Today I’d like to introduce you all to a devoted historical fiction author. Please help me welcome D.W. Wilma to the interview seat!
David Wilma has been writing history books, history articles, and novels since 1999. For five years he was deputy director of www.HistoryLink.org, the free encyclopedia of Washington State History. For twelve years he was a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate representing foster children. In a first career he was a federal and state law enforcement officer. He writes from a home on an island in the Salish Sea region of the Pacific Northwest. He has authored and co-authored seven books on regional history and has published four historical novels.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
D.W.: I was a history major in college and spent my first career in law enforcement and both pursuits involved writing. When I neared the end of my first career, I explored options for the next chapter. I took night classes and received wonderful encouragement from instructors and fellow students.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
D.W. It was ten years before I published my first titles and the first three came out at once. My freelance work distracted me from the fiction.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
D.W. In high school and college, I enjoyed C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series and discovered Bernard Cornwell’s stories starting with his Richard Sharpe. George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman tells his story through the discovery of manuscripts that open each adventure. I used this device to present my protagonist, Phyllis in her books. Recently I have enjoyed Paulette Jiles in stories like Enemy Women and News of the World.
Betty: What prompted you to start writing?
D.W. I always enjoyed telling a story in my law enforcement work. I had to research events using primary evidence, analyze the information, come to conclusions, and related the story so the reader is engaged. It seemed natural to follow this passion in a second career.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
D.W.: I first wrote a mystery then got employment researching and writing articles on local history. Mysteries require a lot of suspension of disbelief and did not present the real world as I knew it. Historical fiction was a way to teach history as well as entertain.
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
D.W.: I like relating a story the reader has not heard. I like to be first in that regard. I want to leave behind a sense of satisfaction, but also a desire to learn more. Many of my readers remark, “I did not know that.”
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
D.W.: I read and listen to the voices of other authors. In the 1990s, I took night classes. This exposed me to the nuts and bolts of writing fiction as well as other writers and the critique process. My critique group first met in a class in 1998 and the core and the newcomers still meet twenty-two years later. Those are my mentors. I have attended writers conferences mostly to learn about the business.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
D.W.: It is impossible to inventory everything I have learned in the past twenty-five years or longer. The biggest thing I wish I knew is the business of selling and marketing, but there was no way to predict the changes in the industry that have occurred in that time. What I learned ten years ago is no longer valid. Marketing in all the online permutations is still something I am trying to grasp.
Betty: What other authors inspired you (either directly or through their writing) to try your hand at writing?
D.W.: C.S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, Patrick O’Brian, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, Paulette Jiles, and many more.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
D.W.: Down the River is based on a real story I uncovered in family history research. Two of my ancestors were murdered in 1813 in Kentucky in a disagreement over the ownership of some slaves. The bad news is there are few reliable details of the incident. The good news is there are few reliable details of the incident. I was free to fictionalize nearly everything and wanted to take the reader someplace where they might recognize the players. As an exercise for a class I started to tell the tale from the point of view of the only eyewitness, an unlettered slave woman (a real person) and used her in two other books.
Kentucky frontier, 1813. Greedy men struggle for power and wealth using the lives of their slaves as weapons and revenge. Phyllis is a young slave with blue eyes and tells the story of her life, her family, her community, their destruction, her survival, and her resurrection as an Abolitionist leader. She learns that good things can be bad and bad things can be good.
“I can recite every detail from the afternoon the Morgans died. I can tell you the color of their horses, the smell of the trees, and the taste of the dust. I can describe every word spoken as clearly as if I heard it at breakfast this morning. I remember it all, not because of the screams and the blood, but because beginning that day, God chose me and tested me. Those dead men cost me my children, and they almost cost me my life. But their blood paid for my freedom, just as the blood of our Savior paid for our salvation. My freedom grew and blossomed into freedom for millions, but never for those whom I loved.”
Buy links: Amazon
That sounds very powerful, David. I think the POV is also an interesting choice and probably works wonderfully. Thanks for sharing your book with us!
I hope my fellow Americans had a safe yet happy Thanksgiving holiday yesterday! We won’t celebrate the holiday until Sunday this year, so I have a few more days of anticipation of turkey and homemade mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and apple pie… Then to put up the tree and prepare for Christmas. Then before long this very trying (yet productive) year will be over.
Best-selling Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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