The Penmen Profile: Young Adult and New Adult Author William Vaughn

by Diane Walters

MRG_8410T small.1 Bill VaughnWilliam Vaughn is a writer of Young Adult, New Adult and technical manuals, living in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Marilyn.  A lifelong adventurer, Vaughn has travelled all over the world, starting at a young age with his military family. He went to school in Germany, Thailand, and in Virginia.  After graduation, he enlisted and continued his explorations through the U.K., Europe, Asia and Australia.

These travels sparked his imagination, resulting in colorful stories in “The Seldith Chronicles” series, including: “The Owl Wrangler,” “Guardians of the Sacred Seven” and “The Truth.” He is now venturing into a new genre: New Adult, which focuses on storylines that readers just beyond the Young Adult stage can relate to and generally include characters aged 18-25.

Vaughn started his writing career creating technical manuals for computer geeks. These included The Hitchhiker’s Guide series: “Hitchhiker’s Guide to VBSQL” (3 editions) and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Visual Studio and SQL Server” (4 editions), “Hitchhiker’s Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services”, as well as “ADO Examples and Best Practices”, “ADO and ADO.NET Examples and Best Practices and ADO.NET Examples and Best Practices for C# Developers.” He was a contributing author to several other similar technical books and dozens of technical articles

Have you always written?
Yes, and no. I wrote a number of short stories after returning from Vietnam in the early 1970s, but I began writing technical articles in the late 1970s, contributing to a jointly authored book on operating systems in 1980. By the time I retired from the technical world in 2010, I had written (and had published) over a dozen books and many dozens of magazine articles. As to fiction, many would say my technical works also fall into the “fantasy” category. My books and articles are often humorous and satirical and include fictional vignettes to illustrate the points. I began writing YA fiction in 2008, and I’ve written four books so far — three books in “The Seldith Chronicles” series and a fourth, yet-to-be-published book, tentatively titled “The Timkers” in the New Adult genre.

What’s your process of developing your storyline and characters?
In “The Seldith Chronicles,” my YA fantasy about forest elves, I began with a basic concept of the story, but little else. I expect this was an amateur’s mistake as the characters evolved from whole cloth — they materialized in my imagination as the story unfolded. Immersed in the writing process, I found myself simply transcribing conversations and describing scenes and actions from characters I didn’t really understand or know very well — not until I had written over 100,000 words about them. Then came the hard part — going back and solidifying the true nature of each character, culling deadwood and sanding off the rough edges or pulling the rasp against the grain to make them rougher. Once the characters came to life, I knew them fairly well, but they continually surprised me by turning back when I expected them to go left or right. I based some of the characters on memorable characters from other books, movies, or even TV dramas. For example, the character Weiger in “The Owl Wrangler” was based on the rogue hero “Sawyer” from the TV series “Lost,” and the Bubou, the owl, was based on Harry Potter’s owl — but given a voice.

As to the storyline, that too evolved over time. It wasn’t until well into the first book, “The Owl Wrangler,” that I learned I needed to write the end first, so I could move the story toward that goal. For the second book, “Guardians of the Sacred Seven,” I realized that the books would be best marketed as a series, so I was able to deepen the character development and let secondary characters evolve more fully. For the second and third books, I started with a rough outline and a map (drawn on a whiteboard in my writer’s den), to guide me through the plot and the travels of the sets of characters. In the third book, “Quest for The Truth,” I knew that I needed to make the characters vulnerable — not as vulnerable as those in “Game of Thrones, but unless major characters could die, the reader would assume they would survive any future challenges. It was hard to kill my beloved characters — very hard. I rewrote the chapter a dozen times, vacillating on their final outcome.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
I’m faced with many challenges. No, writer’s block is not one of them — I always have ideas bubbling out of my fingers — but that’s the challenge. Staying focused on the current book with ideas about other books and new characters jostling into my mind wanting their story told. It’s like being a parent with a dozen kids, aged four to forty — each demanding attention and with their own stories to tell, problems to solve and rescues to finance.

I also find it hard to be alone. My entire career was spent interacting with people. Smart people, dumb people, nice people and those who had better not step in front of my car in the parking lot. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I don’t get to travel all over the world speaking and listening to people’s stories and helping them solve complex personal and technical problems. So I get out on social media, which is another problem — staying focused, and in an attempt to avoid being mired by other people’s insolvable problems. How do I overcome this? Budgeting my time — but I often find that at the end of the month, I’m still in debt.

What has the road to publication been like for you?
I expect you would call me a case-study for self-published authors who successfully migrated to mainstream publishing as well as a self-published author who has chosen not to be mainstream published — or simply hasn’t been. When I wrote my first technical book “Hitchhiker’s Guide to VBSQL,” I offered it to a number of publishers but could not garner any interest — even with an agent. Since I had software developers all over the world clamoring for it, I printed copies locally and sold them out of the house. After a while, bookstores started ordering copies and paying in advance for them. After I had published the third edition, Microsoft Press approached me to publish. To make a long story short, I let them publish the fourth, fifth and sixth editions. At that point, Apress lured me away, and I wrote three books for them before I was “encouraged” to switch to Addison-Wesley who published two additional titles. All of them were bestsellers, but none of them are currently carried in bookstores. That’s the nature of technical books — they have the shelf life of bananas.

When I looked around, I realized that I would leave no legacy of my time here on earth. My technical books and personal popularity among the geeks would be unremembered a day after my passing. I wanted to leave something else, something meaningful behind. So I began again. Yes, I have approached a number of agents, editors and publishers with my “Seldith Chronicles” series. Despite having very positive reviews and interest from a number of houses, none has seen fit to take it to the next step. So my books languish on Amazon, buried beneath the hundreds of thousands of similar books, and no, (at least so far) I am not a “successful” self-published YA author in the sense of50 Shades of Grey.” Perhaps that’s why I’m switching my pen name and genre to “new adult,” so I can write more freely about how people treat each other when things go wrong.

How do you market your work?
Apparently, not very well. I have a Web site, a blog, a publisher’s Web site and a Facebook book series page. None of these generate much traffic. I’m active on Facebook, but my friends there are mostly other authors, not readers; so no, these friends don’t buy books, they write them.

I have had a half-dozen book signings in local bookstores that carry the books on consignment, but they don’t sell well unless I’m there to tell the book’s story in person. I have printed a bazillion bookmarks, and I hand them out to perfect strangers on elevators, in doctor’s offices and on every occasion possible (to the dismay of my family). One in ten generates a sale (if that). So, no, my marketing efforts are meager. I did attend a couple of bookfairs where I outsold every other author, so I know I can talk people into buying the books, but that would leave me no time to write.

Who are the writers that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
I was inspired by Charles Petzold in the technical writing field, as well as Dave Durant and others that you’ve never read — but other geeks have. They were able to explain complex technical subjects in easy-to-understand terms. On the literary side, I like James Michener’s style and his ability to draw in the reader with a combination of history, geology and culture in books such as “Alaska” and “Hawaii.” I like Ken Follet for his ability to tell an exciting story built around the truth of a historical event like the rescue of the EDS team in Iran (“On Wings of Eagles,” but I was involved in that story, so perhaps that’s the reason I liked the book). I also like J. K. Rowling. She has woven a compelling story out of her imagination and captivated millions with her magic, characters and magical characters.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
Well, if circumstances said that I had to venture to a time without books (like the narrator in H. G. Wells’The Time Machine), I would probably take “The Whole Earth Catalog,” a medical compendium and a book to help translate languages. Yes, not very romantic but I can create all the stories I need from memory.