The first time I read one of Bill Wetterman’s books I asked myself, “What kind of novel is this?” Bill writes faith based novels—a genre that usually has little appeal for me—but he packs them full of action that pulls readers so deeply into the narratives that they can’t escape. And there are Bill’s characters: a porn star (The Fifth Step), spies and a world dictator (The Peacock Trilogy),a prostitute (Busted). Naturally I was excited when I heard about his new novel, Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace. And now that I’ve read it, I have a few questions for Bill Wetterman.
Q. Bill, most people think of Yellowstone as a beautiful national park filled with natural wonders, but in Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace, you made it the central feature in an apocalypse. How did you come up with that idea?
A. I read an article about Buffalo leaving the park a few years ago and the event sparked my imagination. The North American Continent’s instability along the west coast, the real threat of another earthquake in the New Madrid fault affecting the Mississippi River from Memphis to the Gulf, and now Yellowstone, a concern I’d never considered sparked one main thought: America isn’t prepared for the aftermath of any of them. It became a novel.
Q.The events you describe after the first eruption are extremely detailed. Where the ash will fall. The degree to which areas of the U.S. will be affected. The “nuclear winter” that will change the climate of the earth. How much research did you do to plot the paths of destruction?
A. Great question, John. Unlike paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, and other genres, I take today’s headlines and push them into the near future—never use a date for events. I think about my audience. I don’t want a review like this: “The military stopped using armament like that after the Korean War. This guy didn’t do his homework. It’s worse with scientists. If I don’t know what the last three eruptions did, how can I write about the next explosion? I’ve included two research maps. Articles have been written about possible ejecta coverage if Yellowstone blows in January, April, July, and October, including the position of the Jetstream at those times of year to predict where the ash will fall and how deep. This is key to the novel for believability.
Q.One of the things I noticed right away was how you switched from first person when the scene was in your protagonist’s (Mary’s) point of view to third person in scenes where she wasn’t present. That’s a pretty experimental writing method. Why did you choose that technique?
A. I’ve done this before in Busted. First person plays to the depth of internal emotion better than third person. I want the reader to grow close to a person who’s hard to bond with. I’m going to marginalize or kill off most of the others anyway, so third person works for them. Transitions between the two are intentional. Mary’s character growth and change in values to meet a chaotic world demands I write her in first person. I would not have tried this on my first novel.
Q.Strong female protagonists play an important role in all your novels—The Fifth Step, Busted, The Peacock Trilogy. Do you choose those protagonists before you start writing or do they choose themselves?
A. Since I research and create my world, the tension, and the character profiles before I put fingers to computer keys, yes. Everything is preplanned. Women readers project themselves into the female characters, and women make up the vast majority of readers. From a personal viewpoint, I write sexy, intelligent women skillfully. My males are manipulated by women, as is true in real life. Besides, I can project my fantasies into my novels much easier this way.
Q.Your protagonist, Mary, is a member of the Creek tribe. Why did you choose to make her Native American?
A. Several reasons. BK, Mary’s husband, selects her partly because she’s an Indian. There is a long range strategy to have a minority spokesperson, if a new government is formed. With Oklahoma as the setting, avoiding the Indian culture would be criminal. Mary Kenton must change her viewpoint on everything she knew about the world. An American Indian, a Christian, and a person with a servant’s heart, her character arc drives the novel. Besides, at the time I created the outline, the Creeks were attempting to build a casino three blocks from my house. I didn’t want to upset them.
Q.Yellowstone is a faith-based apocalyptic thriller, custom made for a couple of miraculous events. You didn’t use a single one, and still managed to keep faith central to the plot. Did you plan it that way from the beginning?
A. Yes. Plus, there is no Hollywood hero who rescues the world. No offense to your readers, America and the rest of the world have strayed so far from God that He will not toss us a lifeboat. Regardless of the catastrophe, survival won’t be pretty. Why should believing Christians be treated differently than the Apostles. Every apostle, except John, was either beheaded, skinned alive, or murdered for their faith. Yet they attained eternal salvation.
Q.You aren’t very kind to your characters in Yellowstone. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll tell you that some of my favorites were killed off after I’d grown quite fond of them. It definitely works. Can you tell us why you do it?
A. Realism, John. In this new world, it’s useless to count on anything being the same when you awake up. Counting on others works as long as they are breathing. Survival depends on your decision making alone. Pillow-soft Americans awake up! The people lost supported Mary. I kicked the prop away to watch her crumble and rise stronger than before.
Q.I remember you telling me you’d never write another trilogy, but Yellowstone ends in a way that probably leaves your readers wondering what happens next. That’s actually a perfect way to end an apocalyptic thriller, but will Mary and the other survivors be featured in another book?
A. Unfair question. Well, maybe fair, but it’s revealing the flaws in my character. The door is open depending on the response to the novel and what the theme of sequel—not trilogy—would be. I wrote Yellowstone as a standalone novel.
Q.Yellowstone features a number of characters who know a lot about military strategy and survivalist techniques. Is that all research, or do you draw on experiences from your past.
A. I used to think survivalists tilted far right of center. And yes, I know many from personal contact. But I’ve changed my mind as the decades pass. I firmly believe disaster is coming—multiple disasters rolling one after another. I’m personally prepared for a month without resources. But I’m 73 and dependent on medications for my existence, preparing for a longer struggle isn’t practical, because I’d run out of medical resources.
Military tactics and weaponry had to be researched through my beta readers and internet research. Of course, no one has fought under the conditions I’ve created. I looked up every weapon, the range and impact, and the effectiveness. But in the end, the desperation of people fighting street-by-street with meat cleavers in their hands says it all.
Q.Your novels, including Yellowstone, are centered around faith but include plenty of sex and violence. You must get a wide range of feedback from your readers.
A. To say my writing is dark and edgy is honest. The real world is worse. My writing includes immorality, sexuality, greed, lust, murder, and betrayal. I’ve had interesting reactions from Christians and non-Christians alike. Here are examples.
“I won’t be reviewing your novel, Room 1515. When I got to Chapter 4, your characters got naked in a pool! Uh!” (I wonder if the same person went to see Harry Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks.)
“What’s with your cover? I mean it’s GREAT! But I didn’t expect the sexy thing from you.”
The real world is worse than fiction. But humans tend to avoid reality. My novels carry a theme of repentance in each. No matter how far a person falls, God can raise them up and eventually does. I’m tired of the media portraying Christians as scheming shysters or holier-than-thou fanatics. I’m tired or Christians saying things like, “I’m just relying on God.”
The rubber meets the road of faith by going through the fire and coming out stronger on the other side. God wins. So do we. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Thanks for the opportunity to discuss my writing. I hope your readers learn something from what I’ve said. My style is my style. It works for me. I’ll leave you with one thought. Just because ‘the literary gurus’ make a rule, doesn’t mean the right author can’t break it. Just saying.