By Clinton Williams
When did you know writing was your passion/gift/calling?
I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was an introvert—shy to the point of crying at parties when other kids tried to talk to me. Writing (and reading) got me through what I consider some very lonely and difficult years.
How do you handle/break writer’s block?
It’s the answer that so many writers give — especially writers who teach — but it’s my honest answer: I read. There is nothing like a few good books (or short stories) to make me want to sit down again and give it another try. Midway through writing my first novel, I hit a wall. In one week, I read two books (Lorrie Moore’s Gate at the Stairs and Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City, neither of which had anything to do with the book I was working on). I was about to read book number three, but I literally closed Bright Lights, walked to my desk, and started writing again. Sometimes it takes more than two books and one week, sometimes less. But it always works.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Doris Lessing, Murial Spark, Lorrie Moore, Ann Beattie, Philip Roth, Ralph Ellison, Elizabeth Taylor, William Faulkner
What was the publishing process like for you?
It’s been the most fun and the most infuriating adventure of my life. Selling my first book and going through the 18-month process of publication will always be one of the greatest highlights of my life. It will also be one of the craziest and most daunting. But it never gets old, and I’m grateful for every novel that gets published…
Even as a child, did you know that you wanted to become a writer?
Yes. But I didn’t think it was truly a possibility. To me, the profession felt as unreachable and unachievable as being a famous actress or being president. It didn’t feel real. In spite of that, I never didn’t write. I was lucky that I had parents who supported me and teachers who, early on, pointed out and encouraged my talent.
Tell us about VISIBLE EMPIRE.
In 1962, in France, a plane carrying more than 100 of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens crashed on take off. It left behind a community scrambling to make sense of a large-scale loss during a moment of incipient racial, sexual, and cultural chaos in America. This was 1962, not 1968—full-scale gender and racial revolutions weren’t yet happening, but they were coming. When the plane crashed, it forced the people left behind to reconstruct their lives at a time when the privilege that many of them had always enjoyed was shifting. With VISIBLE EMPIRE, I wanted to be as faithful as possible to 1962 but I also wanted to write a book that speaks to our time. The book is grounded in an historical event—a plane crash that kills more than one hundred of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens—, and I wanted a few anchoring and historical characters who would establish authenticity, but I also didn’t want to be prevented from imagining a story. I didn’t want to write a history of that time. I wanted to write about love and loss during a time of, among other things, deep racial division precisely because of its relevance to what’s happening in our world now.
If VISIBLE EMPIRE were to become a movie, who would you want to play the main characters and why?
Oh gosh. This questions is just too hard!
What advice do you have for other authors?
Be kind. Be supportive. Look up at the world instead of down.