I’m happy to welcome Reuters Journalist Dan Williams, based in Jerusalem, who has just self-published his novel, Strip Mine.
Diana Bletter: Strip Mine is your first published book starring an unflappable heroine, Jodie Moore, a Mossad agent, who tackles nothing less than global jihad. The novel is set in the Middle East, where you live and work. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got the idea for this book?
Dan Williams: Back in 2002, I was covering the Israeli siege of Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. At one point, a group of foreign pro-Palestinian activists, in quite a dizzying show of solidarity, burst through the military cordon and managed to get into the sanctuary. One of my colleagues joked that there might be Israeli spies among them. That idea stayed with me, and provided the back-story for Jodie’s induction into the intelligence world. I later came upon the idea of Israel and Hamas, though locked in their own conflict, finding themselves aligned against the common threat of the nihilistic and catastrophic violence championed by Al Qaida. “My enemy’s enemy, etc.” has abiding appeal.
Diana Bletter: You are a journalist, now for Reuters. How do you think your career has helped you in your writing, and how did you take the leap into fiction?
Dan Williams: Journalism affords excellent opportunities for first-hand experience, be it in meeting decision-makers or witnessing major events. That’s obvious grist for fiction. But much of the mechanics of fiction involves contrivances that, in my experience, seldom occur in reality – conspiracies, coincidences, convenient story arcs and (dare I say it?) happy endings. So, over time, I’ve found that fiction was the right depository for the imaginings that might arise while I was reporting – the stuff that might otherwise have been left on the cutting-room floor of my mind, as it were.
Diana Bletter: You’ve self-published Strip Mine. Do you have any thoughts about self-publishing that you can share? Any suggestions for aspiring self-publishing writers? Are you pursuing traditional publishing as well?
Dan Williams: I’d be very happy to see Strip Mine picked up by a traditional publisher. But self-publishing has been satisfactory, so far. The Amazon Kindle service is exceptionally easy, and there’s a crucial advantage in terms of contemporaneity: The book’s out within minutes of you hitting the button. By contrast, even the best traditional publishing deal will means waiting long months until the book hits the market. That’s a problem when you’re writing about current events in a place as geopolitically changeable as the Middle East.
Diana Bletter: You live in Jerusalem, where not a day goes by without something happening for you to report on. With a spouse and three children, everyone wants to know: how do you possibly find the time to write? Can you tell us a bit about your writing style? Did you know the end of your novel before you got there? Can you tell us about the next book in your Jodie Moore series?
Dan Williams: It’s all about plotting. Once the story is planned out, then the writing schedule should fall into place. With thrillers, I find that the structure works in reverse, as you must know the denouement in order to unspool it to toward the disparate beginnings of the story. Yes, finding the time is not easy when there are other obligations. But consider this: If you manage just a page a day, then by year’s end you should have a decent manuscript in hand. As for Jodie’s next adventure: Afghanistan, Iran, Kurdistan.
Diana Bletter: Finally, www.thebestchapter.com explores how to write your best chapter and also how to live your best chapter each day in the story of your life. Is there something you do to take care of yourself each day?
Dan Williams: Jog, joke with my kids, and watch some quality television with my wife.
Thank you so much, Dan! You can follow him @DanWilliams for breaking news.
Dan Williams’ writer’s tip: “If you manage just a page a day, then by year’s end you should have a decent manuscript in hand.”