Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (, including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Author interview no.197: William Doonan (revisited)

Back in November 2011, I interviewed author William Doonan for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and ninety-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery novelist William Doonan. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, William. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
William: I am an archaeologist and college professor, and I live in Sacramento, California with my wife and two little boys.  I studied anthropology and fiction writing at Brown University, and then went on to get a Ph.D. in anthropology.  I’ve done mostly architectural archaeology in Central and South America.  In academia, there is a great deal of pressure to write and publish, but every time I sat down to write a site report or a journal article, I found myself sketching out a story.  So I decided if I was going to write, I was going to write the kinds of things that made me happy.
Morgen: And I hope you are. :) What genre do you generally write?
William: I write mysteries.  For the last twelve summers I’ve been lecturing on cruise ships, so I learned a lot about cruise ship culture.  That led me to my first mystery novel, Grave Passage, which recounts the adventures of Henry Grave, an octogenarian detective who investigates crimes on cruise ships.  Two years later (in 2011) I followed up with Mediterranean Grave, my second Henry Grave novel.  But all the while, I’d been working on my archaeological mystery, American Caliphate, which Oak Tree Press is publishing in December.
Morgen: Ah, my new ‘old’ friends; Oak Tree Press… aren’t they great? :) Have you considered other genres?
William: I’ve written some sci-fi stories; I love that genre.  But the mystery genre resonates with me.  Maybe it has to do with being an archaeologist -- we investigate mysteries in the past.  Down in coastal Peru, at a pyramid site called El Brujo, we uncovered skeletons by the dozen, many of them cold case murders.  Some are 500 years old, so it’s unlikely we’ll bring any killers to justice, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth investigating.  This project gave me the idea for American Caliphate.  It’s based on the premise that a group of Spanish Moors made an illegal expedition to sixteenth-century Peru, and they left behind a document that the archaeologists are trying to unearth, a document that could challenge the Islamic world.
Morgen: Wow. Definitely fiction fodder there. :) What have you had published to-date?
William: In addition to the two mysteries mentioned above, I also wrote an obscure, yet detailed study of Mayan artifacts called The Artifacts of a Royal Residence: Group 10L-2, Copan, Honduras.  You can get in on, but I wouldn’t if I were you, unless you really enjoy exhaustive analyses of Mayan obsidian blades.  But if that’s your thing, then I highly recommend it.
Morgen: Um… not something I’d considered before if I’m honest… :) How much of the marketing do you do?
William: Ah, marketing!  Sometimes I wish I were born in a different era, when dirigibles floated across night skies, or back in the time of the pharaohs, or back when publishing houses handled the marketing end of things.
Morgen: Yep, I’d say you’re totally suited to your profession. :)
William: But those times are long gone.  Maybe that’s for the best; dirigibles were risky and precarious and filled with hot gas, the pharaohs weren’t so nice, and most of the publishing houses were also risky and precarious and filled with hot gas.
Morgen: Some would say that… no, I’d better not…
William: Working with Oak Tree Press has been a truly eye-opening experience.  Sunny Frazier, my mentor and sensei, spent a lot of time working with me on issues of exposure, networking, publicity, and marketing.  I think I’ve learned more in the last year than I did in grad school.  Slowly at first, then more quickly, I’ve been expanding my reach.  In addition to my website,, I also blog at, and Tweet at @doonan1.  You can also find me on Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari, Crimespace, Linked In, LibraryThing, and CyberVillage authors.  I currently have more networked connections than Skynet (which took over the planet in the Terminator movies).
Morgen: Ah yes, T2 is one of my top 10. And yes, certainly more connections than me, and I thought I was busy. You mentioned your mentor Sunny (hello Sunny! :)), do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
William: I had an agent for about two years.  She was helpful in placing my first mystery, but we’ve since parted ways.  This whole industry is changing so quickly now that I’m convinced agents will soon be spending their days playing bocce in the park with the stenographers and the moveable-type setters.  Sure, maybe if you’re a pop star looking to sell your book of poems, then having an agent might be useful.  But I’m not a pop star, yet, so I think I can live without an agent.
Morgen: A pop star “yet”… another string to your bow. Sorry, terrible cliche. Let’s move on. :) Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
William: I’m confident that American Caliphate will be available as an eBook.  My second mystery is too.  Like them or not, and I’m not a huge fan, they’re here and they’re staying.  If you’re going to be in the business of publishing books, and all authors must be in that business, then ignoring eBooks is like ignoring the internet.
Morgen: My mum ignores the internet very successfully… she doesn’t know what she’s missing. :)
William: That being said, I like the look and feel of a real book.  I like peeking over airplane seats to see what other people are reading, and they get freaked out when you stare for fifteen minutes trying to make sense of what’s on their Kindle screen.  Also, you can’t bring a Kindle into the bathtub.  It’s too stressful.
Morgen: And bathtubs should never be stressful. I have some waterproof books made for the bath but tend to have showers which isn’t particularly conducive to reading. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
William: I’ll never forget the day I got the contract for Grave Passage.  I think I ran around the block three times and then came back inside for doughnuts.  And when I got the contract for American Caliphate, I did the same thing.  My neighbors worry.  It’s still a thrill, and I think it always will be.  It means that someone likes your story and is confident that others will like it too.  And that’s a pretty great feeling.
Morgen: Doughnuts sound like a great way to celebrate (although mine would be banoffee pie). So you’ve had rejections, how do you deal with them?
William: Too many to count.  I know it’s a numbers game, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t bother me.  They do, and I guess each one makes me more determined to be a better writer.
Morgen: Which is just the way to view them. Someone says you can’t do something you go and prove them wrong (don’t you Ms Rowling?). :) What are you working on at the moment / next?
William: Mostly, I’m working on getting all my ducks in a row for American Caliphate.  At the same time, I’m finishing up Grave Indulgence, my third Henry Grave mystery.
Morgen: :) You sound so busy and you work, do you manage to write every day?
William:  Every day?  My goodness, no.  I have two boys, ages six and five, and it seems like every day they wake up wanting more food.  But I do set weekly goals that I usually meet.  If I can write 3,000 words a week, I can still get a solid draft done in half a year.  Then I spend the other half of the year adding motivation, vowels, and a plot.
Morgen: What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
William: I don’t know if I get writer’s block specifically.  More commonly, I feel like I get myself trapped in a corner of a story.  Then I have to figure out a way to write myself out, like why do I have the princess on top of the bell tower with a cheetah?  She’s allergic to cats.
Morgen: Wow. So do you find you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
William: I’d say that I have a basic arc in mind.  I know where the story is going to end up in one form or another. But I don’t do any more plotting than that.  I kind of let the characters open doors, and then we see what’s on the other side.
Morgen: That’s what I do and I’d say the majority of my interviewees have said the same. You can plan meticulously but I’ve not met an author yet (to my knowledge) where the plot holds all the way to the end. It sounds like you’ve written a fair amount, do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
William: Oh my goodness, yes.  And the world is a better place for it.  Unless you really want to know what happens when you send two cosmonauts, a case of Polish vodka, some M&Ms, and a two-ton mako shark to the international space station, you better hope nobody agrees to publish “Shark Orbit.”
Morgen: That sounds like fun to me, but then I have quirky taste. :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
William: I guess my favorite part is getting to craft the stories, to spend time in a hinterland of my own design.  Also great is when people tell you how much they liked your story.  My least favorite part has to be proofreading.
Morgen: Yep, I’d go with that. I do three or four edits then it goes off to my editor and she pulls it to pieces. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
William: I’d tell them the whole world has changed.  You can do whatever you want now.  The gatekeepers of old are gone.  And the new gatekeepers are all of us, the readers.  We post reviews, and when we spot genius, we sing it to the world.  What would happen five years ago if you wrote a young-adult sci-fi pirate romance?  Nobody would know what to do with it.  Your manuscript would be playing musical slush piles as unpaid interns from competing imprints fought each other with sticks for the chance to reject it.  But now you can go ahead and write it.  The genres are all open and overlapping, and the opportunities are vast.  That being said, the young-adult sci-fi pirate romance market is still pretty tepid.
Morgen: Maybe not if you wrote loads of it William. :) You mentioned being a reader, what do you like to read?
William: Right now, I’m focused on the classics; Thomas the Tank Engine, Dr. Seuss, and such.
Morgen: I loved Dr Seuss. Not so sure I remember much TTE but they’re sturdy stories so I can see why they’re still popular.
William: But when I get a free moment, I like Donna Leon’s Venetian mysteries.  I’ll pick up just about any mystery I can get my hands on, or anything by Elmore Leonard.
Morgen: I heard an interview with Donna recently and seem to recall she had never owned a TV and has no personal online presence which seems a shame (although I may be wrong). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
William: I read your blog religiously.
Morgen: You do… and you kindly leave (er, kindly) comments. I’m chuffed. :)
William: The LinkedIn writers group has given me some invaluable insight.
Morgen: Aren’t they great! Hi JD, Kat, Rosanne, Neil, Lin, David, Yvonne and co. :)
William: The Oak Tree Press blog is fascinating, and I’m having a fun time with Twitter.  I Tweet every day but I’m not sure I’m pressing the right buttons.  Also, I need more Twitter friends.  If you follow me at @doonan1, I’ll send you free cheese sticks.  (note: no cheese sticks)
Morgen: I follow you… and you’ve not been on there long, give it time. I always say the best thing to do with Twitter is to ‘chat / give info’ 90% of the time and 10% of the time. No-one is defollowed quicker when all they talk about is themselves – you’re allowed in an interview of course, that’s a ‘given’. :) Speaking of which, you mentioned a few of your sites earlier, where’s the best place to find out about you and your work?
William: At  Thanks for the interview Morgen.  It’s been great chatting with you.  I hope you’ll consider American Caliphate when selecting your next archaeological mystery!
Morgen: Thank you William. I’m certainly no expert on that genre so thanks for the tip. :)
William Doonan is an archaeologist and professor of anthropology in Sacramento, CA.  He has spent many years conducting excavations in Central and South America  He is also a veteran cruise ship lecturer, traveling the world and speaking on topics as diverse as the Trojan War, piracy in the Adriatic, and the peopling of the Americas.  William is also the author of two mystery novels, Grave Passage, and Mediterranean Grave, which recount the adventures of an octogenarian detective who solves crimes on cruise ships.  His archaeological mystery, American Caliphate, is slated for a December 2011 release by Oak Tree Press. William lives in Sacramento with his wife and two sons.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :)
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.


  1. American Caliphate sounds like just my kind of mystery, Bill! I was on a dig in Guatemala in the 80s. Excellent interview- it was good learning more about you and Oak Tree.

  2. Thank you, Melodie. :)

    William - my interview with Melodie was :)

  3. Terrific interview, and between the two of you, you gave me a few chuckles. However, I'm still back at the bones of murder victims you found, William. Fascinating! I recently read American Caliphate and it was a terrific book. I hope you'll do more like this one.

    Marja McGraw

    1. Thank you, Marja. :D

      William, my interview with Marja is :)

  4. I just finished American Caliphate and loved it. Give me a dig and a body anytime!

  5. Hi, William. So this is what you're doing on your summer vacation from teaching. Few academic types can write fiction but you manage to do both--nice meld of the rational/creative halves of the brain. Fascinating interview. America Caliphate is definately on my TBR list.

  6. Thanks guys! The book was great fun to read. I think I got interested in archaeology in the first place because you never knew what you were going to find next. It might be just some clumps of dirt. But it might also be something nobody else has had a look at in over a thousand years. And that's pretty cool!

  7. Lecturing on cruise ships, eh? I *knew* I should have finished that PhD! Glad I read this today; it reminded me to move your mysteries up on my list of good mysteries to read!

  8. Thanks, Gigi! Looking forward to reading Artifact!

  9. Morgen,
    William consistently amazes me! Archaeologist, professor, cruise ship lecturer, writer, husband and father. I only have 24 hours in my day but William must have found a way to increase his. Oh, and by the way, I've read "Mediterranean Grave" and "American Caliphate" and he's a terrific writer.

  10. Thanks, Patricia! That means a lot coming from the author of 'Mixed Messages.'


Thank you for taking the time to read this interview and leaving a comment - we are all very grateful.