Lazarus?

D.J.: When I began writing Waking Lazarus I searched for musical inspiration as the story spanned nearly a century. I scrolled through my iTunes playlists and picked out a sequence of soundtracks to help set the tone and mood to help capture each scene as it played out on the page like a film. Working in the entertainment industry as an Executive Producer and Director, I understand how important a piece music can be to enhance the story you're trying to tell.

As the months passed, Waking Lazarus came alive on the page and I had a thought...what if we created a soundtrack to go with the book. It was something I hadn't seen done before. A soundtrack customized for the story, and done in a way that readers of all kinds could use it without being lost.

I reached out to a young composer, Jené Nicole Johnson, and shared with her the vision I had for a soundtrack to enhance the reading experience for Waking Lazarus. Under a tight deadline, she accepted the challenge and broke the code on how best to put the soundtrack together. She created layers of music that not only captured the 1920's era through present day, but also the mystery and suspense as the story travels from the Southland to the Orient. All of the music tied together with specific chapters so it was easy for readers to follow. I found myself writing to the soundtrack as I worked on the final draft. It was an energizing, creative, experience, one I believe I'll do again in the next Guardian Novel.

Me: What can you tell us about the third Guardian Novel?

D.J.: Right now, I'm working on the third novel, which will bring the characters and storylines from the first two books together. I'm not sure I can say much more!

Me: Do you have any other projects planned that youd like to share with us?

D.J.: I'm also writing a standalone novel, The Auctioneer, which I'm hoping to finish later this year.


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