I've been a HUGE Lincoln buff since childhood, and last week received a message from Bill Walker telling me he'd just ordered my Lincoln/Civil War paranormal A NECESSARY END, and that he'd written a few alternate history books featuring Lincoln. Of course I checked out his books and invited him to be my guest here. I ordered his latest title ABE LINCOLN ON ACID but haven't read it yet. This is one Lincoln book out of the fourscore plus I've read that I couldn't pass up.
Bill is an award-winning writer whose works include novels, short stories and screenplays. His first novel, Titanic 2012, was enthusiastically received by readers, and Bill's two short story collections, Five-Minute Frights and Five-Minute Chillers, are perennial Halloween favorites. A highly-respected graphic designer, Walker has worked on books by such luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz and Stephen King.
About ABE LINCOLN ON ACID
There are whispers even now that Abraham Lincoln never really died, that a voodoo spell cursed him with a terrible eternal life. It has even been claimed that he robbed banks in the 1930s with John Dillinger, only to mysteriously disappear once again into the pages of history. But the truth is even stranger than the rumors...
Watched over by a vengeful J. Edgar Hoover and held in a secret location near his old Springfield home, Lincoln re-awakens in the 1960s, and finds himself thrust into an era even more turbulent than the Depression, a time where a divisive war is once again tearing a nation apart and political intrigue and assassinations are rampant.
Escaping Hoover's clutches with a clever bit of deception, he navigates an even more treacherous and unfamiliar terrain, finding an ally in John Voci, a young San Francisco folk-singer. Together they journey across a counter-cultural landscape, meeting those who believe a great man has returned, and striving to remain free from those who want to bury him once and for all.
Will Lincoln inspire the younger generation and save his country from its final reckoning, or will he turn on, tune in, and drop out?
Lincoln walked off among the graves, pausing now and then to study the names and dates on the stones still legible. According to what he’d read, the cemetery had buried both whites and blacks when it was founded in 1808, the year before his birth; it had become exclusively black in the 1840s, remaining in use right up until its abandonment in 1950.
Lincoln felt an acute kinship with that abandonment. After surviving Booth’s fateful shot, the government had hidden him away, content to let him slumber in obscurity rather than let the world know he lived. They’d been afraid of what he might do if he ever awakened. Afraid he would usurp their precious power. Perhaps now times had changed. Perhaps now they would let him live in peace.
He found the grave a moment later, nestled in the shadow of a gnarled oak tree. His eyes clouded with tears and he wiped them away with a swipe of his callused hand. The inscription on the headstone was worn, but still readable:
February 2, 1859 - July 22, 1934
Beloved wife, mother, and friend
How ironic that she was born the day John Brown was hanged for treason, he thought.
And how ironic that I should be standing on this very spot in the here and now to note it.
He glanced toward the SUV then back at Hannah’s headstone. It was another moment before the significance of the second date sank in. The tears returned and he let them fall.
“Such a calamitous day for us all, Hannah,” he said with a hitch in his voice.
At least she’d lived a full and worthy life. The same could not be said of his old friend John Dillinger. His brief, meteoric existence had left an indelible mark on the national consciousness. Some, such as J. Edgar Hoover, had reviled him as a common thug, while others hailed Johnnie as a latter-day Robin Hood. He was neither. Lincoln remembered him as a determined man fiercely loyal to his friends and family until the bitter end. A better man than those who’d brought him down.
Sighing, Lincoln knelt down and placed the roses on Hannah’s grave. The grass immediately surrounding him was browned and sparse, the roses offering the only splash of color in the otherwise pallid gloom of an overcast day.
“You were a good friend, Hannah. If Heaven truly exists you have earned its eternal reward, and it shall be all the more resplendent for your presence.”
And then he heard her, her child-like voice riding on the soft breeze caressing his face, her words a prayer dimly recalled from a lifetime ago: “Then for each of us the moment comes when the great nurse, Death, takes the child by the hand and quietly says, ‘It is time to go home. Night is coming. It is your bedtime, child of earth. Come, you’re tired. Lie down at last in the quiet nursery of nature and sleep. The day is gone, Abraham. Stars shine in the canopy of eternity.’”
He knew she was beckoning him home. But the spell of John Wilkes Booth’s bullet, cursing him with eternal life, was stronger than the natural order of things. The tears filled his eyes again and he reached out and touched the headstone, feeling warmth radiating from it that should not have been there.
“Show me the road, Hannah, and I will gladly walk beside you.” Lincoln mouthed a silent prayer of his own and rose to his feet. He turned and saw the young FBI agent standing at a respectful distance.
“About as ready as I’ll ever be, son,” he replied, offering the young man a gentle grin. “I expect your boss will be a bit taken aback when he sees me.”
The young agent returned the grin, holding open the door to the Escalade. “I expect you’re right about that, Mr. Lincoln.”
Lincoln climbed in and a moment later they were on their way.
“You know, son, you’ll have to forgive me, but I never got your name.”
“Mullens, sir. You knew my grandfather.”
Mullens.... The young federal agent who had been so kind to him in 1933, and suffered Hoover’s wrath for it.
Lincoln smiled sadly and settled back into his seat with a hiss of fragrant leather. Some things never changed.
An Extensive Interview with Bill
You, the Author
A graduate of Emerson College's prestigious film school, Bill wrote and directed his first feature film, Pawn, while still a student. After graduation, he founded Newbury Filmworks, Inc., an award-winning production company renowned for making high-quality corporate films and commercials.
In 1990, Bill relocated to Los Angeles, and began a freelance story analysis career for various studios and independent production companies, while devoting his spare time to the writing of novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is also a highly-respected graphic designer, specializing in book and dust jacket design. He has worked on books by such luminaries as: Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. In addition, Bill is a member of the Authors Guild.
He has won awards for his screenwriting, his two short story collections for Mid-Graders, Five-Minute Frights and Five-Minute Chillers, are perennial Halloween favorites, and his first novel, Titanic 2012, was enthusiastically received by readers. His latest novel, Abe Lincoln On Acid was released in 2016. Bill lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Debbie, and their sons, Jeffrey and Brian.
If you have 2 hours free time tonight, what would you rather do? Why?
Probably read, play guitar, or watch a film.
What kind of books do you love to read? Why?
I love to read books about time travel, as well as suspenseful fiction of all types. I love biographies and Civil War and World War II histories.
What type of music do you enjoy relaxing to?
Mostly classic rock, especially favorites such as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Black Sabbath, AC/DC. But I also appreciate progressive rock, my favorite band in that genre being Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
What is your stress buster?
Weightlifting, reading, and guitar playing, but not necessarily in that order.
What is your favorite food? What food do you seek when you’re sad, sort of a comfort food?
Unfortunately, my favorite foods tend to be fattening, and I’m not eating any of those lately.
Describe yourself in one word.
If a fairy grants you one wish and one wish only, what would it be? Why? To be a popular brand name author.
What’s your biggest regret in life?
I regret not taking writing more seriously earlier in my life. While I’ve always had a talent and a facility for words, I didn’t sit down to truly learn the craft until the early 90s. I think if I’d started in college, I would have been published earlier.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
I’m not a thrill junkie, but I can answer the question: It was writing my first novel and submitting it for the first time. That felt pretty adventurous to me.
When did you write your first book? How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote my first book when I was nine years old. It was about an intelligent mouse, who, with his human companion—a young boy—would get into various hair-raising adventures. It was inspired by the children’s book Ben and Me. So, I guess you would call my first book a pastiche of sorts. The first true novel I wrote is Camp Stalag, a story where the children of WWII veterans learn a hard lesson about what the war was really like.
Did you encounter any obstacles in writing? What are they? How did you overcome them?
I wish I was as prolific as some of these brand name authors are, although I suspect that some of them are getting help. It’s only ones like James Patterson and Clive Cussler who are gracious enough give their collaborators credit. So, I guess my biggest obstacle is coming up with an idea that won’t let go. I need to be obsessed with a potential story to carry it through.
How did you feel when you receive your first contract? What did you do? Any celebratory dinner, dance, event, etc to commemorate the occasion?
My first published novel was the second one I wrote, which is entitled Titanic 2012, and is about a descendant of John Jacob Astor rebuilding the ship for the 100th anniversary of the sinking. Cemetery Dance published it in 1998, as both a signed/lettered limited edition hardcover and a trade hardcover. The interesting part of this story is that I had been a longtime collector of CD’s books and had gotten to know the publisher, Rich Chizmar. When I told him about Titanic 2012, he asked me to send it to him. I said, “sure,” figuring he’d read it and give me a nice pat on the back and that would be it. Instead, two weeks after I’d sent him the manuscript, he faxed me an offer. To say the least, I was floored—ecstatic. Here was validation! It may not be Random House, but Cemetery Dance is highly respected. Another little tidbit: it was also around that time that Rich hired me on as a freelance book designer. I’ve designed dozens of their titles, but the first one was—you guessed it—Titanic 2012! That was also very satisfying, because I had total control over the look of the entire book. Let me just say that authors almost never get a say in layout and design, so I considered myself fortunate.
Any writing peeves, things you wish you could improve on, things you do with exceptional talent?
I wish I was a better self-editor, which is one of the advantages of working with a collaborator. My co-author, Brian Anthony, is a much better editor than I am. I, on the other hand, excel at plotting. For me, knowing just where to place the plot twists, is nearly instinctual.
Where and when do you write? Tell us about your favorite work place and time. Any special reason?
When I’m in the midst of writing a book, I’m in what I call “Story Mode” 24/7. I’m always thinking about my story, trying out different things. This comes in handy when I get stuck as my mind will work the problem until it’s solved. As to where I write, it can be anywhere my laptop can go. I am able to tune out distractions and live in the world of my creation.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story? How do you go on from there? Maybe you can give us an example with one of your books.
Sometimes it’s just a title and other times it’s a premise that intrigues me. With one of my books, Abe Lincoln: Public Enemy No. 1, it was the title. The irony of that is my co-author came up with that title back in college. In fact, we even shot a short film that was basically a scene of Abe robbing a bank in the 1930s. That film sat on the shelf for nearly forty years. We dusted it off and cut it together, and during the process, I said to Brian, “You know, this would make a great premise for a novel.” And I was off to the races. It only took forty years!
What books can you recommend to aspiring writers to improve on style, character development, plot, structure, dialogue, etc?
The two best books I’ve ever read are written by two of my favorite authors. How to Write Best-Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz and On Writing by Stephen King. Koontz’s book was originally published by Writer’s Digest and is long out of print and a valuable collector’s item. It is also an invaluable tool. I’ve been toying with the idea of approaching Mr. Koontz about revising and republishing the book.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
The main thing I would stress is discipline. Write three pages per day, no matter what. You can write more, but that doesn’t let you off the hook for the next day. If you force yourself to write those three pages every day, you will have a finished draft in a couple of months.
Among those that you’ve written, which is your favorite book and why?
It’s hard to play favorites. There are things I love about all of them. However, if I had to pick one that truly resonates with me it would be A Note from an Old Acquaintance, which is a romance/love story written from a man’s perspective. I wanted to give Nicholas Sparks a run for his money.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you jot them down in a notebook, in case you forgot?
I get them from anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes I’ll have a vivid dream or I’ll read or see something that sparks an idea.
Which book that you’ve read (not one of yours) is the closest to your heart? Why?
My favorite book is Jack Finney’s Time and Again. The original time travel love story. It was published in 1970 and has developed a cult status. Still waiting on the movie. Second and third favorite books are A Clockwork Orange and Somewhere in Time.
Which of your heroes/heroines is most similar to you? Why?
That would be Brian Weller from A Note from an Old Acquaintance. Like me, he aspires to be a bestselling author. The main difference is that Brian achieves his ambition in a big way.
Have you ever wanted to write your book in one direction but your characters
are moving it in another direction? What did you do in such a situation?
Yes, that happens quite a bit. When it does, I very often know instinctively that it’s the right direction. At other times, when it’s not, I start writing slower and slower until it grinds to a halt. And that’s when I realize I need to go back and try something else.
Has your muse always known what genre you would write and be published in?
I like to work different genres, as it keeps me from getting bored. Suspense, Horror, Science Fiction, Alternative History, Romance/Love Stories, and Fantasy. Now, I don’t mean fantasy in the way that publishers do. I don’t write stories about magic, elves, and dragons. To me, that is only a corner of what fantasy means, but is inevitably what everyone thinks of when you mention it. My version of fantasy, is one where you take the normal world and throw one fantastical thing into it, such as a voodoo curse that backfires and leaves us with an immortal Abraham Lincoln. The masters of that kind of fantasy were Jack Finney and Richard Matheson, both of them being huge influences for me.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I actually enjoy the entire process of conceiving, writing, rewriting and publishing.
What is your least favorite part of writing?
Again, self-critiquing is something I don’t enjoy, but it is a necessary evil.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of editing. How about you?
As I advised other writers, I endeavor to write three pages per day, or more. Each morning, I’ll read over the previous day’s work and—more often than not—I’ll see something that needs tweaking. So, I do edit and revise as I go.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
I actually hate the idea of open-ended research or over-researching something. Instead, when conceiving an idea, I’ll have specific questions that need answering and I’ll go about finding those answers. It could be a major or minor plot point. For example, in Abe Lincoln On Acid, we have Lincoln listening to Martin Luther King give a sermon. I was able to have my characters in the church on a particular day and I excerpted the actual sermon MLK delivered on that day. I find those kinds of details really enjoyable. For both Lincoln books, we endeavored to put as much real history into the story as we could.
What inspired your latest release?
Abe Lincoln On Acid was inspired by its predecessor, Abe Lincoln: Public Enemy No. 1. The first book was such a kick to write that we wanted to keep it going.
How much time do you spend promoting your books?
As much time as I can without taking away from doing the writing. I’ll be honest, I don’t enjoy promoting, at least not the kind that an independent author has available to him or her. I think the Internet has actually made it harder to be noticed because everybody and their brother are promoting their book. There is also the stigma one has to overcome that self-published books are crap. While that’s unfortunately true to a great degree, there are gems out there. I guess what I’m getting at is one can spend eight hours per day and more money than the book will ever earn and not make the tiniest of splashes. It’s disheartening, but I keep writing, because it’s what I do best.
Please tell us your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of it?
My experiences with social media is that it seems to work for some, but not for me. This is going to sound silly, but social media feels like perpetual high school, where the popular kids still have the upper hand. Then again, maybe I’m just anti-social. ;-)
Have you had other careers before becoming a writer?
I’ve been a filmmaker and a graphic designer.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I really do believe I was born to write. I’ve always loved it.
Do you have or belong to a writing organization? Which one?
I currently belong to the Authors Guild, an organization that looks out for the interests of authors worldwide.
What do you read? Do you read different genres when you’re writing versus not writing?
There are some writers who refuse to read anything while they’re writing. I don’t subscribe to that. To me, any and all reading feeds the muse—and she is VERY hungry!
Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
The aforementioned Ben and Me, as well as a collection of short stories called The Mad Scientists’ Club, which are about a group of kids who use their brains and their wit to construct all kids of mischief. These were written well before the age of computers and cell phones and contain a certain whimsical magic.