Welcome to our interview with William J. Barry. Don't forget to leave us a comment at the end of the interview for a chance to win one of five copies of Sebastian and the Afterlife...
Hey, William, it’s great to meet you. I did a little research and I found your book! It sounds fantastic! Why don’t you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a young adult dark fantasy about a 17-year old boy named Sebastian that has just died. He wakes up in a surreal spirit realm that is between the mortal world and the afterlife. It is a place that is ruled by the Grim Reaper and his agents. Sebastian has been given the opportunity to find peace for his soul before ‘moving on’. He ends up at a school in the spirit realm where ghosts can learn about their new abilities. He makes new friends, but longs for his lost love, Sarah, back in the mortal realm. Sebastian tries to connect with her, thinking that he will find peace by saying one last goodbye. At the same time, soul pirates threaten the spirit world. They abduct innocent spirits to harvest spirit energy. Axis Red, the leader of the pirates, has a plan to take over the entire realm. Sebastian and his new friends get caught in the middle of everything.
In one of your reviews, the reviewer called Sebastian and the Afterlife “A Harry Potter-esque ghost story.” Is that what you were shooting for?
Not particularly. I love Harry Potter, but I don’t think the book is overtly similar. It’s just an easy heuristic to use because those books are so popular and Sebastian has the same kind of dark feel. Sebastian does exist in an enchanted universe and attends a surreal school where students have special powers. Onyx is also a very strong female supporting role. But I think someone could have as easily considered it a Percy Jackson-esque story if that was their point of reference. I wasn’t shooting to be like anything else.
I really like dark teen fantasy, and that’s what I was shooting for. The story actually started with the characters Sebastian and Sarah. I knew that they were in love, but some enormous obstacle had come in between them. I tried to think of what that could be. Then I realized that it was death; at that moment I knew that I was going to write a ghost story. It was going to be a love story, but one that had plenty of adventure as well.
What were you trying to capture when you started writing this story? Was there a meaning? A moral?
When I started I thought I was just telling an imaginative story… which I did. Looking back with introspection I realize that I was also coping with my own fear of mortality. It was my way of coming to peace with it. As with life in general, people will read their own meaning into it. I don’t have any hidden agendas. If the book had a moral, it might be to open your mind and enjoy your existence.
How did you come up with this take on the Grim Reaper?
My mother has claimed to have seen a strange ‘shadow’ in the room on two separate instances right before someone has died. I think that helped facilitate my interest in the idea of a Grim Reaper character. The Grim Reaper gets a bum rap because he is so closely associated with death (oftentimes used synonymously), and people are afraid of death. I wanted to give him his own character. In general, the book tends to strive to take the fear away from thought of death, and I think that rolled over to the reaper as well. I thought: what if he wasn’t bad? What if he was just misunderstood; just a guy that was doing his job? I also knew I needed a hierarchy of authority in the spirit realm and it made sense to put the reaper on top.
There isn’t a whole lot about you on the web, which makes the interview a little more like a treasure hunt. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have two versions of this answer (you can use either one)–
I was born in Newton, New Jersey. I moved to Florida and then to Georgia at a young age. Ever since grade school, I have enjoyed penning original short stories. I grew up in the Augusta, Georgia area, and then moved to Athens, Georgia. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The University of Georgia. After college, I returned my focus to writing (both screenwriting and to my first novel). My hobbies include acting and writing/recording original music. 'Sebastian and the Afterlife' is my first novel, the first in a series of books. I’m married and currently live on the outskirts of Athens Georgia.
Then I have a ‘Good grief, too much information’ version:
I was born in New Jersey, but moved to Florida and then Georgia at a young age. I attended a private christian school (predominantly catholic) in Augusta, Georgia, for elementary through high school.
I wrote short stories ever since I was in grade school. At the age of 12 I started taking classical guitar followed by classical voice lessons at the local college. I continued to write short stories on occasion. In the 10th grade I checked out a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works from the school library. I was really inspired by his stories and to this day he is still my favorite author. In high school I played soccer and a little basketball for the school. As a junior I was a starting fullback on the varsity soccer team. I was also involved with drama and music both at my high school and at the college. I graduated receiving the ‘Excellence in Fine Arts’ award from my high school.
After high school I moved to Athens, Georgia and focused on my music. I also began writing screenplays in my spare time. I bartended to make ends meet. After some years of recording and playing shows, I was still not able to get a recording contract; I returned to college.
In 2005 my girlfriend and I bought a house on the outskirts of Athens, Georgia (we closed on it on 5/05/05). We got married in December of 2006. She is a research biologist and avid knitter.
I graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in psychology in December of 2007. I was a recipient of the ‘Presidential Scholar Award’ and a member of PSI CHI (the psychology honor society). I was accepted into an experimental psychology graduate program in 2008, but had to decline for logistical and financial reasons.
I always had hopes of penning a novel, and on March 24th of 2009 I began writing Sebastian and the Afterlife. I finished the first draft on August 6th of that year. I ended up doing 4 more drafts of the novel. Soon I was shopping it around to agents and publishing houses.
After nearly a year of queries, the book was picked up by TWCS Publishing House (I signed the contract on 10/10/10). The book went into editing that winter. My 96,000 word manuscript was whittled down to around 87,000 words. I learned a lot in the editing process.
The book was released February 24th of 2011. Before the release day I was already contracted to read the audio book and write the sequel.
I’ve been busy since then. I have been doing book signings, speaking engagements, interviews, and posting on blogs on top of keeping my sites updated. It’s almost overwhelming to keep up with it all. I barely made my deadlines, finishing the audiobook August 15th, and turning in the first draft of the Sebastian and the Afterlife sequel on August 31st. I also still bartend two to three nights a week to supplement our income.
Right now we are in the middle of editing the Sebastian and the Afterlife sequel, which will be coming out in February of 2012. It’s really dark and edgier than the first book. I love it. There is already an agreement with the publishing house about the third (and likely final) Sebastian book slated for early 2013. I’m not sure when the audiobook will be released.
In spite of how busy I have been with my writing, I still try to make a little time for my other interests (music and film). A little while back I wrote and recorded a couple of new songs (which can be heard on the Sebastian and the Afterlife website). As for film, I was able to play a zombie in an independent movie called ‘Pushin up Daises’ that came out in 2010, and I am already signed on as an extra in an upcoming Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller movie shooting in early November. I’m also trying to film one of my recent screenplays, hopefully that will happen this winter.
In 2012 I will be promoting the second Sebastian and the Afterlife book, while working on the third. I have also been threatening to start a blog about writing… that may happen in 2012 or sooner if I find the steam. I really love being an author and plan to keep doing it as long as I have stories worth telling.
What types of hobbies do you have outside of writing that may or may not shape how you write? Personally? I love science. I’m a totally geek about it. So when I world build, I world build. You?
In addition to writing, I really enjoy recording original music and acting/filmmaking. I had written a few screenplays before writing this novel. One of my readers commented that I write my action sequences very visual. I think that could be the screenwriting coming through. But really I am just transcribing a movie that I’m watching in my head, trying to keep up with it. But some bad habits come through from the screenwriting too. My editors get on to me about explaining too many character movements - things that would be mentioned in a screenplay but assumed in a manuscript.
I love to world build. That was one of my favorite things about writing this book. I felt I had plenty of freedom and control because there doesn’t seem to be as many standard conventions to adhere to with ghosts as opposed to some other supernatural beings, like vampires. The science aspect is one of the great things about world building in a fantasy story. It’s fun to create the rules, and then analyze what would and wouldn’t be possible. In this story I not only got to play with the spirit realm, but I also did a lot with energy and even managed to sprinkle in some time travel as well.
What attracts you to a particular story?
The characters attract me to a story; that’s the most important thing to me in the beginning. If I don’t care about them, then I don’t care what happens to them. But I like having an interesting setting and situation too. Like I mentioned before, I knew my two main Sebastian and the Afterlife characters before I knew absolutely anything else about the story. If my characters are good, I feel like a lot of the book writes itself.
How do your personal experiences shape the way you pen the stories you tell?
I am a chronic overanalyzer; probably partly my nature, other part psychology degree. I enjoy observing subtleties in peoples’ interactions with each other. I think my logical assessment of people making emotional connections helps me to understand it when I write characters.
Beyond that, sometimes I find my nostalgia creeping into the story. Little things like Sebastian playing soccer. I played soccer in high school. Two painters are mentioned in the book, Van Gogh and Dali. Those are my favorite artists. There are little pieces of me scattered randomly throughout the book in that fashion.
Where can readers purchase your book?
The TWCS Publishing House
Where can readers connect with you on the web?
A bunch of places -
May we read an excerpt from the book?
Sure, here is the prologue. A decent sized excerpt from chapter 1 is also available on the book’s website
Somewhere in a spirit world that existed between mortal life and the afterlife, a curious young student had lost her way. She took a deep shaking breath. Tori stood in a dark forest at the foot of the ominous mountain chain that resided at the far eastern edge of the spirit realm. Her teachers and peers had warned her numerous times that the area was infested with soul pirates, the evil harvesters of the innocents’ spirit energy. She did not know how she had gotten there; perhaps there was something wrong with the compass she was using. All she knew was that she had to get back to her school as soon as possible.
She held the compass out in her hand. A quiet noise like that of a snapping twig pierced the silence. Tori glanced around but saw nothing. That instant the compass was whipped from her fingers and flew into some nearby bushes. Tori jumped back, startled. The frantic student looked around while shaking her stinging hand.
Sally, an all too infamous pirate spirit, made a casual entrance out of the shadows. She wielded a glowing energy whip flowing from her hand.
“My, my, little girl, it looks as if you’re lost,” Sally spoke in devious tone.
Another pirate spirit emerged, floating out from behind a nearby crooked tree. Then, on the other side of Sally, another pirate appeared. Tori darted up, flying into the air in the opposite direction to make her escape. But Sally swung her whip, and it wrapped around Tori’s right ankle. Sally gave a violent jerk to the whip, yanked Tori out of the sky, and slammed her down onto the ground. She lay there, stunned and shook her head.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Sally questioned the terrified student. “You’re coming with us, sweetie.” She laughed.
The weakened Tori stood up. One of Sally’s accompanying cohorts smiled as he produced a set of spirit shackles. He walked toward Tori, and the young student regretted this venture out on her own.
Out of nowhere, a large barn owl swooped in, flying between Tori and the approaching pirates. There was a flash and blur, and the owl took the form of Alexander, a good and loyal agent of the Grim Reaper. Alexander threw forth his hand, and a glowing charge of spirit energy shot out across the air and hit the shackle-wielding pirate in the face. He was thrown head-over-heels, spinning backward through the air until he crashed into a nearby tree. He dropped to the ground, unconscious.
The other accompanying pirate rushed Alexander. The agent pulled back his arm as he drifted up off the ground. He struck the charging pirate in the middle of his chest with a forceful open-palm hit. The attacker flew back, the heels of his boots dragged across the ground as he flew into some nearby brush, toppling into it. Sally’s glowing whip swiped through the air and wrapped around Alexander’s neck. She pulled back and swung the agent through the air. He came to a harsh landing on the side of a large boulder. Alexander pulled the whip off his neck as he took a breath and stood to his feet. He turned to Tori.
“Get back to the school!” he ordered.
The agent’s demand brought Tori out of her bewildered state. She came about her wits and scurried around to find her compass in the bushes. She located it and held it up in her hand.
“I think there’s something wrong with this compass,” Tori yelled to the agent. “It belongs to my friend; we swapped them.”
“You can’t use someone else’s compass,” Alexander explained, “It doesn’t work that way!”
He then pulled out his own compass from a side pocket and drew his arm back.
“Follow this back to the Sapientia campus!” The agent launched his compass into the air within a glowing ball of energy.
It flew out into the western sky. Tori took flight, following Alexander’s compass as it flew back to the school.
Sally turned back toward the agent. “Why did you have to go and do all that?” she complained. “The girl seemed pretty spunky. I bet she was loaded with spirit energy!”
“You know how this is going to end, Sally,” Alexander retorted. “I am going to take every one of you pirates down until I get to Axis Red.”
Sally took a few steps to the side as she spoke.
“I know that’s what you intend to do,” Sally mused, “but first you have to catch us!”
Sally swung her whip at Alexander, but he jumped up into the air over its glowing sweep. Alexander drew back his arm to throw an energy blast at Sally. Another pirate jumped out from the bushes behind him and threw a spirit cocoon trap into the air at the agent. Alexander flung an energy shot at Sally. She jumped out of the way, just missing the blast that snapped the tree behind her in half. The cocoon trap hit Alexander in the back, and its sinister energy started to wrap around, confining him.
“Let’s go!” Sally yelled to the other pirate.
She turned to Alexander. “Until we meet again, darling.”
Sally blew Alexander a sarcastic kiss. She and the other pirate dashed off into the air and were lost in the dark cloudy mountain chain.
The energy formed a cocoon that moved up and around Alexander’s body and had almost reached his shoulders. The agent focused his energy. With a flash of power and light, Alexander destroyed the cocoon trap. The remnants of the evil snare soon disappeared, dwindling into nonexistence. Alexander looked off into the distance where the pirates escaped.
“Next time you won’t be so lucky,” the agent threatened.
~ * ~
We'd like to thank William for stopping by the blog for a terrific interview. Be sure to listen in Wednesday when we chat with him on Blog Talk Radio, 3:30pm PST.
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