I had the good fortune of finding Charles Wilson, the author of Extinct on the 'Net. A review of this novel appeared on my Tomes of Starhopping page, and may now be found in the Archive. The website where I located his e-mail address had a great deal of information on it, including a brief biography and the first chapters of several of his books (you can find the link at the bottom of the page). I sent him an e-mail requesting an e-mail interview with him, and he agreed!
On display here is the result of that fateful e-mail. The interview comes from messages sent back and forth between Friday, April 24, and Sunday, April 26. I've filtered the interview down somewhat, but all with Mr. Wilson's approval. Enjoy!--XS
Cover graphics appear with Charles Wilson's permission
XS: In one of my classes someone mentioned this idea: that a writer with a bad childhood can only write about topics relating to his/her childhood experiences, while a writer with good growing years can write about anything. Your varied subject matter suggests you had a happy childhood.
CW: It would be impossible for my family life to have been better. My parents, Loys Charles and Alberta Presnell Wilson, led lives that taught me a lot about character and decency. My grandmother on my mother's side--Mom, the perfect "old-fashioned-lady" who lived with us--would sit and talk to me for hours when I was very young. Her stories caught my attention, as she lived to be 104 and was born shortly after the Civil War ended, thus seeing travel, etc., change from the covered-wagon days to people landing on the moon. I also had two great sisters.
XS: How is your family life now?
CW: Now I not only have three children that show me every love possible, and two grandchildren (one sleeping over with me tonight), but I have a son-in-law I jokingly say I like better than my daughter--he is "Cas" Heath, a last year resident in emergency medicine, and my daughter is "Cassie"--Cassandra Lynn Wilson--Heath, an unusual coincidence.
XS: Who was--or were--the biggest influence(s) on you while you grew up?
CW: My father, mother and grandmother, and since I got married so early, I like to say my wife.
XS: That's right, the biography mentions your wife, Linda.
CW: I have been married to Linda since I was 21--she was 17 at the time. Her family life was such that when we moved from Missouri to Mississippi in the 60's, her family packed up and moved too, and her parents still live within 15 miles of us, where they visit with us regularly, and we them.
XS: Your educational credits are substantial and impressive. Has your education helped you in your writing pursuits?
CW: I am the first male in three generations on my mother's side of the family who isn't a medical doctor--my father was and, of course, so is my son-in-law--though my educational background was exclusively tailored to becoming a doctor.
XS: Did you want to be a doctor?
CW: No. When my father learned this, he asked me to continue undergraduate school until I was accepted in medical school, and then he would allow me to make my own decision. I was accepted to St. Louis University Medical School and promptly told him I still didn't want to be a doctor. Then I gathered my family--my wife and first child, Charles, Jr.--and drove South, deciding it would be better to starve in an area where it was warm rather than the North, where it was cold. So I didn't mean my education background to sound impressive; it was more a matter of me moving around from school to school having different experiences. As far as whether my education helped me in my writing career, any education--whether by school or life--helps.
XS: Hmm. Your resume is also impressive: farming, real estate, and oil and gas syndications.
CW: I got into my first occupation, farming, by running out of gas on my way South and pushing my car into a service station, and being embarassed, which led me to make a remark about the soybeans growing across the road. Turned out it was cotton with the bolls not yet open. That embarassed me more, and I talked more. Found out that land was very cheap compared to Missouri land. I talked my father into helping me make a $5000 down payment on a farm of 580 acres, started farming it, and was blessed with perfect weather for six years on it and other farms I subsequently bought, harvestinging bumper crops, and getting my big start in life.
XS: Sounds profitable. What took you away from it?
CW: I became bored and ended up selling land, and started into real estate. I was lucky there, got bored, and went into oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma, was lucky there, got bored, and decided to write a book. Don't ask me why, I never had an urge to be a writer. I didn't think it, Nightwatcher, would get published, but all four publishers I sent it to made me offers. And so now, seven published books later with two more written coming out next year, I am a writer. And I haven't gotten bored yet. Maybe I have found myself.
XS: The biography also mentions that you were a junior high football coach and those years comprised "the most fun period of my life." Do you enjoy working with kids?
CW: I've always loved working with kids. The junior high football coaching was done as an unpaid volunteer for eight years because I loved it so much.
XS: How important is success to you, in regards to yourself as well as your children?
CW: I'm perfectly happy, so I guess that is success. My children have not only done fairly well in life to date--with one still in school--but through their actions they show me and my wife we raised them to treat people right, though we don't take all the credit for that as there is the innate self that helped them, too. Part of the love they show us, meaning we did something correctly, is that my daughter and son-in-law live one block from us. My youngest son--despite being a jock on a college athletic scholarship--hugs and kisses us whenever he sees us and tells us he loves us, no matter what other jocks from his team are around, and has always done that. My oldest son, an attorney now, lives only a two-hour drive away, and we either go to see him or he comes to see us every month.
XS: Do you have any great dreams in life? How about a worst fear?
CW: Don't have any great dreams, except I of course hope to continue doing well as an author. I guess you could say I'm very satisfied with life as it is. Don't have any fears, except I know that some day I will be gone, and lose the enjoyment of having my family around. But with my luck I will probably see them again.
XS: What sort of awards or accomplishments have you earned?
CW: The awards I have received pale in comparison to the reward of a continuing good family and financial life, with all of us in good health and happy.
XS: The online biography reports that you were born Charles Wilson. Did you ever consider using a pen name when you started writing?
CW: If I knew when I started writing what I know now, I would have used a pen name starting with a low letter in the alphabet. The reason is that a lot of books are bought by readers browsing a bookstore's racks looking for books of interest to them. In these stores books tend to be ranked alphabetically, so most readers find something of interest to them before they ever get to the W's. To prove my point, think of some of the biggest name authors you know: Grisham, King, Clancy, Cornwall, Mary Higgins Clark. Nearly all have last names starting with a low level in the alphabet.
XS: Why not take up a pen name now?
CW: It's too late, since I have developed a national following of some few hundred thousand people. I would lose those readers.
XS: What genres do you prefer writing? Extinct seems to be in the realm of science fiction, but some of your other titles seem more closely aligned with suspense.
CW: I don't particularly prefer any specific genre, just a good story. My last three books with St. Martin's Press of New York have all been science-based thrillers--with an emphasis on the possibility of what I write about actually happening. At my website you can look at or download the research I did that convinced me of the possibility of still living megalodons. As for my writing, even though the last have been science-based, my next original book out from St. Martin's is going to be more of a medical thriller, but again with a more-advanced-than-current, strong science background. My book after that one will also be a medical thriller with slightly advancedtechnology--which will come--making up the background of the story.
XS: Describe some of your other works.
CW: I have also written mystery/suspense novels for Carroll and Graf Publishers of New York--four of them. One, When First We Deceive, a mystery/suspense thriller, is being rereleased in paperback by Leisure Press of New York. It should start showing up in bookstores in May. I have also written Nightwatcher (a mystery/suspense psychological thriller), Silent Witness, The Cassandra Prophecy (mystery/suspense thrillers), Direct Descendant (a science based thriller), and Fertile Ground, a mixture of science-based and medical thriller. You know about Extinct.
XS: I certainly do.
CW: I have actually written a novel of international intrigue but haven't taken the time to submit it to a publisher yet, and a Civil War historical thriller, which I have also not yet submitted--but will someday.
XS: It must require a great deal of research to produce such specific novels. Do you find it tedious, or are there redeeming factors to it--besides a great novel--that makes the research process bearable?
CW: Since I have a science background, the research is not too tedious. I usually know what I want, and have only to check to make certain I am using the correct terms and that there is not a technical advance above what I am familiar with. I actually enjoy it because I learn.
XS: Extinct is set along the Gulf Coast, and since you live in that region, I suppose it makes you a regional writer of sorts. How do you feel about writers that visit a place and suddenly imagine they can produce a work set in that region and identify themselves as writers of that particular locale? This is an issue writers in Hawai'i have faced and are still facing.
CW: I think a true writer can write about any place. The only problem is when you leave the area you are most familiar with, you have to do much more research. For example, how does a cop in Outer Mongolia dress? Do they even have cops as we know them? What are the rules they operate under? My international intrigue story takes place in the Bahamas and Mississippi, places I am familiar with. It also takes place in Russia, and I had to do some checking there about names, etc.
XS: What advice would you offer to anyone thinking about becoming a writer?
CW: Start writing. If you have trouble with your written dialogue being stilted--most writers do--use a tape recorder and speak into it as if you were the characters you are portraying. Let yourself go. You will produce real talk. As time goes on you won't need the tape recorder.
XS: I can see where that would be useful. Tell me, would you ever consider revisiting the Carcharadon megalodon in a future book?
CW: Not unless a new, good idea comes to me.
XS: Do you have any other plans for "fish" tales, then? I'm sure there are other creatures out there you could work with.
CW: Fish tales are simply fish tales, as are any other tales. It just so happened that the megalodon was a fish. I am getting ready to write a story about another creature--but not a marine one.
XS: The copy of Extinct that I have has a blurb on the cover about "Coming to NBC-TV". This is a work I would love to see on the screen, and NBC's website had it listed as a future movie. Now I can't find a trace of it. Do you know what happened?
CW: Your guess is as good as mine as to when and if itwill be a movie on NBC. I do have other networks who have shown interest in the story, and a company considering a feature film of the story. They say they will be back with me after the option with NBC runs out, if it does. By the way, I have also sold the rights to Direct Descendant to a feature film company, and looks like I am going to sell the rights to my next original work, still untitled, due out in January of '99.
XS: What lies in store for you now?
CW: I keep writing, and enjoying it. My next original will be out Jan. 1, 1999. The original after that, in fall of '99.
XS: Thank you for your time and patience.
CW: Your welcome.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about this outstanding author. I know I did. Please visit the Charles Wilson Web Site. You'll even have a chance to read the first chapter of Extinct there!
Comments? Suggestions? Just click here to send me e-mail.
Also, if this interview prompted you to read some of Charles Wilson's books, then let me know. I appreciate knowing I made a difference in somebody's life.
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