According to William Bernhardt's biography, he has always loved books. He said he wanted to be a writer since he was seven-years old. He received his first rejection letter when he was eleven, and he admits to receiving more over the next nearly twenty years.
He now has at least twenty-nine books to his credit. The most recent title is Nemesis.
William Bernhardt's writing has won many awards, among them: the Oklahoma Book Award for Best Fiction, twice (an award in which I'm most interested, maybe someday I'll receive one); the Southern Writers Guild's Gold Medal Award; and the H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author Award.
Not only is Mr. Bernhardt a renown author, he's also the founder and owner of HAWK Publishing Group, which is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Bill earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma after being an English major in college. After law school, he returned for a Masters Degree in English literature. He's also a gourmet cook and, as an accomplished pianist and songwriter, has written the music, lyrics, and script for a musical.
Let's imagine we're sitting at a table at the local Starbucks with Bill Burnhardt. I dig out my list of questions and start the interview:
"Where and how do you find ideas for plots for your books?" I ask, sipping plain hot tea, even though I had to bring my own tea bag and ask for a cup of hot water.
Bill gives a boyish grin. "For me, it's not a question of how do I get ideas; it's how can you not? Ideas are everywhere, when you're out in the world, reading, staying abreast of current events, meeting new people. I write every day, so my mind is constantly in the 'search' mode for good ideas, good characters."
What details help make your characters 'live'?
The details that other people can relate to readily. When I created Ben Kincaid, I wanted a protagonist who was not “perfect,” not Perry Mason, some guy who always wins and always knows the right answers. I can’t relate to that. I can relate to someone who is often unsure of himself, plagued with self-doubt, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but determined to do the right thing. I think most of my readers like Ben because he is a good person but he is not perfect and that’s something they can understand.
If a writer doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of a career he/she wants for a character, how would you suggest the author get into the “skin” of that job?
I would suggest that they spend a lot of time talking to someone in that career and also have them review the manuscript after it’s written. I have done that many times, with police officers, for instance, in my crime novels, or historians, for my forthcoming historical novel.
Your writing career has included several best sellers and awards, but how did you start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was very young. I always wanted to be a writer. I have rejection letters that go back to when I was eleven. And I didn’t publish anything till I was thirty, so that’s an almost twenty year stretch. But I kept at it and eventually came up with something someone wanted. I always tell my writing students, if you keep writing and don’t give up, eventually you’ll publish. It’s true.
Do you finish one book before you start another? How long does it take to finish a book?
Depends on what you mean by “finish a book.” Usually these days I can do the actual writing in a few months, but I don’t start writing until I’ve got an idea and I’ve done the research and I’ve put together an outline—and that may take a year or more. The book will digress from the outline a thousand different ways, but the book still goes more smoothly because I have a plan and structure in place. You cannot overvalue the importance of an understanding of story structure—and that’s one of the elements of writing that is least frequently taught.
Since you’re both an author and a publisher, do you find it difficult to wear both hats?
No. I love everything to do with books and I love giving other authors the wonderful opportunity I’ve had to see my work in print.
Which award meant the most to you and why?
The H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author Award, because it was perhaps the first to recognize that there was something going on in my books beyond mere entertainment, that, to quote the award, my writing was “an outstanding body of work that has profoundly influenced the way in which we understand ourselves and American society at large.”
How can authors find the submission guidelines for your publishing company?
I wasn't able to attend your workshop or seminar this past year. Are you holding another one in 2009, and what benefit do authors or developing authors receive from attending workshops or conferences?
The June 6-7 HAWK Writing Workshop is, as the name implies, a workshop, and we focus on getting people writing and improving what they have written. I look for speakers and faculty who are genuinely interested in mentoring and being of use to the next generation of writers. This year, we're being joined by Steve Berry, a multiple New York Times-bestselling author and a leader in the field of historical thrillers, who will talk about his experiences and share the secrets that put him at the top of the list. We're having Susan Piver, also a New York-Times bestselling nonfiction writer and a licensed meditation instructor, who will discuss that and other ways of sparking creativity. We will also have a dozen other authors, agents, and editors. You can learn more about it and register at: www.hawkpub.com/writingworkshop2009.htm.
The following week, I'm hosting two smaller intensive five-day seminars (ten participants, max) for serious writers seeking individualized attention to their work. One seminar is for fiction, the other for nonfiction. I developed this program over the summer at the Maui Writing Retreat and other workshops and it seems to work well--I've already seen two students sell books to major New York publishers! You can learn more about it and register at the same website: www.hawkpub.com/writingworkshop2009.htm
What other comments would you like to make to beginning and to experienced writers?
Never stop writing. This is your dream, and it is an important one. Don’t give up. Thank you, Bill. I hope readers find this interview as interesting as I have, and they will want to find and read your books if they haven't already.