- Mystery/Thriller Novelist
Interview by Robert L. Hall
- “I DON'T HAVE ANY
IDEA WHY I STARTED WRITING. I hate to say it, but I never had
any "burning" urge. Actually, my getting into writing
probably comes from my biggest weakness--every time I do something
(business or personal) I get bored with it after a while--except for
getting married and that’s still suiting me many years later. (Boy
was I lucky--I didn't think I'd ever find someone who would put up
with me or vice versa).”
-- Charles Wilson
honesty deserves to be heard. And
although best-selling author, Charles Wilson does not describe himself as
a visionary by any means (“I just talk a lot” he will tell you) there
is plenty to listen to here. He
is candid, open and honest. So
sit back and enjoy.
Wilson is the author of a number of acclaimed thriller/mystery novels.
He was born in Kennett, Missouri, on August 2, 1939 and attended
college at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, the University of Missouri, and
the University of Memphis.
Wilson's business experience includes farming in the Okolona and Aberdeen
areas of northeast Mississippi, real estate development in central
Mississippi, and organizing investment syndications to drill for oil and
gas in the area surrounding Enid, Oklahoma. In addition to writing, he
enjoys working with children's sports. He has coached numerous little
league baseball and basketball teams, and he served as a volunteer junior
high head football coach for seven years, compiling a 48-3-1 record during
what he calls "the most fun period of my life." He is married to
his childhood sweetheart, the former Linda Faye George, and they have
three children. Wilson lives in Brandon,
Please share some of your beginning writing experiences, your first
book, agents, and publishers, why you started writing, etc.
As for my prior background, I was "supposedly" going to be a
M.D. Everyone in my family was--grandfather, father, uncles, great uncles,
one aunt, etc., and now my son-in-law. But, when it was time for me to go
to medical school I thought both the time I would have to spend in
studying and a later practice would be boring. So I immediately became the
black sheep in the family--though they still loved me (I think). I moved
from southeast Missouri to northeast Mississippi and got into farming
accidentally. I didn't know what I was doing, but God acted as my partner
I guess, irrigating my crops with rain perfectly for six years, and making
me profitable crops, upon which I got bored, sold out everything (three
thousand plus acres and equipment) and moved to Jackson. There I developed
commercial properties and subdivisions, had great success, got bored, and
quit. I engaged with a friend in Oklahoma in drilling development oil
wells, hit several successful ones in a row--God again--got bored, and
quit. One day I decided I would write a book. I don't know why. I wrote it
thinking it would be rejected
and I would set the manuscript on my shelf. I sent it to five publishers
and four offered me a contract. I went with Carroll & Graf of New York
for four books, was lucky again in getting all really good reviews, was
solicited by some of the biggest publishers, and went with St. Martin's,
where I still write--and for some reason not yet bored. Next book is
paperback copy of Game Plan coming out in December, and new hardback, Deep
Sleep, coming out in February 2000. I never used an agent, though I
have one now. She solicited me promising she could help me and I agree on
a "verbal-book-to-book" basis, as I didn't want to get tied up
with an agent over the long term. Actually thought they were useless to be
quite frank. And they get fifteen percent of your money. She has been able
to get me some particular conditions in my contracts, which have been
helpful, so I am still working with her.
Do you consider yourself a
mainstream writer? Please
your different titles and why they are in slightly different genres.
What do they all have in common?
I think I am a mainstream, thriller/mystery combination writer. Actually,
most authors, once published, pretty well are forced to write in the same
vein book after book. That would be boring to me, and I told my publisher
I wouldn't do it. Probably stupid on my part, as, generally speaking,
readers tend to follow a recurring character, and that's how most authors
develop a following. Again, generally speaking, my previous books, When
First We Deceive, and The Cassandra Prophecy, are straight
mysteries. Nightwatcher is a psychological thriller. Extinct is
a somewhat "stretched", but possible idea of the megalodon, the
ancestor of the great White Shark reappearing. Donor, Fertile
Ground and Embryo are somewhat of a mixture of medical
thriller/mystery. Game Plan, though with a science base, is a
straight-out thriller, as will be Deep Sleep, my next book in
February--or maybe it's a psychological thriller; hadn't really thought
about its theme.
Do you have any advice to students
today that are considering a career in writing?
easier than you think to write. Most people have a problem only in that
they try to write like someone else rather than simply start writing the
WAY THEY LIKE TO WRITE. It's more confidence than anything else.
EMBRYO, a book about test-tube babies brought to term out of a woman's
body and the horrible outcome of that experiment. Briefly discuss the
book, if you will.
I will repeat the cover copy (below) to give a general idea of the
MEXICO... the charred remains of a medical clinic hold a clue to an
experiment that can change the world.
IN LOS ANGELES... a famous model, desperate to have a baby of her own,
sends a detective to track down a legend... and a doctor missing for
IN BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI... a little boy plays with matches and smiles.
IN A SECRET LOCATION... the radical procedure begins, leading to a life
that could signal a revolution in modern medicine... or the end of us all.
Note: Any one interested in reading the first chapter, or seeing critics'
comments to do with EMBRYO or any other of my books can go to my
publisher-sponsored website at either of the below addressees:
(Also, e-mail to the author is available at the sites)
How do you begin a central book
idea and go out from that?
The hardest thing I face in writing is coming up with what I think is a
"unique" idea (one worth writing about). I have actually spent
months thinking before deciding on a theme. As far as the oft mentioned
"writer's block", I have no trouble at all with that once I
decide on a theme. Probably because I am a big mouth and talk incessantly
--therefore it is not hard to write--while on the other hand, coming up
with the "right" idea takes intelligence to a degree, and I have
about decided I'm definitely lacking there. As to technique, I guess I'm
one of the few authors in the world who don't outline. When I get an
"idea for a story" I just start writing and see where it leads
me. I remember while writing my first mystery/psychological thriller, Nightwatcher,
I was about halfway through the manuscript and turned to my wife and said,
"I think I've figured out who killed the victim." To that point
I had no idea who the guilty party was, and in my writing I had been
unable to discover him until then.
I notice that you have a lot of
acknowledgments in your book, "EMBRYO." You have Spanish, Medical terms used. How do you go about
gathering your technical assistance for your books? Travel, interviews,
computer, e-mail, and networking?
I have developed a wide range of contacts from doctors (mostly in my own
family) to college professors, scientists, adventurers, military personnel
at the Pentagon, etc., who all go out of their way to help me with my
research when I need it. I am deeply grateful for all their help.
Several of your books have been
"optioned" by Hollywood filmmakers. Have you delved much into
screenwriting, or can you tell us how your books are suited for movie and/
I have been solicited by two studios to write for them, but
that didn't appeal to me, and so I declined. If I get hungry I reserve the
right to change my mind. As for as options and sales, I've had a
bunch...most of my books have
none has been made into a movie yet, though a studio is "promising
me" on Game Plan. To give you an example of how, even when an
author has not only had a book optioned but received a relatively large
amount of money for it, and a director has been hired, and the studio has
said go ahead and start filming, things can still mess up, I will, below,
cite details of what happened with Extinct.
Extinct was originally bought by a production company, Renaissance
for the second highest price a producer there had ever paid, and sold by
them to NBC. NBC quickly had a script written and
"Green-lighted" the production. That means that NBC said
"go ahead and start filming the story". Soon after that, I met
on the Mississippi coast with several people who had been hired to do the
film, including the director, Russ Lowery, and producer, George Perkins,
and other support personnel who came in from Los Angeles to scout
locations. The shooting of the film was to begin almost immediately. Then
the budget came back high by TV standards. It is my understanding that the
typical 2-hour TV movie being filmed around that time cost about 2.7
million, and Extinct's budget came in around 8 million--mainly
because so much of it was going to have to be filmed on water with all the
costs that entails for barges, boats, etc. The 8 million is actually a
budget at which some normally higher-budget smaller feature films are
made. This scared people.
about that same time, The Seinfeld show, the highest ranked show on NBC at
the time, asked for and received a mega-millions increase in the salaries
for the members of that show's cast, I am sure putting a crimp in NBC's
overall budget--at least that is what I was told. Bottom line, NBC put the
film on hold--which is almost unheard of after it has been
"Green-lighted", and then let their option run out. I understand
this happened to another couple of authors who had movies about to be
filmed at the same time by NBC, again I guess NBC was temporarily saving
Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, I have several other books optioned to
Hollywood and a couple straight-out sold. The good news for me is I keep
getting paid in advance. Yet, on the other hand, while getting paid is all
well and good, and I'm glad that happened, I naturally would like to see
one of my books actually end up being made into a film--not just for ego
purposes but because it would take me from being a best selling author
that is several places down in the listing, to near the top of the list.
That always happens when a movie is made out of a book--whether the book
is any good or not.
tell us about your current projects and what would you like to see
yourself doing in the near future with your writing?
TRYING TO THINK UP A NEW IDEA FOR A BOOK--which I have
been thinking about with no success for five months now. HELP!!!
New York: Carrol & Graf, 1990.
Witness. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992.
Cassandra Prophecy. New York: Carrol & Graf, 1993.
First We Deceive. New York: Carrol & Graf, 1994.
Descendant. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Ground. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
Plan. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000
Sleep. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Feb. 2001.
This article is by
Robert L. Hall - raised in and currently living outside Memphis, TN.,
writes crime mysteries and tales of a youth with adventures in
horsemanship. His books are Mid-South based. Mr. Hall also is a
contributing writer for the on-line journal,When Falls the Coliseum ,
a self-described “Journal of American Culture(or the lack thereof)”at www.wfthecoliseum.com.
A trained musician with
a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and Master of
Music degree from Florida State University, he is staff pianist at Trinity
Baptist Church in West Memphis and has taught music courses at three
institutions of higher learning.
© 2000 Robert
L. Hall, All Rights Reserved