Spewed forth from the belly of ambition the same year Star Wars debuted in the last century, it is only natural that Markham has achieved greatness and cultivated such an entrepreneurial spirit. After conquering Chicago, he stepped up his game by returning to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, started his own theatre company (Impressions Theatre) that travels to libraries in the summer performing for the summer reading program (Often accompanied by marmosets and clown pies). He also performs in a Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre at a local resort.
Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
I’ve loved good stories since I was a little kid. As I got older, my venue for telling them took place on stage. Acting is my first love, and as such, I focused most on characters. The more I thought about how to portray a character, the more I realized that every character has a story to tell, even Spear Carrier #2. Exploring the stories not told on stage led me to a greater depth of understanding and eventually to a place where I wanted to tell the stories of those characters.
Gray’s story developed as an exercise in character exploration. I started writing it in the early 2000’s while living in Chicago. It took a long time for his full story to reveal itself, and I didn’t have it all on paper until ten years later. I was busy focusing on an acting career, but every now and then, Gray would whisper in the back of my brain, urging me to finish his story. It wasn’t until I left Chicago, that I began writing it in earnest. I’ve been told that the city itself becomes a character in the book, and I think that’s true. Living in Chicago was an important part of my life and it was important that I portray it accurately both for those who have never been there and those who call it home. Gray is my connection to the city that is now part of my past, and I think telling his story takes me back there when I miss it most.
What is it about your genre that speaks to you?
I write the things that I like to read. For me, it is an escape from reality, an opportunity to plunge into an adventure that I wouldn’t be able to experience in my own life. Tolkien got me hooked on the fantasy genre and what I loved most about LOTR was the simplicity of Sam and Frodo’s story. The fantastical elements of the world provided a backdrop against which this relationship played out and when it was over, I felt a sense of loss at its conclusion because I knew I was saying goodbye to characters I had grown to love.
Later, I discovered the Urban Fantasy genre and was intrigued by the possibility of a magical world existing right under our noses. The fact that so many long running series existed also meant that I could spend ample time with characters I liked. This is what drew me to write in the genre.
The books I like best are the ones that don’t hit you over the head with the fantasy at first. I prefer stories that start out in the mundane world and slowly reveal the existence of magic and monsters. That’s what I wanted to do with Missing. I also hoped it might convince people who didn’t read UF that it was worth a try.
I guess a lot of that would depend on why you were in the room to begin with. Gray is a detective, a problem solver at his core, so if you were connected to a case he’s working, there would certainly be lots of probing questions. Otherwise, you’d be drinking coffee. Maybe gin, depending on the context. Those are his two favorite drinks. If you offended his sense of justice, there would be bloody noses. The job is his life. He’s so dedicated that he doesn’t have any hobbies, though he’s pretty good at pool. And you could probably convince him to go fishing.
Everyone has at least one specific challenge that holds them back. What is that challenge in your work and how do you overcome it?
Time. I teach elementary school, I have four kids, I perform in a Murder Mystery, and I run my own theatre company in the summers. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. By the time the little ones are in bed, I’m often asleep as well when I should be writing. To combat that, I have to schedule writing time, whether it’s half an hour or two hours or even ten minutes after school.
My other challenge is focusing on one story at a time. Right now, I have five different book ideas I’ve started playing with. When a find myself bogged down in book 2 of Mason Gray, my mind wanders to those other stories and I have trouble getting back on track. I haven’t figured out how to fix that yet. If you have any ideas, please let me know.
Now that you have published your first book, do you have any dreams you have not reached? Goals for new books, series beyond this publication, or anything else that can tantalize the fantasy public?
Absolutely. Writing a book to completion was on my bucket list. I had hoped that accomplishing that goal would scratch that itch and I could move on with life. That hasn’t been the case, however. The Mason Gray series is going to be at least a trilogy. And as I said earlier, I have five other ideas in my files. One is another urban fantasy centering on an Illusionist living in Las Vegas. I already have an outline, but I don’t want to start writing it until I finish Stolen, the second Mason Gray book.
Additionally, I started working on a traditional fantasy about a year ago. I only have a skeletal outline, but the characters intrigue me. The style of writing is completely different than UF and I hope I can turn it into something extraordinary. I’m shooting for prose in the vein of Rothfuss.
If we reach beyond the written word into visual media, and you could choose how your story is consumed, would you want a television show, a movie series, or anime to tell the story of the book and the world it takes place in?
One reader used the word cinematic to describe Missing, and since it is only 52,000 words long, I think it would make a good movie. When I write, I see the scenes play out in my head like a movie and then describe them, so yeah. I think I’d like to see it on the big screen.
If you are casting your protagonist in a movie, what actor would you choose and why?
I’ve been wrestling with this question for a while. Not because I actually need to worry about it, but when I started writing it, I pictured Liam Neeson in the title role. But time waits for no man and no book. Now, I think Jeremy Renner would be a good fit. He might be a little short, but he’s got the personality for it.
The audio book sector is exploding right now. Have you been listening? If so, can you recommend an audio book to us?
Oh my gosh, audio books are my life right now. I have a forty minute commute to work each day and I got tired of listening to the radio so I started borrowing audio books from my library through Overdrive. Narrators can make a huge difference. I actually started reading Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, but had no idea what was going on until I listened to it. The narrator’s voice was perfect and made everything clear. So if you haven’t given that a try, do so. I’ve also listened to most of the Jack Reacher books this year and have started on the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly.
Can we expect an audio book from you, and if you had the ability to choose anyone to narrate it, is there someone in particular you would hire?
Yes. It’s currently available on Audible and iTunes. I used ACX for the production. Initially, I was going to record it myself, being no stranger to voice-over work, but the amount of time required for editing and mastering was beyond what I could realistically do. So I opened it up for auditions. I had a few submissions, but no one fit the bill exactly. So I went hunting for myself. I found two voices that I really liked and sent them private messages asking them to audition. One did. His name is Adam Barr and he has done a fantastic job.
I can’t explain what it’s like hearing someone else read your words, breathe life into them, and manifest this character that has only existed in your imagination for years. A point came when I forgot I was listening to my own book. I would hear these phrases that I thought were clever or make me laugh and thought, “Wait, I don’t remember writing that.” Talk about surreal.
I have some codes for people willing to review it. Anyone interested should drop by my website and shoot me an email.
Do you have any regrets about the story you told? Would you make any changes to its telling or did you capture exactly what you were looking for?
I tell my students that no piece of writing is ever finished. There are always improvements to be made. One of the great things about self-publishing is that I can make those changes whenever I want and upload them so the next reader gets a better version. Not that I’ve made many changes since the first upload. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, especially after my editor got a hold of it and beat the passive voice out of my manuscript.
As far as characterization and story development goes, there’s only one thing I regret. I made a certain person too young. After listening to the audio version, I picked up on it and realized how unlikely it made her relationship with another character. Ultimately, its a minor detail, but one that I should address.
What element of this story can we expect in your future work?
The next book in the series incorporates a lot more of the fantasy elements expected in UF. Gray struggles with his new-found abilities and what his role in the world actually is. We meet a few new supernatural characters, but the mystery surrounding their true nature remains a fundamental part of the world. My goal is to keep the audience knowing only marginally more than Gray does.
You are going to commit a crime, bank heist, murder, you can choose a co-conspirator from your book. What crime would you commit and who would you choose as your co-conspirator(s)?
I’m not sure what crime I would commit. Something that would result in me having a lot of money, so probably a heist of some kind. Or maybe an assassination of a rather nasty politician. That would work, too. And the one I’d want at my side would be Harrison. He’s a cold, calculating killer. But he doesn’t do it for fun. I wouldn’t call him evil, just amoral. Money is his motivation. He has a certain amount of honor, too. He wouldn’t double-cross someone he was working with unless someone paid him more. Contracts mean a lot to him, so I’d put everything in writing first.
Harrison’s origin is an interesting story. After I got married and was thinking about having kids, we were trying to come up with a list of names we might use. Fletcher Harrison was one of the names I came up with. My mother-in-law really liked it. Apparently, she had a Fletcher in her family history. But ultimately my wife vetoed it, saying it sounded too aristocratic or something. I couldn’t let it go, though. I was going to bring Fletcher into the world one way or another, so I wrote him into the book. Now I’m kind of glad we didn’t name our kids that. I don’t want them to turn out to be cold-blooded killers.
Do you share any vices or habits with any characters in your book? If so, what are they?
Coffee plays a prominent role in my story for a reason. I have a giant thermos I carry to school every day. The kids dread the rare day when I don’t bring it. In college, I was known to go to the local cafe and get a double espresso at ten or eleven at night, then go pass out in the dorm.
One vice we don’t share is the love of gin. I can’t stand the stuff. Rum or whiskey is more my style.
There may be others. But I won’t speak of them here.
Find more from William Markham online: