…That you CAN write your own book. Today, companies like Amazon make it possible for you to self-publish a book that looks professional and well crafted. If you aren’t good at graphic design for your cover, you can go to sites like Fiverr to contract someone to do that for you. The Internet has so many resources out there at your fingertips that you can learn how to do almost anything. So if you’ve been thinking about writing a book but have always put it on the back burner, just do it. If you can’t type, you can use tools like voice to text software to get your book on the page. Then you can find an editor to help craft it. You don’t need to go find a literary agent, query publishers, suffer rejection letter after rejection letter — you can just write the book, and publish it yourself, reaching your audience directly. The challenge of course, is with the marketing, but there are lots of good bloggers and YouTube videos that give solid advice on how to handle that aspect of authorship. A lot of people would love to write a book; very few actually do write one. So, be one of the few who can say “I have written a book!”
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing William Joseph Hill. William is a writer & actor based in Hollywood who co-owns production company Four Scorpio Productions with his wife Pamela. Together they produce video and scripted content for their YouTube channel. William recently published his first novel “Cyber Fighter”: a science fiction martial arts adventure with a comedic kick, based on his feature film screenplay, on Amazon.
Thank you so much for joining us William! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
My Dad was in the Navy and we moved around a bit. When I was a young child, the movie Star Wars came out, and it changed my life. I saw a TV special that showed the behind the scenes making of the movie and I was immediately captivated by all of the different elements that went into making a movie. I knew right then that this was going to be the path for me. Around the same time, I began acting in school plays and fell in love with the performing arts as well. I knew that I wanted to make my own films (and star in them as well), so I realized very early that I would have to write my own scripts. For Christmas one year, I received my first manual typewriter which I used all through elementary through high school to type out my scripts and short stories. The writing process felt very liberating; I was only limited by my imagination, and I could create anything on paper. My family moved to Hawaii when I was 12. I continued writing and making my own movies, usually in the neighborhood with my sister brothers, and other kids. The advantage of starting as a child gave me lots of years to learn the craft, both through writing my own stories and reading amazing science fiction (my favorite genre) from great authors like Ray Bradbury, Issac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and Ursula K Le Guin, among others. So you could probably say that writing captured me at an early age.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I’d probably say that the most interesting story was how I fell into becoming a novelist. I had originally written my story Cyber Fighter as a screenplay, intending to get it independently produced as a feature film with me playing the lead role. I was inspired by Sylvester Stallone’s story of how he brought Rocky to the big screen and it motivated me to attempt a similar career path. Fortunately, by 1999, the film industry had changed with the advent of digital video, which made it possible for anyone to become a filmmaker without a major capital investment. But it was still a challenge trying to get a feature film off the ground. The screenplay had gone through several revisions over the years, and the story expanded in its scope. By 2014 the script had become as polished as it could be, without going into production. I decided that it would be best to try and produce a short film first, so I created a short film script that distilled the story down to the basic premise, and would be easier to produce first as a proof of concept for the feature. The funny thing was that even producing a short film on a low budget was turning into a challenge. Lots of start-stop, resources falling through, etc. made it almost as difficult as trying to produce the feature film. Around the time that Ready Player One hit the theaters, I got a hold of Ernest Cline’s novel that the movie was based on and read it. I realized then that the most logical and satisfying choice would be to adapt my screenplay for Cyber Fighter into a novel. Usually in the movie business, it’s the other way around. So I began writing the novel in early 2018 and finished the first draft in about 9 to 10 months. This past year has been spent revising and editing the book before publishing it. I have to give a shout out to my editor Christina Gray who was very helpful during the editorial process. Also a special thanks to my wonderful wife Pamela who read my first draft out loud so I could hear it and gave her input and recommendations which also helped me to craft the story.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge for me was switching from screenwriting to writing prose. In screenwriting, you want to be very concise and minimalist with your description. You only want to write what the audience will see on screen. But when you convert that to a novel, you have to expand everything, going into your characters’ inner thoughts and backstory so that the reader can have a richer experience. If you’re used to being brief, then you have to train yourself to let things flow, even if you feel like you are over-writing. You can easily cut things down when editing, but you really need to put it on the page before you can do that. Don’t try and edit yourself while writing; you need to just let go and find a rhythm and flow with it. Save the editorial decisions and judgement for after that first draft is complete.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yes, the funniest thing when I was starting goes way back to that Christmas when I got my first typewriter. I cranked out my very first “script”, a Star Wars rehashed story that very day. But not being familiar with typewriters, I typed it in all CAPS and did not use the spacebar, which made the finished product totally unreadable. Not only that, but I would type in all of the sound effects too. So when the “Death Star” exploded in my story it read as “KAAAAAAAAAAABBBBBBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!!!” Many years later, I read some of Shane Black’s screenplays and noted that he often would drop onomatopoeia like that into his pages, though not to that extreme.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Along with releasing the Cyber Fighter novel, I am working on producing it as an audiobook with Audible. I will be doing the narration and am really looking forward to getting to play all of the characters. Audiobooks are really fun; it’s a great way to use your acting skills in a way that is pure storytelling. My wife Pamela and I are also continuing work on Season 2 of our YouTube series That Darn Girlfriend, an homage to classic 1960s and 1970s sitcoms. We both write and star in each episode together and take turns directing. Since I know how to do visual effects, I generally direct the episodes that have more VFX or complicated shots. But Pamela has helmed a few of our episodes in Season 1, including Episode 9 which was our holiday episode, merging our Christmas and Hanukkah traditions.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Well, since the book is a novel, I can share the basic premise. The main character, Brian Baldwin, is a former video game designer who takes a temp job at a military defense contractor where he is convinced to volunteer to test a brand new virtual reality/artificial intelligence software program where he is programmed with black belt fighting skills from many different martial arts, directly to his brain. He enters a virtual, video game-like world where a teacher avatar named SIFU trains him in martial arts. It plays out like an animated kung fu movie as his body really is lying on a table in a computer lab, while he experiences everything in virtual reality. When the experiment proves to be successful, the contractor pawns him off to the US military where they intend to deploy him overseas. He escapes, and is pursued by not only US government agencies, but also a Chinese Triad crime boss who intends to steal the technology and Brian to power his own secret genetic engineering program to conquer the world. There’s a lot of humor in it, with many references to classic martial arts movies, nods to some video games and even Japanese Anime too.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
That you CAN write your own book. Today, companies like Amazon make it possible for you to self-publish a book that looks professional and well crafted. If you aren’t good at graphic design for your cover, you can go to sites like Fiverr to contract someone to do that for you. The Internet has so many resources out there at your fingertips that you can learn how to do almost anything. So if you’ve been thinking about writing a book but have always put it on the back burner, just do it. If you can’t type, you can use tools like voice to text software to get your book on the page. Then you can find an editor to help craft it. You don’t need to go find a literary agent, query publishers, suffer rejection letter after rejection letter — you can just write the book, and publish it yourself, reaching your audience directly. The challenge of course, is with the marketing, but there are lots of good bloggers and YouTube videos that give solid advice on how to handle that aspect of authorship. A lot of people would love to write a book; very few actually do write one. So, be one of the few who can say “I have written a book!”
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Have Discipline. You may need to schedule your writing into your day, especially if you have another job or other obligations. But even if it’s for only 5–10 minutes per day, stick with the schedule. You’ll find that after a period of time you will have written, instead of just wanting to write.
- No Limitations. Writing is the only art form where the only limit is your imagination. If you can think it, you can write it. No idea is impossible; in fact, ideas and written words have changed the world.
- Be A Reader First. In order to learn how to write, you need to love reading. By reading books and short stories, fiction and nonfiction, you begin to see how authors craft their work. Most of us learned basic grammar and punctuation in school, and might have forgotten all the rules, but seeing the written word on a page reminds us subliminally about structure and spelling, etc. Take note of what kinds of writing affects you, both intellectually and emotionally. To become a great writer, you should study the great writers, but also realize their limitations, the culture and time that they wrote in. For example, many 19th Century writing seems overly verbose. When you learn that back in those days, writers were often paid per word, you understand that this writing style came out of economic necessity.
- Find Your Own Voice. The best way to do this is by learning the craft of writing. Each of us has our own unique look and take on the world. This comes from our own inner thoughts, background and history. Find ways to infuse this into your work. It will help you stand out. Learning the craft of writing is best achieved by just writing. Like the best way to learn to swim is by getting in the water, only by actually writing can you get better at it.
- Embrace the White Belt. This is a reference to my own martial arts training. No one starts out as a black belt, we all were once a blank slate. The beginner’s mind is actually the best mindset to have, as you aren’t stuck in preconceived notions or assumptions. Everything is possible, and you often have more courage when you know that you know nothing. Once you get a little bit of knowledge, it can get dangerous, because you then begin to worry about doing it wrong, or looking bad. There’s a parable about emptying your cup before you can taste another’s tea; it’s a very liberating mindset.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I would have to say discipline. Just doing it and making sure that I stuck to my writing schedule (even when I didn’t feel like it), is what has allowed everything else to come forth too. The discipline carries over into different parts of my life too — so it’s a good foundation. Once I finished my book, the discipline habit has kept me on a schedule to create a marketing plan and follow those steps. With this film project as well, I’ve created a Gantt chart that lists the tasks I need to accomplish my goals, sets a time frame for them, and allows me to mark them as completed, which gives me a sense of accomplishment and progress. Sometimes I have to adjust the deadlines, but this tool does help keep me focused and on track with my goals.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Science Fiction is my favorite genre. From H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which first got me interested in time travel stories, to Issac Asimov’s short stories, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man, which I first read in high school. In college, I took a class in science fiction and we studied Philp K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel that the movie Blade Runner was based on.
As a child, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a big influence. Every Thanksgiving, the 1971 movie would air on TV, so when I discovered the book, I was amazed at the differences from the movie. Books that had movie adaptations also helped me discover this path in the creative arts.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Self-empowerment through learning. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than learning a new skill or talent. Traditional school and education didn’t really foster this love for learning — instead there was a focus on making grades and “passing”. So the attitude was cultivated to get through this ordeal as quick as possible with the least amount of suffering. While I think metrics and grades are important in order to track progress, the best thing that you can get from education is the knowledge of how to learn. The world has changed since I finished my traditional education, but I can still learn new things, just like the kids coming up in school who are learning how to write computer programs and code. When you feel like there is nothing stopping you from learning, you are motivated each day! And this positivity will foster embracing diverse ideas, instead of the narrow-minded attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong” that has infected politics, religion and social media. Because when you consider yourself a learner, you’re looking for more knowledge and information instead of trying to prove how correct you are.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find my book Cyber Fighter on my author’s page at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/William-Joseph-Hill/e/B081TBXJN5/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
My website is http://williamjosephhill.com
I also have a website for Four Scorpio Productions: http://fourscorpio.com
Cyber Fighter on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CyberFighterMovie
And our YouTube Channel: http://youtube.com/fourscorpio
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!