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Beyond the Books with Producer/Director/Author William Petrick

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William Petrick is represented by the interviewer's Pump Up Your Book Promotion, an innovative public relations agency specializing in online book promotion.

William Petrick is an Emmy Award-winning documentary producer/director who has created programs for National Geographic, Discovery, MTV, Court TV and many other cable and broadcast networks. He is currently a senior producer with Bill Moyers' Journal on PBS. You can visit William Petrick’s website at www.thefivelostdays.com.

Thank you for this interview, Bill. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve been writing since grade school in one form or the other. In fact, not long ago, I found an “essay” from the first grade where it begins “I want to be a writer…”  Besides writing fiction, I also write and produce documentaries for television.

Do you write full-time?

I try to write 2-3 hours a day, usually in the early morning.

At what point in your life did you make up your mind you were going to become a published author?

It took a while but I decided I really wanted to be a published author right after I graduated from college. I went traveling around the country, working odd jobs; after that for about a year until I returned to the East Coast (Baltimore), I sat down and started to get serious.

Was there anyone in your life that you can give credit to helping pave the way?

Any number of teachers but it was really a few close friends — who were also writing fiction and poetry — who kept me going.

What was your favorite book to read as a child?

To Build a Fire by Jack London. I remember the exact day I read this classic short story. I was in sixth grade and, I thought, wow, you can do this? Create a whole world with just words?

What is your favorite book at the present?

Believe it or not, I recently re-read Lord of the Flies which I had not read in decades. It knocked me out. Great prose, setting, characters and theme. It deserves to be a classic.

If you could trade places with one author who you have admired over the years, who would it be and why?

I’ve really admired the work and life of Robert Stone, Phillip Caputo, among others. They wrote page-turners that were also literary in the best sense of the term — the primacy of language — and they were about something in the larger world, not just our personal preoccupations that have dominated so much contemporary fiction.

Can you tell us a little about your latest book?

The Five Lost Days is an exploration on how what we see and recognize in the world around us is almost entirely dependent on what we believe. The story follows a documentary crew as they travel into the remote Maya Mountains of Belize and Guatemala in the late 1980s when the civil war was at its peak. It was a time when the native Mayans suffered a near genocide. The filmmakers are hoping to capture rare footage of the last surviving curandero, a Mayan healer and bush doctor who uses the plants and barks of the rain forest as medicine. The curandero is helped by an American couple, two ex-urbanites who run a research camp for an international pharmaceutical firm.  Along the way, the film crew stumbles into Guatemalan soldiers who have crossed the Belize border in search of a fugitive. In the end, they find themselves a bigger story than they could ever have imagined.

What was the inspiration behind your book?  Why did you feel a need to write it?

Two things. One is the jungle. I’ve traveled through a number of them for my day job (I’m a documentary producer) and the phrase “jungle fever” is real and literal. There is no place like it for sensory awareness. Second was my interest in medicinal plants and in the work I do as a documentary producer. When I go to remote locations (or even urban ones), I’ve always felt almost like I was leading an army platoon. You drop in and fly out after you have the story – too often leaving a mess behind you.

What kind of research did you have to conduct to write your book?

Many books and interviews to learn about plants used for healing. The same to learn more about contemporary Maya living in the region.

What message are you trying to convey with this book?

What you see depends entirely on what you believe.

Do you have an agent?  What were your experiences finding her/him?

Not anymore.

How long did it take your book to be published from the time you submitted and was accepted to the time it was finally released?

A little over a year.

Can you tell us a little about the publisher who published your book?  How have they been to work with?

Outstanding. I’ve compared notes with other writers and they say I am lucky. I had a great editor whose input literally changed the last third of the book – for the better. The publisher has been supportive beyond belief. It helps that they are small and just getting started.

Do you have a website?  Do you manage it yourself or do you have someone run it for you?

Yes, at www.thefivelostdays.com. My publisher runs it.

How do you deal with a bad review?

Ignore it.

What’s next for you?

I’m well into a new novel tentatively called Conduct Unbecoming. It’s about a soldier of conscience during the invasion of Haiti back in 1992, during what was called “Operation Restore Democracy.” There are adventure elements to it but the novel really looks at what it means to do the right thing – if the world doesn’t agree.

Thank you for this interview, Bill. We wish you much success!

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