I got to know Les Williams through Becca Vickery's Western Trail Blazer publishing, when I noticed that several of his "Dime Novel" titles for WTB were set in Nebraska and then learned that he also lived in Nebraska. I figured, heck, there aren't that many people in the cornhusker state, let alone fellow writers. So I made contact and we've been communicating and swapping stories ever since.
I've enjoyed his Western yarns and have had the privilege of "previewing" some of his contemporary crime stories, so I was delighted that he has taken some of the latter and collected them into the just-released WHEELS OF JUSTICE.
If you like your crime/mystery stories fast-paced and not too hard or not too soft, but just right - and with some neat twists thrown in here and there - then you'll want to check out this collection (follow link).
In the meantime, I think you'll enjoy getting to know more about Les Williams, the man behind the byline, in the following Q&A:
WD: Les, you didn't begin writing seriously until you'd retired from the NCRS in 2006 and then took a creative writing course, after which you say you "discovered my passion for writing". You published your first story a mere two years later, in 2008. That story reads so polished that I can't help but wonder if you must not have done some amount of "tinkering" with writing during the years you were still working?
LW: I “wrote” sports commentary via emails to a few co-workers. I never seriously entertained writing for an audience until taking a week-long creative writing course in North Carolina. Writing themes and reports was not my strong suit. Neither was spelling. Thank goodness for spell checker.
WD: I've always felt that a writing course is valuable for teaching the mechanics of writing such as formatting, outlining, writing a query letter, etc., but it's not going to take an individual very far if there isn't already some kind of instinctive writer already "inside" said individual. Since you experienced success getting published shortly after your writing course, do you care comment on that?
LW: I may have had the writing instinct inside but did not know it. A large part of the polished look and success of my first published short story (Under Nebraska Skies) goes to Regina Williams (no relation), the editor/publisher of The Storyteller magazine. For a fee, she would critique stories. This was before electronic submissions. When I received my manuscript back I was hard pressed to find the black ink amongst all the red. After passing the manuscript back and forth several times, we were both finally satisfied. It was Regina that suggested I send out Nebraska Skies to other publishers as a gauge to see how much she had helped me. It was picked up by Wanderings, a local web based publisher and initially released in a very small booklet. It has since been published in The Storyteller magazine and as an eBook short by Western Trail Blazer.
WD: You started out writing Westerns and have said that you were a big Western fan growing up --- books, movies, TV shows, etc. What were some of your favorites in those different formats and what among them, if any, do you feel might have influenced your own writing in the genre?
LW: Starting with TV westerns, a few of my favorites were, and not necessarily in this order- Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, High Chaparral, Bonanza, Lone Ranger, and Rawhide. As for books, I was a big fan of Louis L’Amour, having read every book or short story he wrote. Some more than once. For movies, like the TV westerns, I’ll name a few, otherwise the list would be long. These are also not necessarily in order of top favorites. The Long Riders, The Gray Fox, The Searchers, Hondo, Silverado, The Man from Snowy River, Quigley Down Under, and True Grit. My favorite was not a movie but a mini-series --- Lonesome Dove. I can’t say any of these really influenced my western writing. I was only hoping I could tell a good story that would captivate the imagination of the reader.
WD: You've recently switched to writing contemporary crime stories. Why make the switch? Will you continue writing in both genres? Contrast your thoughts/feelings as far as writing in one vs. the other.
LW: Phyllis always told me I was limiting my reading by only reading westerns. Since I’ve always like mysteries, I began reading mystery and crime novels. For now, I’ll probably write more crime stories than westerns. With having said that, I have a few western story ideas in the back of my mind that hopefully someday I’ll do something with. I believe you told me that you found writing a western is easier than crime writing. For me it’s the opposite. I find I don’t have to do quite as much research for a crime story as a western. I look at a western as being similar to a crime story. Often there is robbery, or a murder to solve. Instead of doing so in the present day or back in the 1930s or 40s, you’re doing it in the Old West.
WD: In your early work you wrote in the more standard past tense. In your more recent work you write in the present tense. What brought about that change, and do you expect to continue that way?
LW: Honestly, I was unaware of this. Depending on the story or time period, I may continue with this. My guess would be that early on, writing westerns, I thought in the past tense. With contemporary fiction, the action is more in the “here and now.”
WD: I know that your charming wife Phyllis is pretty involved in your writing --- first reader, editing, storyline suggestions, etc. Care to expand on that for our readers?
LW: I’ll let Phyllis answer this one. Phyllis: Les is the one that spends an incredible amount of “seat” time, working on his stories. I read a wider range of books, and from that perspective, come up with additional story ideas, plot lines, and ideas to help Les out. I’m his first reader (a pretty critical one), but we still work well together. The final product, however, is always what Les feels works for him.
WD: I know that you have always been an avid reader and I assume you continue to be. Do you read in all genres, or stick mostly to Westerns and mystery/crime? Do you have any all-time favorite books or authors?
LW: Lately I’ve been reading crime/mystery stories. I enjoy these who-done-its and this is the genre I’m currently writing in. My favorites in the crime field are/ were Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Tony Hillerman, Craig Johnson, William Kent Kruger, and John Sandford to name a few. I’ve enjoyed the westerns of a number of our contemporary western authors. There are many out there so I will only name a few, and again in no particular order. Frank Roderus, Robert J Randisi, who, as you know, also writes crime and westerns; as does Ed Gorman. Jory Sherman is another western author I not only enjoy but admire. There's also Dusty Richards, and David P Fisher, who writes excellent western shorts. My favorite western novel is Lonesome Dove.
WD: Finally, your work so far has been short stories. Is there a novel on the horizon or perhaps already in the works?
LW: There is. It has been and continues to be a work in progress. There are two reasons for this. First, life sometimes just seems to get in the way. Secondly, I’ve been concentrating my efforts on Wheels of Justice. This is a collection of fourteen crime stories published by Mockingbird Lane Press and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Next up I’ll begin working on a second collection of short crime fiction. When that project is completed, I will resume working on the novel, which at this point is about ¾ through the first rough draft. The novel will feature three protagonists. John Walking Horse, a Lakota, Sean Hagarty, an Irish descendant, and Jackie Kwon, an Asian American woman. These three characters are also at the heart of my second story collection.