I was lucky enough to be able to interview D. J. Williams, the author of the Guardian Novels, a series of unique books inspired by his extensive travelling. He has experience in both the entertainment industry and writing, and used a combination of the two to create a soundtrack for his latest novel Walking Lazarus – an innovative and exciting idea which he describes below, so read on to find out more!
How and when did you first get into writing?
From an early age, I’ve been captured by stories that left me turning the page/ The first book I remember reading cover to cover was Treasure Island. At eight years old, those few days I spent in my room lost in a world of adventure, suspense, and mystery left me with a dream to one day become a storyteller. I never imagined how that dream would one day become a reality.
After a decade in the music business, and the rise of iTunes, I found myself transitioning into a new career on the set of a new TV series as an Executive Producer and Director. Nearly a decade passed, as well as hundreds of TV episodes, before I returned to a childhood dream to find the perfect story to write. So, I wrote late at night for months before sending a draft to a friend in the TV industry with the disclaimer, ‘If it’s not any good, the only two people who will know about it is you and me.’ A few days later she called with a thumbs up. That began a search for an agent and publisher, which is an entire book unto itself.
When my first novel, The Disillusioned, was released, it captured what I’ve now defined as ’cause-driven’ storytelling. Throughout the pages of the story, the adventure takes the main characters into the heart of Africa and the trafficking trade. I was fortunate enough to land a 15-city book tour with Barnes and Noble, and realized I was hooked to write the next story, Walking Lazarus.
How and when did you first get the idea for your latest novel, Walking Lazarus?
I stood on the shores of the Zambezi River as a spark for a story pierced my soul. After three weeks of traveling across the country, witnessing the reality of those forgotten by the world, and facing a major change in my career, I knew that one day I’d write about this place. Little did I know that it would be years before I found the courage to write my first novel, The Disillusioned. I was so afraid of failing to capture the story that I wrote the novel without telling anyone. When it was finished, I reached out to a friend in the TV industry and her response encouraged me to step out in faith and publish. I share this with you because those days on the Zambezi defined my passion as a storyteller.
What I discovered throughout the writing process was that using my experiences with traveling to the poorest places in the world fueled my drive to create the Guardian Novels, a series filled with mystery, suspense and adventure. All of those remain aspects of each story, from the first novel, the stark reality of the fight against human trafficking has continued to be an underlying thread throughout. It’s one reason why I’ve defined this series as being cause-driven novels. My hope is that readers will be entertained, but will also be inspired to make a difference in the world when they flip that last page.
Writing the second novel, Walking Lazarus, was challenging to continue in the cause-driven storytelling style. To capture this story in a unique way, the novel spans nearly as century as readers are taken back to the 1920s and then return to the present day on a global adventure. It also pushes readers further into the worlds of child slavery, poverty, and the darkness of secrets. I’m humbled that the Guardian Novels, and the cause-driven storytelling style, have garnered the attention of Hollywood’s elite.
‘The Disillusioned is a fast-paced mystery…you won’t put it down until you’ve unlocked the secrets and lies to find the truth.’ Judith McCreary, Co-Executive Producer, Law & Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, & CSI
‘Walking Lazarus is a captivating visual story with a colourful narrative. Once I started reading, it was hard to put down.’ Peter Anderson, Oscar Winner, Cinematographer
The Guardian Novels are meant to go beyond storytelling toward raising awareness for causes and issues many face around the world. While the stories draw readers in, my hope is that the messages will lead them to a deeper place that bridges the gap between fiction and reality. With that said, I’ve launched the Guardian Alliance as an extension not only of the books, but of my missional DNA. Each month we feature a new cause or non-profit through out monthly updates on social media, e-mail, interviews, and beyond.
Walking Lazarus is accompanied by a full soundtrack – that is such a unique idea and I imagine it was fun to create. Could you outline the basic process you went through to make it?
When I began writing Walking Lazarus, I searched for musical inspiration as the story spanned nearly a century. I scrolled through my iTunes playlists and picked out a sequence of soundtracks to help set the tone and the mood to help capture each scene as it played out on the page like a film. Working in the entertainment industry as an Executive Producer and Director, I understand how important a piece of music can be to enhance the story you’re trying to tell.
As the months passed, Walking Lazarus came alive on the page and I had a thought…what if we created a soundtrack to go with the book? It was something I hand’t seen done before. A soundtrack customised for the story, and done in a way that readers of all kinds could use it without being lost.
I reached out to a young composer, Jené Nicole Johnson, and shared with her the vision I had for a soundtrack to enhance the reading experience for Walking Lazarus. Under a tight deadline, she accepted the challenge and broke the code on how best to put the soundtrack together. She created layers of music that not only captured the 1920s era through present day, but also the mystery and suspense as the story travels from the Southland to the Orient. All of the music tied together with specific chapters so it was easy for readers to follow. I found myself writing the soundtrack as I worked on the final draft. It was an energizing, creative experience, one I believe I’ll do again for the next Guardian Novel.
If you had to pick five words to describe Walking Lazarus, what would they be?
A few of the words shared in the Amazon reviews have been: spellbinding, relevant, powerhouse, epic, gripping, page-turning, action-packed, mysterious, suspenseful. OK. That’s more than five words. I think one of my favourite quotes is, ‘Be prepared to say ‘Wow’ again and again.’
I read on your website that you are an avid traveller – what are your three favourite places that you have visited?
North Shore (Hawaii), Zambezi River (Zambia), London (UK)
Do you think your extensive travelling has inspired and shaped your writing?
Absolutely. In each of my novels so far, readers are taken to another place in the world that exposes them to a culture that may be different from their own. Having traveled so much since I was a kid, I’m able to create locations and scenes based on places that I’ve been that are quite unique. I also believe that the people I have met in these far away places have inspired the characters that I create and the world they live in.
And finally, do you have any top tips for aspiring writers?
Writing is a journey that leads us into the valleys as we strive to climb the mountain. I would say for any write the challenge is to live out the 3 Ps: Passion. Purpose. Productivity. Passion is what gives you the endurance to keep going. If you love to write, then you write whether you become a bestselling author or not. It’s part of your DNA. It’s something you’ll do no matter who might end up reading your creation. But passion without purpose leaves you without clear goals or direction. Know where you want to end up in six months, a year, or five years from now. Know what drives your passion for writing. Know the genre where you want to build an audience. Passion and defining your purpose allows your writing to become more productive. Set a writing schedule to start and finish your novel, and then do it! Finishing a novel is the hardest part of the journey. But with each story you finish, you’ll discover what makes your writing and storytelling unique.
If you want to find out more about D. J. Williams and Walking Lazarus