Interview with J. Stuart Willis, author of "Deadly highway"
Interview with J. Stuart Willis, author of "Deadly highway"
J. Stuart Willis grew up in Alexandria, Virginia and attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1958, and served twenty-five years in the Army. During this time he served in Taiwan and later in Vietnam as a liaison officer for the 173rd Airborne Brigade. During his Army career, he attended graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, earning a master’s and doctoral degree in physics. He served as a professor of physics at the United States Military Academy for sixteen years before retiring from the Army in 1983. He then worked for TRW Inc. as a manager working on communications projects and the Department of Energy’s nuclear waste project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. During this time he lived in Rappahannock County, Virginia, where he still lives. There he served as the elected mayor of Washington, Virginia (often referred to as “Little Washington”) for nine years. He currently lives in Sperryville, Virginia with Charlie, his Hound/Borzoi cross.
Welcome back Stuart. For new readers, you can find my previous interview with J. Stuart Willis for his debut novel, Gestation Seven, at readerviews.com. Today we’re going to talk about your latest book, Deadly highway. What is this story about?
The story centers around the staff of the East Coast division of a major technology company preparing a proposal for a major highway contract to replace the Interstate Highway System. The contract will potentially be worth millions of dollars, perhaps billions over many years, and will secure the future of the company as well as the new vice president on the east coast. As a result, there is tremendous pressure on the proposal manager and his internally competitive staff to win the bid. The book includes not only the development of the proposal, but also the competitive and violent actions and interactions of the staff and their wives.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I try to write my books that include topics or approaches to topics that are not usually addressed in novels. In the past, I worked for a technology company and was involved in the development of three proposals. Although my experience in developing these proposals was
constructive and friendly, the idea of developing a proposal in a more heated atmosphere seemed to provide an opportunity to develop a novel. This atmosphere, far different from my own experience, is what I described in Deadly Highway.
Tell us about a few of your more colorful characters. What motivates them?
Charlie Hendrix is a recently retired army colonel trying to establish himself in the industry and competing with more established employees at a technology company. He’s a guy who wants to be where the action is, and somewhat suffers in the paper-pushing atmosphere.
Linda Hendricks is a woman who has been an Army wife for twenty years and suffered through her husband being in Iraq and Afghanistan for three tours while she raised two sons. In her frustration with what she sees as a boring life, she has an affair that she regrets.
The Battle of Fortiano is the wife of a longtime employee of the technology company. Over the years, by sleeping with the proposal manager and supplying drugs to the manager’s wife, she protects and supports her husband’s position in the company. When she discovers Linda Hendricks’ affair, she uses it to blackmail her husband’s new competitor.
How do you create your characters? Are they inspired by real people?
Some of the characters were based on some of the people I knew in the military and in industry as a starting point, but I went from there with my imagination. Fortunately, I don’t know any of them.
Which character do you relate to the most and why?
Charlie Hendrix because I retired from the military and went into industry.
What is it about corporate politics that inspires such creative storylines?
The politics of the book are a little extreme, but I know managers who were very competitive, along with their wives, about friendship work with their bosses.
I was intrigued by some of the ideas your characters came up with for building a new highway system, especially some of the methods of directing and controlling traffic using technology. Is this the realistic future?
I believe that the concept of self-driving cars will guide the design of the highways of the future, and hopefully the software involved will allow comprehensive control of highway traffic to improve safety.
How extensive was your research for this novel, especially as it relates to building a highway system?
I mostly reviewed government regulations related to public procurement. Self-driving cars, of course, receive extensive discussion in the media we all read.
What did you learn from writing your first book? Seventh pregnancy?
I think people want stronger characters. Gestation was about a young man defeated by circumstances and surviving in that atmosphere.
Being an author these days involves more than just writing great books – what do you do to promote yourself and your book and what is your biggest challenge?
I have spent an incredible amount of money with “professional” traders with little effect. I sign books, but the effect is small. I’m also active on Twitter and Facebook, but my contacts there are often other writers with the same problems I have. The whole process is competitive and difficult.
What do you love most about being a writer?
To hear someone say they enjoyed my book.
do you have a muse How does it motivate you?
No. I’ve had ideas in my head for years and now I’m trying to put them on paper.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
No. My books so far follow what happens in time. As a result, I just write what happens next.
What can you tell us about your writing process?
I have a few ideas to build, and then I just sit down and write linearly to incorporate those ideas.
What next? Do you have another project in the works?
I’m currently working on a book called Three Degrees Fahrenheit and Rising, set in the year 2087. At that time, some of the US coastal lowlands are being flooded by rising seas, people are moving inland, and work is hard to come by I find.
Considering what you’ve learned with two novels under your belt, what advice can you give aspiring authors?
Since I haven’t had much success so far, I’m reluctant to give advice. I think I have written interesting books and received good reviews for them. You have to get people to read your books. With thousands of books, this is difficult to do.
Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and your books?
My website is www.JStewartWillis.com.
How can readers connect with you on social media?
On Facebook: J Stewart Willis
On Twitter: @jstewarwillis7
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you write, enjoy writing. Be careful about spending money on marketing. The price could eat you alive.
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