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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading debut author's novels or those author's who have not had many reviews thus providing them much needed encouragement 
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Monday, 27 April 2015

Interview With William Woodall (Author of The Last Werewolf Hunter series, Stones of Song Series and The Tyke McGrath Series)

Today, I am interviewing William Woodall, author of teen and young adult, edgy Christian speculative fiction. He has written three series, The Last Werewolf Hunter, Stones of Song, and Tyke McGrath. William requested that I review The Last Werewolf Hunter series. I had bought this series last year and had not read it since. His request gave me the incentive I needed to read it now and not later. I am glad he did as I loved it so much, I felt it was worth interviewing him to see where his ideas come from, discuss the ins and outs of this engaging series with a unique take on the werewolf story. 

I found William to be a person with a great love of God, a vivid imagination and a passion to entertain, uplift, encourage and educate in Christian living and biblical principles his teenage and young adult readers in the three series mentioned above. I would have loved to have had these series when I accepted Christ at 19 years of age. It would have contributed to my learning to be disciplined in living the Christian life and increasing my faith in God.

So, allow me to introduce to you, William Woodall! 

William, thanks for stopping by! We are all eager to learn about you as author and story teller extraordinaire! 

How about we start with you telling us a little about yourself?

Well, let’s see. I’ve lived my whole life in Arkansas and Texas, and I became a Christian at the age of sixteen. My relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in my life, and it’s my dearest wish that my life and my writing will give Him glory and be a blessing for my readers. I’ve worked as a high school science teacher, a child abuse and foster care worker, a family counsellor, and even as a real estate agent for a while. I studied family counselling and molecular biology at college, which I guess goes to show what eclectic tastes I have. I’ve taught English in Russia, survived two tornadoes plus a vicious bout with cancer, and witnessed some answered prayers that were nothing short of miraculous. God has taught me a lot of things over the years, sometimes in very colourful and turbulent ways, and I hope to share some of that with my readers.

What inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, ever since I can remember. I still have a few that I wrote with a green crayon in first grade. I started out writing poetry for the most part, and I’ve been told that now and then some of that lyric quality still shows itself in my novels. For example, when Cody McGrath (in Many Waters) says things like “In the beauty of love may life be finished; to the glory of God may all things come to completion”, then that’s just poetry, of the same type you’d find in the Psalms, the reflection-with-variation type which the Hebrews used. You wouldn’t necessarily recognize it as such because it’s buried in the text with nothing to mark it off, but it’s definitely there.

Were you expecting your books to have been so successful?

At first I really didn’t think much about that aspect of things. There’s not a big market for a Christian werewolf story, unfortunately. I wish the series received more attention than it does (as any author would), but then on the other hand I’ve had dozens of readers who wrote to me to say what a blessing the stories have been to them. Even if I’d never sold a single copy, it would have been worth it to me just for that.

Do you think there is anything significantly different about Christian Fiction as opposed to non-Christian Fiction?

The only principle that unites all the different varieties of Christian fiction is the desire to honour Christ, which is also the only thing that separates it from all other fiction. It’s the intent of the heart which matters, and not the content. A book could talk about Jesus on every single page and it certainly wouldn’t count as Christian fiction if the only reason it mentioned Him was to curse and blaspheme His name or to mock His teachings (either explicitly or implicitly). On the other hand, a book which teaches readers to follow His words (even if it never mentions Him by name), is something which honors Him.

Do you prefer to extensively plot your stories (plotter), or do you write them as they come to you (pantser, that you write by the seat of your pants)?

Some of both. I don’t write down a lot of plans ahead of time, but I’m always turning things over in my mind and figuring out how I want them to work. I’ve been known to scrap an entire book and start over if I decided it wasn’t going to work out the way I wanted it to. I mostly write the first draft in pantser mode, and then come back to it for several major rewrites after at least two or three readings by people I know I can trust to rip the book to shreds with the harshest and most nitpicky criticism they can think of. I want them to be meaner than snakes, because I know in the end it will make my story a thousand times better than it could have been otherwise.

What was the hardest part of writing your books?

I think for me it’s the fact that stories can get uncomfortably real sometimes. There are times when characters encounter situations that make me uneasy and which I’d really rather not deal with if I had my way. Readers often have the idea that an author can write a book any way he pleases, but that’s not true at all. Within reason, yes; we can choose our characters and settings and the genre we’ll use and those kinds of things. But after the story is begun, it tends to take on a life of its own and sometimes it leads us to places we never would have willingly gone. Writing a book is one of those humbling experiences which will force you to do a lot of soul-searching you never anticipated. You can’t really live inside a character’s head for months or years without learning what it’s like to feel their pain and sometimes even cry with them.

How has writing and being an author impacted your relationship with Jesus Christ?

One of the most important ways that writing has deepened my relationship with Christ is through simple vicarious experience. The more my characters suffer and yet still hold on to their faith in Jesus, the stronger my own faith becomes. Walking with God is a beautiful thing, full of excitement and wonder and love, which is something I try to display in my stories. But writing about these things is also a way of experiencing them myself in fresh ways that never would have been possible in real life, and I find that those vicarious experiences draw me closer to God just as they would if it happened in real life. That’s exactly what I hope they will do for my readers, too. Another thing writing has done for me is that it encourages me to study the Scriptures more often than I might if left to myself. Part of what I try to do in my work is to teach my readers (mostly kids) some truths about God, and for that I have to study. The things I learn for the sake of writing a story don’t just disappear when the book is finished, though. They enrich my life as a Christian in all kinds of ways I never could have foreseen ahead of time.

Do you have a favorite genre that you read?

Mostly the same kinds of things I like to write. Science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and similar genres. I prefer Christian fiction when I can get it, or at least relatively clean stuff. Some science fiction is so openly and relentlessly hostile to Christianity that it’s like slogging through a blistering desert of atheist propaganda just to read it, so I try to avoid that kind. Other than that, I read a little bit of everything from time to time, even classics. I like Victorian novels and Romantic poetry, even Shakespeare on occasion.

What do you like doing when you're not writing?

I like to read, and fish, and spend time with my children. I like most of the things Zach and Cameron like, actually.

Why target teens/young adults in your writing?

Mostly because that’s what I like to read myself and that’s the age group I spend the most time with in everyday life. I’m a high school teacher and I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, so it was natural for me to write for this age group.

Do you think you will ever write for adults? If so, what type of novel would you write or genre?

I like to think my work appeals to adults as well as to young people. A child can read it on one level as an entertaining adventure story, but there are always more subtle themes under the surface which are there for more experienced readers. Kids won’t catch them, but adults will. There are jokes that only adults will understand, and nuances that only someone who’s been a parent himself, or been deeply hurt by a romantic partner, or struggled with questions about God, would ever spot.

Where did the idea for werewolves come from for The Last Werewolf Hunter series?
 
The original seed for this series came from watching “Teen Wolf” when I was a kid, and even though the two stories are a lot different, sharp readers might detect the same light and humorous approach in both of them. I knew I wanted some comic relief now and then, and that I didn’t want to write something dark and scary. I wouldn’t have enjoyed that, and I don’t think my readers would have, either.

In your research on werewolves, did you come across any convincing evidence that they exist?

No, but I have no intrinsic reason to disbelieve in such things, either. I don’t doubt that Satan has the ability to grant such powers to human beings, nor that there are human beings who would be glad to accept those kinds of powers if offered the chance. That’s why I deliberately didn’t keep the traditional werewolf folklore about the curse being passed on through getting bitten or inheriting a gene for it. I wanted it to be a deliberate choice on the part of those who accepted it. If such things really exist, then that would be my best guess as to how they came to be. I’m not by any means trying to say that I think my story is a true one, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility, either.

In Behind Blue Eyes, Book 2, you have the solution for the breaking of the curse something simple and biblical rather than something more spiritually complex such as what can be found in other Christian novels of similar ilk. What was your motive for this?

This was mostly because I wanted to move gradually from simpler situations to more complex ones as the story progressed. Zach needed to learn his “milk lessons” before he was ready to accept or understand the meatier ones. I also thought it was important to show that solutions don’t always have to be complicated and difficult.

What was your rationale for keeping the werewolf mythology/tradition regarding the use of silver bullets and knives to kill werewolves, and silver crosses to ward off werewolves?

I kept quite a bit of traditional folklore about werewolves, because it seemed to me that it added to the realism of the story. The idea that silver is poisonous to werewolves already exists out there in the world, so it wasn’t a thing I needed to make up and then convince readers to believe. The story about the Beast of Gevaudan is also real, and so is Mont Mouchet and many of the other things. If any reader became curious and decided to look these things up on the internet, he or she would find plenty of background information, just as Zach did in the story. All the settings involved in the story are real, too, including Wolf Mountain, Coca-Cola Lake, and all the other places Zach visited. It was my intention to add the smallest dose of fantasy possible, to make the illusion stronger. Local people would have no difficulty instantly recognizing almost every place I described.

You specifically leave out the blood and gore that typifies other werewolf stories. This seems to be appreciated by many readers even some who would not read other werewolf stories. What was the rationale behind this?

This was partly because I don’t care for blood and gore myself, and partly because I didn’t feel that it would be appropriate for my younger readers. I feel that in a way it’s my job to protect them from things like that, just as any adult should protect any child he knows. I also didn’t feel that a lot of gratuitous blood and gore would honor Christ in this case, which must always be the first question that anyone should ask about anything he’s thinking about doing. The key word is “gratuitous”, of course. There were a few bloody scenes when that was appropriate, such as when Cameron was shot in Behind Blue Eyes and when Gabe Garza attacked Zach in Truesilver. Those scenes wouldn’t have been effective if I hadn’t done them the way I did, so they were necessary. But I did try to keep it to a minimum.

You have created a very convincing background to the Last Werewolf Hunter series. Some would call this world building where an author creates an infrastructure to make the world of the novel realistic, believable and credible for the reader. You have achieved these three criteria in The Last Werewolf Hunter. You have created this by showing:
  • the nature of the curse,
  • how it is invoked/created,
  • its effects,
  • history going back two centuries,
  • Related mythology,
  • prophecy,
  • spiritual solution including “supernaturally empowered” artefacts and substances,
  • characters in your three series related genealogically to each other in some way and the series' are interlocked.
Did you find this difficult to develop? I can imagine that you would have also had fun doing this regardless!

I did have a lot of fun with the world building for this series. Much of the back story I didn’t actually have to invent myself, since it already exists as part of various mythologies. The rest of it took several years of hard work, and even though it was mostly enjoyable it was never easy. One thing that became really difficult as the years went by was to keep my story straight. That is, to make sure I didn’t contradict something I’d already said in a previous book. That puts some pretty rigid boundaries on where you can go with a story, and those boundaries narrow down still further with each new book that comes out because there are more and more facts that have to be conformed to. I think that’s one reason why sequels are so often not as good as the first book in a series. They get progressively harder to write every time. That was something I never understood until I tried to do it myself, but the challenge was fun.

You write very well in the first person narrative, it really does bring Zach alive, makes him relational and very three dimensional. Experiencing this series from his point of view, draws the reader in and keeps them engaged throughout. Was this your intention to use this type of narrative when you were planning TLWH?

It was partly intentional, and partly just that it made it easier for me as an author to get inside Zach’s head and think the way he would have. I was able to project myself into his shoes and imagine what I would have done in his place, and that made the story much easier and more fun to write. I actually enjoy reading the story myself occasionally, even though I’m the one who wrote it.

The Last Werewolf Hunter series is your first published work, have you written in second or third person in any of your unpublished work, if you have any?

I’ve never written in second person because I don’t like it, frankly. But I’ve written three books in third person: Nightfall (Book one of the Tyke McGrath Series), Unclouded Day (Book One of the Stones of Song series), and Bran the Blessed (Book Three of the Stones of Song Series). Everything else (so far) is in first person. Cody McGrath tells his own story, and so does his grandson Tyke. There are particular reasons why those three books are done differently, but it would be hard to explain them without giving away spoilers.

In a previous interview, you were asked is there anything you would change in the TLWH series. You answered that you might tone down the opening ritual scene in Book 1 as some readers felt this was too graphic. I personally did not find this scene overly graphic and I had to read it again to see if I had missed something when I read this feedback. I then realised that the edition I had read had this ritual scene modified. Just wanted to ask that instead of considering toning that original scene down, could you not had added a warning or disclaimer at the beginning stating that some readers might find this scene disturbing but you have developed it this way to add realism and credibility to the werewolf curse to show how it is accepted?

In the first edition of Cry for the Moon, there was a short additional scene on the second page in which Zach’s grandmother killed a rabbit, and it was this scene which some readers had thought was too graphic. It was only one paragraph long, and after thinking about it I agreed with the readers and removed it because it gave several people the mistaken impression that the book was much bloodier and more violent than it actually is. The scene was never crucial to the plot, and no one has noticed anything missing since it was removed several years ago, so I think it was the right call to make. The first few pages are much more representative of the book as a whole at this point.

I stated in my review of Behind Blue Eyes that I felt Zach was based on you as a teen and Justin as you as an adult. Any truth in this observation?

There’s a lot of truth to that, actually. Zach is very much me as I was at that age, although maybe a little wittier at times. It’s always so much easier to come up with exactly the right comment when you’ve got plenty of time to think about it. And Justin is me too, a little older and wiser perhaps. Not everything is the same, of course, but enough that those who know me well wouldn’t have any difficulty spotting the resemblance. It’s very much there, even down to little details like the kind of truck I like to drive and my fondness for EasyCheese, bass fishing, and marshmallowy-soft beds. You’ll learn all kinds of things about me by reading my books if you pay attention, even though you might never know which details are real and details are real and which are not!

In More Golden Than Day, you have further developed the history of the Werewolf curse and this necessitated the solution outlined in Book 2 to be applied in a more complex way to the final solution of the werewolf issue worldwide. I found this a really clever development and I can draw a correlation to the reason of the incarnation of Christ. I cannot say it any other way without giving away spoilers for potential readers of the series. I see this as a subtle way of connecting the message of this series to the bible and spiritual truth. Your thoughts on this?

You’re absolutely right. As Brandon Stone says in another book, “God loves reflections”. The world is full of hints and images, things that remind us of something bigger than themselves. Not a single snowflake or grain of sand is ever identical in all the world in all of time, but yet we never fail to recognize sand or snow. This method of endless variation on a few central themes, this spiritual counterpoint, is the very idiom by which God writes the story of the world. Therefore I was only imitating Him when I took an idea from a previous book and used it in a slightly different form for a new purpose. That’s what He does all the time, and it’s something which will be seen again throughout the other books that follow these. There are a lot of Scriptural references like this, such as the use of blood sacrifice to give life and the use of the werewolf curse itself as a symbol for sin.

You use items that were blessed from God (the sweet water, the crystal rings and Guardian stones) to be the vessel/method of breaking the werewolf curse instead of other direct spiritual warfare/biblical methods such as using the name of Jesus, praying against the curse, using the Word of God etc.?

Yes, and that was intentional also. While there’s definitely a place for the kind of direct spiritual warfare that you mention, there’s also a place for the indirect kind. As Dr. Anderson mentions in Bran the Blessed, God likes matter. Jesus healed a blind man by putting mud on his eyes, even though He could certainly have done it directly just by speaking the word. The lame were healed by bathing in the Pool of Bethesda when an angel stirred the water. Moses brought forth water from the rock by striking it with his staff. We see God using material things as a conduit for His power in this way throughout Scripture. No one should make the mistake of thinking the objects or substances have any kind of intrinsic power themselves, but no one should overlook God’s liking for indirect methods, either. I wouldn’t venture to try to explain why He sometimes chooses to work this way; I only know that He does. There’s a mistaken tendency among some people to think of God as something purely abstract and spiritual, which makes Him seem less real and less involved with the world. By having Him use material things to exert His power I was hoping to partly counteract that false impression.

In a Facebook discussion we were involved in relating to what is edgy Christian speculative fiction, you state,

"I have written about werewolf curses, witches and sorcerers who have real power, Christian characters who have true dreams about the future, and other things like that. But still, my work is deeply Christian both in outlook and in content. My opinion is that there should be no topic whatsoever which is off limits to a Christian writer, and that we need to fight the enemy on his own ground, without fear and without apology. That said, I don't put any sex or cussing in my work. My books include The Last Werewolf Hunter series, the Stones of Song series, and the Tyke McGrath series, which form an interlocked set of twelve books with overlapping story lines."

What do you consider is characteristic of edgy Christian speculative fiction (ECSF)?

For me, ECSF is any type of Christian fiction which deals with topics or situations one doesn’t normally find in that genre. Christian fiction has a reputation for being an unexciting genre, to put it mildly. And even though I can respect and understand that readers often use regular Christian fiction as a kind of sweet escape from the ugliness of the modern world, I don’t think it should be limited to that purpose. There are real monsters in the world, and as C.S. Lewis once said, since it’s so very likely that our children will meet cruel enemies, at least let them have heard stories about heroes and saints who conquered the Devil and the World through Christ our Lord. Then let them remember those things and find courage in them when they have to face their own battles with darkness, which they will surely have to do sooner or later. This, to me, is what edgy Christian fiction is really for, to train the minds and strengthen the hearts of those who read it. It’s a kind of spiritual battle-training, if you will. Here we can meet the worst that evil can throw at us and learn not to be afraid.

I have not read the Stones of Song series or the End of Days, (The Complete Tyke McGrath series), but I plan to very soon!. Are these series also in the ECSF genre?

Yes, they are, although not quite in the same way. Tyke McGrath is science fiction, which deals with the relationship between faith and science and follows the journey of one boy (Tycho “Tyke” McGrath) from a kind of lukewarm Christianity which he rarely thinks about to a living faith which can work miracles. Tyke himself is the nephew of Cameron and Joan from The Last Werewolf Hunter. The Stones of Song deals with some very harsh topics like child abuse, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy, but this is done in order to illustrate another Scriptural principle – that however deeply we’re crushed, to that same degree God will exalt us if we keep faith in Him. This series is largely the tale of Brandon Stone, the youngest of the Curse-Breakers and undoubtedly the one who suffers the most for his calling, but also the one whom God entrusts with the greatest gift and responsibility of all. He’s also Tyke McGrath’s great-uncle.

What take home message did you want readers of TLWH to embrace?

That God is great beyond imagining, and that He can and will turn even the most terrible things into blessings for those who love Him.

You have 3 series that are interlocked with overlapping storylines, The Last Werewolf Hunter, Stones of Song and the Tyke McGrath series. Would you mind giving an exclusive glimpse of what we are to expect next?

Right now I’m working on two projects at once. The first one is a non-fiction study of the Law of Moses compared to the slightly different form of it found in the New Testament. I have to admit, that’s been a fascinating study which yielded a lot of surprises. I discovered I didn’t know half as much about the Law as I thought I did, and I hope some of the insights I came across will prove to be as useful for my readers as they were for me. My other project is a new science fiction series which will involve Camber Carpenter, Stephen Stone, and a few other of the younger characters from the Tyke McGrath series. So it will be another continuation of the same basic world, just with different focus.

Anything else you would to say about your books or specific series?

Each series is quite different in tone and focus, even though all of them deal with the adventures of the five Curse-Breakers and the ways in which God has called them to fight evil in the world. Their stories are tightly linked in both simple and complex ways, and all five of the Curse-Breakers are related to one another in various ways. I’ve provided family trees on my website so interested readers can see these relationships at a glance. I’m often asked in what order my three series should be read. All three of them are written to be self-contained, so it doesn’t really matter in which order you read them. Chronologically speaking, The Last Werewolf Hunter would come first, then Stones of Song, and finally Tyke McGrath. But even if you started with Tyke McGrath, it would only mean that the other two series would be background story for you. It wouldn’t keep you from understanding anything.

Any closing comments?

Interested readers should definitely visit my website, which contains a wealth of information about me, the three series, and other things. You will find family trees displaying how all the characters are related, a glossary of terms and places, free downloadable discussion questions for each book, quotable quotes, photos of several characters and locations mentioned in the series, music files where you can listen to songs mentioned in the text, links to free novels and short stories, and many other things. It’s a huge site which is easy to navigate, and well worth exploring.

Where can readers find you?

Website - http://www.williamwoodall.org

Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/bluearkansascowboy

Goodreads

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2876219.William_Woodall

Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/William-Woodall/e/B002FQ9VZM

William, thank you very much for a very insightful look into your world as an author and the background and structure to your 3 series. This has enhanced my appreciation of your novels especially The Last Werewolf Hunter series.  I pray that more teens and young adults will investigate your series and be encouraged in the way of the Lord as they read them.  I am looking forward to your next novel and I am sure your fans are as well.

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