Author Q&A: William T. Johnstone
The film industry has gotten a bad rap in the past few decades, but if it weren’t for movies, we might not have author William T. Johnstone.
Johnstone returned to his childhood love of writing after retiring from the business world, and he credits his lifelong love of cinema with teaching him how to tell a story.
The author of The Seventh Message was nominated for our Q&A series by a reader who loved its female protagonist and on-the-edge-of-your-seat pace.
So we recently set out to find how this thriller with a melting-pot cast came into being.
SADYE: What led you to give writing a try?
WILLIAM: I attended a small parochial high school in central Ohio years ago. The teachers gave us individual guidance as opposed to impersonal instruction. I may have been sixteen years old when I decided to write a short story. It wasn’t assigned.
I thought of a plot, a significant conflict, and a way to resolve it. Weeks later I showed it to my teacher. She praised me and said I should study writing as a profession. I still have that hand-written story, her comments, and the memory of a youthful success.
I didn’t follow her advice. I played it safe. I became a teacher, entered the business world and then federal service. The writing seed lay dormant deep inside.
SADYE: And then what motivated you to write The Seventh Message?
WILLIAM: I promised myself I would write fiction when I retired. I yearned to be free of the constraints of technical writing and the pressure of meeting deadlines. I wanted to write a story that sprung from my mind spontaneously.
I threw myself into the story with only a vague notion of where it would go. The reader will be surprised by the twists and turns of the plot, as I was surprised when they occurred to me.
SADYE: What else surprised you about the fiction-writing experience?
WILLIAM: Many of my work experiences require disciplined research and technical writing skills. Whether it was drawing up design plans for an urban development, creating a general policy plan for community growth or researching environmental impacts of a proposed project, the end result was a formal document.
Writing fiction is different. It calls upon the writer to analyze the human experience and fabricate a world for it to live in. It starts with imagination and is presented to the reader wearing a coat of realism. There are no rules, but there are guidelines the fiction writer must understand and respect if success is to be achieved.
SADYE: What has been the most rewarding part about writing and publishing a novel?
WILLIAM: Creating a fictional story is like painting a colorful mural on a wall long enough to display the entire picture.
With each stroke of the keyboard you add conflict, action, and drama. Your expression of ideas is limited only by self-constraint.
When you finish the story, you have exercised your mind and entertained yourself. That is a reward sufficient to justify your time and effort. There is joy in pulling together the elements required to publish the project.
When your book arrives in the mail—that physical, tangible thing that has weight and measurable dimension—you want to hold it much like a parent wants to hold his newborn baby. It is recognition that you have created something that could outlive you. Proof that you existed.
SADYE: You describe yourself as being a movie buff. Is there anyone in the film industry that you take writing inspiration from?
WILLIAM: My mother loved movies and never felt the need to hire a babysitter. I grew up watching movies of all kinds.
The presentation of plot, character, and scene that every movie must employ is ingrained in me. It’s how I learned to tell a story. It is how I think.
I don’t have a favorite director or screenwriter I emulate. I do have a sense of what I feel works on both a physical and emotional level. The story must have an air of authenticity and its arc motivated. It must be believable.
SADYE: You’ve got a detailed disclaimer about Muslims being integrated into society and helping fight for freedom in The Seventh Message’s description. What prompted that?
WILLIAM: I feel fiction is primarily written to entertain, but it need not avoid displaying proper values in the course of telling a story.
Currently the war on terror has put the Muslim community in a gray light. This is not new. The history of immigration from Ireland, Italy, China, and Africa, to name a few, has tended to unfairly stereotype individuals of a particular group.
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Learn more about William T. Johnstone and buy his book on Amazon.
Know an author you'd like to see featured? Email sadye (at) thefussylibrarian.com with a recommendation!