D.E. Williams began her writing journey at the age of ten and has followed its winding course through decades of life’s detours. A dying friend’s wish (see the end of this interview) gave her the push she needed to complete her first novel and seek publication. Child of Chaos (2015), book one of The Chesan Legacy Series, went on to win the award for best sci fi novel in the 2016 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. You can find the author on her website at DollieWilliams.com and on Facebook.
What is your elevator pitch for Child of Chaos?
Fighting a forgotten past and a prophetic future, a young assassin struggles to free herself and save her friends, but she just might destroy the galaxy in the process.
What sparked the initial story idea?
The idea was originally a short story titled “The Freedom Maneuver” that I wrote back in the 80s. It was badly written and never published, but the characters never left me alone. I had to tell their story.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
When I first started writing Child of Chaos, I let the characters have control and it roamed all over the place. The central plot was there, but very well camouflaged. Reining the characters in and sticking to the plot became the greatest challenge.
How did the book come together?
It took about seven years to write the book, then I realized it was really two books, and it took another four years to separate them and refine book one.
Tell us about your main characters. Which point of view did you enjoy writing the most?
Tridia Odana is a 17-year-old assassin raised in a militaristic society, the Odean Hierarchy. She’s very good at what she does, but hates it, because she’s also telepathic and gets hit with her victim’s dying thoughts. Her best friend is framed for a heinous crime, but the only way to rescue him is to rise to the Master Assassin’s rank—something no female has ever done. A prophecy unknown to Tridia predicts she will either cause a horrific war across the galaxy, or she will ensure galactic peace. One of the few who know of this prophecy is Brenden Aren, a former Master Assassin sworn to kill her to prevent the worst from happening. For the most part, I write from either Tridia or Brenden’s point of view. Tridia’s POV is by far the most fun, and Brenden’s is the most challenging. I mean, I’ve been a 17-year-old girl, but I’ve never been a cold and dangerous male assassin.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
I gave a lot of thought to defining the Hierarchy’s rules and regulations and what it was like for the soldiers who lived with them. It was difficult balancing the nature of my characters to make them believable in that society, as well as being able to function outside of it. I wanted them to have personality beyond being killing machines and to be able to show emotions, even though those emotions are often subdued by their training.
Do you have a favorite quote from Child of Chaos?
“You can’t fail more badly than being killed.” ~ Tridia Odana
If the stars aligned, what past or present movie/television series would you love to write for?
There are so many! I would love to rewrite the ending of St. Elsewhere, the old hospital drama. That show ended so badly. I enjoy anime and some of those series don’t end—or don’t end well—they just stop. I’d like to write or rewrite endings for several of them. Then there’s the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that I would really love to get my words into! Most of all, I would absolutely love to be involved in The Chesan Legacy Series movies, with Child of Chaos being the first in the franchise. (You did say, if the stars aligned!)
Tell us about your writing process and your writing routine.
Definitely a pantser who loves to write late at night. I have to do the original writing with my feet propped up—but all editing is done with my feet firmly on the floor. Go figure!
What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write, and what do you do to get over this hurdle?
I struggle with action scenes—which is really funny, because for those who have read Child of Chaos, it’s pretty much non-stop action. My mentor Kirt Hickman gave me some very good advice that I cling to. He said an action scene isn’t only about what they’re doing, it’s also about what the characters are thinking and feeling, and a writer has to show those things, as well. The reader needs to be a part of the action, not just watching it. So I write the scene with the moving parts first, then go back and add the internals. If it doesn’t move me, then I’m pretty sure it won’t move anyone else. I keep at it until I’m hooked.
What typically comes first for you: a character, a scene, a story idea?
The characters always bring their mixed-up stories into my head, expecting me to sort them out.
What do you love outside of writing and reading?
I sew and do a few crafts from time to time. Apart from reading and writing, my first love is movies. I’ve gotten much more select in what I watch over the years. I rarely watch an R movie. If it’s got filthy language, gratuitous blood-letting, or explicit sex, I’m not interested. I will see anything put out by Disney, Dreamworks, and Studio Gibli. Usually, if it’s a superhero or adventure movie, I’m there. Same for Star Trek and Star Wars. And if it has human-sized green amphibians who wear colored masks and use martial arts weapons, I’ll stand in line for a ticket. (Yeah, I’m worse than any three kids I know.)
Do you have a favorite how-to writing book you’d like to recommend?
Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness by Kirt Hickman. I’ve given away several copies to aspiring writers and recommended it to several others.
What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Keep writing! And David Morrell said something at the SWW Conference a few years ago that set me free. He said to write your story. Don’t try to write what’s popular right now. Don’t try to write what you think someone else wants to read. Write the story that’s given to you.
What writing project are you working on now?
Chaos Unleashed, book two of The Chesan Legacy Series. My target release date is June 15, 2017. But I have this day job that pays the bills and keeps me occupied 10-12 hours a day, so I do editing and rewrites when I can. It will definitely be out before Bubonicon at the end of August.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Child of Chaos is a self-published book, and the reason for that is a poignant one. My most ardent supporter was always my best friend Mary Cellino who started reading my stuff in college, way back when I was doing it for fun—and it was pretty awful. Even so, Mary encouraged me to pursue writing as a career. I didn’t, but I did keep writing, and she kept reading and encouraging. In 2012 she was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer. We knew it was terminal. When I asked her if there was anything on her bucket list we could do, she said the only thing on it was to own a copy of my published book. [Insert knife in heart here.] How do you deny that last wish to your best friend? I got serious about cleaning it up and submitted it to Penguin publishing in the fall of 2014. The editor held onto it for eight months before telling me that it was an intriguing story, but she just didn’t fall in love with it. That was in May 2015. By this time, Mary was failing fast, so I decided to self-publish because no publisher could have gotten it out fast enough. In late September, I told her the book was scheduled for release on December 15th of that year. She died on October 25th. I got the first proofs back a few days later. There was a copy on the altar next to her urn at her Celebration of Life Service. I knew it didn’t matter to her that she never held the book in her hand. She’d read it in all of its lesser stages through the years, and she knew it would be printed. She also knew if she hadn’t asked for it, I would probably never have actually published it (at least not for many years). There are others who worked very hard with me to make Child of Chaos the really good book it is, and I acknowledge them every chance I get (Clare Davis, Shari Holmes), but it wouldn’t be in print right now without Mary’s request.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.