I’ve had Bill on my blog before, when he came out with his debut novel: Five Ferries.
Bill’s come out with his new book – Backstory – and it’s getting great reviews:
“An original and deftly crafted novel that in an inherently riveting read from cover to cover, “Backstory” showcases author William Michael Ried’s genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling style that brings his characters to life and holds the reader’s rapt attention from first page to last.”
Midwest Book Review
Here is a little questions and answer with Bill.
How did you come up with the idea for Backstory and what does the book say about facts and truth?
The 2016 presidential election introduced us all to the concept of “fake news,” that truth was whatever candidate Trump said it was at the moment and anything else was fabricated to embarrass him. This struck me as straight out of George Orwell’s1984, where the Ministry of Truth “rectifies” historical records to accord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements.
I then thought about writing a novel about a character’s attempt to change his own history by altering someone else’s novel. I imagined six classmates and placed them in a setting twelve years prior to the current story, on the picturesque campus of Trinity College that has occupied the center of Dublin for hundreds of years. I then contrived to reunite the ex-classmates in 2016 in New York City, for one to start writing a novel based on their time together, and for another to see this will reveal secrets that must be kept hidden and contrive to alter the novel.
Once the characters occupied the setting, the story pretty much wrote itself and the characters sometimes surprised me. For example, I created Becca to fill a limited, supporting role, but she wrote herself in as another major character—and my favorite. But Backstory also illustrates the trap for the weak-minded in falling in line behind propagandists who try to revise facts to fit their self-interest. In the end, facts and truth do matter, in the history books as well as in the life of Ansel Tone.
What authors inspire your work?
I suppose James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens are among the authors who have taught me most about writing. It is no coincidence the hero of Five Ferries reads works by or references these authors and sees Europe through the prism of their works.
I also enjoy modern novels by Caleb Carr and Hilary Mantel and so many others. In trying to craft Backstory as a literary novel with an element of mystery, I took inspiration from modern novels such as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Tana French’s The Witch Elm and Lexie Ellliot’s The French Girl, although I should also acknowledge Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary for the counterpoint structure of the Yankee Stadium chapter.
How do you approach cover design?
For Five Ferries I started with the image of a hitchhiker, created by an artist friend from actual photographs. I submitted this to 99designs.com along with a brief summarizing the novel and images of book covers I liked. I immediately received submissions from lots of graphic artists, with whom I conversed in real time through the site. After six days I chose six designers for a final round and continued to review submissions and make suggestions. I finally picked a winning design and only then learned my designer, Colum Jordan, worked in Dublin.
For Backstory, I repeated this process, in the end receiving 144 designs and variations from some 35 designers. For this book I provided the artists with no central image but did summarize the story and the settings. Unfortunately, I noted the story involves a beautiful woman and two high-end sports cars. Some of the submissions looked more appropriate for a romance novel or a muscle car magazine than a serious novel, so I revised the brief to eliminate women and cars. The winner, Mikhail Starikov d/b/a michaelstar*, actually had it right from the beginning, and he stood out for employing genuine artistry rather than simply applying a font to a stock image. When I chose this winner, I found that he works in Moscow, which led to discussions about Tolstoy and the war of 1812.
As to fitting the cover design to technical specs for print and e-books, I rely upon my editor/publisher Christine Keleny at CKBooks Publishing.
How do you research your novels?
Five Ferries started as a memoir, so the basic research was simply living the story. However, memories fade and after 30 years of writing I turned the book into a novel, which required a lot of research. The internet made this much easier; I no longer had to visit the library’s map room to locate a village or find photography books to describe a building. However, I realized I also needed a person native to each country through which my hero travels (England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Wales and Ireland) to advise about geography, language and customs, as well as native speakers from other countries, to get the slang right. This led to extensive correspondence, one of the things I most enjoyed about writing the book.
Backstory is largely set in my backyard and peopled with Americans who talk like me, so the research was simpler. But the backstory within the novel is set at Trinity College in Dublin. I sent a blind email to the Literature Department at Trinity and found a faculty member who answered my questions and corrected my descriptions. Also, two of my characters drive high-end sports cars. I haven’t even owned car in fifteen years and so needed specific technical expertise. My cousin the engineer loved helping out, and enlisted a friend of his who works in a pit crew. I also found a friend to describe the work life of a university professor, another to counsel on New York criminal law, and a third to help with the perspective and dialect of a twenty-five-year-old woman. As to the study of propaganda, which relates to changing history and thus is part of the theme of the novel, I did the reading myself.
I find that people really enjoy contributing their expertise to a novel. They feel part of the creative process, which enriches the collaboration and makes it fun.
What’s next? I have nearly completed the first draft of my next novel, as yet untitled. It is the story of a young man who lives an entitled life until tragedy strikes and forces him to get by on his own. It marks my return to first-person narrative, which I hope will allow me to explore the emotional challenges the hero seeks to overcome. I’ve also had fun including a Australian Shepard as a character and creating a family compound occupying a large bluff on the southern coast of Maine. I hope to publish this book in early 2022.
Here are links to Bill’s book:
Barnes & Noble NOOK
Bill’s first book:
Bill’s first book: Five Ferries