Interview with William R McGrath – Author of Asulon

Originally Posted at Bibliophile’s Retreat by Melissa Meeks
1) Who do you want to meet and why?
Well, if I don’t have to limit myself to the living, my choice would be C.S. Lewis. I’d love to spend some time picking his brain. Among the great writers of history, he seems the most likely to give me usable advice regarding my own work. If it has to be a living person, then it would be Dean Koontz. He is an absolute master at his craft and could probably critique my work on the sub-atomic level.

2) What’s your favorite comfort food?
My wife is Chinese and makes many dishes she grew up with. One of my favorites (especially when its cold and wet outside) is a simple dish of an egg and a duck liver sausage over noodles. In chapter two of Asulon, the hero remembers this dish as one his mother would serve him and his father after returning from a cold winter’s hunting trip. It’s my character’s comfort food because it is mine.

3) What would be your dream vacation?
Already had it. Honeymoon in Hawaii. Doesn’t get any better than that.

4) Is there anyone who has influenced / encouraged you to write other than God who ultimately gives us any talents including creativity? Who and how / why?
My parents would read a story or two before bed each night when I was young. I’m sure that had a great influence on my love of reading and it was my love of reading that led to a love of writing.

5) Can you give a brief synopsis of your journey to publication with your first book?
I had made the standard round of submissions to both CBA and ABA publishers and agents (and received the standard round of rejection letters), until I got my manuscript “over the transom” the old fashioned way. A friend had taught the editor at a small New York publisher how to scuba dive. He called the editor and asked him to take a look at my manuscript. The editor liked what he read and we began to negotiate a contract. About this time, the publisher/owner died and the house ended up closing just before I went to contract.
I then decided I would publish myself and started PTI Press, (I run my own martial arts organization and have been producing and selling my own videos for years, so I thought, why not books?). I use Lightning Source as my POD printer, which gives me direct access to the Ingram wholesale system and the ability to sell on Amazon with a short (20%) discount.

6) What else have you written / are you currently writing (including unpublished works)?
I’m getting book two of The Sword of Fire series ready for publication now. From 1996 to 2006 I wrote a quarterly newsletter for my martial arts group. I have also had several articles published in martial arts and law enforcement magazines.

7) What first gave you the idea for the Sword of Fire books?
I began writing the story in 1981. A friend had called and told me about the storyline of the movie “Omen III, The Final Conflict,” which he had just seen. Typically of Hollywood at that time when handling a biblical subject, the story had very little to do with what’s actually in scripture (in this case, regarding the Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ).
I reacted both as a new Christian, “That’s not what the Bible says” and as a twenty year old guy, “I could write a better story than that.”
So that’s what I set out to do. I decided to set the story of the tribulation and Second Coming in a fantasy setting, figuring that non-Christians would be more likely to read a biblical story if written that way. I wrote on and off for the next few years, getting about 120,000 word done, but stopped writing when my father died in 1986.
I took up the story again in 2001 when my son was born. I wanted to write a story for him that brought together many of the things in the books I read as a teenager that gave me a life long love of reading and, I like to think, help point me in the right direction in life in general.
What I envisioned as one book (The Sword of Fire) has now grown into three (Asulon, Eretzel and Apocalypse). The direct spark for my writing was to write a better story than The Omen, but the tinder, the fuel for my story was all the great books I read as a teen. Therefore, you’ll see influences in my story from authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Dante Alighieri, Edmund Rostand, Alexander Dumas, James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Rice Boroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert E. Howard.

8) What else would you like to share with readers about yourself or Asulon?
I have been training in a Filipino martial art called Pekiti-Tirsia since 1975. Pekiti-Tirsia is a weapons based art that works well as a basis for the sword work used by my characters. When people buy my book directly from me they also receive a DVD with the novel that shows the sword techniques the hero uses in Asulon. You can learn more about Pekiti-Tirsia on my website.

9) Share with us one of the craziest things you’ve done or that’s happened to you?
For the last 21 years, I’ve worked as a New York State Court Officer (remember Bull on the 1980’s TV show “Night Court” – that’s me, same job, same hair cut, just a bit shorter).
I used to work in New York City where crazy is the order of the day. One afternoon a distress call comes over the radio that an EDP (emotionally distressed person) is in the judges parking lot, armed with a knife. I go running down there, drawing my pistol with one hand and my night stick with the other, expecting to find some big, drugged out guy hacking away. Instead I find a 55 year old obese female, waving a meat cleaver, tears streaming down her face, crying out “kill me, please kill me” who is trying to commit “suicide by cop” because her boy friend has left her. The other officers have made a circle around her, more out of instinct than good tactics, and have their hands on their guns, but are keeping them in their holsters. Remember, this woman is trying to commit suicide, so when she sees me run up, gun and nightstick out, she figures I’m her ticket, so she starts coming towards me. There are officers behind her at this point, so I can’t shoot her without the round passing through her and hitting an officer (the authorized gun and ammo back then was a .38 revolver loaded with semi-wadcutters, instead of the safer hollow points we now use in our 9mm pistols), so I holster my revolver and then put my nightstick in my right hand. Meanwhile, another officer has crept up behind her and nods to me. He grabs her arm and I apply “necessary physical force” with the nightstick until I realize that she can’t feel a thing and isn’t letting go of the meat cleaver (I latter learned that she had been on a three day vodka binge before coming to pay us a visit). I then used a tried and true martial arts technique, I tackled her to the ground, whereupon she let go of the weapon. We took her to the hospital, where she stayed handcuffed to a gurney overnight because the shrink won’t admit her while she was drunk, while I got to watch her vomiting (it seemed) every hour on the hour till dawn.

10) What five books would you take with you to a desert island?
Books on survival, boat building and marine navigation :-). OK, I guess you mean which five novels would I bring.
The Lord of the Rings (I have the single volume edition on my bookshelf).
The Chronicles of Narnia (I’d have Lewis’ Space Trilogy instead if it came in one book).
Something from Dumas. The Count of Monte Christo might be too brooding if stuck on an island, so maybe The Three Musketeers.
I’d flip a coin and bring either Paradise Lost or Shakespeare’s complete works. Shakespeare makes more sense because of its length, but I enjoy Milton’s language more.
If I have to stick to fiction, the last book would be Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey (two stories, but I have them in one volume). If I could bring non-fiction, then Young’s Literal Translation of the bible or a New King James.

11) What concept or scripture is God revealing more deeply to you in this season of your life? And how is that revelation influencing your life?
I thought about skipping this one, but here goes. Last summer my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She’s gone through three operations, four months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation treatments and now will be receiving mini-chemos every three weeks until September. She is doing much better now then when she was going through the main chemo treatments and her prognosis is good, but the whole process has been very hard on us physically, emotionally and yes, spiritually. We went through the normal “why us?” process, but this is ultimately a bit self-centered. You could just as easily ask, “why not us?” No great revelations here, just a reminder that we Christians are soldiers in enemy occupied territory. Bad things are going to happen in this life. Your task is to pray and keep going, keep doing your job and have faith that He will get you through whatever comes.
PS. My wife’s name is Karen and we would appreciate your prayers.

12) Why did you start writing and when?
I remember getting a homework assignment in 8th grade to write a two page report. I happened to like the subject I was writing about and handed in a twenty two page report. I think it started then.

13) How do you choose names and get to know your characters?
Most of my names have biblical, historical, mythological or linguistic origins. I use names that say something about each character, either through that name’s original use or through its etymology (i.e. a person with a loud voice might be given the name Hlud, which is loud in Old English). Dictionary.com makes this process easy. Getting to know my characters is also easy. I began the rewrite on this story when I was 40. By that age you’ve come across a lot of people (that may be why a famous author recommended that you wait until you are 30 before writing your first novel). I’ve also been fortunate to have traveled a good deal teaching martial arts seminars (I’ve just gotten back from two weeks of seminars in Europe as I write this), so I’ve had a chance to meet people from many cultures as well. When I’m developing a character, it’s often simply a matter of taking someone I already know and plugging that person into the world of my story. Of course you have to picture that person as having grown up in the time and culture of the story and I do tend to distill the personality of the real person down and then concentrate the results for dramatic effect; but overall it’s still an easy process for me. If you know a lot of people, then you know a lot of potential characters.

14) What’s your favorite character / scene from the Sword of Fire Books (so far)?
My favorite character is an Etruscan called Moor. He’s the hero’s sword teacher and a combination of Mr. Spock, Sherlock Holmes and Machiavelli and gets to say and do things that us civilized folks can’t and there’s great satisfaction in that.
My favorite scene takes place in book one, during a fight in a tavern, when a shy little girl stops the fight with a song that reveals a vision of the earth between The Fall and The Flood.

15) Do you have any teasers you can share for the next Sword of Fire book?
Here is a bit (of an almost final draft) of chapter two from Eretzel, book two of The Sword of Fire. © 2008 William R. McGrath:

Every afternoon, Daniel would take the traveler’s horses one by one on deck and groom and walk them. The third day out from Logres he went into the hold as usual to bring a horse above and found one of the sailors mucking out a stall.

“Afternoon Bleeker,” Daniel said, “how fares our cargo today?”

“Well if you mean the ‘orses sir, they be as good today as they ever was.” The sailor lowered his voice. “If you be meanin’ our new cargo sir, they be givin’ me the shivers since they come aboard.

“Ah, well,” said the prince with a shrug, “those of Anak’s blood are not like other men.”

“I have ‘eard such things sir, but the way they sleep just ain’t natural if you ask me.”

“Oh, why do you say that?” asked Daniel.

Bleeker dropped his voice to a whisper and leaned closer, “They sleep like stone kings.”
He pointed to the far end of the hold. “Go look for yourself, and see if I ain’t right. They be at the aft end of the hold, up against the back wall.”

Curious now, Daniel made his way to the back of the hold. Large cargo boxes and barrels were stored here, lashed down to prevent their moving about as the ship rode the waves.
The Anakim had taken seven of the boxes and lined them up against the back wall. Each Anakim had all his armor upon him and each sat upright on a box, his hands resting upon his knees. So mighty they appeared and yet so still were they that they did bring to mind stone carvings of great and ancient kings set before a tomb.

Daniel crept closer until he was standing before them.
He watched for a time, but did not see any movement at all from the giants. No chest rose and fell with breathing. No eyelid fluttered with a dream.

Could they have all died in their sleep? Daniel was standing before the eldest of the Anakim, the one named Gath. Should he try to wake them? He knew better than to touch a sleeping warrior, (they sometimes reacted by drawing steel) so he whispered a low, “Hello?”
Instantly the Anakim’s eyes snapped open. Surprised, Daniel stumbled back a step.
All the Anakim were staring straight ahead now as if in a trance. Then their heads slowly turned towards Daniel.

“Is it time?” asked Gath in a voice like stone grinding on stone.

“Ah…no… it’s not time,” stammered Daniel, taking another step back.

Without another word the Anakim turned their heads, closed their eyes and withdrew into their sleep.

Daniel backed away from them and left. He returned to the front of the hold and found Bleeker still at work in the stalls.

“Eerie ain’t they sir?” asked the sailor, seeing the look on Daniel’s face.

“Yes, eerie. That is a good word for them,” replied the prince, wondering at what kind of beings his uncles were.

Thank you for taking the time to share with my readers.

Readers you can find out more about the author at his websites use the link in his responses for his martial arts site and click on his picture to go to his book site.

2 comments

  1. Bill certainly gives a great interview! So much information about himself and his ideas. I will be praying for his wife Karen. I didn’t know from anything else he had written.

  2. These were excellent questions and answered artfully. I’m saddened to hear about his wife and will be praying for them both. One personal note, Bill, did you get my book? My hero is ALSO married to a Chinese woman 😉 He also got his start teaching martial arts. Of course, I think he looks more like some of your older pictures (just give him dark blond hair instead of almost black…and no mustache).

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