Today is the release date of Homer Underby, Book 2 of the Thuperman Trilogy. I sat down with its author, Elgon Williams, a mentor of mine, to learn more about his books and his life as an author.
I really loved Becoming Thuperman, the first book of the trilogy. Can you tell us a little about Homer Underby?
The story begins the day after the conclusion of Becoming Thuperman. As both Will and Sandra adjust to their parents’ reaction to their heroics, they also deal with the confirmation that not everything happening to them is the product of their over-active imaginations. Although Sandra is grounded, she can attend baseball practice and her mother has agreed to lift her grounding if their team wins the Little League season openers on Saturday. Will, who is not grounded, takes a road trip with his Papaw to a livestock auction. While there Will demonstrates an aspect of his special abilities. On the way back from the auction, Will’s papaw reveals a well-kept family secret.
As amateur sleuths Will and Sandra take on a 20-year-old mystery. While investigating, they are attacked by the men in the dark van that have been following them. Sandra is abducted but Will narrowly escapes by falling through an interdimensional portal and winds up in the distant future where he meets Brent Woods, dedicated hermit and last man on Earth.
For someone new to the trilogy, can they jump right in with Homer Underby, or do you recommend they read Becoming Thuperman first?
Readers who have no experience with Becoming Thuperman tell me there is ample background given to understand what happened before. Having said that, I recommend reading Becoming Thuperman to provide a more complete picture of the characters and their relationships.
Are the lead characters Will and Sandra based on real people?
They are composites based on several kids I knew when I was growing up as well as the friends my three kids had when they were young. So, no, there isn’t any one person who is exactly like Will or Sandra. I suppose they represent are every kid who grows up wanting to be heroic, wanting to be something more than they appear to be. While battling expectations and surviving a few bullies along the way, they rely on their friendship to overcome everything. They complement one another in so many ways and that makes it a blast to write about them. Will matures a lot during Homer Underby. Sandra has always been the more mature of the pair, but there is a dynamic that is evolving as each of them explores their newfound abilities. They will do anything for each other.
Why did you choose Normal, Illinois, as the setting for the trilogy?
It’s the perfect hometown for a couple of badass eight-year-olds with superpowers. Around ten years ago I was writing an origin story for a couple of characters who appear in another, yet-to-be-published novel. At the time I thought about giving the kids superpowers but tabled the idea. It lingered in the background, but I never fleshed it out on paper. In January 2012, when I lived in Kissimmee, FL, I took some time off from work and flew up to spend a week with my daughters who shared an apartment in the Champaign-Urbana area of Illinois. I took a bus from O’Hare and it stopped over in Normal, on the Illinois State University campus. At the time I was texting with an old friend from grade school. She knew I was traveling, so she asked me where I was. When I told her, she replied, “Oh, you’re nowhere near Normal, my dear.” I knew immediately this was the place for the superhero kids to grow up.
Your books often use elements of more than one genre. What genre or genres do you consider yourself in?
The Thuperman Trilogy is mainly a coming of age, paranormal urban fantasy. It has bits of science fiction blended in and there are a few mysteries that underly everything. It’s intended for young adults to new adults, but it is suitable for middle grade children as well. And a lot of adults, even those who are my age, enjoy the books because of the nostalgic elements. The series is set in the summer of 1988, before cellphones and the Internet became ubiquitous in everyone’s daily life, when the world was a lot safer – or at least appeared to be.
What are your favorite authors in those genres?
I don’t know anyone else who writes books that are like mine. I write about things I’d enjoy reading, if they were available. I love a good mystery. Who doesn’t? But I also grew up reading a ton of science fiction and more than a few comic books. My interest in fantasy carried through into college. I majored in communication and marketing, but I took lots of literature and writing courses. There were some years I read a couple hundred books beside my textbooks. I especially enjoy reading authors who are brave enough to poke some fun at the conventions of their genres, doing something unbridled, like Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut was a huge early influence on me. I loved his warped, dark wit. His work also straddled a few genres. Of more recent authors, I follow a lot of indies, like Rose Montague and Telya Branton who both write action-packed, YA paranormal, fantasy novels and Sara Dahl who does Viking Romance stories – yes, that is a thing. I love Steph Post’s gritty storytelling. She dabbles in some genre bending things, too. And I haven’t even begun to mention the amazing stuff from my fellow Pandamoon Publishing authors.
You do a masterful job of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. How are you able to do this so well?
My secret is that I never grew up. Just as my ex-wife will tell you. It’s a thing I mastered even before my kids were born. When they were growing up, often I was on their level. I have retained a lot from that experience. I kind of think that it’s because when a kid I missed out on a lot of my childhood. I always seemed mature for my age. I lived on a farm and had daily chores and I helped my dad a lot in the fields, especially in the summer. That’s not to say I didn’t do a good bit of playing as well, but whenever I did, I played alone. Both my siblings were much older, and they were girls. For the most part they weren’t interested in playing with me or doing the things I wanted to do. For most of my early childhood the only neighbor kids lived on the other side of a hill, and across a cow pasture and through the woods from where I lived. We played together sometimes, but it wasn’t anything regular. Then, when I was ten, we moved to where I had no nearby neighbors at all. I always relied on my imagination to create worlds where whatever I wanted to do was possible.
The Thuperman Trilogy is not marketed in the Young Adult or Middle Grade categories despite having kids as the main characters. Do you think younger audiences would also enjoy these books?
I think the books get overlooked because my other writing is science fiction intended for adults. The Thuperman Trilogy is intended for all ages. The story is told from the male main character’s point of view. Most of the dialogue is between two precocious eight-year-olds, and their interactions with the adults in their lives. There is no offensive language used. There are some spooky things and some references to violence, but I’d say the books are PG. Also, the narrative is purposely written from the MC’s point of view, like he is telling the story when he is a sophomore in high school. So, the choice of words shouldn’t be too challenging to any reader from, say, age ten.
Your characters discover they have budding superpowers. What are your own superpowers?
Invisibility. I discovered the gift around the time I discovered an attraction to the ladies. It was uncanny how whenever I worked up the nerve to talk to a pretty girl, not only couldn’t she see me, but she didn’t hear me either. As frustrating as it was at first, it’s been useful many times.
How did you become an author? What other works have you written?
I have many unpublished things. Most authors do. From about the time I was not much older than Will and Sandra, I was always writing something. I set out to write my first novel when I was thirteen but never quite finished that one. In high school I wrote pieces that were published in the school’s monthly literary magazine. I was reporter, columnist, and eventually co-editor for my high school newspaper. All throughout college I was working on the mythical great American novel. By the time I was senior, I had a manuscript. I considered submitting it for publication, but after setting it aside for a few weeks, I decided to read through it. It was awful. I still have it, though. I look at it sometimes to remind myself of origins. Pieces of that story have made it into other manuscripts, though.
The first thing I officially published was my Air Force unit’s history. I think three people read that thing, but it won an award. I’ll bet my old unit still uses that as a template. That’s how things are done, find something that works and keep it going. But the first work of fiction that I published was One Over X. It’s hard sci-fi. There are threads extending from it to all my other writing. I’m equally proud of Fried Windows and Becoming Thuperman, my two other Pandamoon Publishing books. The writing style differs between to two, though. BT was not easy to write because I had to relearn how to think like a fifteen-year-old to tell a story about being eight years old.
What do you love most about being an author?
Someone once described it as a socially acceptable way of lying for a living that doesn’t involve politics. Usually, it doesn’t involved politics, anyway. You have a lot of freedom as a writer, but also, if you do it right, there is a great deal of responsibility. You are, after all, playing god with your characters in a world defined by your parameters. It’s like making your own jigsaw puzzle, except there is no picture on the pieces. Or it’s like breaking a mirror and trying to piece it back together in the dark without cutting off your fingers. But here’s the truth about writing any fiction. It must make more sense than the world you live in. If your created world isn’t real to you it will never feel real to a reader.
What are your writing habits? Do you have any writing rituals?
I used to write at night before going to bed. But I changed that up a few years ago and started writing first thing in the morning. I usually listen to music while I draft something but never while I’m revising or self-editing it. Despite it being early morning when I write, I like the room to be dark. I compose at a computer keyboard. I begin with the dialogue and let the characters tell me their story, their conflicts, and from that I can see where the problems are and who is the protagonist and antagonist. I go back and fill in the details and connective narrative. When I revise, I apply structure to the story, conforming the story arc to an outline. I rarely ever create the outline first. My mind isn’t wired that way. I know writers who have storyboards on their walls with threads connecting things. They are far more organized than I am, but I can’t write that way.
What’s it like being Director of Sales and Marketing for Pandamoon Publishing? How does your business role mesh with your creative role?
It’s another avenue of expressing my creativity. I used to write editorial style advertising copy. My creativity has always been connected to the business side of my nature. I enjoy helping other authors get the word out about their books. Authors aren’t in competition with one another. After you’ve been around for a while you figure that out. We need to help one another to survive. So, the marketing role I serve doesn’t require me to flip a switch or change hats. I’m always who I am. And sometimes I have served as a sounding board for other authors’ creative ideas. Seeing the most creative aspects of the human mind in action fascinates me.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I’m a computer geek, though not nearly as much as back when I built my own machines and experimented with exotic configurations and experimental operating systems. I don’t have the time or patience for that anymore. But I still pay attention to what is cutting edge. I used to build custom computers for friends and all my kids had machines that were close to state of the art when they were growing up. I taught my son how to build a gaming computer when he was eleven.
Tell us about your new grandson!
Jackson Legend Williams was born back in December. He’s strong, is already showing some rudimentary problem-solving skills, and is quite a little ham whenever someone is paying attention to him. There’s nothing like having a grandson. I babysit sometimes. He’s crawling, exploring, and getting into things he probably shouldn’t. I figure I’ll eventually teach him how to build a computer, too. Maybe some time after he starts walking.
So, what should we expect next from Elgon Williams?
I’m working on an epic fantasy origin series about the wolfcats. People may believe this is a backstory I wrote after The Thuperman Trilogy and the Fried Windows series, but it’s not. In fact, I started working on it in 1978. So, it’s always been in the background. There are multiple manuscripts. Once we’re through editing, we’ll see how many books it becomes. There’s also a sequel for Fried Windows, tentatively titled Castles of Ninja Bread. That is due out next year. The third installment of The Thuperman Trilogy, tentatively titled Thuperman and Cassandra, should be out early next year as well. I’m currently writing a story about adult versions of Will and Sandra teaming up with Brent Woods to help a police detective solve a serial murder case.
Thanks for chatting with me!