Monday, September 15, 2014

Dan Willis, co-author of Lincoln’s Wizard


Author Bio:
Born in Washington DC and raised just east of there in Maryland, Dan grew up among the most practiced of storytellers, politicians.  Despite that, he decided to become a writer rather than a professional liar or grifter.  He moved west to Utah to attend college, studied writing.  Like everyone who studies writing, he had to find some way to make money and worked as a mechanic, a customer service rep, a programmer, a web designer, a software tester, and, occasionally, a copy writer.

Eventually, Dan’s writing caught they eye of Wizards of the Coast, and he began writing for their DragonLance: The New Adventures series.  Dan has self-published his own Steampunk western, The Flux Engine.  Most recently, Dan worked with NYT Bestselling author, Tracy Hickman on a new alternate history Civil War series, Dragons of the Confederacy.  The first book Lincoln’s Wizard is available from Wordfire press.

Title: Lincoln’s Wizard
Author: Tracy Hickman & Dan Willis
ISBN: (I don’t have this as the book is not yet released. Release date is in September.)
Page count: Around 250 pages (Format isn’t final at this point)
Genre: Steampunk
Price: Not yet set by publisher.

Tell us about your book:
Imagine the American Civil war only the south has dragons from Austria and an alchemical formula to bring dead soldiers back to fight again and the north has walking tanks and airships.  In an effort to break the stalemate the war has become, Allan Pinkerton sends unwitting pawn, Braxton Wright, south in an effort to free his secret weapon and super-spy Hattie Lawton from the infamous Castle Thunder prison.

How long did it take to write the book?
The “talking about the book” phase with Tracy took about a year.  Once we decided that we were, in fact, going to do the book, the writing took about four months.

What inspired you to write the book?
The Civil War is such a fascinating time in American History, especially from a technological standpoint.  It seemed like a natural place for some olde timey Science Fiction (aka Steampunk).  Heck, the Civil War had so many technological leaps just in reality from the Gatling gun to the repeating rifle to exploding mortars to ironclad ships.  It’s practically a Steampunk story by itself. 

I wanted to tell a story about an engineer who was drawn into the war by something he invented, a story with lots of intrigue, danger, and daring do.  Tracy had a story he wanted to tell about the indian wars where the South used dragons in the Civil War and how that came into play later.  We decided to put the two ideas together and it worked out great.

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
Well, when you’re dealing with an actual, historical event, you have to do your research, even if you’re going to heavily fictionalize it.  I had to read a mountain of histories about individuals, places, and battles of the war.  We really wanted the details to feel as real as possible.  At the same time, our made up tech and the more mystical elements had to feel like they existed in a real world and that the world reacted to their existence. 
When it came to people, we decided early not to shy away from showing important historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Alan Pinkerton.  One of the lead characters in the book is actually based on a real-life northern spy named Hattie Lawton.  She worked for Pinkerton and was instrumental in foiling the infamous Baltimore Plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way to be inaugurated.  The really interesting thing about this is that we felt safe to use her as a character in our book because she disappears from history after the war, so there weren’t any family to offend if they didn’t like our portrayal of her.

As for a writing routine, I’m an outliner.  Before I even start, I’ve got the whole book down in the outline.  Working with a partner meant that our outline was very detailed and we’d pass it back and forth making notes and sitting down to go over it until it was the way we wanted it.  Once that was done, I wrote the book. My writing process is to do a chapter a day, four days a week until I’m done.  Now things come up and I don’t always make my target, but I like having goals to keep me going.  Once the first draft was finished, I did an edit pass, then sent it to Tracy, who did an edit pass.  After that it went to the publisher for their edit.

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
I don’t write message fiction, so nothing heavy like that.  I want readers to be entertained.  I want them to fear for the hero, to exult at his triumphs and despair at his failures and, in the end, I want them to rejoice when good triumphs over evil.  I hope they feel sad for some of the bad guys, that they were on the wrong side, and I want them to sorrow for the brave souls who died along the way. 

I once had a very large man come up and slug me on the arm and curse me.  When I recovered myself enough to ask why he said, “I read your book and you made me cry at the end.”  It was the most sincere and wonderful compliment I’ve ever received.

Excerpt from book:
(“Where are they?” Colonel Jonathan Hendricks demanded, squinting through his spyglass across the dark, open field that separated his men from the Confederate lines. Hendricks had deployed his forces along a narrow line just west of Belle Prairie extending from the Ohio River on his left flank on the south to the low Appalachian range on his northern right. Across the field, he knew in his gut, the Rebel force gathered, setting up for their attack. Even with the moon up, the shadows of the trees by the shoreline and the mist off the river obscured any movement, but he knew they were out there. “Do you see anything?”
This last was directed at the Colonel’s adjutant, a young lieutenant with a mop of blond hair and a pockmarked face.
“I can’t see anything sir,” he responded in a voice that made him sound much too young. “Are you sure they’ll come tonight.”
“They’ll come,” Hendricks said. The rebs had been ferrying their Grays across the river all day, several thousand of them if his scouts were to be believed.
Grays... an abomination straight out of hell, Hendricks thought. Bad enough the South should deal in live slave trade but to then to enslave the dead was past the colonel’s comprehension. Grays had no fear, no hesitation at charging into the darkness. As soon as the rebel commander had his artillery in place, he’d attack. Hendricks knew that by the time he could see them, it would be too late to move his artillery. The Grays would sweep his lines, largely unhindered by cannon fire.  By the time he got his artillery in position, his forces would be in the press of battle.
Which, he grimaced into the darkness, was why he needed the Monitor.
He took another look through his spyglass and swore. “Where are they?”
“Sir!” the Lieutenant grabbed his shoulder as a blaze of light washed over the river bank to their left. “It’s a starlight shell. It’s them.”
“About time!” Hendricks took advantage of the temporary light bathing the landscape in front of him. His heart sank. Three artillery batteries were plainly visible across the field, one covering each flank and one in the center with ranks of Gray troops in the spaces between them, ready to march.
“Can you make out their colors, Lieutenant,” he said, straining to see across the mile that separated them. Each Gray unit had a rallying flag, indicating their unit.
“Antietam sir,” he responded. “And it looks like some Hampton Roads.”
“Get the war historian up here,” Hendricks ordered. “I want to know what we’re facing. And get Major Thompson, I want him to redeploy his guns immediately.”
The Lieutenant saluted but before he could turn the sounds of cannon fire echoed across the empty field. Hendricks turned back in time to see the rebel battery on the flank fire to the extreme left.  Almost immediately they were answered by a shot that struck a gun in the center of the battery, igniting its powder store and sending burning chunks of metal and wood in all directions.
“Sir, look,” the Lieutenant called.
Colonel Hendricks didn’t need his spyglass to see what happened next. Like a mythical titan of Greek mythology, the Monitor rose up above the line of trees at the riverbank, towering over the rebel forces. It had a round, barrel-like body supported by three metal legs that held it thirty feet in the air. A turret sat atop the body, looking for all the world like an infantryman’s kepi. Two forty-caliber Gatling guns emerged from slots in the front of the body and Hendricks could see one of them spitting fire as it tore into enemy flank.
He wanted to watch, but Hendricks couldn’t spare it any more attention, he had a battle to wage.)

Where can we go to buy your book?
The book will be available in ebook form from Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, & Smashwords.  Physical books will be available from Amazon and

Any other links or info you'd like to share?
My website is

Dan Willis will be one of the Featured Guest Authors speaking at the 2014 St. George Book Festival. To learn more and see a full list of events, visit

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. The book looks exciting.