Author Interview: Military Historical Fiction Novelist William Hay

William Hay graduated from Carleton University in 1988 with a Degree in Law and Criminology. He moved to Kingston Ontario where he has pursued a career in Law Enforcement. Through his career William has been an active amateur writer. His short story ‘A Woman Scorned’ won Best Short Story at Kingston’s Scene of the Crime Festival in 2007 and was published in ‘Kingston Life Magazine’. ‘The Originals’ is Williams’ first novel.You can visit his website at http://www.williamhay.net/.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Bill! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been writing?

Thanks for having me on the site; it’s wonderful to be here.

I attended University in Ottawa, Canada from 1984 to 1988, where I obtained a degree in Law and Criminology. Predictably, I became a Police Officer and remained in that capacity for sixteen years. I’ve made my home in Kingston Ontario, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence on Lake Ontario, since 1988.

‘The Originals’ is my first published novel, although I’ve been writing creatively for many years. I’d written numerous stories while a Police Officer, but my schedule and the very nature of the work, seemed to suck any creativity from me. My writing suffered and nothing was ever completed. In 2004 I left the Police Department and now work as a Fire Inspector with local Fire Department. The nature of this new career has cleared my mind; I don’t have migraines and I’m home in the evenings and on weekends.

Since then, my writing has flourished. My wife purchased me a laptop computer for a Christmas present in 2004 and I’ve been writing steady ever since. I’ve completed numerous short stories, one of which won an award in the summer of 2007 at a local Writer’s Festival which is run annually. I’ve completed three novels, including ‘The Originals’ and am working on two others with plans for more.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

‘The Originals’ is the story of Canadians in the First World War. Bill Dawson is a veteran of the Boer War and joins up with the newly formed Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. The regiment is unique because it was created from private funds and accepted only veteran soldiers. At the outset of The Great War, the PPCLI was, arguably, the best trained and battle-ready battalion in the British Empire. The story progresses from the point of view of Dawson during the first year of the war where the stalemate on the western front was in its infancy.

One of my fist loves is history, in particular military history. I am a huge fan of the Shaara novels, both Jeff and Michael (God’s and Generals; The Killer Angels and The Last Full Measure from Ballantine Books); they are historical fictions about real people during the American Civil War. I am also a fan of Nigel Tranter’s novels about Scottish history. It was such novels which inspired me to write historical fiction about Canadians.

While working on a much larger, all encompassing project about Canadians in The Great War, I decided to write a shorter story, narrower in scope and topic. ‘The Originals’ is from the perspective of a fictional character who experiences the First World War serving with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. While learning about the PPCLI, I saw in the Regiment’s history a wonderful story. I’ve based it on actual events and actual people.

What kind of research was involved in writing "The Originals"?

Research is a vital component of an historical fiction; the very nature of the genre requires it if the author wishes to remain true and accurate to the story. The vast majority of the events and the characters in the ‘The Originals’ are based on reality. A substantial amount of research was necessary. I religiously followed the chronological order of events which the PPCLI became embroiled during the first year of the war.

I utilized the Official Regimental History among many other official documents to get details of not only the events, but the people involved. I would be remise not to make mention specifically to Stephen Newman’s books (Bellewaerde Publishing-Canada) regarding the PPCLI. I found his books particularly helpful in learning not only about the individual soldiers but how and when they were wounded or killed.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

Interestingly enough, I offered my input within the submission itself. My publisher, in his contract offer, agreed with my cover idea. It was a tremendous vote of confidence and immediately gave me a feeling a being completely involved in the process. The cover of ‘The Originals’ is actually a real painting by W. R. Woolen’s “Canadians at Ypres”. The publishing company purchased the rights from the Canadian War Museum to use it as a cover. The painting, in part, was my inspiration for some of the characters of my novel.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

My story isn’t the traditional story we general hear about from authors, but I had few struggles in being published and found the road a smooth one. In fact I can say it has been a pleasant experience. For ‘The Originals’, I sent out only one submission before my manuscript was accepted. I’m certain the process was smooth because I decided to research publishers before sending off a submission.

During this research stage, I read many blogs and websites providing excellent advice on being published. As many of you are no doubt aware, there are plenty of people happy to offer their opinions and experiences. These insights and opinions are easily accessible via the internet. One interesting plan of attack I read about was to send out at least fifty submissions in order to reach some magical plateau of rejection slips before acceptance was likely. I found this strategy both depressing and outrageous. Another website I found a much better approach. Instead of anticipating twenty, thirty or even fifty rejection slips, do your homework and research the publishing company or agent themselves; find out what they have published and if there is some expertise in a particular genre.

I followed this approach and found a publisher specializing in historical fiction. This narrowed my scope and I feel was the reason why the ride was not a bumpy one in becoming a published author.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

I received confirmation that my Publisher wanted to put my novel into print and signed the contract in mid-September. I received my first copies the last week of October. I’m not sure it that is relatively fast or not. At the time, of course, while waiting for the finished product it seemed an eternity at times!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it's necessary to have one?

No, I don’t have an agent. As I have little aptitude in marketing, it would seem an ideal situation for me to have some form of representation. The difficultly which has befallen this business is not news to anyone, I’m sure, that being: you often can’t get published without an agent and you can’t get an agent unless you’ve been published. I would argue it’s not necessary to have an agent, but I feel without one, you have to develop the fortitude, imagination and connections an agent already has in order to market your product. Some of us have that skill already and most importantly, the time. Some of us don’t. I for one, hope to retain an agent in the future as my salesmanship is not stellar.

It’s an oddity, but I found it much easier to get published than to get an agent!

Do you plan subsequent books?

At present I have submitted another novel for consideration to a publisher, the story is a much larger and long term project about the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. It is also an historical fiction about real men and women who had an important part to play in the CEF’s development through the war. It will be part one of a trilogy. I also am completing a novel about two Canadian brothers who participate in the Spanish Civil War.

All my projects can be viewed at my website.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

Morning is best. It’s like I rebooted overnight and the fog and congestion resulting from my day has cleared. I set my clock for 5:15am, (did I just hear groans across the web?), shower, feed and water my host of pets waiting for me at the bottom of my stairs and finally have my first tea of the day. As I’m writing this, it’s 6:30am, my tea is getting cold and my dogs are at my feet looking for equal attention. It’s my favorite time of day!

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I have read, regardless on how much work is involved and how costly it can become, that public presentations is the best way of getting your book on the market. I have done several public presentations for ‘The Originals’ and each time half my crowd of listeners purchase a copy, but if one does the research, one could easily argue it’s not cost effective. Hotels, car rentals, sustenance and what-have-you, can add up quickly and in some cases a ‘real book tour’ might be lucky just to break even.

If money was no object, I’d like to spend time in preparing, organizing and attending a ‘reality book tour’ to supplement my ‘virtual book tour’.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Promoting my book offline has been difficult as I work full time. I’ve been around to my local bookstores and after staring into lifeless, blank faces walked out. In Canada, we are run by essentially one major bookstore line. Although they have four or five different names, the stores are part of a single chain. Independent bookstores are rare and gradually becoming a thing of the past.

The tragedy is, in general, the majority of books shelved by these book stores, have to be from large distributing centers and from large publishing companies. As I alluded to earlier, getting your book picked up by an agent requires you to have been published, but at present it’s virtually impossible to be picked up by one of these, so-called, large publishing companies without an agent. Hence, getting your books onto the shelves in Canada’s largest bookstore chain is also becoming virtually impossible.

It's a frustrating reality for new authors. I have done what I can offline, but felt rather disillusioned by the lack of support in that arena. I’ve opted for the more cost-effective and less hassling online marketing. I’ve used Face book and Google Ads as my main starting point for online promotion and as a result have been getting occasional hits on my website. I have also hope to generate further interest in my website and my novel through the use of this ‘virtual book tour’. Thus far it’s been a far more pleasant experience than my offline attempts!

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Stay at it. At times that means being tough on yourself. Most of us can write, certainly, but the work necessary to complete an entire novel goes well beyond just the ability of putting a sentence and a paragraph together. Remain focused on your goal and dedicated to your purpose. Getting that first novel completed will be one of the most satisfying moments you’ll ever have.

Thank you for coming, William! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

The Originals’ is available at Amazon (.com and .ca); Barnes and Noble; Borders. Type ‘William Hay The Originals’ and you’ll be taken directly to the correct page. The bookstore of Chronicler Publishing (.com) has my novel for sale as well as an assortment of others. Anyone interested can also visit my website and find a direct link to the web-pages location to purchase a copy.

Please visit my website: http://www.williamhay.net/ for ‘directions’ as well as details on my other projects presently in the works.

Take care and I look forward to seeing you in print!

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THE ORIGINALS VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on March 1, 2008 and continue all month. If you would like to follow William's tour, visit http://www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/ in March. Leave a comment on his blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of his tour! One lucky winner will be announced on this blog on March 31!
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William's virtual book tour is brought to you by Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours at http://www.pumpupyourbookpromotion.com/ and choreographed by Jean Lauzier.

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