Apparently there are over 1000 books released each day on Amazon, so when you’re scrolling through the list of mysteries, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. I think we’ve all stumbled on writers we weren’t familiar with, yet became fans of their work once they were discovered. By the look of the reviews of author Bill Noel’s 17 Folly Beach mysteries, his readers are loyal and ardent supporters of his stories. Don’t believe me? Just read a sample of his first Folly Beach mystery, Folly, like I did, and tell me you weren’t impressed with his skills.
Bill was kind enough to play 5 questions
with me, “As long as the questions weren’t too hard,” he quipped, in his dry
witty way. I hope you enjoy his journey
to publishing and discover a new talent with this post.
You decided to keep your readers in suspense until you were 59 when you finally decided to release your first book. Why?
I could attribute it to forty or so years of writer’s block, but that would imply I’d started writing the book years ago. To be honest, I’d never given thought to writing fiction until I was in my late fifties. In the academic world where I’d hung my hat for several decades as a college and university administrator, I had to write tons of nonfiction, but as most fiction writers know, writing nonfiction is as similar to writing fiction as an aardvark is to an anvil. Then, during my first trip to Folly Beach in 2004, my wife and I came across a body that had washed ashore. (True story.) The police had arrived along with a few curious bystanders. That sparked the idea that eventually became Folly, the first book in the Folly Beach Mystery series. I wrote Folly simply to see if I could. I was then amazed by how many letters, notes, even phone calls I received from readers who wanted to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. I never expected that kind of reaction. Now I write for those readers.
There is a rhythm to writing that is hard to explain but easy to recognize. You obviously have that rhythm in the cadence of your narrative. Since you were never an English major in school, where did that come from? And do you believe it’s partly innate?
My writing style is simple. I write what I like reading. I’m also aware many readers skip over sections they don’t find interesting, but they don’t skip over dialog. I try to follow Elmore Leonard’s rules of good writing, especially rule number ten: Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip. My books are heavy on dialog, heavy on short paragraphs, and heavy on short chapters. I want readers to reach the end of a chapter and know the next one won’t be too long. That way they’ll continue reading. I have fun writing the books and want readers to do the same.
In addition to being a novelist, I’m a photographer and have been for way more years than I’ve been a novelist. Many of the principals of composition I learned and practiced in photography—balance, perspective, framing, angle of view, repetition—can be applied to writing. In other words, I had a head start in writing fiction without even knowing it.
Your mysteries take place in a very real location of Folly Beach, South Carolina. Now that you’re approaching twenty books, are you somewhat of a celebrity when you visit there?
The books fall under the genre of amateur detective which means the protagonist has no formal law enforcement training or experience in solving crimes. That also means the amateur detective solves crimes police are unable to solve. Folly Beach is a small, barrier island with a relatively small police force, so I was wary about how residents and especially the police would feel about me choosing it as the location of the books. As you know, I live in Louisville, Kentucky, located 626 miles from Folly, and didn’t know anyone on the island when I wrote the first book. After it was published, I visited the mayor’s office to introduce myself and give him a copy of the book. I was relieved and shocked when the mayor told me he often met with the police chief to discuss the characters in the book and associated them with Folly’s residents. The following day, I had lunch with the police chief who gave me a badge and made me an honorary member of his force. Several restaurants and stores ask me to do signings at their location when I make my semi-annual visit to their island and numerous residents claim me as a resident of their small bohemian island. By the most liberal definition of celebrity, I suppose I could be considered one on the three-square miles of Folly Beach. But to me, I’m honored and privileged to be considered a friend of so many of its residents. They’re the true celebrities.
Have you ever been interested in writing a book in a different genre? And what books do you like to read?
I admire writers who can produce successful novels in more than one genre, but I’ll never be accused of being one of those writers. I have enough trouble writing in one genre. Those who teach writing tell their students to write what they know. I suspect (hope) they don’t mean it literally. I’ve never killed anyone, never caught a murderer, never even had friends who’ve encouraged me to catch killers, but over the years, I’ve been a fan of mystery novels so I’m more familiar with that genre than any other. Mysteries fill up most of my bookshelves, including books by Robert B. Parker, John Sandford, Janet Evanovich, Dick Francis, Carl Hiaasen, and Lawrence Sanders. I don’t have any interest in changing genres, but then again, if you’d told me at age 58 that I’d write a mystery novel, I’d have laughed in your face—figuratively, of course.
You’ve had to postpone many of your upcoming appearances. Have you developed an appetite for online alternatives? Or are you still exploring options?
I’ve not done a good job of exploring online options. The main reason I love doing signings and making appearances is they give me a chance to meet and talk with potential readers and those who have already discovered the series. My signing opportunities on Folly, numbering approximately a dozen a year, are the highlight of my writing experiences. I assure you, I miss talking to those wonderful people more than they miss talking to me. I’ve been able to maintain some of those contacts through Facebook. There’s even a Bill Noel Fan Club on Facebook, hard to believe I know. This has been an excellent way to share stories with the members and for them to share stories, photos, kind words, and what’s happening in their lives. Beyond that, when it comes to an online presence, I’m a perfect example of you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
August 2, 2020