William Peter Grasso has now written and self-published five alternate history novels set during World War II. He has kept his books in the top 100 for his genre on Amazon and his Jock Miles series is in the top 50. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk.
LI: The last time we talked you had just published your first and second books which are titled East Wind Returns and Unpunished. I know East Wind Returns was about an American pilot doing surveillance work and how the Japanese almost got to use nuclear power before the Americans. Unpunished was about an airman incident involving a murder in Sweden during World War II which becomes significant years later during the American presidential campaign. What are some of the lessons you learned from those two books?
WPG: I learned that if you’ve found a place in a genre, stay there. Unpunished was written with more of a literary style than a commercial style. My readers don’t connect as well to a literary style. Now that I am back to writing more commercially, I find that I am fortunate to have found a place to write that I like writing.
LI: Ok. What can you tell me about the last three novels you have written?
WPG: Long Walk to the Sun is book number three and first in the Jock Miles series. Jock is an aide to an Army Commander in Pearl Harbor. He behaves heroically during the Japanese attack, which is even more successful in the book than the real event was, but gets sacked anyway. He ends up on a mission to find the secret Japanese base in Australia. While there, he meets Jillian Forbes, a white woman who owns a fleet of fishing boats, listens to Liszt and plays a mean classical piano. A romance develops.
LI: I love your character Jillian. In my mind, you have a gift for writing female characters. What do you think about that?
WPG: I like writing strong female characters. I hope that stems from the tremendous respect I have for women. Jillian is a composite of several real people and movie characters. For example, I really enjoyed Cate Blanchett in the movie Paradise Road.
LI: Your last several books have been set around Australia. Have you gotten any feedback from Australian readers?
WPG: Yes, they say I’ve captured the essence of Aussie, which I find remarkable because I’ve never been there.
LI: That must be really gratifying. Ok, what can you tell me about the next book you wrote?
WPG: The name is Operation Long Jump. The focus is the fictional battle to re-take Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Jillian buys a freighter and helps the American war effort. Jock spends a lot of time flying an observation plane and worrying about Jillian’s safety. The book shows why MacArthur is so hated by the Aussies. He screwed them a lot in real life. Writing the book was unique because I got to fake a whole battle.
LI: I could see that would be fun. What happens in the next Jock Miles book?
WPG: It’s called Operation Easy Street. Jock and others battle malaria while trying to take Buna in New Guinea. MacArthur grossly underestimates the Japanese. The Australians fight in Gona. After a long siege on Buna, Jillian finally comes up with the idea to draw the Japanese out by using a fire ship as a distraction. In the process of the fire ship raid, she goes missing and is presumed by the Americans to be drowned. The book ends with Jock’s plane going down and he is wounded and suffering from malaria. Readers catch a glimpse of Jillian, who is not dead, but a prisoner of war.
LI: Cool. I love a cliffhanger ending in a series. That brings us to book number six which you are halfway through writing, correct?
WPG: Yes, I hope to be done by the end of the year. The book is called Operation Blind Spot. It starts a year after the Buna campaign. Readers find out what happened to Jock and Jillian and they eventually find one another again.
LI: Ok. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
WPG: Yes. Ask yourself what you want from your writing. If it’s just a hobby, that’s one thing. If you want to connect with an audience, that’s another. Don’t write in a bubble because when you’re living in a fantasy world, everything you do is wonderful. Sometimes going to a writer’s group for critique can be helpful. It pulls you out of the bubble. In a group, you must learn who to listen to and who not to listen to. It does take time to grow a filter. One third of the advice I get in critique is good advice. If no one in the group gets it, it didn’t work.
LI: So what is your daily writing routine?
WPG: I usually write a couple of hours in the morning and all afternoon. I have learned that you need to focus on the segment you’re writing. I make an outline of the book in a notebook, but it’s not terribly detailed. Sometimes something on the outline has to change.
LI: How has the publishing industry changed since you wrote Unpunished?
WPG: Promotion has changed. From 2008 to 2011 free promotion was available. Now those bloggers have burned out. Suggested titles on Amazon is my main advertising now, but I have to keep my sales in the top 100 or top 50 to trigger that.