MA: Please help me welcome my guest today, Barry S. Willdorf. Barry grew up in Malden, Massachusetts. He attended Colby College, the University of Manchester (England) and Columbia Law School. Barry is a top-rated trial attorney with 42 years experience including 100 trials, everything from courts martial to murder to securities fraud. He began his professional career as a criminal investigator for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. A preview version of his novel, “Flight of the Sorceress” was featured on Scribd and awarded a rating of 4.7 out of 5. It has a Five Star rating on Amazon. His new novel, “Burning Questions” is set for publication at the end of July, 2011 and is the first of a trilogy (The 1970s Trilogy) that is under agreement with Whiskey Creek Press. Barry is a member of the San Francisco Writers Workshop, The Blackpoint Writers Group and is represented by The Krista Goering Literary Agency. He and his wife Bonnie live in San Francisco.
It sounds like writing is a major part of your life. Why novels?
BW: I have always written. I have written poetry and songs. Of course, I spent 42 years writing legal briefs, but that’s not supposed to be fiction — although sometimes, as you might imagine, the line gets blurred. Anyway, it’s a lot more honest to just admit you are writing fiction. The best part about novels though is you get to play God.
MA: Have you found inspiration for fiction from your personal life?
BW: Most of the novels I write draw on personal experiences. Even “The Flight of the Sorceress,” a historical novel set in the 5th Century, A.D. draws on personal experiences I had when I studied at the University of Manchester and visited Bath and other Roman historical sites. But my 1970s Trilogy actually includes vignettes and events that are close to things that happened to me. I am into verisimilitude.
MA: So tell us what you’ve written!
BW: My debut novel, “Bring the War Home!” (2001) is about anti-war Marines at Camp Pendleton, either going to or returning from the Vietnam War. I was a civilian defense attorney at Pendleton in 1970 and 1971 and represented a lot of Marines who were having moral and political conflicts over the war. I made it into a novel to protect the privacy of the men, but the stories are very real. It received great reviews and was endorsed by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“Flight of the Sorceress” (Wild Child Publishing, 2010) took 8 years of research and writing. It is the story of resistance by two women (one fictitious, the other Hypatia of Alexandria) against misogynistic clerics of the newly-empowered Catholic Church to restrict their rights to be healers, teachers, librarians and philosophers. Their heroic struggles culminate in the cataclysm events of Lenten Week, 415 A.D. that ushered in the Dark Ages. Can anything be saved?
“Burning Questions,” Part One of my 1970s Trilogy tells a story about the corruption that changed a fishing town into a tourist destination.
MA: So who are your protagonists?
BW: In “Bring the War Home!” the protagonists are sort of fictionalized versions of myself, my wife, Bonnie and composites of the Marines I represented and befriended.
In “Sorceress,” Glenys was constructed from accounts of classical Celtic healers. Hypatia, being a real person, was kept as true to history as possible, given the fact that the Church destroyed all or her writings and all accounts of her are second-hand by men with agendas.
In “Burning Questions,” I got a lot of material from some case files about a teenage suicide I investigated, plus I lived at that time and in that place and “borrowed” characteristics from people I knew, not to mention myself.
MA: What are your heroes’ strengths and weaknesses?
BW: Let’s just deal with “Sorceress.” There is only one person who even approximates a “hero” so I will go to heroine and use Glenys of the Silures, a fictional Celtic healer. Glenys is strong, stubborn and determined. She wants to be an independent woman in the ancient Celtic tradition and will not compromise on the issue of her independence. If she has a weakness, it is that she is willing to use other people to accomplish her objectives, even though they may not approve of her goals. She has her fears and is vulnerable. Sometimes she is naïve. But she sees the consequences of surrender to be very dangerous, not just to her but to women who will follow in the years to come.
MA: And the antagonists?
BW: There are some particularly odious bad guys in my books. In particular, there is the fictitious Ignatus, an ambitious and unscrupulous bishop in “Sorceress.” He hunts Glenys across the Roman Empire, much in the way Inspector Javert hunts Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. There is also Archbishop Cyril, a real person, who was sanctified, primarily because he successfully orchestrated the murder of Hypatia and the forced expulsion 70,000 Jews from Alexandria in 415 A.D.
MA: You mentioned being influenced during your time at Camp Pendleton to write one of your novels. Tell us more.
BW: I certainly couldn’t have written “Bring the War Home!” or the 1970s Trilogy otherwise. I could have probably done “Sorceress.” However, I have seen how poorly sheltered or inexperienced people fare when they attempt to create fiction in any form or genre. They just don’t know what facts or events will move people to do the things they do, so accounts of actions and behavior lack believability.
MA: What’s in store for your next writing project?
BW: I have two more novels to come in the 1970s Trilogy. Both are written and in a final draft form. I am in the process of submitting a contemporary novel that I don’t want to give away just yet. I also just finished an intermediate draft of a novel made up of five connected novellas that involves the influence upon the later lives of each of the five protagonists that derived from knowing a murder victim who was their neighbor. A lot of that one came from experiences I had growing up near Boston.
MA: So you will continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
BW: I don’t think I’m going to feature the same protagonists in future books. They may be peripheral characters, but none of them are going to be in the spotlight. I don’t want their egos inflated. Most of them already have narcissism problems and I am not going to be an enabler.
MA: (Laughing) Yes, those pesky protagonists think they own their own stories! What do you consider the most difficult aspect of being a writer?
BW: One of the things I think we all find hardest about this writing gig is the promo. (After all, that’s what we’re doing here, isn’t it?) There are so many books out there, and so many good ones, it is almost impossible to get your stuff noticed. I HATE promo. What I’d like to see is some Sci-Fi gizmo where you just feed your manuscript into a reader-thingy and it somehow comes out with a rating. Then Thingy spits the MS into a series of tubes like the internet, (Ha Ha) and shuffles them to a cyber-promotion specialist machine that electronically sends your stuff to all the people on the social network that say they might like to read or listen to the kind of stuff you write. It gets dropped on their computer doorstep like the milkman used to do, in the form and format they prefer. And if they like print, there is a low cost printer option on your computer that produces a bound, full-color cover copy in five minutes or fewer, depending on page count. And of course the author gets to keep a 90% royalty. My idea of heaven.
MA: (Smiling) Well then, on that note, I want to thank you for stopping by, Barry. For my readers, please visit Barry’s website for more information: www.agauchepress.com.