Books by Melissa Bowersock

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Author Interview – William Munns


Today I’m sitting down with William “Bill” Munns to talk about his latest release, The Life of One with Three Names. This is a special book in several different ways. For one thing, it addresses the enduring mystery behind the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. For another, Munns not only wrote the book but illustrated it as well with a rendering software that creates unbelievably lush and detailed scenes. The story and the images combine to create a complete visual experience for the reader. So let’s find out more about it.

MJB: Can you tell us briefly the history behind the Hanging Gardens, the mystery that inspired this book?

WM: The Hanging Gardens were one of seven magnificent constructions of human endeavor listed by the Greek historians Herodotus (484-425 BC) and Callimachus of Cyrene (305-240 BC). Of the seven, two were tombs for kings, three were tributes to Gods, one was a utilitarian lighthouse, and only one, the Gardens, was inspired by a mortal woman loved by the king who built it. Many of the cultures which possessed these wonders were proud of their accomplishment, but the Babylonians were curiously (or mysteriously) unwilling to even acknowledge that the famous Gardens of Babylon even existed. Virtually nothing of the extensive cuneiform documents (surviving today) from the 5 decade reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II documents, describes or acknowledges that this splendid royal garden ever existed in Babylon. This total denial of Babylon’s most famous feature is the mystery historical scholars today have struggled to explain. My book offers a unique and somewhat unorthodox explanation, but one which actually explains the matter more logically than any prior scholarly effort.

MJB: What came first, the desire to tell the story, or the need to show it in the stunning images you create? Did you find the story to inspire the images, or vice-versa? Or did it all evolve as a whole?

WM: The origin of the story actually was derived from the artwork effort. I was commissioned by a 3D graphics software company to create the Seven Ancient Wonders in their software for an advertising campaign, showing the software’s remarkable capacity to visualize wondrous 3D worlds. And in the course of my research on all seven, the mysteries of the Hanging Gardens were revealed. After I finished my graphics contract, I continued to research the Gardens and look for solutions to the mystery of why the Babylonians deny their empire’s most legendary accomplishment. Finally, an idea struck me, one that explained perfectly why the Babylonians would deny the existence of the Garden and also deny the existence of the woman who inspired them, and that idea became the genesis of the book.

MJB: Obviously you’ve done a ton of research on the Gardens? Is your depiction of them accurate in terms of what we know about them?

WM: There are many vague and conflicting descriptions of the Gardens, some suggesting a ziggurat (a sort of stepped pyramid, essentially) covered with terraced planters, trees, vines and flowers; others suggesting a garden area enclosed by high walls. I personally felt that the ziggurat design was incorrect because the view from any terrace was mostly the city around it, and then, what was the point? So I chose a garden area surrounded by fabricated mountains and lush garden plants, so the view in any direction was that of a splendid garden set amid mountain scenery. If one searches for imagery associated with the gardens, you will find many fanciful depictions, which verifies the vague and inconclusive documentation as to their design and appearance.

MJB: I’m curious; have you ever talked with any experts about your theory of the Gardens? Historians, archaeologists? And if so, what kind of response did you get?

WM: I did accumulate all the published scholarly works on the Seven Wonders and the Gardens specifically, and found one of the most popular scholarly theories was that the gardens weren’t in Babylon, but rather were the royal Gardens of Nineveh in Assyria, built by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. I found it hard to believe that the historians who wrote about the gardens could name the wrong city, the wrong king who built them, and name the wrong woman to inspire them. So while I understood the scholarly approach, that the gardens of Nineveh were in fact documented by the Assyrians, while no Babylonian Garden was similarly documented by the Babylonians of Nebuchadnezzar’s time, I still found it too big a leap of faith to assume the historians could get every fact wrong, and that no one would make an effort to correct them. But once my story crystallized, I realized any scholarly opinion would simply label the idea “pure speculation” and wouldn’t likely embrace it with any enthusiasm.

MJB: You’ve categorized this book as a Young Adult novel, but also say it can appeal to all ages. What would YA readers be drawn to? What would mature adults enjoy about the book?

WM: The central character is a young woman, born of common heritage, but married to a King when she is 15, and becomes the Queen of Babylon. In a way, it’s the Cinderella fantasy, an eternal young adult theme, especially for girls. Because the story is her first person account of her life; her thoughts, dreams, opinions and decisions might have particular meaning for young girls growing up and trying to make sense of the world around them. But equally she thinks about issues and ideas of human culture that are eternal and ageless, and more mature readers may still ponder these matters as they sort out their lives. So in that sense, it should appeal to all ages.

MJB: What do you think readers will take away from the book? What conclusions might they draw from the story?

WM: I would hope that the foremost take-away readers might appreciate is the discussion of what constitutes greatness in a person, because our world today seems to be lacking in people of true greatness and is the poorer for that void. Our literature and media today is awash with “flawed heroes”, people who fall far short of any altruistic ideal, but I think we long for an occasional heroic person who is simply and unequivocally great, magnificent, and inspirational without reservation. I chose to offer my idea of one such truly great person. I’d like to believe such people can exist.

MJB: A wish I think most of us share.
Did any parts of the story surprise you? Did any of the characters? I find my characters often take on a life of their own and surprise me by doing or saying things I never planned. Did you find that also?

WM: Once I found the story concept, things unfolded in a fairly predictable way. What surprised me was that when I was writing the first person passages of my heroine, I lost all sense I was writing, and it felt like she was actually alive, dictating, and I was merely transcribing what she said. I still feel that way when I read the text. I don’t pat myself on the back for my writing. I feel she told the story and I merely transcribed it. I don’t recall such a powerful feeling with any of my other books or characters.

MJB: I’ve had very similar experiences with some of my characters. That’s when we know that we’re really “in the zone,” and the magic is happening. Great stuff.
Why is this book different than other historical fiction? Why is this book special to you?

WM: This book differs from most historical fiction in the level of speculation, but that was necessitated by the very nature of the mystery and my premise of a solution. I offer the opinion that the Babylonians deliberately erased or destroyed all records of the Garden and the woman who inspired them. And if I am correct, then only speculation can restore the idea.

The book is special to me because of the incredible investment in time, effort, artistry, and contemplation to bring it to reality. The artwork was a true labor of love, for 6 years. The artwork shown in this edition is actually a mere fraction of the total effort, but the remainder of artworks weren’t sufficiently finished to be included. I finally chose to release the book with the finished artwork examples, rather than risk passing away with it unpublished. But the book is also special because the idea has been continually expanding and I see many more volumes expanding the story and the philosophy the story embraces.

MJB: I’m sure readers will be anxious to see the future stories.
You’ve done image recreations of other Wonders of the World as well; where can readers see those?

WM: I included in the book a portfolio of the Seven Wonders artwork I did, from a printing in Computer Graphics World magazine, April 2000 edition. My online website with my digital art is in flux right now, needing to be revised and restored to online access, but it’s on a very long “To Do” list.

MJB: If readers want to read more of your work, how can they do that?

WM: Amazon.com now has four of my books listed. The others are: When Roger Met Patty (a scientific study of the famous Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot” film of 1967), Hopeless (a novel about a quirky racehorse who does runs on his terms only), and The Therapeutic Zoo (a novel about a foster home which adopts some exotic animals and discovers the power of animal therapy to heal humans damaged by the trials of life).

MJB: See all his books on his Amazon Author Page.
And if readers want to contact you, how do they do that?

WM: I always welcome contact from interested people. Email is best, as I am not active in social media. wmunns@verizon.net.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Writing Process/The Field Where I Died

Recently I went on a local TV show to talk about my latest book, The Field Where I Died, and the host, Sandy Moss, wanted to know more about my writing process. It was a fun subject and I thought more people might be interested in the "behind the scenes" peek at how I craft a book.

Usually I will get the kernel of an idea and let it roll around in my head for a few days. Sometimes they dissipate, but sometimes they begin to grow, like a snowball rolling downhill. If they do that, before long I have to start writing. Generally I'll jot down about 5 main plot points, then just start in.

Unlike (I think) most writers, I write in longhand. I find the physical action to be soothing and helpful; I don't think I could ever quantify how it keeps me inspired, but I am convinced it does. If I sit at a keyboard, I don't feel near the satisfaction, nor have near the output. At left is a sample page from my latest book.

As you can see, I do a bit of editing as I go, changing or adding words. Often I'll add a sentence or two in the margin, or make notes to myself about something I need to do or remember. 

One tool that's imperative is the Story Bible. This is where I keep track of who's who--my characters' names, descriptions, ages, personality quirks. I'll often list several possible names to start, then narrow it down as I go and as the character becomes more solid. I also keep a timeline of events so I know what has to happen in what order to get the story where it needs to go.

What still amazes me is how a story--and a character--can end up very different than I originally imagine them. In this particular book, The Field Where I Died, I had an idea for a plot twist involving the main character, Devon Muir, from the very beginning. When I finally reached that point in the latter part of the book, imagine my surprise when Devon refused! Try as I might to force him to do my original bidding, he would not, and I finally had to let him have his way. I think it's very important to allow the characters to be true to themselves; if they do something that's not authentic to them, the readers will know. And that casts a shadow over the authenticity of the entire story.

When the book is done, then I start thinking about the cover. If I already have some idea about what I want, I will search royalty-free image sites like pixabay.com to see what I can find. In this case, I found this image of the Gettysburg battlefield and I thought it was a good fit for the story. I made my own mock-up of a cover and sent that to my cover designer so she could see what I was visualizing.

Then the real work began. My cover designer read the book and made some alterations to my mock-up. The one thing I wanted was a female face in the clouds above the battlefield, as that is an important element in the story. The first woman that my cover designer put in seemed a little too modern, so we looked for other possibilities. I had an idea of having just the eyes in the clouds, but as you can see by the second attempt (below), that didn't work well at all. 

We went back to the original image of the woman in the clouds, but then I was afraid the cover looked too much like a romance. Although there are relationships in the story, it is not a romance in the general sense, and I did not want to mislead my readers. There's nothing worse than buying a book you think is one genre, only to find it's something completely different. The story has some rather dark turns to it, so instead of the light blue sky, I chose a stormier, moodier sky. We also went through several iterations of fonts and finally came back to my original choice. All in all, I was happy with the cover.

Here is a link to the video of the segment from the TV show.


So there you have it. How to write a book in a few easy steps! 




Monday, June 18, 2018

The Rush to Publish

Rush to Publish
We’ve all heard the old maxim, “Act in haste; repent at leisure.” This is true in a lot of things, most especially in publishing. Why more so in publishing? Because when we authors act in haste, we’re not just saying something inappropriate that will be forgotten in time; we’re not just acting badly in one instance that eventually will be forgiven. We’re putting our words out there on paper (or on screen) forever.
Forever.
This issue has cropped up fairly often lately. I do beta-reading, formatting, and editing for quite a few authors, and I see the result of this rush to publish more than I like. I read one friend’s story that, for the first 80% of it, had nice pacing and flowed along fairly well. Then, as if a switch was flipped, the last little bit of it suddenly turned into “telling, not showing,” more like an epilogue than the natural ending of the story. I told the author I could not, in all honesty, give his story a decent review because it seemed unfinished, as if he had just quit on it. He confessed that he knew he needed to flesh out the ending more, just hadn’t gotten around to it.
Then why publish?
I helped another author format a book for paperback via CreateSpace. Once we uploaded the file to CreateSpace and had the online proof reviewer available, she perused that for a few pages and called it good. She was ready to hit the publish button without even taking the time to check through the entire book or order a print proof to review. I cautioned her on this and luckily, she listened. Once she had the physical proof in her hands, she realized the book was anything but ready. We went through another major read-through and edit, then still found a few scattered typos even after she published.
One more author asked me to take a look at his newly-published eBook and gifted it to me for that purpose. I was shocked to see an error on the cover, no front matter at all, no copyright or publication data, and too many formatting errors to count. I understand doing a soft launch, publishing and then asking trusted friends to read and comment before the full-blown official launch, but even for that, the book should be as good as the author feels s/he can make it. Sure, we can always tweak it, but at least get it as close to a finished product as possible.
The problem with the rush to publish is not just that readers will see an unpolished “not ready for prime time” effort, but that this unprofessional version could be floating out there in the ether for a long, long time. Whether readers have bought a paperback or an eBook, if the first version was so glaringly unfinished, how likely are they to try the next (hopefully perfect) version? How many of those paperbacks will get recycled at the local used bookstore, and how many of those eBooks will lie fallow on Kindles or iPads, forever unedited? These ghosts of impatience and incaution could be in circulation for a long time, reminding readers of the author’s lack of professionalism. Like duck-face Facebook pictures, these unpolished embarrassments can come back to haunt the author again and again for years.
Believe me, I know well the urge to finish up a book and call it done. The very first book I sold to a publisher was one I worked on tirelessly for the better part of a year. It was an historical romance (western) about a half-breed trying to find her place in the world. Born of a Cheyenne warrior and his captive white wife, the girl was raised on the Great Plains as a Cheyenne. When, at the age of thirteen, she and her mother were recaptured by the US Cavalry and sent to New York to live with the girl’s grandparents, where she was forced into the new and alien culture, reconditioned and disguised as a young, well-bred white woman. At the age of twenty, she fled the white world for the unsettled West once more, searching for her Cheyenne family and hoping to find the one place in the world where she could finally call home.
My original plan had been to be as authentic as possible in the representation of the Cheyenne culture of the time. I had a pile of books on the Cheyenne and had copious notes on the structure and organization of a Cheyenne village. However, by the time I got to that part of the story, I was so sick of it all that instead of writing the detailed experience I had planned, I settled for a truncated version that skipped most of the essence of the Cheyenne culture. I rushed to finish the book and start sending it off to publishers.
Luckily for me, the publisher that bought the book wasn’t happy with the final page count. After they’d accepted the book and sent me my advance, I got a brief and unapologetic letter saying I needed to add 70 pages to the book. More luckily for me, this was a few years after I’d finished the book, so I was able to go back with a fresh view and add all the detail in the experience in the Cheyenne village that I’d left out before. Seventy pages later, the book was complete, and was finally the book that I had originally wanted it to be.
The rush to publish is something most of us have to grapple with at some point or another. K.S. Brooks talked about her own experience with this in a post called Letting a Manuscript Sit. It’s nothing new, but the problem is that it’s seductive. We get tired. We get bored. Maybe we already have an idea for a new story brewing, and we want to get on with it. We want to finish the one we’re working on and check it off our list. Don’t do it. Readers can tell. I had one friend tell me that he read a book where he could tell just about every time the author reached the end of his day, because the quality of the writing fell off appreciably. At the start of the next chapter, it would come back fresh and alive, but later on would flag again. Readers can tell.
If you’re tired, bored, or have less than full commitment to your story, don’t rush to finish it. Put it aside and do something else. Come back when you’re fresh. And whatever you do, don’t publish if you have any niggling thoughts about, “I can fix that later.” Don’t do it.
Think about those duck-face Facebook photos.
Originally published by Indies Unlimited on December 30, 2014