Friday, September 2, 2016

Interview with Author Bill Powers

The Torch is Passed: A Harding Family Story

1.      What inspired you to write your book?   My background is in pharmaceutical research and development, about as non-fiction as you can get. I have a Ph.D. in Toxicology. (In fact a lot of my R&D friends still tell me they don’t get what I do now, but that’s okay.)  I have always had a love of books, words and stories. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina with not much to do during my free time. My dad was a school principal and gave me free run of his school library. I read everything I could get my hands on, fiction and non-fiction. When I was in grad school, I started thinking, “I can do this” – write a fictional novel. I had gotten hooked on thrillers with Robert Ludlum. My first try was pretty horrible, but the idea wouldn’t go away. Several years later, I tried again and the outcome was my first novel, The Pharm House, which was a medical suspense/thriller set in a fictional international pharmaceutical company. But the story was really about family and I decided to make a trilogy of thrillers about the Harding Family. The Torch is Passed is the second thriller in the Harding Family trilogy. I think for my first and second thrillers, they came out pretty good (based on the reviews), but I still have a lot to learn and plan to write at least one more in the Harding Family stories and to spinoff one of the characters in the Torch into her own set of stories.
The short answer to the question is – I’m having a blast!

2. What is it about? The Torch is Passed opens with young Andrea Harding having just graduated college and her world being turned upside down when her father, Nicholas, and her uncle, Michael, are shot in a surprising and puzzling attack. As the only family other than her paternal grandmother, it falls to Andrea to not only investigate who would want to kill her father and uncle, but also to oversee Harding Industries, the family company—and navigate an often dangerous fast-track to adulthood. The youngest Harding soon finds herself surrounded by a bevy of intriguing new friends and helpers after she is also violently attacked, forcing her to kill both would-be assassins. Suspicion is cast on a short list of family friends and colleagues, and longstanding relationships are put to the test. Along with her new allies, Andrea urgently seeks answers to why anyone would want to kill her entire family—growing up along the way—and seeking her revenge.  Brimming with plot twists, unexpected decisions and recurring threats to relationships, The Torch is Passed is a tantalizing read with historical references including a subplot involving an old land deal setup by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company over one hundred years ago that involves the Harding family. The Torch is Passed and other books in The Harding Family series carry the basic theme of “family” and what people may be driven to do to protect their family.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
First, I hope the readers will be entertained. I think Torch is a fast-paced modern suspense/thriller, with some realistic and some extraordinary characters that will keep readers going until the end. As I mentioned, the theme of family is important to me, but also, what happens when you take regular, ordinary people and put them into extraordinary situations? And what if those extraordinary situations threaten the survival of them and those they love most?  How far are we willing to go to our dark side to protect our loved ones?
Also, I insert slivers of factual history into a fictional story, e.g., the J.D. Rockefeller deal that somehow involves the Harding family more than 100 years later. I’ve had a couple of readers sit down with me after they read the book and go over with them in great detail what parts were fiction vs based upon fact.

4. What advice do you have for writers? I think you have to listen to your own inner voice. There are always going to be those around you, most of them who know nothing of the writing world, telling you what you should or should not do. One of my pet peeves is when someone tells me, “You should write about  ‘fill in the blank.’” I have tons of ideas and the last thing I need is someone telling me what I should write about. I usually politely tell them maybe they should write about it. Get advice from experienced authors if you can. I have gone to several talks given by Steve Berry, who in addition to being tops as a thriller author, also teaches about the art and craft of thriller writing. I have learned a lot from listening to him. Learn the craft of writing. It takes time and practice. Just keep writing. Also learn the business side of writing. If you’re self-published, as much as possible, make your book look, read and feel like it came out of a major publishing house.  Most importantly—do it for yourself. Don’t waste your time trying to please others.

5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? The world of publishing has gone through very rapid change the last 15 years. When I started shopping around my first novel, I went the traditional Agent à Publisher route. I also collected numerous paper and email rejection letters. I went with a small boutique publisher for my first novel, but it was not a fruitful relationship and I decided to pull the book and re-issue as self-published. It went well and I went with self-publishing for my second novel. There are a lot more options available today for authors.  The traditional route is still there, but to say it’s a bottleneck is an understatement. The self-publication route offers more flexibility to authors, but with the explosion of books being self-published, it is very difficult for authors to break out of the pack. Self-published authors have to do everything for themselves and, in my opinion, to be successful, a self-published author has to as much as possible make their book look, read and feel like it came out of a major publishing house. What does this mean? Obviously, it has to be a well-written compelling story, but beyond that, it must be well (read professionally) edited, and the cover must be well designed. Most authors are not artists, which means hiring someone to develop your cover artwork. In my case, I think about the cover I want during the writing process and then work with a professional at my publisher to make my thoughts come to life. And then there has to be a substantial marketing/public relations effort.  For traditional publishing, the publisher picks up most of these costs. Although, I hear from some authors who have signed with traditional publishers that often the authors are left on their own for much of this work. For self-publishers, this means we have to sub-contract others to do much of this work for us and we have to do it within whatever budget we each have. Even with its downsides, I think today’s publishing industry has more opportunities for authors than ever before and I don’t see it going back to the old ways.

6. What challenges did you have in writing your book? I have a couple of challenges in writing. First, I love doing research. I mean I absolutely love it! Maybe it’s the scientist in me, but I love learning new things. Because of that, I have to make myself stop doing research and start writing. My other weakness is procrastination. Yes, I was the guy in graduate school who waited until the last day or so to write the research paper. So, I have to make myself stick to my writing schedule. I usually write in the morning from about 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and do writing business “stuff” in the afternoon. For The Torch is Passed, I had written about 30,000 words when I took one of Steve Berry’s thriller writing classes and one of the key take-aways was ‘start your story as close to the end as possible.’ Don’t waste your reader’s time with background—you can find a way to provide that during the story. So, I went back and threw out the first 20,000 words that I had written and started the story where the action is. In the first chapter of The Torch is Passed, Andrea Harding has recently graduated from college and is getting ready to go off on a European vacation for the summer before starting law school in the fall.  Early one morning, two New Jersey state troopers come to her apartment to tell her that her father and uncle, two rather boring businessmen, have been shot and lie near death in the hospital. She has to go to their bedside.  Boom! I threw out all the background leading up to this event and started the story here. I think it worked much better to pull the reader into the story. My main challenge now is to continue learning my craft and to make each book better.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? The Torch is Passed is a really entertaining story. If you enjoy contemporary suspense/thrillers, you’ll love Torch. And in addition to entertaining you, it’ll make you think a bit. Just how far would you be willing to go to protect your family? Sometimes we don’t know until we find ourselves in a horrible situation. Also, someone recently asked me whom I write for.  When I write, do I have a particular audience in mind or do I write for myself? Each author is different. Here is my perspective. In my case, the short answer is both—I write for myself and for a particular audience. In general, women in the U.S. read far more fiction than men. In the mystery/thriller genre, women readers still outnumber men with about 60 percent of thriller readers being women. Do I write specifically to target women readers? Again, yes and no; I am certainly conscious of the fact that most of my readers will be women, but I don’t think I am directly crafting my story for women.  In my case, I admit that I first, write for myself and here is my reason. The main reason is that I’m too old to waste my time trying to satisfy others. But primarily, I am a huge fan of the mainstream mystery/thriller genre.  Give me a Steve Berry or Preston & Child or a David Baldacci or Harlan Coben and I’m a happier than a pig in mud!  I’m not saying that I’m in their league—yet, but I honestly feel that if I can write a good mystery/thriller, it will be a good fit in that genre and attractive to the readers and lovers of that genre—both women and men.

I also feel very comfortable writing stories with strong women characters that will appeal to women and men as well.  With regard to race, as a black author, I am sometimes asked if I consider myself a writer of black or urban fiction and my answer is a resounding no. I have nothing against black or urban fiction; it’s just not what I do. I consider myself an author who happens to be black. I want to write great contemporary mystery/thrillers that appeal to everyone who loves that genre. My readers skin color and gender, to me, are irrelevant. That is one of the wonderful things about being a fiction author—there is something out there for everyone. The reviews for my second novel, The Torch is Passed, are coming in and are better in some ways than the reviews for my first book, The Pharm House. A review that I received recently summed up exactly what I am going for.

“This book challenged my preconceptions of the characters you expect to find in the social and business class that the Harding’s move in, especially for the South. I had not known Andrea Harding was a person of color until the story was well underway and this added a layer of complexity that deepens the plot. I said challenged my preconceptions because I had to recognize that the surprise I felt was totally my own, and forced to me to reconsider my assumptions.”

That review made my day.  So, to answer the question, whom do I write for? I write for lovers of modern mystery/thrillers. As an author, if that’s not your cup of tea, I take no offense if you choose not to read my books. But if that genre is in your “wheelhouse,” then check out The Torch is Passed: A Harding Family Story.

For more information, please consult:
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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