Featured Thriller Author  

Charles Wilson

Mystery/Thriller Novelist

An 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       


Such 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. 


Charles 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, Mississippi.  



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 discuss
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?

It's 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 book. 


IN 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 twenty years.
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/ or TV?

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 sold...but 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.


At 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 money.

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.


Please tell us about your current projects and what would you like to see yourself doing in the near future with your writing?

been thinking about with no success for five months now. HELP!!!

Selected Bibliography:

Nightwatcher. New York: Carrol & Graf, 1990.

Silent Witness. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992.

The Cassandra Prophecy. New York: Carrol & Graf, 1993.

When First We Deceive. New York: Carrol & Graf, 1994.

Direct Descendant. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Fertile Ground. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Extinct. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Embryo. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Donor. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Game Plan. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000

Deep 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