Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Same Six Questions - Bill Grasso

Welcome one and all! Today's visitor to The Same Six Questions is historical fiction author, Bill Grasso! Welcome, Bill!

Thanks, Andy! I grew up on Long Island, NY, but my wife and I have spent most of our adult lives someplace else. After graduating college in 1970, I did a stint as an army officer. Once a civilian again, I gravitated to technical pursuits and NY rock and roll bands (guitar/bass). By 1976, the need to feed a young family was paramount; I took a job as an aircraft mechanic for a major airline in Miami, Florida. Airline jobs tend to be mobile and sometimes fleeting: over the next 30 years, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia; had that airline die under us; then moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a series of managerial jobs with another airline. After retiring in 2006, I spent another 2 years as an airline consultant. Good money...but ultimately, the job interfered with my writing (I had gotten the fiction-writing bug pretty strong by 2005).

We’ve been in Tulsa since 1989. We have one son, grown and married, with two boys of his own. He’s a professor of English Lit. at a university in Oklahoma. I seem busier in my retirement than I ever was in my working days, spending my days writing, fixing a never-ending parade of broken things, and flying radio-controlled aircraft. I can still rock out on guitar pretty well, too.

And now for The Same Six Questions!

1. Have you published a book yet?

Yes. East Wind Returns, my first novel, was published as an ebook in March 2011. It became available in paperback in May 2011. It’s a story I’ve lived with, developed, and refined over the course of six years.

I’m a lifelong student of history. When you realize how little it would have taken to change most historical outcomes completely, your mind can’t help but speculate. I love alternate historical fiction—my credo is change one thing...and watch what happens. East Wind Returns is set near the end of World War II—July to November 1945—and explores a very different road to that conflict's conclusion. To quote my book blurb:

The American war leaders grapple with a crippling setback: Their secret atomic bomb does not work. The invasion of Japan seems the only option to bring the war to a close. When those leaders suppress intelligence of a Japanese atomic weapon poised against the invasion forces, it falls to John Worth, a young photo reconnaissance pilot, to find the Japanese device.

It’s full of political intrigue, exciting aerial action and passionate romance. John Worth is an everyman turned quiet hero—my favorite type of protagonist. I really loved writing this book.

2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer for as long as I can remember. The trouble is, I couldn’t come up with a story to save my life. I knew I had a talent for writing, though—in my aviation career, I was a prolific writer of tech and industry articles. But coherent fiction? That didn’t start until about 2005—when I was well into my 50s.

3. What was your first lengthy piece of fiction?

East Wind Returns was the first piece I started that didn’t quickly fall apart. I’m not sure of the exact chronology, but in the year it took me to write the first draft, I completed a few short stories (and submitted them, to zero acclaim). One short story is about an over-the-hill NY doo-wop guitarist, from a very bigoted background, who realizes he might have fathered a daughter with a black woman in a drunken haze some 20 years before. The others are about a clever Chicago policewoman who yearns for success as a sculptor. I’m considering expanding the cop/artist stories into a series of short novels and releasing them as ebooks. I think I’d publish them under a pen name, as they’d be radically different in genre from the alternate historical fiction that preceded them under my own name.

4. When was your first indication “I can do this (write)”?

I’ve known I could write in a clear and engaging manner since I started writing non-fiction, aviation-related articles many years ago. I didn’t know I could write fiction that people wouldn’t laugh or spit at until I began shopping East Wind Returns to traditional publishers and agents in 2006. In my hundred or so rejection letters, no one ever said or implied don’t quit your day job. I took that as encouragement.

I received some reinforcement over the next few years. In 2008, I became enamored with screenwriting. I took classes at the local university, ultimately becoming a member of a screenwriters’ workshop that met weekly. From 2008 to 2010, I wrote six feature length and two short screenplays, often adapting stories I had already written in prose. Two of my works (one short, one feature) were semi-finalists in international contests. I took that as a sign that my sense of story (and craft) had finally arrived. Ultimately, I had to make a choice: I could not write novels and screenplays simultaneously—it had to be one or the other. While I loved both mediums, there seems to be almost no commercial outlet available for the works of a novice screenwriter in his 60s who lives outside of LA. Direct e-publishing, on the other hand, provides opportunity to anyone.

5. If you could meet one of your characters in real life, which would it be?

I’ve already met the vast majority of my characters, either in person or through the media. The names may be different, but the personalities and traits are the same. I owe a great debt to some of our recent political buffoons for providing models that are wonderfully hateful, intellectually challenged, and morally deficient.

There is one exception, though, and she’s the one I’d most like to meet. I’m currently wrapping up my second novel entitled Unpunished, and she is completely a product of my imagination. Her name is Pola Nilsson-MacLeish, a Swedish economist who falls desperately in love with an American airman interned in Sweden during WWII. She’s brilliant, passionate, and multi-lingual, speaking English with a maddening Scottish accent, the result of honing her language skills with the help of the Scotsman she met and married at the London School of Economics. Ultimately, she proves herself terribly courageous. As an added bonus, she constantly created her own dialogue with very little help from me.

6. It’s a dark and stormy night…What makes you scream like a little girl/boy?

It’s a barrel full of snakes—big ones, with the spade-shaped heads that identify them as poisonous. They’re escaping the barrel, forming a carpet of slithering menace that’s growing quickly across the front yard.

I can imagine the fool who placed the barrel there laughing his head off from a safe distance. I can’t help it...I have an Indiana Jones thing about snakes.

There must be hundreds of snakes in the woods behind our house, but they have the good sense to stay away from civilization—most of the time. Once or twice a summer, though, I seem fated to tangle with one.

Like Indy said, “Why does it always have to be snakes?”

Entertaining stuff, Bill! The book sounds great. Thanks so much for stopping by.

For more on Bill and his writing, check out his Facebook page.

Be sure to stop back on Monday, when we'll indie author Patrick Johnson!

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