Please welcome Bill Schutt to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Bill is the co-author with J.R. Finch of Hell's Gate which was published on June 7th by William Morrow.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Bill: I’ve been writing ever since I was a child (a nasty sci-fi short story called The Cylinder got me in some trouble when I was 12). I started writing peer-reviewed science papers in the early ‘90s and my first non-fiction book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, came out in 2008. I think writing is an extension of the fact that I’ve always been an avid reader.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Bill: We generally work out an outline of the plot, then a summary of the chapters. Next we work on those individual chapters–editing them over and over again until things like the dialogue and character action sound and feel just right.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Bill: I’d have to say what happens to a book once it gets out of my hands. Besides working hard to promote it locally and on social media, there’s little an author can do at that point. That’s tough.
TQ: How does being a Professor of Biology at LIU Post and being a Research Associate of the American Museum of Natural History affect your fiction writing?
Bill: That’s a rather complex question. As a professor I’ve always tried to be an entertainer—primarily to keep my students interested in whatever topic I happen to be covering. Because of this, I make a conscious effort to keep things lively and funny in my writings (both fiction and non-fiction). Also, as someone who has spent a lot of time in the field (I’ve studied bats all over the world), I think that was quite helpful when writing scenes where zoologist R.J. MacCready is sitting out in the rainforest at night or crawling around in a guano-filled cave.
TQ: Describe Hell's Gate in 140 characters or less.
Bill: During WWII zoologist RJ MacCready is sent into a Brazilian Heart of Darkness to investigate Axis activity. What he finds there is far stranger than even he can imagine
TQ: Tell us something about Hell's Gate that is not found in the book description.
Bill: There’s a great deal of real science in Hell’s Gate, from advanced weaponry that was on the drawing board in 1944 to the biology and behavior of some really weird but real-life creatures.
TQ: What inspired you to write Hell's Gate?
Bill: A trip to the real Hell’s Gate in central Brazil got me thinking about, how, 60 or so years ago, it would have been a great place to hide something from the rest of the world.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Hell's Gate? Bill: The “bat is now out of the bag” that some of our main characters are vampire bats and I’ve been working on those for 25 years. Basically J.R. and I wanted to write a real vampire story in which the larger prehistoric cousins of modern vampire bats didn’t go extinct in the recent past. We tried to portray their behavior as accurately as possible, and in the end they became real-life versions of the Aliens in the Ridley Scott and James Cameron films.
TQ: In Hell's Gate who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Bill: I found Mac to be the easiest character to write because he and I are vertebrate zoologists with similar academic and museum backgrounds. We both love being out in the field. I found Mac’s best friend, Bob Thorne, the most difficult character to write. He’s based on my late best friend (also Bob), who we lost to leukemia during the writing. His parents and relatives knew Bob was in Hell’s Gate and so this became a very difficult thing to do. I believe we wrote something the real Bob would have enjoyed, and I was extremely relieved to hear that his mom really loved the fictional portrayal.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Hell's Gate?
Bill: We thought it was important to mention some lesser known injustice that Americans of German ancestry (as well as Jewish Americans) faced during in the 1940s. Some of it was quite surprising and we decided to employ these events to give our hero a seriously haunted past.
TQ: Which question about Hell's Gate do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Bill: (Please Note: This Q&A is purely hypothetical and has not happened! )
Q: “So Bill, where you when you heard Guillermo del Toro was interested in making Hell’s Gate into a movie?”
A: “I was being interviewed by Alice Cooper when the call came in.”
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Hell's Gate.
Bill: “The history of civilization is written in humanity’s perversion of nature.” Then there’s… “Then, for a moment, the private’s scream became strong and clear, spiraling up, and up, and up into the night, until it was lost in the mist.”
TQ: What's next?
Bill: We’re just about to turn in the sequel to Hell’s Gate and we’re already starting to think about the plot for the next book after that. We’re looking forward to Mac and Yanni’s adventures after the end of WWII (the sequel takes place in 1946) and then into the ‘50s and ‘60s. My next non-fiction book, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (Algonquin) comes out on Valentine’s Day 2017.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Bill: You’re very welcome. Thank you for being so cool.
William Morrow, June 7, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
When a Japanese submarine is discovered abandoned deep in the Brazilian wilderness, a smart, adventurous, and tough zoologist must derail a catastrophic plot in Hell’s Gate.
1944. As war rages in Europe and the Pacific, Army Intel makes a shocking discovery: a 300-foot Japanese sub marooned and empty, deep in the Brazilian interior. A team of Army Rangers sent to investigate has already gone missing. Now, the military sends Captain R. J. MacCready, a quick-witted, brilliant scientific jack-of-all-trades to learn why the Japanese are there—and what they’re planning.
Parachuting deep into the heart of Central Brazil, one of the most remote regions on the planet, Mac is unexpectedly reunited with his hometown friend and fellow scientist Bob Thorne. A botanist presumed dead for years, Thorne lives peacefully with Yanni, an indigenous woman who possesses mysterious and invaluable skills. Their wisdom and expertise are nothing short of lifesaving for Mac as he sets out on a trail into the unknown.
Mac makes the arduous trek into an ancient, fog-shrouded valley hidden beneath a 2000-foot plateau, where he learns of a diabolical Axis plot to destroy the United States and its allies. But the enemy isn’t the only danger in this treacherous jungle paradise. Silently creeping from the forest, an even darker force is on the prowl, attacking at night and targeting both man and beast. Mac has to uncover the source of this emerging biological crisis and foil the enemy’s plans . . . but will he be in time to save humanity from itself?
J.R. FINCH is the pen name of a painter, history buff, and cave explorer. He lives in New York with three cats.
Photo by Jerry Ruotolo
BILL SCHUTT is a vertebrate zoologist, professor of biology, and author. He is a Research Associate (in residence) at the American Museum of Natural History and a Professor of Biology at LIU Post. Bill’s first book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, was critically acclaimed by E.O. Wilson, The New York Times and Alice Cooper. His next non-fiction work, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, will explore the natural history of cannibalism. Bill lives with his wife and son on the East End of Long Island, and he is currently working on a sequel to Hell’s Gate with J.R. Finch.